Advent Love

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 18, 2022

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Matthew 1:18-25


Do you ever fall asleep while wrestling with a problem that is weighing on your heart? And then you wake up with the answer? This often happens to me when I am stuck on a sermon. Maybe I am struggling with a text, trying to decide how best to tell God’s story to God’s people and then at 4:00 in the morning, the Spirit wakes me up with a solution. Although I have certainly never been visited by an angel of the Lord in my dreams, I can’t help but wonder if Joseph is wrestling with a problem when he falls into a restless sleep one night. Surely, he is disturbed, and for good reason. Mary, the woman to whom he is engaged, is pregnant but the child is not his.


We know so little about Joseph—a man who plays a critical role in the life of Jesus. But from the beginning, Joseph is portrayed as a righteous man, a kind man, and a man who cares so much for Mary that he struggles with how not to disgrace her—even when he thinks she has brought shame upon him and his family name. And what a family name—what a lineage he has—with a genealogy going all the way back to Abraham. But Joseph is not concerned about his family tree. He is concerned about his family to be.


Mary is betrothed to Joseph, which means, among other things, the bride price has been paid. In biblical times, Jewish marriages were normally arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. Part of the arrangement was a contract and payment of a bride price by the groom’s parents. The contract was binding, with the couple considered to be married even though the actual ceremony and consummation of the marriage would not occur for as long as a year afterwards. It was during the betrothal period that the angel Gabriel visits Mary to proclaim, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…”


Soon, Joseph becomes aware of Mary’s pregnancy. No doubt, his heart is broken. How could she do such a thing? Who is the father? We can only imagine the questions he has and the answers that are certainly due him. But instead of being consumed by anger, Joseph looks for some way to get out of his contract with Mary without doing her irreparable harm. What love! What compassion! What kindness! Here we see a glimpse of the heart of Joseph.


If you are using the Advent devotional provided by the church this season, “Attending to Advent: Poetry, Prose, and Prayer,” published by The Presbyterian Outlook, you will recall that Joseph was the theme of the second week of Advent. I was struck by the reflections that focused on his story. I particularly appreciated a poem written by Kathryn Lester-Bacon entitled “Joseph, before he awakes.”

I thought it would be up to me.

The fig, the sower, the seed,

the conquest.

No one told me

what to do when I was not

needed. I was taught to be

the conqueror

of fruit and field,

my dominion, my right. But

I wasn’t even there.

What do you do when

you thought the story

began with you?

No one warned me

that something could end

and begin

without my input,

that this was enough:

the choice made,

a word passed

between a girl

and her God.


Joseph, a righteous man, acts toward Mary with love in his heart. He shows great humility. Even living in such a patriarchal society, he does not feel the need to be the center of the story. He is content being faithful to God in whatever way God chooses.


Another poem in our Advent devotional, written by retired Presbyterian pastor, Scott L. Barton, is entitled “Saving Grace.”

The Bible, once again, dares redefine

The notion “righteous” as much more divine

Than oft we make it when we think of laws

All kept, producing someone lacking flaws.

For Joseph’s righteousness stems from his will

To do a gracious thing — and thus fulfill

The law his son would later say is best,

The law of love, by which we all are blessed.

And how it blessed him! For he had this dream

That told him that no matter what it seemed

The father of this child-to-be had been –

Abusive soldier? Or perhaps some friend? –

There was another possibility

To lead both them – and all the world – to see

That Jesus, meaning “Yahweh saves,” still shows

That love for all is how God’s spirit grows.


As I began preparing for today’s sermon, I noticed something about Psalm 80 that I have never noticed before. Three times, the prayer of the psalmist includes these words: “O God, let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Pondering these words, I turned to the gospel reading and noticed what the angel said to Joseph in a dream: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”


O God, let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Jesus will save his people from their sins.

O God, let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Jesus will save his people from their sins.

O God, let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Jesus will save his people from their sins.


Through Joseph’s righteousness, through Mary’s willingness, a child is born, a child who will shine his face upon us and save us. I daresay God could not have chosen better parents. A humble, kind earthly father, and a compassionate, adoring mother. It was a good beginning for the child who would help us all begin again, transformed by his law of love. It is with this love in mind that I share the words to “Joseph’s Song,” by Michael Card. (I posted it on Facebook yesterday, and if you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to do so.)

How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be
Lord I know He’s not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love

Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, How can I raise a king
He looks so small, His face and hands so fair
And when He cries the sun just seems to disappear
But when He laughs it shines again
How could it be

Perhaps the greatness of Joseph can be measured by his eagerness to protect the most vulnerable, come what may. Perhaps the greatness of Joseph can be measured by his humility, a strength too often overlooked in our world today. As we near the end of our Advent journey, let us pause to give thanks for the faithfulness of Joseph. Let us pause to give thanks that with the birth of the Christ-child, God’s face shines upon us and we are saved. Thanks be to God. Amen.