"God's Kind of Man" - Advent 3
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
December 17, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 1:18-25
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Advent 3, December 17, 2017

Matthew 1:18-25

 

God’s Kind of Man

 

            Control. For millennia, control has been the standard by which a man is measured. A real man, so we’re told, has control of his surroundings. He has control over his emotions. You won’t catch him crying in public, for example. He has control over his surroundings. His spouse and children are to be faithful and loyal to him. And he especially has control over his destiny. He is self-reliant. He doesn’t need anyone else to do anything for him. What he is, societies have told him, is what he does.

           

            Of course, men are human beings, and therefore can’t control everything. And so, the vast majority of men are judged by what they cannot do. We only need to look around us to see the toxic results of this. When men feel out of control, the social cost is huge. Rates of addiction go up. Helplessness and despair abound. People are either out of work or work two or three jobs to make ends meet. In 2015, Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case released a study which showed that the mortality rate among middle-aged white men had gone up half a percent each year from 1999 to 2013, and that much of the increase was due to drug overdose and suicide.[1] Measuring the worth of a man by his ability to control his situation is clearly not working.

 

            So where do we look for good examples of masculinity, in a culture where toxic masculinity has run amok? Perhaps we might look to Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father.

 

In our reading from Matthew, Joseph finds himself in a extraordinarily difficult situation. His bride-to-be, Mary, is pregnant. And since they have not consummated their relationship yet, he knows that he cannot be the father. One can only imagine the emotions that he might have felt (which the text is silent about). Betrayal, disappointment, fear, perhaps even rage. Joseph is in a situation where he is not in control.

 

And yet, Joseph doesn’t lash out at Mary. He doesn’t haul her before the townspeople to have her stoned to death, which would have been his right under the law. Joseph, the text tells us, is a “righteous man”, meaning that he is in a right relationship with God. And sometimes, that right relationship does not mean resorting to the strictest interpretation of the rules. Instead of publicly shaming her, Joseph plans to send her away quietly. Justice is tempered with mercy. This is the first attribute of God’s kind of man. God’s kind of man is gentle, willing to show mercy.

 

Of course, this does not seem to be much better on the face of it. An unwed mother with a child would face all kinds of social judgments. She would labeled and slandered. She would have no other way to support herself. It would be very difficult to be welcome again in her father’s house. But at least she might have a chance, however slim, this way. Stoning her to death takes that chance completely away.

 

            Getting Joseph to actually marry Mary takes an act of God, however. Like his ancestor Jacob, and his own namesake, Joseph from the Book of Genesis, Joseph receives a vision from God in a dream. This time, God’s messenger, the angel, tells Joseph to be unafraid to have Mary as a wife, “for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.

 

Believing this announcement from the angel, however, takes an extraordinary act of faith. Joseph has to believe that his dream is really sent from God and not simply bad indigestion or the like. He has to let his heart and mind be open to God’s communication to him. Which brings us to the second attribute of God’s kind of man. God’s kind of man is willing to change his mind. This doesn’t mean being weak and indecisive. On the contrary, it means having the strength of character to act on new information to go a different direction.

 

Think of how difficult this must have been for Joseph. Instead of the whispers being directed solely against Mary, he would have to bear the whispers of the townspeople. His manhood would be called into question. Marrying a woman who had a child that was not yours was an extraordinary break with traditional norms of masculinity. It subjected oneself to denigration and assassination of one’s character. Which brings us to the third attribute of God’s kind of man. God’s kind of man is willing to endure abuse, insult, and whisper for the sake of doing the right thing.

 

When God chose the earthly parents of Jesus, he chose the best examples of sinful humanity. Mary and Joseph were people of extraordinary character, willing to take on the whispers of the world to raise the Son of God. Neither was a person of any particular outward importance. Even if Joseph, as Matthew tells us, was a descendant of King David, the Davidic line had ceased to have any importance in the Near Eastern geopolitical world some 500 years earlier. As God told the prophet and judge Samuel nearly 1000 years before, God looks not on the outward appearance of a person, but on the heart.

 

In his mercy, God not only was born as a human being to enlighten and redeem humanity. He also subjected himself to being raised by human parents. Of course, these human parents were quite extraordinary people, but that is another example of God’s grace. Over and over again in history, God gives us examples in Scripture that show us how to be God’s kind of man, or God’s kind of woman. All these attributes, of course, reach their perfection in Jesus the Messiah, but God gives us an abundance through ordinary, sinful men and women like you and me. We see an example of God’s kind of man in Joseph: merciful, willing to change his mind, and willing to do the right thing whatever the personal cost. God help us to also embody these traits in our lives and be models of them for the world around us.

 

Let us pray.

 

Heavenly Father, in your mercy you have given us many good examples for how to live. Help us to have the character of Joseph and Mary, that we might be in right relationship with you and with others. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

 

© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

 

[1] “In Reversal, Death Rates Rise for Middle-Aged Whites”, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/11/02/453192132/in-reversal-death-rates-rise-for-middle-aged-whites. Retrieved 12.16.2017.