Matthew 1:18-25
God Is With Us

Dr. Keith Wagner

When I was in college as a freshman we were required to go to weekly convocation. There we listened to a variety of speakers on subjects that were designed to make us better people. Some were informative and interesting but many were boring and quite frankly a waste of time. To validate our presence at those gatherings each student was required to present his/her computer card. The computer cards were collected then taken to a computer company in Columbus (Ohio) to keep track of our attendance.

One of my classmates was working his way through college and he had to work late at night. He barely had enough money to pay for his education but he was determined to graduate. The morning of the convocations was the only time he could catch up on his rest. It was all he could do to work and go to class. Convocation attendance was required of each student. Missing them could result in suspension. It was a dumb rule, but you know, rules are rules.

If college students learn anything in college it is learning there are ways to beat the system. Once a month, a student, who worked for the college service department, would transport the computer cards for the month to Columbus. Somehow, my classmate’s cards would find their way into the carton. Although he never attended convocation, the computer readout gave him perfect attendance.

On the one hand it is true that a college rule was abused. And, there would be those who would say that that was not right. But, on the other hand, it was an act of love and kindness that enabled my classmate to satisfy the requirements for his education. Which is more important; obeying all the rules and always doing the “right” thing, or doing the “loving” thing, and helping someone who needs a little help?

Joseph needed some help. His, soon to be wife, Mary, was pregnant. In that culture the laws of marriage also applied to those who were engaged. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies were very serious. Joseph also could have brought public charges of adultery against Mary or he could have two witnesses appear and divorce her. Those were the “rules.” In that culture either of those two options was the “right” thing to do.

Joseph considered his options and believed the best thing to do was to divorce her quietly. That would save his reputation and spare Mary from committing a crime. While Joseph pondered over his dilemma an angel appeared to him and told him to take Mary as his wife. This was not the “right” thing to do, it was the “loving” thing to do. Joseph was also told not to be afraid since the child was none other than Jesus, Emmanuel, which means, God is with us.

In the case of the birth of Jesus, God intervened by encouraging Joseph to make a decision out of love, rather than follow the rules. For God, love is supreme; there are times when rules need to be trumped by love in order to make something happen that will ultimately save lives. In other words, salvation comes when someone is willing to put love above the law.

Joseph didn’t follow the rules, but he acted in a totally unselfish manner. He put aside his pride and adopted Jesus as his son. Anyone who adopts a child deserves total respect. I also believe that those who are step-parents, deserve much credit when they love their step-children just as much as they love their biological children. Foster parents deserve credit too since they are under no obligation to raise children who have other parents.

It must have been a scary thing for Joseph to take such a risk. Only a deep and abiding faith could have enabled him to follow through with the angel’s instructions. Anytime we do that which is unpopular or goes against what society considers to be “right,” we take a risk. It can be very lonely and we will likely lose some friends in the process. Joseph, however is given assurance. He did not have to be afraid. God was with him.

I had a former student who had an adopted daughter. When her daughter reached age eighteen, she wanted to meet her biological parents. Her mother (who raised her) was terrified. She was afraid that her daughter would abandon her family and connect with her biological family. It scared her that she might not see her again. I reminded her that for all parents there comes a time when we have to let go. I was also aware that this mother and daughter had a loving relationship, one that had eighteen years to grow. What my student needed was some assurance that her daughter would not disappear from her life. I reminded her that just as God was with her in the adoption and the raising of her daughter, God would be with her at this time as well. I learned years later that the daughter did connect with her biological mother and they basically became pen-pals, nothing more.

For me, the story of Joseph is here to remind us that when we do the loving thing, God will be with us. The loving thing could be marrying someone your family does not approve of. The loving thing could be breaking family tradition and going to a college no one has heard of. The loving thing could be having a friend your parents don’t like. The loving thing could be choosing a career that suits your personality rather than one where you can make a lot of money. The loving thing could be caring about someone no one likes or is not “normal.”

Are there really any “normal” or people in life who can follow every rule, every law, or policy without making a mistake? Perhaps that is why the angel announced that Jesus would “save people from their sins.”

By the way, I never attended convocation as a freshman either. I couldn’t, because I worked for the college service department.

It took great courage and faith for Joseph to follow the instructions of an angel, rather than the tradition and policies of his society. In chapter 2, he again is encountered by an angel. This time the angel tells him to leave his home and go to Egypt. He is told to leave his family and friends and find sanctuary in a foreign land. And so, a second time he does what is unpopular and acts in faith. The loving thing to do was to protect his family, whatever the cost. It must have been painful, risky and grievous for him, but his courage and faith would change the course of history forever.

According to an old legend, two monks named Tanzan and Ekido, were traveling together down a muddy road. Heavy monsoon rains had saturated the area, and they were grateful for a few moments of sunshine. Before long, they came around a bend and encountered a lovely girl in a silk kimono. She looked extremely forlorn as she stared at the muddy road before her. At once, Tanzan responded to her plight. “Come here, girl,” he said. He then lifted her in his arms, and carried her over the slippery ooze to the other side of the road.

As they went on their way, Tanzan noticed that Ekido was uncharacteristically silent. It was apparent that something was troubling him. That night, after they had reached their destination, Ekido could no longer retain his anger at Tanzan. “We monks don’t go near females,” he said to Tanzan. “We especially don’t go near young or lovely maidens. It is dangerous and against our code. Why did you do that? Tanzan then replied, “I left that girl back there on the road, but you are still carrying her.”

Just because something is legal or “right,” doesn’t mean it is in God’s best interest. Rules can stand in the way. Rules can prevent God’s children from being saved.

When in doubt, let “love” be your guide and path. God needs more folks, like Joseph and Tanzan, those who are unselfish, caring and who are willing to take some risks. Joseph and Tanzan acted from their hearts. They acted out of love and when we act in love, we have nothing to fear.

Copyright 2010, Keith Wagner.  Used by permission.