The Radical Welcome of Joseph

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Holy Family by Night, ca. 1642-1648, oil on panel

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

The openness of Joseph to Mary and her unborn child reveals an admirable generosity and hospitality of life. When the angel spoke to him, Joseph obeyed, receiving the words of this message as if from God. He obeyed in the moment by swiftly taking Mary into his home and life, but also obeyed perseveringly when, after nine months, he received her child as his own, naming him Jesus.

But it is Joseph’s openness of life —his radically welcoming posture—that strikes me so powerfully today. Joseph did not close off his life to others or to God’s purposes. Instead, in the most tangible of ways and most personal of settings, Joseph makes what is his available to God. What could be considered more definitively “ours” than our household—our intimate relationships, possessions, space, and more? Who does not think in some way of their home life as sacred and protected; a refuge and place of peace from the world outside?

Yet it is precisely this sacredness which becomes the furnace of God’s holy love and presence for Jesus through the openness of Joseph. Joseph welcomes Mary into his home. He names Jesus, thus expressing to his relations and the surrounding town that this child is his. He cares for Mary and raises the child, sanctifying the sacred space of household, intimate relationships and family to God. When shared and opened to others through hospitality, these deep places of our life—our space, our daily lives, and our intimacy—can express the radiance of God’s love and presence.

Like Joseph, may we be open to God with all of who we are and what we have. And in that, may we also be radically welcoming to others. May our homes, our relationships, and the sacred spaces of our lives reflect to others the generosity and hospitality of God.

The Contagious Generosity of God

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We read about the generosity of the early Jerusalem church in Acts 4:

“And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ” (Acts 4:33-34)

The result of God’s grace at work within the church was a generosity that was unparalleled by those around them. It was a generosity that was contagious. Of course, we know that the source of this generosity was God Himself.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The God that we hear about in the Bible, that we are dealing with in Christianity, is a generous God. God is not stingy, but gives us what we could not get through our own means. The word that captures God’s generosity is grace.

Grace means that we receive what we do not deserve. The God of the universe, in one sense, owns everything, and we have nothing. Yet, though we have nothing, and, perhaps, have less than nothing because of the dark power of sin that infects our lives, God does not give up on this wonderful, cracked creation of which we are a part.

God does more than not give up on the creation. He gives into the creation, taking on human flesh and bone to live in the messy and marvelous world we inhabit. And God coming in, Jesus the Messiah, though He holds all things as His own, lets them go that we might partake of His treasures.

Like some cosmic Robin Hood, Jesus comes to take from the rich to give to the poor…except He is both the rich man and the revolutionary, giving all He can into our lives.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

We come empty to God, and He fills us.

Christianity tells us that God is generous.

And it is because God is generous that His people, too, become generous. This is what we see in the New Testament record. It is not just the Jerusalem church, but the Antioch church that sends off its best to share the message of Christ with the rest of the known world in Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3). It is the Thessalonian church whose faith rang out in the known world because of how they lived it out (1 Thessalonians 4:2-10).

God is a generous God, and His generosity – His grace – is contagious within His people.

The 30-Day Minimalism Challenge

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This past weekend as I preached a message at Eastbrook Church on “Sacrificial Generosity,” I spent quite a bit of time talking about simplicity.  I believe that simplicity is the twin brother of generosity. Paul the Apostle writes:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Contentment is something I struggle with greatly. I believe it is a difficult trait to develop in our lives, particularly when we live in a culture bent on acquisition and consumerism. We consume music, movies, food, books, clothes, and more.

Simplicity is a key to attaining contentment, and it is a key to developing generosity in our lives as well. In Philippians, the letter known as “the epistle of joy,” Paul writes while imprisoned about contentment:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  (Philippians 4:11-12)

In the month of August, my wife, Kelly, and I participated in something called the 30-day minimalism game. It was an opportunity to simplify our lives and get rid of the clutter of stuff that happens to all of us. Every day of the month we would get rid of different things. On the first day we each got rid of one thing each. On the second day we each got rid of two things. On third day, three things. We did this all the way to the end of the month. We gave things away to others, dropped things at Goodwill, sold stuff online, and more. By the end of August we had both shed nearly 500 items.

Now, here is what was amazing: our life was not that different afterwards. We have more than we need. But this 30-day minimalism challenge taught me some important things:

  • I don’t need a lot of the stuff I think I need.
  • It’s hard not to want more stuff.
  • I don’t become more happy by having more stuff.
  • Contentment is sometimes easier when you have less, not more.

Generosity requires us to engage with simplicity in one way or another. Simplicity helps us learn that contentment is more about something inside us than something outside us. Simplicity helps us escape from letting our stuff own our lives. And in that place, it prepares us for generosity.

Sacrificial Generosity

Continuing our “Roots” series this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I took us into an exploration of “Sacrificial Generosity.” No one can read the description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 without being deeply moved and challenged. What was it in this early church experiment in Jerusalem that we can learn from as we grapple with wealth and possessions? While also drawing upon Paul’s words to the young pastor in 1 Timothy 6:6-10, the entire message was rooted in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward

 

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new preaching series entitled “Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward.” This series is the second of a three-part series related to our 40th anniversary as a church, following on our series, “Power in Prayer.” This is a series celebrating our legacy as a church, and also recalibrating as we head into the future together. We will look back at what God has done in our midst at Eastbrook, while also looking forward to what God is calling us into as a church.

September 7/8 – “Activated by the Holy Spirit”

September 14/15 – “Truly Community”

September 21/22 – “Growing Disciples”

September 28/29 – “Sacrificial Generosity”

October 4/5 – “Worship in the Beauty of Holiness”