The Gospel reading for this last Sunday in Advent tells the other version of the Christmas story. “Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way...” (verse 18). Unlike Luke, Matthew makes no mention of a census or shepherds or multitudes of angels. Instead, he tells of a scandalous pregnancy, a quietly planned divorce, and a dream-induced change of plans. This is Christmas from Joseph’s point of view.
We do not know much about Joseph. He was a descendent of David (υἱὸς Δαυίδ – son of David) and a good (δίκαιος – righteous) man. He also seems to have been thoughtful. He considered his situation carefully (ἐνθυμηθέντος- to consider; to think) and wanted to avoid putting Mary to shame (δειγματίσαι- expose; make an example of; disgrace). He was the kind of man you hope your son’s will become and your daughter’s will marry. But Matthew makes it abundantly clear that Joseph lacked one thing: Control. He may have been the titular head of his emerging household, but he was clearly not in charge. God was, as God always is. God was working out a much bigger story than Joseph could have imagined. Eugene Peterson suggests this is how it is for the people of God: “When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”
The challenge (for Joseph, and for us) is we tend to think of it the other way around. We generally imagine ourselves as the central figure in our lives. This is a result of our finitude. We can only see through our own two eyes, which happen to be laser-focused on our own concerns, our own responsibilities, and our own capabilities. This leads us to think and act in ways which are remarkably narrow and usually selfish. It should not be difficult to think of examples of people in your context who are so focused on their own situation that they neglect the needs or concerns of others.
This promise broadened Joseph’s perspective. It changed his mind and determined his course of action.
In this text, God was opening Joseph’s eyes to see something much bigger. This was the function of the dream. An angel from the Lord expanded Joseph’s perspective to see how Mary’s extramarital pregnancy was, in fact, the work of the Holy Spirit. As Isaiah had prophesied eight centuries earlier, God was coming to be with His people in the flesh. This child would be God’s instrument for saving His people from their sin. He would put His (and their) enemies to shame (here, ἐδειγμάτισεν from Colossians 2:15, rather than in reference to Mary as in our Matthew text). This promise broadened Joseph’s perspective. It changed his mind and determined his course of action. Certainly, still afraid (and in need of several other divine dreams for further guidance), but now emboldened to be faithful, the man without control took Mary to be his wife and served as the adoptive father of Jesus. In doing so, Joseph fulfilled his small part in God’s much bigger story.
This Sunday marks one week until Christmas Day. It is likely your hearers are increasingly aware of their own lack of control. As much as they try to manage their families and their holiday schedules, much less their health, their work, their attitude, their society, and a host of other things, this time of year has a way of putting us in our place. Our response to this lack of control often includes unrighteous and selfish behavior. You can probably think of specific examples in your own life.
Your sermon, then, might focus on the theme of control. You might remind the members of your congregation that they are not in charge of their lives. This may seem like a problem, especially if they insist on having things their way. But you could also help them recognize how their lack of control is good news. It is good news because the One who has all control has come to be “God with us.” Even more, Jesus has come to be “God FOR us.” Through Joseph’s adopted son, God is saving His people from their sin. By virtue of their baptism, your hearers are now part of that people. You have the privilege of proclaiming this promise for their comfort and assurance.
As it meant for Joseph, this also means things for your hearers will probably not go according to their plans. Instead, they will see their lives as small parts of God’s bigger story. In this story, they are called to trust the promises of God and serve others in His name.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 1:18-25.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 1:18-25.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 1:18-25.
 Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. (Eerdmans, 2009.) 44.