notre dame montreal

A Question of Control
Matthew 1 v 18-25

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
23rd December 2001

There is advert on the TV at the moment for a Ford Focus car where a woman takes her boy friend to the airport and just as he’s getting our of the car he makes a statement suggesting that his girl friend will marry him

She drives off and with much revving of the engine, and manoeuvring backwards and forwards in the car on a building site underneath the flight path she spells out her answer which the boyfriend looks down from his flight to see. She has said NO.

And the closing tag line for the advert is ‘Life’s better when you take control

Taking control has grown into a big business

It used to be said that one of the biggest sectors of the book market, and one of the biggest growth areas was self help books. Books on How to do something, How to improve some facet of your life or other, How to take control of a situation which seems to be controlling you…

So imagine the scene in Nazareth, the years and months before Jesus’ birth

The women of the area have all been madly scheming and planning the marriage since about when Joseph and Mary were toddlers. Now that the betrothal had taken place the wedding plans were highly advanced.

Luke tells us that during this period, Mary goes off and spends 3 months with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. And when she comes back, there seems to be more to Mary than when she left…

A fact that she could not hide from Joseph or either of their families…

Suddenly all that seems to have been nicely under control is thrust into turmoil. This was not supposed to happen!!!

All the best laid plans of mice and men…

  • Their plans, and life itself, seems to be in tatters
  • All the years of planning that had Mary and Joseph married together seemed to be in doubt
  • There had been the public declaration of marriage, so the situation was a real mess

Joseph could either marry Mary, which would be tantamount to admitting he was the father, or if not he would be shamed by her indiscretion.

Or he could divorce her, and if he used adultery as grounds for divorce he knew under the law by which they lived, she would be stoned to death.

Not an easy decision.

In the end, as we know, he was planning to divorce her without charge so that he could save his own reputation and save Mary’s life, and the life of the child she was bearing. So at least after things had got out of control Joseph had a plan to get them back under control

Only God had other ideas.

He spoke to Joseph in a dream and told him the real plan, God’s own plan. And again Joseph had to make a decision about who was in control.

Its safe to assume that Joseph was probably a devout Jew. He’s had a lifetime of faithfulness to God. And it could seem to him that all he’s rewarded by for his life of faithfulness is disaster and problems – where had it all gone wrong? And yet at one of the most crucial points of his life, when he’s trying to work all this out, Joseph had to decide whether or not he would let God take control – did his faith mean anything to him?

At the very time he wanted to get back in control, to leave nothing else to chance, God challenged him to trust not in Joseph’s own abilities but in God’s power – to take his biggest step of faith yet, the biggest step of faith of his life.

Whatever went through Joseph’s mind, and however long it took to come to his decision, ultimately Joseph acknowledged that God is in control and was obedient to him. He stepped out in faith, and because of that obedience, in very difficult circumstances, when the world seemed like it was collapsing on him…

God’s promise was fulfilled.

Now it may be that God does not challenge us with the magnitude of decision that faced Joseph – although sometimes the challenges we face do seem enormous, after all, if God’s got a big plan for our lives then there might be some big challenges to face as we live out that plan

But quite often he may challenge us about who is in control… …prick our conscious and question our priorities.

Because it's so easy to get wrapped up in our own plans and leave God out completely, perhaps no more so than at Christmas when there seems so much to do to get ready (although Christmas is sometimes a good example of when we feel that we're not in control – and it doesn’t seem like anyone is!)

Increasingly we want to take control so we can manage our lives, and potentially those of others, to our own advantage, if for no other reason than we want a quiet life and a bit of a rest.

Or perhaps we feel that we have let God take control, and like Joseph, all that seemed to bring was trouble and problems.

Life, as the Ford advert would have us believe, is better when you take control

But what the Ford advert does not go on to say is that life may be better when you take control, but it's at is best when God is in control, when we let go and let His master plan govern all that we do.

Not that we should just lie back and take a fatalistic approach – saying it doesn’t matter what we do, God is in control. But its being open to God this Christmas time, being open to the plans He has for each one of us, being open to Him being at the centre of our lives, not at the periphery. So that we can work in harmony with his plans and not in discord.

It was a huge step of faith Joseph took 2000 years ago. Perhaps one of the Christmas presents God is giving us this Christmas is the opportunity to take another small step of faith with Him to give him a bit more control of our lives.

It would be a shame if we left that present unopened this year.

Bible Readings and Notes for 23rd December 2001

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