The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It's hard to believe, but there are only two more days left in this year. In two days we will be entering into a new year—2014. Man…where has the time gone? So…have you made your New Year's resolutions yet? Maybe you have, maybe you haven't. Maybe some of you will procrastinate and wait until the clock almost strikes midnight before you commit to any sort of promise or resolution. Ironically, many people who do this very thing are the same ones who resolve to not procrastinate so much in the new year! Is it any surprise that 90% of all resolutions are broken by January 31st?
So…what does all this talk of new resolve have to do with us today? Well…maybe it's just part of the job description, but I'll tell you that pastors hear well-intended resolutions all the time. "Pastor, I'm going to start doing this more. I'm going to stop doing this so much. I'm going to really turn my life around now. I mean it!" Interestingly enough, these resolutions aren't just restricted to the New Year. Pastors hear these sorts of resolutions all the time. Truth be told: I'm quite sure you hear them all the time too. Sadly, like the 90% of all other well-intended resolutions, failure inevitably comes swiftly and surely. In fact, if we were truthful with ourselves (and with God), we'd all have to confess that our good and godly resolutions that we make to be "better" Christians—each and every one of us—ultimately find failure 100% of the time. We never are perfect Christians, no matter how hard we try. We can fool others into believing that we are. God knows we try. We may even fool ourselves into believing it…but we're not perfect. Why? Because we're sinful human beings who wear sinful flesh and live in the midst of a fallen and sinful world. "The good I want to do, I don't do. The bad I don't want to do, I keep doing" (Romans 7).
It is this sad bit of truth that serves as the catalyst for our meditation this morning. In looking over the Gospel lesson for this morning, we continually come face to face with the faithfulness of Joseph. God sends an angel to Joseph and tells him to pick up everything—wife, newborn baby, and everything else—and flee to Egypt. Joseph doesn't question. He doesn't balk. He doesn't complain or try to work out a compromise ("Egypt is so far away and we don't know anyone there. How about some place a little closer to home?"). Nope! Joseph simply does what he's told. He simply responds—immediately and faithfully. The same thing happens a little while later when God, through the angel, tells Joseph to now leave Egypt and return home, only now they're returning to a new home up in the region of Nazareth—the Jewish equivalent of living on the wrong side of the tracks. It's too dangerous anywhere else, at least for right now. The time's not right. Not yet. Again, Joseph simply obeys—immediately and faithfully.
What is so interesting about all this is the fact that Joseph's faithfulness really had nothing to do with resolve and will-power, at least not in the sense that we typically understand. When we think of resolve and will-power, we typically think of really having to bear down and gut it out. Everything in us is telling us to give in and quit, but our resolve and will-power gives us that extra "oomph" needed to push through and persevere. Folks: That wasn't the case here with Joseph. As I said just a few moments ago, Joseph simply responded to God. He didn't resolve to be a better person by choosing to become obedient. His was a natural reflex response of faith; not a contrived plan or resolution. He didn’t have to first sit down and do a cost-benefit analysis or pro-con list BEFORE he would do what God told him to do. He heard and he obeyed – period.
You see, this is where the original Greek version of this text comes in handy. The first word that God speaks to Joseph in this great "fight or flight" narration is the word "rise." Folks: God isn't just telling Joseph to roll his rear end out of bed. That word "rise" (egerthā) is the same word used throughout Scripture to speak of resurrection—arising from death to life. I want you to think about that for a moment. God is making His way and His will known to man; man, who by nature, is dead in sin and therefore dead to the ways and will of God. This is where the words of the Third Article of the Creed really hit home. "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies me." It is because of this sinful, deadly reality in us that God literally breathes life into us and resurrects us to a new life of love and obedience and faithfulness. Our life we have in Him; our faith in Him, comes from Him. He is the fount and source and giver of all these good things.
This is where that Scriptural understanding of "sanctification" comes into play. As I said earlier, when Joseph heard the Word of God, particularly that word commanding him to arise, he simply responded—immediately and faithfully. That's what true saving faith does. Like Luther's apple tree that I so often refer to, the good fruit of true, saving faith that is produced isn't planned or contrived or a result of some epic struggle. The good fruit of true, saving faith is fruit that is produced as naturally as the apple that is produced by the apple tree. It doesn't have to think about it. It doesn't have to decide whether or not it will bear good apples or bad apples, or oranges, or grapes, or figs, or thorns, or nothing at all. Good apple trees naturally bear good apples. That's just what they do. True, saving faith is the same way. It naturally bears good, faithful fruit. That's just what it does. No plan. No resolution.
So…what does all this have to do with us today, especially as we prepare to enter into a brand new year? I'll tell you: feel free to make your resolutions. Try your very best to lose weight, give up smoking, read more, or whatever it is you resolve to do or not do in this New Year. However, as we enter into this New Year as Christians who are called to daily live and proclaim the Gospel promise of God in our daily lives, remember that there is a difference between worldly resolve and godly faithfulness. My prayer for you this day and every day is that, like faithful Joseph, when God calls you to arise and serve Him, however and wherever He has need, you simply respond in loving faithfulness and obedience. That's what saving faith does. That's the fruit of saving faith.
May God grant you the grace, perseverance, and patience to endure all this fallen and sinful world has to throw at you in this new year as you live out this day, and every day, as one who is completely redeemed and given a truly "clean slate" in the blood of Jesus Christ. May this Gospel truth be your faith, your confession, and your reality, this day and every day into all of eternity.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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