An expert in human development told me that a person’s foundation of faith and character is solidified by about 14 years old. That means if your child receives proper nurturing, discipline, and education, including attending Sunday School regularly before age 14, they are likely to turn out well.
After 14, they may go astray and explore dangerous territories like most teenagers. You will feel frustrated as parents as they stop listening to you, but rest assured because they will turn around later and build their life on the foundation they received before 14.
The spiritual journey of humans is somewhat like salmon fish. Young salmons leave home and travel all over the oceans, but no matter how far they go, they still find their way to their birthplace to spawn. They don’t waste time looking for another habitat.
Therefore, do everything you can to nurture your children, grandchildren, or any children under your care before they are 14, and don’t worry after that because you cannot do anything about them anyway. You can only give them non-anxious nudges, pray for them, and leave the rest to God.
If we review our own childhood, we will find this pattern pretty accurate. We all meander through life after 14, but our spiritual anchor stays in the same place, with few exceptions.
I wonder how God arranged a perfect habitat to raise his Son on earth. If God chose Mary because she was the perfect mother for Jesus, God must have chosen Joseph because he was the ideal father for Jesus’ forming years.
I hardly talked about Joseph because, during the Christmas season, we mainly focused on Mary—her faith, courage, and sacrifice to be the mother of Jesus. During this season, we are also busy with special music and celebrations that often crowd out our attention on Joseph as if he was just a minor role in the Christmas pageant.
However, the role of the father is almost equally important to provide stability in raising a healthy child physically, mentally, and spiritually. According to psychologists, a child growing up without a father could be devastating, even though not as devastating as without a mother. I grew up without both during those years, so I know what they mean.
Some might argue that Jesus doesn’t need an earthly father since he is God’s Son. So they treat Joseph as a non-essential figure in Jesus’ life. However, since Jesus was also “fully human,” as he is fully God, he also needed a normal family to grow up healthily.
Even though the Bible doesn’t give us much information about Joseph, we discover he could be a model of a loving husband and a great father based on what we know about him. The last time we read about Joseph in the Bible is when Jesus was about 12 or 13.
Some historians discovered Joseph died in a construction accident. The Bible says he was a carpenter, but he could also be equivalent to today’s architect because the term “architect” came from Greek, ἀρχιτέκτων (arkhitéktōn), from the root, τέκτων (téktōn), which means “carpenter,” “builder,” or “master of art and engineering.”
As a man from the Davidic lineage, he was likely to be well-educated in the Scriptures and responsible for teaching his children. We know Jesus also learned carpentry from him as well as the scriptures.
Even though we don’t know how Joseph disappeared, at least we know he was there for Jesus’ forming years and played an essential role in Jesus’ physical, mental, and spiritual upbringing. He was chosen to bring up Emmanuel—God’s presence—on earth.
Since the Scripture lesson for today, the Fourth Sunday in Advent, focuses on Joseph, let’s learn why God chose him as an earthly father to raise Jesus. Along the way, we will learn how to be a person chosen by God to fulfill God’s purpose on earth. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson today is from the Gospel according to Matthew 1:18-25. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Mt 1:18–25).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s Word. Thanks be to God!]
If your fiancé came to you one day and told you, “Honey, I am pregnant, but it’s not your child,” how would you respond? Then if she says, “By the way, nobody is the father, but I am pregnant by the Holy Spirit,” would you believe her?
When Joseph heard Mary was pregnant, he tried to figure out a way to get rid of her. It was a normal reaction until he had a dream. Let’s look at Joseph’s character based on this story. I believe these are the character traits of people God uses.
If you want to be used by God to foster God’s presence on earth, you may want to develop these characters.
1. Nurture Noble Empathy
“Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” (Mat 1:19).
You might wonder why Joseph was described as “her husband,” even though they were only engaged but not yet married. In those days, an engagement vow is legally binding as a marriage vow, with a significant amount of dowry given to the bride and her family to show the seriousness of the intention. It begins a long process of wedding planning.
Even in China, nowadays, they call each other husband and wife (老婆, 老公) right after the engagement. So canceling engagement in Joseph’s days is equal to divorce. That’s why some Bibles translate this word as “divorce” instead of “dismiss.”
The verse says Joseph was a “righteous man,” and his righteousness is shown in his noble empathy—caring about Mary’s future. Joseph might be around 18 to 20 years old because that’s the average for marriage in those days, and Mary would be a few years younger. Some historians believe Mary could be as young as fourteen.
You might say, they were just kids, but the context they grew up might have forced them to mature earlier than our generations. In any case, Joseph seemed to be very considerate for such a young age. By quietly dismissing her, he would lose his right to reclaim the dowries.
If he went to court to divorce, he would get his money back and maintain his reputation. Mary would be punished for adultery. According to the Levitical law, she should be stoned to death, but in those days, they were under the rule of the Roman Empire, and capital punishment was reserved for the Roman government. In any case, her reputation would be ruined. Mary knew the risk the moment she accepted the responsibility.
However, the quiet divorce would not stop Mary’s pregnancy. She would still give birth to a child. People might think the child was Joseph’s. In that case, he would be the one to be blamed. Maybe that was his intention. He rather let his reputation be ruined than allow Mary to be punished.
His sacrificial empathy is noble. It may be because he was a direct descendant of King David and carried David’s character. Even though his generation is no longer as glamorous, his character was built through his upbringing in studying the Scriptures.
The Scripture promised that God’s kingdom would be re-established through the descendants of King David. Every generation received education to stay alert for the coming of the Messiah, who would re-establish the eternal kingdom for David.
That leads to the second character trait that qualified him to be the father of Jesus.
2. Develop Spiritual Discernment
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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.” (Mat 1:20).
You might wonder how a dream could justify such an important decision. The answer is discernment. Spiritual discernment has become a lost art in the modern days. We know how to pray but don’t know how to listen to God’s answer. It’s like we talk to God on the phone with a mouthpiece without an earpiece.
The skill of listening to God’s voice or reading the signs is known as spiritual discernment. Sometimes God talks to us through nature, sometimes through an impression, and sometimes through dreams.
In the dream, the angel called him, “Joseph, son of David.” It reminded him of the royal lineage. King David was great at discernment, and the Bible describes King David as “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14).
Discernment makes you creative. We know he was a shepherd, a musician, a poet, a military strategist, a warrior, and a king—a well-rounded man. He had his share of failures as a human, but his discernment always brought him back to God’s presence.
Now, the question is, how do you know your dream carries a message from God? Anyone can say, “God told me this, or God showed me that.” What if your dream is from the devil instead? Spiritual discernment also involves differentiating the voice of the Holy Spirit from the unclean spirit. You need authentication or confirmation.
When the angel told him that the child Mary conceived was from the Holy Spirit. That affirmed what Mary had told her. The angel also told him that it was according to the prophecy in the Scriptures. I call this the Trifecta of Discernment.
1) You see a sign, hear a voice, or have a dream,
2) The message is affirmed by a godly person,
3) The message is affirmed by the Scriptures,
When you have the trifecta, there’s a high certainty that you have received a message from the Head Office. Develop spiritual discernment, and you will find yourself useful for fulfilling God’s purposes.
3. Take Passionate Action
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Mt 1:24–25).
Discernment without action is useless. Taking half-hearted or lukewarm action is also as bad. One of the reasons you don’t take action is due to doubt. If you doubt your discernment, you become wishy-washy in your action. Last week we talked about how to overcome doubt and how God detests doubters because they are unstable in every way.
Another reason you might not take action is that you fear the future consequences. You don’t know what the future brings. Since this child was to be a king, there could be resistance and bloodshed. For example, King Herod tried to kill the child, and they had to escape to Egypt and live there as refugees until Herod died.
However, we see that Joseph was not a wishy-washy person. Like King David, he was decisive. Once you have the trifecta of discernment, you must take passionate action and avoid lukewarmness.
This passage is also a beautiful love story. Joseph loved Mary enough to cover her shame at the beginning of hearing about her pregnancy. Now, when he had discerned that the child was truly from the Holy Spirit and the prophesied Savior, he joined Mary to overcome all the obstacles to come.
We can say he was a passionate husband, a humble servant of God, and a brave earthly father to raise God’s Son. His determination fulfilled God’s promise to his ancestor David to save the world from this sea of suffering. As the angel told him,
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mat 1:21).
After the child was born, he named him Jesus. According to the first-century Jewish tradition, you claimed the child as your own when you named the child. That means Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son instead of acting like his half-father. He took passionate and decisive actions to nurture God’s presence on earth.
We are near the end of the year. We don’t know what the new year holds because it’s another uncharted territory. Some economists say the recession will continue and inflation will rise further, at least until the end of the year.
But, the most beautiful message of Christmas is Emmanuel, “God with us.” The days of Joseph were not much better. But he had the opportunity to bring up God’s presence on earth in a special way, and so do we in our own ways for our times.
All we need is to develop the character traits of people God uses, particularly noble empathy, spiritual discernment, and passionate action. With that, we can navigate any uncharted territory. No matter what happens next year, it will be the year of Emmanuel—God with us!
Let us foster God’s presence on earth.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom and happiness.