Posts tagged ‘Mary’

Christmas: Grace Upon Grace

Credit: Burkay Canatar / Pexels.com

For a moment, put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. You come from an impoverished family and have endured a hardscrabble life. But now, finally, things are looking up. You are engaged to a good girl named Mary, and the two of you are on your way to a wedding. But then, she turns up pregnant. And you know the baby is not yours. What would you do?

2,000 years ago, in Israel and as a Jew, Joseph had only two options.

First, according to the law of Moses, he could have called for her life:

If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor – both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

Second, as the son who Mary eventually bears notes, he could have divorced her:

I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

Divorce displeases Jesus, but He permits it when sexual unfaithfulness is involved.

Death and divorce – these are Joseph’s options. Which will he choose? Matthew tells us:

He had in mind to divorce her. (Matthew 1:19)

Joseph chooses divorce over death. But there’s more to Joseph’s decision than just one option over the other. Matthew adds a very important qualifier to Joseph’s divorce decision:

He had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)

In the first century, divorces were often public spectacles, meant to shame an unfaithful spouse. But Joseph forfeits his opportunity to shame his fiancé, as Matthew makes explicit in the rest of this verse:

Because Joseph was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)

Joseph was walking a tightrope. As a pious Jew, devoted to following the law of Moses, he knew he couldn’t just continue on as if nothing had happened. But Joseph also knew that grimly responding to his fiancé’s perceived infidelity with all that he could do according to the law wasn’t what he should do, for shaming her would destroy her. Something else was needed.

Grace.

Joseph followed the letter of the law by planning to divorce Mary, but he also did everything he could not to retaliate against her even though he thought she had betrayed him. He responded to her apparent unfaithfulness with every bit of kindness he could muster. Joseph did the right thing according to the law and the loving thing according to grace.

Joseph’s path can be instructive for us as we face messy moral challenges in our lives. Respecting divine law is necessary and right. But we are also invited to seek opportunities to layer divine grace on top of divine law.

We can discipline our children and still remind them how much we love them.

We can reprimand an employee and still do everything we can to help them succeed.

We can adamantly disagree with someone while still treating them gently.

When Joseph layered grace on top of law, something incredible happened:

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

When Joseph chose grace, an angel appeared to show him where even more grace could be found. He did not need to divorce Mary, for, contrary to appearances, she had not been unfaithful. Instead, she was being a radically faithful servant to the Lord who had miraculously gestated in her the Savior of the world (cf. Luke 1:38).

In John’s account of the Christmas story, he describes Jesus’ mission like this:

From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace. (John 1:16)

“Grace upon grace.” Grace that begets even more grace. Pile it high. Spread it wide. Do what Joseph did for Mary. And trust in what Jesus has done for us.

This is the miracle and the message of Christmas.

December 20, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Team Lifting

A few months back, I purchased a treadmill for my wife.  The one we previously owned had worn out and it was time for a newer, more powerful, more advanced model.  I was very happy with the deal I received on the treadmill.  I got it for about 50 percent off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price!  As I was paying for the treadmill, the customer service representative asked me, “Would you like to pay an additional $100 to have the treadmill delivered and set up?”  I didn’t even have to think about it:  “$100?  No thank you, I’ll pass.”

A couple of days later, I returned to the store with my truck and a buddy to pick up the treadmill.  It was going to be simple.  We would load the treadmill in the bed of my truck, haul it home, set it up, and be done.  The plan was perfect.  That is, the plan was perfect until we tried to actually pick up the treadmill.  It had to weigh 1,000 pounds!  Thankfully, a couple of guys from the sporting goods store came out to help us.  When we finally got it into the bed of my truck and drove it back to my house, we took it out of the box, piece by piece, to haul inside.   After a whole lot of sweat and an aching back, I decided I should have paid the $100.

As I was trying, without success, to lug the huge and heavy box out of the sporting goods store to the bed of my truck, I noticed an icon the box’s side.  It had two people picking up a hug box with these words:  “TEAM LIFT for your safety.”  When I saw the icon, I thought to myself, “Would anyone even think of trying to pick this box up by himself?”

In Luke 10:38-42, we meet two sisters:  Martha and Mary.  These sisters could not be any more different.  Jesus and His twelve disciples are joining the sisters at their house for a supper, and Martha wants to make sure everything is just perfect for her guests.  And so she goes about preparing a lavish feast.  But with her recipe books strewn across the kitchen, pots and pans boiling over on the stove, and flour flung across the floor, Martha’s meal becomes more than she can bear.  She need someone with whom she can “team lift” in preparing.  But Mary, her sister, seems unable or, worse yet, unwilling to help.  When Jesus and His disciples arrive, Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to what He says.  Finally, in exasperation, Martha complains to her Lord:  “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40)!  The Greek word for “help” is synantilambanomai.  This one word is actually a compound word made up of the words:  synanti, meaning “with,” or “corresponding to,” and lambanomai, meaning “to take up,” or “to lift.”  Thus, when Martha asks for her sister’s help, she is asking her to do some “team lifting.”

Now surely, Jesus should empathize with Martha’s plight.  After all, her hard work could break her back!  But Jesus’ response to Martha is altogether surprising if not even offensive:  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  Jesus will not send Mary to “team lift” with her sister.  Because finally, Martha doesn’t need a team lifter, Martha needs Jesus.  Martha needs to learn from Jesus, like Mary.  Martha needs to follow Jesus, like Mary.  And Martha needs to rest in Jesus, like Mary.

Be it in friendships between children or marriages between adults, I often hear people complain that a partner in a relationship is not “pulling their weight.”  These people explain that they are left all by themselves to do the heavy lifting of a relationship.  Though it is true that friends and spouses certainly ought to help each other, before you complain that another person is not pulling their weight, perhaps you should first go to Jesus.  Perhaps you should ask Him to heal and reconcile your relationship.  Perhaps you should ask Him to give you the strength needed to maneuver your way through what can sometimes be complex and weighty relationships.  Because before you need someone to “team lift” with you, you need Jesus.  Because Jesus doesn’t just help you with some of your burden takes your burden and nails it to His cross.  So find your strength – and your rest – in Him.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
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June 27, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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