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  • Adam Schell

Joseph




What do you want to be when you grow up? That’s one of the quintessential questions that we're all asked from the time we start speaking in complete sentences...and sometimes even earlier, like when a little boy named Thomas told his mommy he wanted to be an “oooh ahhh oooh ahhh” – which is a monkey, in case you were wondering – when he grew up. And it's a question that most people continue to struggle with well into adulthood, with the average worker changing jobs every 4 years.


And when a child answers this question, they can be silly – like when a 7-year-old named Jamie told his parents that he wanted to be a ninja chef when he grew up. Or their answers can be more sensible – like when a 3-year-old named Dylan said that she wanted to be a “big girl” when she grew up. Or their answers can even be sentimental – like when another 3-year-old named Jamie said he wanted to be a daddy. But there are a handful of answers to this particular question that would pop up on nearly every playground in America. And that’s because no matter where you go in this country, there are at least a few things that every kid wants to be when they grow up.


Like being a firefighter. At one point or another, it seems like every kid wants to be a firefighter because, from a kid's perspective, it’s awesome. You get to hang out all day in a clubhouse with all your buddies and a cool Dalmatian. When you need to go downstairs, you get to slide down a pole. And you get to play with the most powerful squirt gun in the world, which never needs to be refilled. When you throw in the occasional siren, a fire station is only a ball pit away from being Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups.


Or it seems like every little girl dreams of being a princess when she grows up. And that’s because according to one 6-year-old girl being a princess means, “You get to wear pretty dresses and you get to ride ponies and everyone calls you ‘Your Highness’ and you get to eat cake all the time and you get to live in a castle where no one ever tells you to make your bed.”


Or it seems like every kid hopes to become an astronaut. Because, when kids think about becoming an astronaut, they either see it as their chance to become a Jedi and show off their lightsaber skills, or they see it as their chance to float around in zero gravity, doing somersaults while sucking down pouches of freeze-dried ice cream and Tang. Because that's the kind of nutrition every astronaut needs when they're jumping around on the moon like it's a giant bouncy house.


But whether you grew up dreaming of becoming a firefighter, a princess, an astronaut, or something else altogether; the point is that every kid has big dreams for the future.

Every kid has big dreams for the future.

And for kids growing up in Israel during the reign of King Herod, there was one big dream they all had. Just about every kid growing up in Israel during the reign of King Herod would’ve dreamed of growing up to become the Messiah. But why did they all dream of growing up to become the Messiah? 


Well, from the time they were in the womb, children all across Israel heard about how awesome the Messiah would be. They knew the Messiah would be a great political leader, straight from the lineage of Israel's greatest king, David. They knew the Messiah would know the Bible like the back of his hand and follow all of its commandments. They knew the Messiah would be a great judge who made righteous decisions. But most of all, they knew that the Messiah would end Israel’s oppression and set their people free. 


So the Messiah was part president, part preacher, and part superhero…so who wouldn’t want to be the Messiah?


But for most of Israel's children, the hopes of becoming the Messiah were little more than the innocent dreams of a child – like when kids today dream of growing up to become Superman or Spider-Man. But for a child from the hometown of David, whose family could trace their ancestry back to Israel’s greatest king, these weren't just dreams...these wishes could actually come true.


You see, it's been said amongst Jews that in every generation, a person is born with the potential to be the Messiah...if only the timing is right. And the book of Micah tells us where the messiah is coming from when it says: 


As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you. His origin is from remote times, from ancient days.


Micah 5:2 (Common English Bible)


And there was one character in the Christmas story that met this criteria. And that’s what we’ve been talking about at Melbourne Heights all Christmas long. This Christmas, we’re working our way through a series of sermons called “The Characters of Christmas.” And each week, we’re looking past the figurines we find in our nativity sets and we’re taking a closer look at the real people we meet in the Christmas story to see how the first Christmas changed their life so we can understand how Christmas changes our lives.


And one of the characters of Christmas is a man named Joseph. And Joseph checked all the boxes that Micah mentioned. Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem and he was a direct descendant of King David. So, as a kid, there was no way that Joseph didn’t spend a lot of time imagining what it would be like to be the Messiah.


Joseph must’ve driven his mother crazy, running around the house swinging a slingshot above his head pretending to be David slaying Goliath. And whenever he got together with his friends, they must’ve engaged in epic imaginary wars where each boy pretended to be the king who defeated the Philistines.


But eventually, even the most passionate dreams of our childhood give way to the reality of being an adult. No matter how cool a job may have seemed when we were kids, there just aren’t very many of us who grow up to be princesses. Instead of becoming astronauts, we become accountants. Instead of becoming firefighters, we end up as just another federal employee.


And the same thing happened to Joseph. Eventually, the dream that he might be the chosen one of God, gave way to the reality that he was a carpenter's son. So instead of taking up a sword to lead Israel’s army against their enemies, he took up a saw and built the tables Israelites would share with their friends. 


And he went about living an ordinary life with ordinary dreams about having a good job, a wife, and kids. And he was well on his way to living out this new dream – he was engaged to be married, with dreams of starting his family – when something far from ordinary happened. 


If you’ve got a Bible close by, I can show you what I mean. If you’ve got a Bible close by or an app on your phone go ahead and open it to Matthew 1. And, as you’re finding it, I just want to remind you that the book of Matthew is basically a biography of Jesus. So in the book of Matthew, you can read about Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection. You can read about Jesus’ ministry and the miracles he performed. You can read about Jesus’ baptism and even his birth. But in Matthew 1, we’re going to read about what happened to Joseph before Jesus was born. So let’s take a look at Matthew 1 together. We’ll start reading in verse 18, which tells us:


18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 


Matthew 1:18-19 (Common English Bible)


Since we know how this story goes, it's hard for us to put ourselves in Joseph's place...but I want you to try. Try to imagine what it would be like to go visit your fiance when you hadn't seen each other in weeks, or maybe even months. As you arrive at their door, a million thoughts are running through your mind about how you'll spend your time together. Maybe you'll head out for dinner and a movie. Maybe you've planned a picnic at your favorite spot. Maybe you just want to sit at home on the couch next to each other.


But as soon as the door opens, all of your plans go flying out the window. This moment that you had been dreaming about for weeks has turned into a nightmare in an instant. And this person, who only moments ago you desperately wanted to spend the rest of your life with, has done something so awful you can't even look at them.


That's the position Joseph finds himself in. When he finds out that Mary is pregnant, he doesn't automatically assume that she is carrying the child of God…no one would. Instead, Joseph assumes the same thing we all would’ve assumed. He assumes that Mary's been unfaithful to him before they even said their “I do's.”


And rather than waiting for an explanation or attempting to believe that his fiance was carrying the son of God, I imagine that Joseph stormed off; determined he would never see this woman again. And the truth is, he didn't have to ever see Mary again. According to the law in those days, Joseph could have turned Mary in, and she would have been killed for getting pregnant before she was married.


But I can't help but think that somewhere in the back of his mind, Joseph still cared about Mary and he couldn't stand to see her harmed...regardless of how badly she had hurt him. So instead of demanding justice – which the law said was Mary's life – Joseph decided to be gracious. He decided to end their engagement quietly.


But that didn't mean the matter was settled. As a matter of fact, by simply ending their engagement instead of turning her over to the law, Joseph was claiming responsibility in the matter. Everyone would believe that Joseph got Mary pregnant before their wedding day, even though he didn’t. And Joseph would be left to pay the price. He would still have to pay the dowry he had agreed upon with Mary's father. Plus he would have to pay a penalty for what he had done. But Joseph had made up his mind, and he was willing to pay this price.


But that didn't make what he was going through any easier. When he showed up to visit Mary that day, he felt like he was part of a family, but, when he left, he felt alone in the world. When he showed up, he felt overwhelming love, but now he felt betrayed. When he showed up, he thought he knew who Mary was, but now he could only think of the accusations against her. When he showed up he was overcome with joy, but as he left he was tormented by his pain.


In a matter of moments, Joseph went from the highest high to the lowest low, and along the way, Joseph felt the full weight of everything that’s wrong with this world. You've probably been there, too. In one moment you were walking down the aisle to marry the person of your dreams, and in the next you found yourself filing for a divorce. In one moment you felt strong enough to leap tall buildings, and in the next, you felt too feeble to safely walk downstairs. In one moment you felt better than you've ever felt in your life, and in the next moment, you hear dreaded words like cancer or Alzheimer's. In one moment you were preparing for a huge holiday celebration, and in the next moment, you learn that no one is coming. 


We've all been there. We've all felt alone. We've all felt betrayed. We've all had our dreams shattered.

We’ve all had our dreams shattered. 

But Joseph's story doesn't end with a shattered dream. Because even during the lowest point of Joseph's life...God was still there, God was still at work. As Matthew goes on to tell us:


20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:


23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)


24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 


Matthew 1:20-24 (Common English Bible)


Do you see what's happening here? Adam Hamilton explains it well in his book The Journey: Walking Toward Bethlehem when he writes:


“At that very moment when Joseph felt his lowest, God was at work in Mary's womb, doing the greatest thing God has done since the creation of the human race. God was orchestrating the birth of a Savior...Something amazing was about to happen, but Joseph could not see this yet.”


In the midst of Joseph's pain and suffering, God was becoming human. And as a human God would be able to experience the same type of pain Joseph must’ve felt when he learned about Mary's pregnancy. And as the early church leader, Gregory of Nazianzus put it, “That which was not assumed is not healed, but that which is united to God is saved.”


Or to put it another way, when God became human, God became capable of understanding our pain and our suffering. God became capable of knowing how bad it hurts to be betrayed. God became capable of knowing what it means to be isolated and alone. God became capable of knowing what it was like to have his dreams shattered. And because God knows what it’s like to have his dreams fall apart, we know that God can help us make it through. Christmas shows us that God can help us make it through.

Christmas shows us that God can help us make it through.

But what awaits us on the other side of our shattered dreams? Well, Joseph found out when that angel appeared to him. On the other side of his broken dreams, there was a new life and a new purpose. The same is true for us. 


So we need to realize that Christmas is about so much more than the characters we see in our nativity scenes. At Christmas God became one of us to heal our pain and to save us from the brokenness of this world. And that means that the greatest gift we can give this Christmas season is the gift of helping others through their struggles, helping them find new life and a new purpose. After all, that is the purpose of Christmas.

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