The Father’s Love
Joseph doesn’t often get a whole lot of mention in the Christmas account, but there he is in every nativity scene standing over the manger, next to Mary. God used Joseph in an important way in the life of Jesus as we hear in Matthew 2:13-23. Here we have a powerful display of “the Father’s love.”
The Christmas account is a timeless story of the birth of the Savior that we love to reflect on year after year. That story is portrayed in many different ways from the simple reading of the words from Luke 2, the singing of the many hymns and carols that tell the story, to the nativity scenes set up in homes and churches, and even the programs and live nativities where people get into character and put the story into action.
Think about all of the different characters involved in the story. There are the angels and the shepherds, the inn keeper, the Roman guards, the wise men, with Mary taking it all in and of course little baby Jesus in the manger. While the angels and shepherds get a lot of scene time and songs, and every little girl wants to be Mary, there is one character that is often overlooked, doesn’t have a whole lot of songs about him, and isn’t necessarily someone’s first choice to be in the pageant. It’s the one character I haven’t mentioned yet – Joseph. Oh yeah, Joseph! He doesn’t often get a whole lot of mention in the Christmas account, but there he is in every nativity scene standing over the manger, next to Mary – Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, the carpenter from Nazareth. While he might not get a lot of play on Christmas Eve and Day, God used Joseph in an important way in the life of Jesus as we heard in the gospel today from Matthew chapter 2. In the words of this account we have a powerful display of the Father’s love.
After Jesus was born, the young family remained in Bethlehem for some time. During that time, the famous visit from the three wise men took place. In their quest to track down the new born king by following the star, the wise men stopped in Jerusalem to seek help from King Herod. King Herod was an extremely cruel, merciless, and jealous king. When he heard that there was a new king on the scene, well he just couldn’t have any rivalry to his rule. So, he determined to kill all the boys two and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. It would seem that the new born Jesus would meet an untimely death. Until you see the love of the Father.
The Lord God cared for his son, Jesus, even though Herod raged against him. God sent an angel to Joseph to tell him what Herod intended to do and to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt where they would be safe and out of the way from danger. Joseph with love for a son not his own, love for his wife, and love and obedience for his Lord, immediately got up in the middle of the night, grabbed the family, and started the long journey to Egypt. Who does this? Who steps in to do what is necessary to rescue others? The answer is easy. One who loves those he protects. Joseph loved Jesus, not only as his adopted son, but as his Savior. The Lord God, the heavenly Father, loved his Son, and would not leave him to fend for himself in the world. God would not give the greatest gift of a Savior for all people and let it be destroyed within months before that child would accomplish its saving work. God stepped in to protect the Son that he loved, his one and only.
But God stepped in save Jesus because of the great love that he had for someone else too. You. You see, God when God sent Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Egypt, he wasn’t just protecting his Son, he was guarding and protecting your salvation, your rescue from sin and death. If Herod would have killed Jesus when he was just months old, the sacrifice for our sins would not have been complete. The world would have won. You would still be in your sins and responsible to fix them all on your own. But God won. He wouldn’t let a cruel king of this world kill the King of the universe. He wouldn’t let painful moments in history ruin his plan to save you from your sins. He protected his Son through the faithful and loving parenting of Joseph so that the little child born in Bethlehem would grow to be the perfect Savior for you and me.
This horrendous episode of innocent children being murdered at the very beginning of Jesus’ life is a reminder of why Jesus had to come into this world, to rescue and renew what has been ruined by sin. This painful moment in history is not unlike the painful moments that afflict your life. The heartbreaking pain of the loss of a child. The life-altering accident or disease. The deep pits of financial ruin. The dark and lonely battles of depression or rejection. The often unbearable burden of guilt over one’s past or even present. It’s moments like these and many others that we are reminded of the horrible consequences and effects of sin.
But I pray that you are also reminded of the one who came into this world of weeping and mourning to give life and hope. Jesus’ birth did not end the suffering in this world, but his birth set into motion the work that needed to be done to rescue sinners, like you and me, from this world. Your heavenly father loves you too much for you to become overwhelmed by these things or to be lost in the sin of the world. He sent his Son and protected his Son, so that this one and only Son of God, could be a perfect substitute for you in life and in death in order to set you free from your sins and make you right with God. Through faith in Christ you escape to the refuge of God’s mighty hands. Satan cannot steal you away. Sin can’t hold you back. The suffering of this world cannot rob you of the joys that await you in eternal life in heaven. God cared for his Son so that he might care for you now and forever.
Joseph is the one who is always standing quietly by the manger at every nativity looking with a loving and protective eye at his son, his Savior. He gives just a glimpse at the love of God, your heavenly Father, who is always quietly watching over you with his loving and protective eye. He promises.
Think about promises for a moment. A promise is a commitment by someone to do something. We make promises to one another, we commit ourselves to things. But promises aren’t always easy to keep. I once heard this conversation – “I don't know what will happen in the future. But I promise you one thing. I'll always be your friend.” A very dear friend of mine said this to me 11 years ago. It's been five years now, since we last met. A year since I heard his voice. Nine months since I last received a text from him. The conclusion? Promises are made by humans. And humans change.
You get this, right? But here in this portion of God’s Word we are reminded of his great love for his Son and for us that moves God to preserve us and rescue us and to save us from the troubles of our sin and this world. He promises. But then our heads are filled with the track records of other’s failure to keep promises made to us and our own shortcomings in keeping promises. It makes us doubt that God could keep his promise to rescue us from sin, especially when we are surrounded by and see so much tragedy and disappointment.
Joseph took God at his word. God told him that Jesus’ life was in danger and they would find safety in Egypt. So, Joseph left and they were safe. God told Joseph that is was ok to return to Israel, Joseph trusted God’s word and acted. If that’s not enough, three times in this account you hear the same phrase “so was fulfilled.” “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” A prophecy from the Old Testament book of Hosea that found fulfillment in these events. “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled…” “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets…” Do you see it? God makes promises and fulfills them. It doesn’t matter how much time passes, or how many obstacles might get in the way, or what kind of attacks against those promises there might be, God is faithful and keeps every one of his promises. Why? The Old Testament book of Numbers gives us this truthful insight, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).
When temptations attack, when sin overwhelms, when doubts creep in, when events around you make these promises seem unachievable, your heart needs to be reminded, God is faithful. He loves you. See it in the way he loved his Son. God forgives you. See it in the way that Son loved you and gave his life for you. God is with you. He is your refuge and strength. See this as you run to him with a believing and trusting heart. Your attacks, the world’s attacks, Satan’s attacks against God and his promises cannot cause God to be unfaithful to you. This is a Father’s love.
Joseph finally gets his time in the spotlight. But while Joseph plays a much more prominent part in this account, he still takes backstage to the real Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Eternal Heavenly Father. The Father’s love moves him to protect his children and faithfully fulfill his promises.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on December 29, 2019