Walking in “Yes” Pastor Lynn ·December 18, 2016 Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25January 5, 2017
How many of you remember a time when you said “yes” to Jesus? Maybe it was when you decided to live your life as a Christian. Maybe it was a yes to a particular mission, reaching out to people or helping people. Maybe it involved moving to a new place. Maybe it was simply saying “yes I want you to be with me in my ordinary normal day today.” Sometimes it’s a desperate “Yes Jesus I need you to help me right now!” In the scriptures we read today, we see both Mary and Joseph saying “yes” to God.
Mary’s yes is the yes of a young person of faith who has a passion for serving God and is willing to face anything in order to walk with God in His mission. The angel tells her she is going to conceive a son who will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God is going to give her son the throne of David and her son will reign forever. The angel doesn’t mean that, eventually, after her marriage to Joseph, they will conceive a child together who will be a king. That actually wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. Joseph was a direct descendant of King David and any children he had would be royal children. It wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility that one of them could become king if the people were able to rise up and overthrow Rome and establish their own government. In that case they might look to the descendants of David to rule. But the angel is saying something different. He’s saying, “You, Mary, will conceive and you will give birth.” We know she understands this to be his meaning because she asks, “How can this be?” And then she is told that her child will be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and she will give birth to the Son of God.
How could a 15 or 16 year old girl possibly understand all the ramifications of this? It’s mind boggling that God became human and lived among us, let alone that he was conceived in the womb of a virgin. Last week at Tim & Raquel’s baby shower, some of us women were talking about women being pregnant and not knowing it until they were ready to give birth. We find that incredible and wondered how could someone possibly be pregnant for 9 months and not figure it out. You’ve got a whole person living and moving around inside of you. After a while it gets noticeable. Well imagine how mind boggling it was for people in Mary’s day to find out she was pregnant and she’s claiming to be a virgin. Did it cross her mind, when the angel talked to her, that people might not believe her, that they might think badly of her, or wonder if she had gone mad when they found out she was pregnant? Did she think about her family’s reaction or Joseph’s reaction?
She doesn’t discuss any of these things with the angel. She doesn’t negotiate terms with him. She doesn’t say, “Can’t this wait until after I’m married so I don’t have to deal with my parents or Joseph or our community, and I can avoid the shame and judgment of being unmarried and pregnant?” Mary simply says “I am the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.” Mary’s yes is a full acceptance of what God wants to do and how He wants to do it, no matter what cost she must pay. In saying yes, she was accepting all the difficulties that would go along with being a single pregnant teen in first century Nazareth. She says yes, regardless of the risks or difficulties. Her yes isn’t about what she wants or what is most convenient for her. It’s about what God wants. Her yes is total, sincere, and changes her entire life.
Joseph’s yes is more considered than Mary’s. He has to go through some processing before he gets to yes. Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant and considers what to do. We aren’t told how or when he finds out about the pregnancy. Maybe Mary told him about her conversation with the angel. Maybe her family told him. We don’t know. We do know that Joseph was a righteous man and this affected his response. The word righteous means innocent, faultless, without guilt. Joseph has committed no sin in this situation. Righteous also is used to describe a person whose way of thinking, feeling and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God. This is the type of person Joseph tried to be and it sounds like he got it right most of the time. He wants to do what God wants him to do. But like many of us at times, just having a desire to do what God wants isn’t enough if you don’t really know what it is God wants you to do. Joseph finds himself in a situation where he has to figure out what God wants him to do.
Sometimes God deals with us like he dealt with Mary and just tells us straight out what to do. We’re told many things in the bible that we can be doing as believers in Jesus. But other times we are like Joseph and we find ourselves in situations that don’t seem to present any righteous response. The Bible doesn’t give clear direction. What is the right thing to do? We have to think about it a bit, pray about it, talk to other wise people about it to try to figure out the right thing to do. One thing we can take away from Mary and Joseph’s stories is that both the passionate, immediate yes and the slower, more considered yes are acceptable. Neither one is better than the other in God’s eyes. And God will work with us, be patient and gentle with us, to get us to yes.
So Joseph thinks about this situation. According to the law, he could have accused Mary of adultery and had her stoned. He could have publicly shamed her. If Joseph had been a hot headed type of person he probably would have jumped immediately to one of these solutions. But Joseph isn’t hot headed. He takes the time to think about things rather than acting on feelings alone. He is also a kind man. He doesn’t want to shame Mary publicly. He doesn’t want to hurt her. I thought about why Joseph didn’t want to hurt Mary. He certainly had to be upset that she was pregnant by someone else and so was no longer eligible to be his wife. He was going to have to start all over again looking for someone to marry and maybe his prospects wouldn’t be so good, now that he was attached to this scandal. But I think Joseph also knows Mary’s character. Being the type of man whose way of thinking, feeling and acting is wholly conformed to God’s will, he would have been very careful in the type of woman he chose to marry. He must have known Mary was a righteous person also. And so he probably believes that she committed no sin in becoming pregnant, but maybe thinks someone sinned against her and forced her. We don’t know if this was Joseph’s thinking for certain, but to me it makes sense as to why he would want to protect her as much as he can.
The solution that comes to Joseph is to divorce Mary and let her family take care of her and the baby. He’ll bring no charges against her. This is the best he can do for her in the circumstances. But God wants Joseph to act outside the box. People like Joseph, who try very hard to do the will of God, many times will try to stay within the boundaries of what they know God’s will is. I actually like this myself. I’m the type of person who likes to know what is expected of me so I can do that thing and don’t waste my time doing the wrong thing or the unnecessary thing. But there are times when God wants us to get out of our comfort zone. He wants to show us that He’s got lots of ways of doing His will that we haven’t experienced yet. When we were still located in the other building, I used to deliberately sit in a different seat every Sunday so that someone would be forced to sit in a new spot and meet new people, because people tend to sit in the same place every week. It was a way for me and everyone else to get out of our comfort zones and meet new people and hopefully start to build new relationships. I’ve been thinking about reviving that practice so don’t be surprised if you come some Sunday and find my stuff in your seat.
God speaks to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary as his wife. He fills in the blanks for Joseph, assuring him that the child Mary is carrying is the Son of God and has been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary has committed no wrong and so Joseph can take her as his wife and not be afraid of going against the will of God. Once Joseph hears from God, he doesn’t hesitate, but goes and gets Mary and brings her home as his wife. He takes on the responsibility of caring for Mary’s child, God’s child, as his own. He becomes Jesus’ father.
Joseph also accepts all the risks and responsibilities that go along with saying yes to God. When the angel says to name the child Jesus because he will save his people from their sins, Joseph names the child Jesus and speaks his destiny over him. Joseph is the one who has to communicate to Jesus that, as Messiah, he will save his people from their greatest enemy, their sins. This may not have been what the rabbis and religious leaders were saying the Messiah would do. But Joseph has learned that God works outside the box. When the angel again speaks to Joseph in a dream and says to take the family to Egypt because Herod is coming to kill the child, he immediately gets up, packs up, and relocates the family to Egypt. Three times Joseph relocates his family and his business in order to fulfill God’s plan and protect Jesus. His yes to God is as complete and life changing as Mary’s is. And, like Mary, Joseph’s yes is something he walked in for the rest of his life.
Walking in yes means accepting risks. It means there will be times when things will go bad. There will be times when we feel helpless and alone. There will be times when we don’t know what to do. But walking in yes also means trusting in spite of what we see and experience. It means listening for God’s voice above all the other voices we hear including our own. It means committing to the difficulties as well as the privileges of being in mission with God. Walking in yes takes courage and is life changing. Why was it so important that Mary and Joseph walked in yes?
Well let’s look at another scripture. Turn to Matthew 26:36-46 (read) Three times Jesus struggled with saying yes to God. He struggled with having to walk in that yes because he knew it led to betrayal, injustice, torture, shame and death. But in the end he said yes and he walked in yes. Where did he learn that? From his parents who walked in yes before God his entire life. He saw what they faced. He saw their constant obedience to the will of God and what that cost them. He experienced their love and grace towards him in loving him as their son, knowing who he really was and where his destiny would lead him. They accepted the risks, the difficulties, the heartbreak and the uncertainties of loving and parenting the one who would die for the sins of the world and that had to have affected Jesus.
Jesus knew what walking in yes meant. And in teaching his disciples how to pray, he taught them to pray that they might walk in yes. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray this, we pray to walk in yes. It is extremely important that we be living our lives saying yes to God, walking in yes. How will the next generation know how to walk in yes if we don’t show them? A few days ago, Vandy’s Aunt Viola died. She was a woman who walked in yes before God. She and Uncle Leonard prayed for us when we were in missions and when we moved here. They’ve always been an encouragement and support to us. Vandy’s cousin, who is officiating at her funeral today, wrote a tribute to her and posted it on his Facebook page. He wrote about the great example she was and the influence that has had on his life in many different ways and how thankful he is to have her example to follow. People are watching to see how we walk in yes. Who do you watch and who is watching you?
It will cost us to walk in yes and it will change our lives in ways we can’t imagine. There will probably be times when it is extremely difficult to walk in yes. But we aren’t doing it alone. We walk in yes together. Today I looked at the online Advent devotion I’ve been following this year and there was a link to an article called “Saying Yes to God.” Of course I read it because that’s what I’m preaching on. The writer pointed out how Joseph’s yes required Mary’s yes, but also supported it. It reminds us to partner with one another and support one another. Who supports you in your yes, and who are you supporting?
Next Sunday we celebrate the birth of Jesus. As we go through this week, as busy and hectic as it might be, take time each day to think about what it took for Jesus to be born, how 2 people had to say yes to God and then walk in that yes for the rest of their lives. We can be thankful they did say yes because we have all benefited from their obedience. And there are those yet to come who will benefit from our yes. Let’s remember to support one another, encourage one another, pray for one another as we all say yes to God.