18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The relationship of Mary and Joseph is confusing. “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph”…”Joseph her husband was faithful”…”he had in mind to divorce her”… but…“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Were they “pledged” or were they married? Why was divorce involved? Here’s what I found.
Marriage was considered far too important to be left to a matter of the heart. A pledge of marriage was made by family arrangements in the name of the couple. It was only a promise at this point but the next step really mattered. The promised couple must confirm their agreement with that family arrangement at some future point in time. Their agreement turned that promise into a binding contract that only another legal action could break. Legally they were now recognized as husband and wife but there was one more step that must happen. That’s where Mary and Joseph were at this point. It was the wedding celebration ahead that was meant to unite promise, contract and their relationship into the one flesh God promised in Genesis but there were those disturbing circumstances.
I can pass on facts I discovered about the culture of relationships of the time but I cannot explain why God would use these circumstances in Joseph’s life to fulfill his promise to all of creation. They were hard circumstances. Joseph could declare Mary unfaithful and possibly condemn her to death by stoning. He could stay in the relationship and deal with his own conflict with the law he was faithful to…or he could accept his dream and the words from the angel of the Lord as a truth and a blessing on their life together. God bless circumstances. Joseph’s circumstances and his response became a blessing for all of us that celebrate the Big Event. Wisdom and the Word still work to help the believer navigate circumstances today. Matthew Henry’s commentary on this scripture says it perfectly.
“Observe, it is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. God’s time to come with instruction to his people, is when they are at a loss. Divine comforts most delight the soul when under the pressure of perplexed thoughts.”
Matthew 15:15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Par·a·ble: a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.
“The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them” is a red-letter Biblical truth from Jesus. We need to believe it and let it change us. Without a doubt we’ve all spoken words and done things that defiled us. Is that flaw part of the muscle memory stored in all hearts since Adam and Eve decided they should figure out the difference between good and evil for themselves? Was that where we began to depend on “rules” to erase what defiled us?
Long before medical science had proof of how central the heart is to the healthy functioning of the body Jesus knew the heart he’d helped create. The muscle memory of God was still there and could be remembered, renewed and redeemed by his truth.
Matt 3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
If you’ve had any experience with dieting you actually understand the challenges, and the need, for repentance better than most. Faith is like a diet; it requires consistent and persistent stepping on the scale and weighing in.
Repentance without Jesus may be possible, but like most diets it’s often only a temporary change that hopes for a permanent effect. The challenging part of any diet, even a diet of faith, is there are times we need to tweak our behavior. It’s an ongoing kind of repentance.
It’s very likely you’ve experienced the reality of repentance that’s permanent…your salvation. Jesus, in his grace, dealt with what we could clearly see had to go in that repentance but even then he knew there were things we kept hidden from ourselves that must be fixed.
These days leading up to Easter are not some “churchy” ritual to observe; they’re meant to be very personal. This is the time to weigh in. As hard as it is, we’ve got to step on the scale God has provided through his Spirit, examine our present reality, accept what is revealed…and…respond. That’s how we “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We celebrate Advent as a season of Good Tidings of Great Joy, but there’s more to that reality. God purposefully chose to send his only son, Jesus, to live among us knowing the dark and painful realities that lay ahead. There would be no reason to celebrate at all if weren’t for God’s intervention – the birth of “The” Advent – into a world full of broken, “weary and burdened”…and desperate people.
That came back full force when I decided to look back at past journal entries for December 14 and found this startling and heartbreaking event from Advent, 2012.
“The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adult staff members.”
Sandy Hook broke many hearts then, including mine. I wouldn’t have chosen the memory of that massacre for this Advent but sometimes it’s the gaps in a broken heart that make room for remembering the reality of why “The” Advent still matters today. Come into my heart Lord Jesus.
Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
I’m afraid of the seemingly endless stream of violence that plagues cities and people and destroys them. I’m afraid of our current political environment. I don’t like being afraid. It forces me to ask myself this question: Am I Afraid to Have Faith in Jesus’ words about how we can be saved?
That question made me realize that’s exactly what’s happening. Then I read this quote from Max Lucado’s book, You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times
“We can’t always see what God is doing.
But can’t we assume he is up to something good?”
Why, in this world, would I want to assume anything else, Lord? Mark 9:24b…“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Matthew 21 [excerpts] 1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me…8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna [a Hebrew expression meaning “Save!” which became an exclamation of praise] to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
For a moment as I read about Jesus entry into Jerusalem I thought how his heart must have swelled at this reception. Then I remembered he knew what was in the heart of man. He also knew the conflicting emotions of his future from “thy will be done” to “take this cup from me.” It’s much easier for me to imagine Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem by a cheering crowd than to realize he knew he was facing a gut wrenching human choice as well. This day begins The Week of Reality as Jesus completes his identity with our humanity to give us the opportunity to complete our identity as sons and daughters of God. “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
I began this Lenten journal on Ash Wednesday with what seemed like the bitter end: Judas betrayal of Jesus. The reality of his story is a reminder of the beginning he missed. Repentance is a “who” to repent to instead of a “what” to repent of. Isn’t that just what Easter is all about? Out of the Ashes of what we “were,” we are being Blessed…
• Blessed By knowing it’s not our spirit that sustains us. Self has Fallen Through the Cracks of life and in the process caught a glimpse of a promised new kingdom of heaven.
• Blessed By realizing that in the Unfamiliar Reality of the emotions of mourning God is replacing the need to cope in unbearable circumstances with the release of comfort.
• Blessed By an undeserved and unearned inheritance and an eternity to explore and understand what submissive, yielding and obedient is. Meek is the mystery of God moving us into position to fulfill his plans as we learn the difference between Be-ing vs Choosing.
• Blessed By Jesus using something as basic and daily as our body’s craveing for nourishment to remind us there’s Another Kind of Life to crave: long for, yearn, desire, want, wish or need – a life of righteousness.
• Blessed By the mercy of Jesus and The Perfected Golden Rule: “Do unto others…as I have done unto you.”
• Blessed By the power God and the life of Jesus to create pure hearts by chiseling away stony pieces to bring us One Pebble Closer to being able to see God.
• Blessed By peacemakers who go Beyond Just Fixing to create opportunity for those in conflict to explore the reality of truth as God means it to be: a path to unity not separation.
• Blessed By a new perspective on Jesus words and the fullness of one Greek word. What once seemed focused on “persecuted” now includes “blessed because they “pursue” righteousness.” In Each Case theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It’s not over yet!