“Joseph, Did You Know?” (Matthew 1:18-25)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 18, 2022

“Joseph, Did You Know?” (Matthew 1:18-25)

If you’ve listened to one of those radio stations that play Christmas songs for about two months before Christmas, then you’ve probably heard a song called “Mary, Did You Know?” You’ve heard that song, right? The lyrics involve asking Mary a series of rhetorical questions about whether she knew what her son would grow up to do: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?” “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?” That sort of thing.

Well, today I’m wondering about the man who would become Mary’s husband. Joseph–what did he know? And so our message today will take up that question, under the theme: “Joseph, Did You Know?”

First, though, let’s go back to what Mary knew. Because she knew right from Day One–at least in general terms, if not in specific detail. The angel Gabriel had come to Mary and announced to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked, “since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.”

So that’s what Mary knew, right from the get-go. She knew that her pregnancy was from the Holy Spirit, not from any man. She knew that her son would be the holy Son of God. She knew that her son would be the long-expected son of David, the Messiah, who would reign over an everlasting kingdom. These things Mary knew, because God’s messenger had told her, right from the start.

But now Joseph–what did he know? Not much, to begin with. He knew that Mary was pregnant–it became hard to hide that. And Joseph knew that he was not the father. So in Joseph’s mind, that left only one possibility: Some other man had gotten her pregnant. And that was unacceptable. For the girl you’re going to marry to be fooling around with some other guy? “Nah, nah, ain’t gonna happen! I’m not going to marry a woman like that! She has really let me down! I’m calling off the marriage!”

That’s what Joseph knew–or at least what he thought he knew. And ordinarily, in 99% of the cases–no, make it 100%, other than this one–he would be correct. But this was a one-time, unique exception. And Joseph needed to know that. For Joseph’s role in this would be very important.

So the Lord sends Joseph an angelic messenger. In a dream. The Joseph of the Old Testament was known for his dreams. Now this Joseph, in the New Testament–God would speak to him also through dreams.

An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says: “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.” Notice right away that the angel addresses him as “Joseph, son of David.” That is significant. The David being referred to is not Joseph’s immediate father. No, his dad had a different name, as we read in the genealogy right before our text. But to say “Joseph, son of David”–that calls attention to the fact that Joseph was descended from the great King David from a thousand years earlier. Now that in itself was nothing special or unique. There were lots of descendants of David around after so many generations–just ordinary people. There had not been a Davidic king actively ruling for 600 years. But Joseph was physically descended from King David, and the angel wants to remind him of that.

Why? Because the son that Mary would bear would need to have a legal right to the throne. And that came through the father’s line. In this case, it would come through the child’s earthly father, Joseph. Because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David. Now Mary also was descended from David, and it was necessary for the Messiah to be born physically from that line. And this child would be. But for the right to the throne–that came through the father. Thus the importance of Joseph as a “son of David.”

“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.” Joseph is assured that the child Mary is carrying is not the result of any infidelity on her part. No, Joseph, don’t divorce her. Go ahead and take her as your wife. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay! It’s marvelous what God is doing!

And so, Joseph, here is what Mary will do; here’s what you will do; and here’s what that child will do. The angel says: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” What Mary will do is to give birth to the child: “She will bear a son.” And what you will do, Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus.”

By giving the boy his name, Joseph will be taking on that child as his own. He will be legally adopting him. Thus the boy will come into the royal lineage of David. And in this way, he will be entitled to take up his office as the Messiah sent from heaven, the Christ.

And what about the name that Joseph is to give the boy? “You shall call his name Jesus.” Now “Jesus” was a fairly common name among the Jews of that time. It’s basically the same name as “Joshua,” and Joshua was one of the heroes of Israel’s past. So no biggie there. However, the angel gives Joseph the reason for calling the child that name. He says: “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

You see, the name Jesus or Joshua in the Hebrew is “Yehoshua.” And it literally means, “Yahweh saves” or “The Lord is savior.” OK, fine. The people would have been all on board for that: Yay! Finally, the Lord is going to save us, deliver us from the foreign powers that have been dominating us for centuries! Goodbye, Romans! Get out of town! The Lord is coming to save us. Your days here are numbered! We’re finally going to get back to being the rich, independent, powerful nation we deserve to be! And if this kid “Jesus” is going to lead us back to those glory days, more power to him!

But is that what Israel really needed to be saved from? Political adversity. Was that their real problem? And how about us? What ultimately do we need to be saved from? The angel tells us: “for he will save his people from their sins.” That is our biggest problem. We need to be saved from our sins! And that’s what this child will do. By suffering and dying on the cross, this Jesus will save us from our sins. And if we are saved from our sins, we are therefore saved from death and damnation. Jesus does it all. He has saved you, brothers and sisters, he has saved you from sin, death, and damnation. He has saved you for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And even his very name tells you this. “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

And there’s also another name you shall call him. As our text says: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Immanuel! Another little Hebrew for you: Im, “with”; manu, “us”; el, “God.” Together: Im-manu-el, “With us, God.” This Jesus is God with us! With us, not to condemn us, but to save us! With us in our joys and blessings! With us in our sorrows and sadness. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, here in our midst, here in this church, where he bestows his gifts on us in Word and Sacrament. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, with his baptized people, guiding us, leading us, restoring us, all the way in our life through our final hour. “For lo, I am with you always, all the days until the close of the age.” And then, in the age to come, our Lord Jesus will continue to be our Immanuel, God with us, for endless days in glory.

Joseph, did you know all this? Well, maybe not at first. But the angel’s message that night gave him a good head start. Joseph then knew that there was a special purpose for this extraordinary child on the way, in this most unique, one-of-a-kind pregnancy ever. So go ahead, Joseph, go ahead and marry Mary! It’s all good. And God will have a special role for you to play in all of this, as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father and guardian.

Now, dear Christian, did you know? Do you know? Yes, you know plenty about this child born at Christmas. You know him to be conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, true God and true man, God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us. You know him, you know Jesus. He lives up to his name, for he is the Lord who saves you. He saves you from your sins, he saves you for new life now, he saves you for life everlasting. Mary and Joseph know this too, and together we thank God that he has made our Lord known to us!

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Published in: on December 17, 2022 at 1:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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