2nd Sunday in Advent “Angels: Messengers of Hope = when in fear” (series #2/4)
December 4, 2022 Matthew 1:18-25
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
At a few, very key times, leading up to Jesus’ nativity, an angel appears to relieve doubts or fears, or to confirm that something impossible was taking place. To help God’s people overcome unbelief, & keep their faith, God’s angels were the ultimate messengers of HOPE. Last Sunday, we considered the problem of ‘doubt’ as we heard of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah. This morning, let’s consider the problem of – ‘fear of the unknown.’
In the spring of 2020, our world was up-ended by an enemy previously unknown.
Our lives were changed by a virus we couldn’t see. No cure was presented to us; we were supposed to shut down businesses, schools & churches, & avoid people = even our family, & mask up. That didn’t stop the sickness; it did cause a sense of dread of everyday life, & blame for people who asked Qs or didn’t comply. But, since August, more vaccinated people have now died from covid than those who were not vaccinated. When does it end? Fear of the unknown.
This is only the most recent fear. We remember how fear of the unknown greatly increased following Sept.11, 2001. Evil men, by a devilish religion, took a useful machine, the airplane, and turned it into a missile of mass destruction; they collapsed the twin towers and 3,000 people died. A ‘war on terror’ commenced; but that enemy is nearly invisible.
When will be the next terrorist strike? What about a bomb in a knapsack left on the street during a marathon race; or an irrational person with a gun strolling into a mall or into a school and opening fire. What about the fear of suddenly meeting a drunk driver, or coming out of a doctor’s visit with a serious diagnosis. There is fear of the unknown.
Joseph lived with his own fear of the unknown. He was betrothed to a lovely young woman named Mary. This was a legal bond of marriage, but in that culture, it was not yet consummated. It would be about a year before the final celebration. Joseph dreamed of a wonderful life with his new wife, and having a family, supported by a his carpentry skills.
But out-of-the-blue comes the unknown, & all these dreams were put on hold, when Mary was suddenly “found to be with child.” She was pregnant, and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. Obviously, someone else was. What should he do?
Was this just a moment of weakness for her, or a deeper untrustworthiness? A future with Mary suddenly had social & religious complications. He could continue with the marriage, but covering for the sin was not right. The Old Testament law allowed for an adulterous woman to be stoned if her guilt was confirmed (Deut 22). But he loved her; so what were the other options? The law allowed another solution: “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” A quiet divorce. Being ‘just’ meant that sin would not be ignored, but justice can also show mercy. The open, public shame could be avoided; the internal guilt & accountability to God would be enough punishment for her.
As Joseph deliberated all this, the Almighty had something to say to him. So, the Lord sent an angel to occupy his sleep in a dream. Recall again that angels are not human; they are special creatures of God for divine assignments; the word angel means ‘messenger.’ As rational as Joseph tried to be, he was very troubled; and the angel’s message reveals his deeper struggle. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”
So, Joseph was struggling with FEAR of the unknown. He feared he could never trust Mary again. He feared a wrong decision would make him a bad example to his family & friends. He could still marry her, but he feared the repeated explaining why he was willing to raise another man’s child. He feared that Mary would aways be branded as an adulteress.
And if Joseph was not seen as a righteous man when faced with this, would people avoid him & his carpentry business? When people face such fears, we can understand why people feel the pressure to just ‘run away’, and disconnect from family & friends. They deal with the fear of the unknown by not facing it at all, just avoiding it.
We probably know from experience that Joseph may have had some other inner, personal fears. Such as: what was wrong with him that she would ‘step out’? And who was the guy = did Joseph know him? Divorcing would mean leaving Mary on her own, with a bad reputation & a child to raise. Nobody wins. So, he makes the best decision he can; and weary of all the worry, he sleeps. Tomorrow there’ll be more to decide, like how to un-plan some of the things he’d been planning for the life he & Mary were going to have together.
Fear is an arch-enemy of HOPE. Fear robs us of the assurance that God is in control, or that He knows what’s going on & cares about us. Fear crushes the hope that things will work out well.
Fear puts everything in the future in darkness instead of light. And even tho God’s solution to relieve Joseph’s fear is totally unique, this is still proof for us that God IS in control, & His plans are gracious, and He favors His people. When Joseph hears the angel’s words, I wonder if, even in a dream, he was asking: ‘can you repeat that part again ~ I don’t think I heard it right.’ “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The child in Mary’s womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit; God was the Father!
‘I-e-su’ or ‘y-eshu’, was a fairly common name among the Hebrews; a form of the Hebrew word ‘yeshua’ or ‘joshua’. But in this one case, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, this
I-e-sus would change the world. This One will actually save his people from their sins.
So, God’s perspective dwarfs Joseph’s = which is the case for us, too. Joseph was concerned about his personal situation, his reputation, Mary’s welfare; but God was looking at the big picture. Mary’s child was going to deliver mankind from sin. The Law declares that sin is the cause of death, & even hell. There is no fear worse than the fear of death & hell. So, when sin, death & hell are defeated & removed, what is there left to fear? When sin & death are defanged, what remains ..is.. HOPE. When the Savior is able to remove the unknown and replace it with His promise of life & His good things, that makes true hope.
Matthew confirms that this message from heaven’s throne room was foretold about 700 years before Joseph’s time – by the prophet Isaiah. Matthew quotes Is.7:14 = ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)”.
Fear of the unknown makes us think we’re alone, isolated, forgotten. In the past, God chased away fear & brought hope by being present with His people, in the pillar of cloud & fire, in the smoke-of-glory in the temple, by His prophets speaking His Word. And now, God chases away fear & brings hope in the real physical & present person of Jesus, the very Son of God. That was the message of hope the angel brought. And just as Joseph would not be left alone & with fear, neither are you.
Joseph had to face other times of potential fear. Like being required to travel to his hometown when Mary was so close to her due date; & arriving at Bethlehem when every available room was filled; & there’s no mention of any mid-wife around during the birth. Facing the things of daily living can be hard for us, but God does not abandon His people.
The arrival of the Messiah was good news for the shepherds & Magi, but not everyone saw it that way. That jealous fool, King Herod, lashed out to kill the Child, fearing he would lose his throne with its power & earthly goodies. But God’s heavenly messengers were helping in those times, too.
Again, even tho Joseph’s life was quite unique, struggling with the fear of the unknown is very common for all of us. No one knows what tomorrow brings. Yet, the promise he heard is the same promise ALL of God’s people have: Immanuel = God is with us. The Son of God did not just come to be with His mother & guardian-father – but with all of us. He came by body & blood so that His death with our sin on the cross would put to death the power of all sin over mankind. When sin & death are defanged, what remains ..is.. HOPE. When the Savior is able to remove the unknown and replace it with His promise of life & His good things, that makes true hope.
For us, it’s been 3 years and the word ‘pandemic’ and ‘covid’ are still being kicked around. People still die with its complications, and it is still being used as a political weapon to change or control things in various countries, including our own. It’s hard not to worry about what tomorrow will bring. There will always be the unknown. There is only One who is not affected by it; He’s not threatened by those fears, because to Him – all things are known.
He’s the One who has a message for us to hear; and we need to hear it often. The message comes from the very throne room of heaven itself, having been delivered by God’s special creatures. The message is for you in your times of fear: The one born of Mary is Jesus, whose name means – “Yahweh saves.” In this world’s history, Jesus came & lived & delivered you from your sins, and from the fear of death. In Him there is no fear = only hope. When Jesus arrived in body & blood, that’s the promise He brought to you & me: He is with us.
This is the kind of thing Paul was writing about in Romans 8, when he said, ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ Not a king Herod, not a terrorist, not even the chief accuser =Satan. Jesus has promised to speak for us with His Father. No one can separate us from the love of Christ. No unknown – tribulation or distress or persecution, or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. The cross shows that He conquered those things for us.
Because He is with us, neither life, nor death, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the unknown things to come can separate us from the love of Mary’s Son, Immanuel. Do not fear. In Him you have hope. Amen
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.