1st Sunday in Lent “The Genesis of Joseph”
March 6, 2022 Genesis 30:22–24
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
There is an insert in your bulletin outlining the special focus for our Sundays in Lent.
It’s called: ‘A journey with Joseph.’ This morning, we begin with a few verses from Gen.30:
“Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.
She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.”
And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”
Ten weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of a baby, thee baby; the Savior – who is Christ the Lord. /Angels sang about his birth; /Shepherds scampered to His manger; /Wise Men sought & found Him. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. And in response, we all sang, “Joy to the world!”
That’s how it’s supposed to be whenever a baby is born. It’s a happy, joy-filled occasion,
a cause for celebration.
But you & I are not naïve; not every birth is celebrated. In a perfect world, every married couple conceives, & every child is a wanted child. But our world is not perfect, it’s defective. In the beginning, creation was perfect; and God Himself tells us what happened. His most important creature disobeyed Him; that sin brought in unholiness & ruined this world. That’s the root cause of why not every birth causes celebration & joy.
Since Joseph is one of the main characters in Holy Scripture, we’re going to make a Lenten journey with Him. And the beginning of this journey is utterly joyless. We begin with Joseph’s mother, Rachel, who wasn’t yet a mother; and it appeared that she might never be a mother. Babies were being born left & right, but not for her.
When we first meet Rachel, it was when Jacob met this beautiful young shepherdess as she was watering her father’s flock, in Genesis 29. It was love at first sight. Jacob agreed with Rachel’s father -Laban- to work 7 years for her hand, only to be deceived. Laban tricked Jacob into consummating a marriage with Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Later, God would have Laban pay a heavy price for that fraud.
That’s a reminder to you & me that The Almighty is always ‘aware.’ God warns us about using ‘dishonest scales’ when dealing with people & in our business transactions.
God says how we sow is how we will reap. Laban didn’t know how God was planning to use Jacob & protect him; & likewise, you & I don’t know how God plans to use & protect the people we encounter. If we should cheat others, we might find ourselves trying to cheat God. Jacob did finally get to marry Rachel, but at the cost of another 7 years of working for her father.
So Jacob & Rachel were finally together as husband & wife, and it was just like in the storybooks – right? First came love = then came marriage = then came Rachel with a baby carriage; just like on the Hallmark channel – right? No. Yes, love was there; after 14 long years came marriage; but then there were no babies born to Rachel. Her sister, Leah, had babies, and lots of them = six sons & one daughter. And with the family-custom God set up back then, Rachel’s maidservant and Leah’s maidservant each gave birth to 2 sons for Jacob. If you’re keeping score, that’s 10 sons & 1 daughter. So, eleven babies had been fathered by Jacob, and none born to his beloved Rachel.
That means that eleven times there was no joy, no celebration for Rachel; it was the opposite. Those births were a source of strife & jealousy for her. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that each newborn’s first cry of life caused a toxic mix of anger & sorrow to well-up in Rachel. Each baby not born to her was a bitter reminder that even tho she was beautiful & loved, she was barren; which -back then- was considered a punishment from God, or at least a sign of His displeasure.
That same thought crosses a woman’s mind & heart in our day as well. Of course, we confess with Scripture that life is sacred, that God is the Source of all Life = He’s the Creator of every soul. He allows us to participate as ‘pro-creators’, and children are a great blessing = human life is the greatest blessing. So, why doesn’t everyone get to participate? Why would God allow neglectful & abusive people be parents, & not allow gentle & faithful people to be parents? That’s a question for God’s own Will; & sometimes we just don’t know the mind of God. We can only trust Him & His Will.
So, Rachel’s childlessness was not just a physical thing, but a spiritual thing, too. She had the natural female desire of a traditional, family & social activity; but this also involved & affected her faith. Children are a gift from the Lord, and Rachel hadn’t received that gift. Was it payback for something she did as a foolish teenager?
Was the Lord mad at her, or testing her faith? She had to wait 14 years for her husband, and now how long would her prayers go unanswered? Should she stop asking, & would this deep desire for children pass? You remember that Rachel was not very willing to give up altogether. There was the other options of surrogacy and adoption. Rachel arranged to give her personal servant -named Bilhah- to Jacob so that those babies would count as her own, under her authority & responsibility. But, in the family tree, there was still a disconnect from Rachel and those two sons born of Bilhah.
We can all identify with the questions & struggles of Rachel’s life as she wrestled with God. Maybe not with the issue of infertility, but maybe it is the issue of family relationships, or the question of being single desiring marriage, or having a marriage in conflict. Maybe it involves troubles of health, finances or job & career. When we think of the words ‘heartache’ or ‘forsaken’ or ‘unanswered prayer’, we can name those times -or those events- that made us feel that way. We can even admit to times of sin: /times of blaming God for our troubles; /accusing God of being cruel & not helping us; /charging Him with being unfair because we don’t have what others have; /maybe even threatening Him that if we don’t get what we want, then we’ll ignore Him & stop going to church and see how He likes it!
I know that sounds childish & shameful as we ponder it now, but when our minds & hearts are caught up in all that raw emotion, we can think those things. Rachel might’ve thought like that. We discount the Lord’s Will, we get tired of waiting on Him, and we stitch together our own solutions. How many times can we look in Scripture and find women & men who have tried the same thing as Rachel, and have seen the same result: a bad problem made worse, fueled by faithless desperation.
“Then God remembered Rachel.” Oh, God had not forgotten her; the Hebrew word ‘zakar’ often refers to God’s timing for His planned action for His people. He never forgets, but at the right time, He recalls into action what He promised to do, & He does it. From Rachel’s view, hope had dried up and faith was dimly flickering. From God’s view, He had to wait for the right time for her to conceive and bear a son = a particular son. That birth was the genesis of Joseph, along with a whole series of events that would ultimately deliver God’s people.
And all along the way there would be many signs for the whole world to be able to see and believe in the coming Savior Jesus.
God remembered Rachel; for God, ‘remember’ is an action word. When God remembers you, He intervenes. And His gracious work for us is often around us in such a way that we don’t see it. And also, how gracious it is that God is remembering you & me, not just when we’re well-behaved & waiting patiently, but even when we’re racing ahead of His Will, full of careless emotions, and foolishly ignoring His right ways just so we can have some results. Why would God remember sinners? Because “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” (says Joel 2:13).
God actions for Rachel quickly brought her back to her right mind and faith. She gives birth and names the boy Joseph, which means ‘may he add.’ Rachel remembers in faith that God does not abandon His people; and her solutions were not as good as what God had in mind for her = whatever it was. She is grateful that God removed her social & family shame; and as a confession of her faith and a prayer of hope, she chose a name for her son that was an expression of joy: ‘May the Lord add to me another son!’ … & what she says is prophetic.
“Another son” is why you & I have come back here today. God remembered Rachel with Joseph; but God has remembered you with another Son: His only beloved Son, Jesus. When God remembers, He takes action. The Father has acted for you -with purpose & conviction- in the human birth of His begotten Son. Giving him the name Yeshua, a form of the name Joshua, Jesus was born to be the end of your shame & desperation. It took many years, and He came thru the joyful births of many son thru many mothers, but this one Son is your deliverance from sin & death. In Him, God remembers the forgotten, the hopeless & the lost. Jesus was the only one ever truly ‘forsaken’& forgotten on the cross; but that was so that God will never forsake you. God is remembering you; He continues to intervene on your behalf in this troubled life; His will of grace-in-Christ is for you, & for your eternal good.
These forty days of Lent are to be a time of remembering for us. We are to recall our sins and quickly confess them; because they hurt us & damage our trust in God. What are those sins? Those tempting times when we wander away from His will, doing things our own way instead of His right ways.
Our mouths run ahead of our minds, as we spout-off with emotion instead of with a gentle faith. We know we shouldn’t break His commandments, but our friends & the world don’t mind if we bend them a bunch & it makes us look more tolerant – less rigid.
For fear of being ‘cancelled’ by those around us, we stop acknowledging the truths of His Scripture teachings when they run counter to the social issues & political issues of the day. Finally, Rachel reminds us of times when we lose our trust in God and do not wait on His good timing.
In order to remember as we should, we will walk with our Lord Jesus in the places & with the people of His Passion: /with Judas’s betrayal, /Peter’s denial, /the High Priest’s lying, /Pilate’s pandering, /& the soldier’s cruelty. We’re going to do this by recalling Rachel’s son Joseph, and how his life foreshadowed the Messiah – when he was betrayed by his brothers, & when he was unfairly convicted & punished, & when he was forsaken & treated as dead.
We are reminded of the Messiah as God preserved Joseph to be a savior of the starving world, and when Joseph pronounces forgiveness to his brothers.
All of that means that the most important remembering is not done by us, but done by God. God remembered Rachel; God remembered Joseph; And in his beloved Son, God remembers you. He remembers to meet you here, and speak to you of His grace & mercy in Christ each week. He recalls how He brought you to the cleansing water of your baptism, and how he has promised to bring to you the very body & blood of Jesus from the cross under simple bread & wine. He never forgets to work in you with His own holy Spirit so that each day & in any trouble, you are able to remember His own assurances of hope & peace.
Every Lent we read what The prophet Joel writes: “ ‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart’ ” (Joel 2:12). Why believe that invitation? Because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. ‘Yet even now.’ Even after we have copied Rachel’s sin, and been disappointed in God’s handling of our lives. Yet even now God wants you back, and wants you to listen to & believe His good news.
Another child was born and another Son was given; the authority of all governments is upon his shoulders, and His name is called Mighty God, & Prince of Peace. We who celebrated His birth will honor His work for us as we remember His life, death, & resurrection during this season of Lent. Amen.