Advent Midweek 4
Family Life – A Sanctified Family
December 21, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
When the Christmas cards start rolling in, you see families at their best. Everyone looks happy and healthy and well-dressed. Even in those cards where the families pose in some sort of strange position with some unexpected props, it’s still an image manufactured to present your family in the way you want everyone to know you. No one ever tries to snap a pic during one of those knock-down, drag-out family fights: “Oh, this will be perfect for this year’s Christmas card!”
You might have noticed, however, that the ideal family portrayed in the media has changed. It’s no longer the nuclear family where the husband works 9-5 and the wife dresses in an apron for her day of domestic duties and the 2 kids find a little mischief, but learn their lesson by the end of the day. The modern family has changed a bit.
But in reality, the picture perfect family has really only been found in old sitcoms and Norman Rockwell paintings. Real families aren’t nearly that tidy.
The Holy Family is a case in point. First of all, in times past, there was no such thing as adolescence. You went from childhood to adulthood, and pretty quick, too. We stretch childhood out through high school and college and beyond. But by 14-15 years old, you were starting your adult life.
So imagine 15-year-old Mary, betrothed to Joseph—not quite marriage, but much stronger than our practice of engagement—coming to her soon-to-be-husband and telling him that she’s pregnant. And not just that. But she also works up a fantastic story about an angel visiting and the Holy Spirit being the power that conceived in her. Imagine Joseph’s reaction. By all rights, he could have divorced her, ended this relationship on account of her unfaithfulness.
All outward appearances showed an unfaithful Mary and a family that was about to fall apart. But there was more at work under the surface. We have the benefit of knowing the story before it’s told, but there was no way for Joseph to know that Mary’s pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit, except by a revelation. But even before that eventual revelation came, the Holy Spirit was also at work in Joseph. Not revealing, but sanctifying. Joseph gives us a picture of what it is that can hold a family of sinners together.
But her husband, Joseph, being righteous and not desiring to disgrace her, wanted to divorce her secretly (Mt 1:19). Now here is a lesson we can learn from sanctified Joseph. Before he finds out the full story, he had no desire to shame his wife and publicize what he thought to be her sin. Instead of hanging his betrothed’s dirty laundry out for everyone to see, he wants to keep things secret.
There is a practical reason for this. When we find out about our neighbor’s sin, rarely do we know the entire story. We don’t know the hurt and the shame that someone may already be feeling. We don’t know the circumstances that surround the sin—perhaps a person is put in an impossible position where they have to choose to sin or to sin. And furthermore, like Joseph, what we perceive to be a sin may not actually be a sin at all. That is why we should never be quick to judge—if judging is even our vocation in a particular situation.
Joseph did what he did, according to St. Matthew, because He was righteous. His righteousness wasn’t because of what he did; his righteousness preceded his work. His was a righteousness of faith. And being righteous, he also had the gift of the Holy Spirit. He was sanctified. And because of the Holy Spirit working in him, Joseph’s good work began with the heart. His desire was sanctified.
It was only after this holy work that it was revealed to Joseph by an angel that Mary really did bear the Son of God. And encouraged by the angel’s message and sanctified by the Spirit, Joseph took Mary as his wife, and cared for her until the time that her Son was born. Joseph was sanctified by the Spirit to be the guardian of the Holy Family.
The family of Jesus shows in a way that every family is unique and faces its own unique challenges. Joseph faced an unplanned pregnancy and a potential divorce before his family even began. If our families are without such adversities, then it’s only by God’s grace. And believing what we believe about the nature of man, we should be surprised that any family actually makes it.
The events surrounding and leading up to the birth of Christ are a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our families. Not that the Spirit comes with any particular promise about making a good family, but that without the Spirit, the best a family can only hope for is to be bound by blood.
Outwardly, Christian families often look just the same as other families. Sometimes they appear much more dysfunctional. Bickering, infighting, enmity, strife, dissentions. Brokenness. If this is how Christians treat their families, how do they treat their enemies?
Yet outward appearances don’t always tell the whole story. Like Joseph, our faith in redemption and forgiveness should create in each of our hearts the desire that our neighbors not be put to shame. And family are our nearest neighbors.
The Spirit is the One who sanctifies. He is the One who creates new desires in the heart of the faithful. He is the One who engenders love, which is the fulfillment of the Law. Like Joseph, who gave up the picture-perfect family to take Mary as his wife and become the guardian of the Savior of the world, the Spirit causes you to look beyond the outward appearances, to put the best construction on your family’s failings, and to sacrifice yourself in love for your nearest neighbors.
Oh Spirit, who dost bind
Our hearts in unity,
Who teachest us to find
The love from self set free,
In all our hearts such love increase
That ev’ry home by this release
May be the dwelling place of peace.
(Our Father, by Whose Name, st. 3)
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard