Joseph: Healing from Hurts
Christmas-the Healing Season
When you look around at the people who attend church with you on Sat or Sun, what do you see? Do you see impressive people, dressed in fine clothes who have it all together? Or do you see hurting people in need of comfort; troubled people in need of peace; sick people who need healing?
ILL. Marshall Hayden wrote an article a few years ago entitled, “Would Every Non-Hurter Please Stand Up?” He pointed out that people come to church wearing their best clothes & their best smiles. Everybody looks happy, so we assume everything is okay. But he suggests that we need to look beyond the facade & realize that the pews are full of hurting people.
He wrote, “Over here is a family with an income of $550 a week and an outgo of $1,000. Over there is a family with two children who, according to their dad, are “failures.” “You’re stupid. You never do anything right,” he is constantly telling them. The lady over there just found a tumor that tested positive. The Smith’s little girl has a hole in her heart.
“Sam & Louise just had a nasty fight. Each is thinking of divorce. Last Monday Jim learned that he was being laid off. Sarah has tried her best to cover the bruises her drunken husband inflicted when he came home Friday night. That teen over there feels like he is on the rack, pulled in both directions. Parents & church pull one way, peers & glands pull the other.
“Then there are those of us with lesser hurts, but they don’t seem so small to us: an unresponsive spouse, a boring job, a poor grade, a friend or parent who is unresponsive …on & on the stories go. The lonely, the dying, the discouraged, the exhausted, they’re all here.”
B. In the face of that, the Word of God has good news! Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary & burdened, & I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you & learn from me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, & you will find rest for your souls” [Matthew 11:28 30].
This is not to say that He will heal every problem immediately if we just have enough faith.
John 6:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jesus said clearly that we will have trouble in this world. But He can resolve life’s serious problems if we trust in Him.
In some cases, He may resolve the problem immediately, even miraculously. In others, He grants the power to endure the difficulty & triumph over it. This month of Christmas I want us to look at Christmas as “The Healing Season.” Christmas can be a painful time for those who do not have family, those who cannot buy gifts that they want to buy for, those who have lost loved ones, those for whom the future is insecure.
But this Advent, I want to take the example of several of the characters in the Christmas story and together examine “The Healing Season”. Last week we began by looking at Christmas as the “Healing of Barrenness”. Tonight I want to look at the “Healing of Hurt”
I. We All Know Hurt
It is impossible to live life and not feel hurt. Oh, I suppose it is possible to so barricade yourself away from people and never see or interact with anyone so that you are not hurt. I suppose it is possible to never risk loving anyone, never risk building a friendship, never risk raising a child, never risk to live life. I suppose it is technically possible to live life without being hurt, but it is not much of a life.
If you live life, you will be hurt. But if you are going to live an emotionally happy and healthy life, you have to know how to handle the hurts that come.
The Bible gives us principles for dealing with hurts. I want us to look at an example this morning from the Christmas story. The example of Joseph. Turn in your Bible to Matt 1:18-25 (READ)
II. The Example of Joseph
There are many things in this passage that seem strange to our ears. The Hebrew engagement practices were much different than our American engagement practices
For the Hebrews breaking an engagement took a divorce. The engagement was a legally binding contract. There was a ceremony where the agreement was reached between the groom and the father of the bride, somewhat with the bride’s consent. At the time of the betrothal, the bride and groom were considered married, but did not live together or have intimate relations for a year. The groom went and built a house for them and made preparations for their life together. If the groom died in that year, the bride was legally considered a widow. If the bride or the groom was found to be sexually unfaithful, it was considered as serious as adultery in marriage.
By the time of the New Testament, the groom had some latitude. If the bride was found to be pregnant, he could make a public stink of the matter and have her stoned to death for adultery. Or he could quietly divorce her and she would be then expected to marry the true father of her child.
But it was emotionally and legally a big deal.
Look at the situation that Joseph is in. At first he is confronted with what he believes to be unfaithfulness on the part of Mary –how much bigger hurt can an engaged man or woman have? He knows that he has been pure with Mary and there is no way this is his child. Therefore this pregnancy must mean unfaithfulness. The hopes and dreams he has, lie dashed. The hurts loom large.
But Joseph does not know what to do. Does he try to salvage his honor and have Mary stoned, or does he quietly divorce her, lick his wounds & go on. He is a righteous man & chooses a quiet divorce.
Then, as we read, the angel appears to Joseph, telling him confusing news.
“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.”
We are familiar with the words, but they did not lessen the hurts of Joseph –they only changed them from one form of hurt to another. Mary had not been unfaithful, God was intervening in a powerful and perhaps puzzling way.
The stigma of the community still came down hard. What did people think? If they thought that Mary had been unfaithful, and yet Joseph was still willing to marry her? It raised suspicions & whispering. Even if they thought that Joseph was the father of this child, still what people thought about him was wrong. He had been pure toward Mary. But people’s conclusions and people’s whispering was wrong.
There was no way to change what people thought. There was no convincing those who would gossip & whisper. We don’t find in scripture that Joseph went on a campaign to correct people’s misconceptions. He did not react in anger & defensiveness.
This week I read an article by Walter Wangerin who spoke of his adopted daughter and the hurts that come with that. Joseph could never look into his sons face and see any characteristics of his own. Mary’s eye, perhaps; the curve of her jaw; he could see a mother-son relationship, but he could only watch. Someone else dwelt in his sons face.
And then at the age of 12, Joseph and Mary and Jesus took a trip. The fame traveled from Nazareth to the city of Jerusalem. All was well. They went to celebrate the Passover. This was a father-son type of trip. This was the year that the Law required his father to acquaint him with the duties & regulations that he would assume as a 13-year old male.
So Joseph did what was required of him. And they began the trip home. Suddenly, late in the journey, the parents realized that the child was absent. He was nowhere among the pilgrims that were traveling together. Because their love was genuine, they rushed back to Jerusalem in a panic.
When was it that Joseph suffered the prickly feeling that he was seeking a stranger? When did he admit that he didn’t know his son well enough to know where he would hang out? They spent three days searching everywhere except in the temple. And when they found Jesus sitting there, they were “astonished” by his ability to amaze even the teachers!
The boy’s mother was upset. Mary took it personally: “Why have you don’t this to us?” she said. “Your father and I have been so worried looking for you!”
As Luke records it, the adoptive father was silent.
But then occurred the moment, the last time Joseph appears in Scripture: Jesus looked at his parents, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Scripture says Joseph “did not understand the saying” that Jesus had spoken to him. But he obeyed. We do not know the hurt of realizing that Jesus would never fully be his son. We do not realize the hurt of understanding that the older Jesus got, the farther apart they would become instead of closer.
Faith and mercy and obedience all combined in how Joseph reacted to hurts.
II. Joseph Shows Us How Not to Handle Life’s Hurts
A. Don’t Curse Them
Many people curse the hurts that come their way.
You hear it about all sorts of people: You know Bill has been going downhill ever since his son died.” See her? she has been drinking a lot ever since she lost her husband.” “Oh him? He dropped out of high school when he was a senior because he didn’t make the basketball team.” “Ever since she didn’t get the promotion, she hasn’t been much good to the company.”
There are many ways of cursing our hurts. We can use them as crutches to excuse our own failures. Everyone of us has hurts. Everyone of us has hurts we don’t deserve. But Joseph is held up as an admirable man 2,000 years after his death, not simply because he was Jesus’ step-father. We don’t have a record of much that he did as a step-father. But we hold him up as commendable because of how he dealt with the hurts that came into his life that he didn’t deserve.
He didn’t curse them. His attitude is summarized by a verse in Heb. 11, the faith chapter which says, “Out of your weakness, shall come strength.”
B. Don’t Rehearse Them or Nurse Them
We all have hurts in life. North Plains Christian is the fifth congregation I have served in 35 years. The first and third were predominantly young congregations, but the second and to some degree the fourth were mostly elderly congregations. A big majority of people in the congregation were retired and widowed.
In the second church I served, the biggest Sunday School class in all the church , which made up about half of the congregation, was the widowed women class. When we left that church, my two sons, Ryan age 3 & Trevor age 1 were the entire preschool department of the church!
But I learned many things from the widows of that church. And that was that what you do with life’s hurts affects you for decades. I would call on the widows and some would tell me of hurts, some seemingly minor to me. But hurts none the less, that they were still rehearsing 20, 30 even 50 years later. And the pain and the anger & the resentment showed in the lines on their faces. It was like the hurts consumed them.
There were exceptions –and I want to tell you about one of the exceptions in a minute or two. But don’t curse your hurts, don’t rehearse or nurse them, but third,
III. Joseph Shows Us How to Handle Life’s Hurts
In vv. 24-25 we find that he reacted in two ways:
24 -he reacted in obedience. He had been hurt by what people thought and what people said, but he still chose to be obedient to God. “He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
He trusted God more than he trusted himself and his own reactions to life’s hurts. He knew that God’s wisdom would win out and so he trusted God in the times of hurt.
v. 25- he reacted in self-discipline. There were no angry outbursts, no pouting, no insisting on his rights as husband. He endured the hurts he did not deserve. “He had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
A. Disperse Them
We cannot control whether hurts come our way, but we can control how long the hurt lasts. Through the power of prayer and the power of God, we can determine that we can handle positively any hurt.
B. Reverse Them
One preacher has said,
Turn your problem into a project,
Turn the enemy into a friend
Turn the hurt into a halo
Turn the scar into a star.” (Robert Schuller, p. 75)
Remember I mentioned the widows at the little church I served before coming to Garden City? Some of the widows & widowers would rehearse for me every hurt they had endured. But others, I would hear stories about hurts they had endured, but seldom would ever hear about it from them. Why? They were too busy helping others, focusing on the future.
One lady was named Elsie. I will remember Elsie Gaitskill all of my life. Elsie had been an orphan as a child. Raised by a parade of relatives and distant family members she finally married a farmer and had children. But life was not to be easy for Elsie. Soon her husband was gone and she was left with a farm and small children. Elsie farmed the eastern Kansas land by herself, enduring the ribbing and prejudice of many in her area, who wished she would have just sold or leased the land to others. After her children were grown, she married a second husband, who was one of the most cantankerous and negative men I have ever met.
But all that didn’t disillusion Elsie. She would laugh hard, she taught that widows class that I spoke about earlier, or on other Sundays she would plop herself down on the floor to teach preschoolers. She began a kitchen band (kazoos & washboards & beating pans) that traveled throughout the Wichita area entertaining at nursing homes and providing something for the widows in her SS class and others in the community to do.
To meet Elsie you might think that here was a woman who seldom had a care in her life. But she had had more than her share of hurt. But she chose not to curse her hurts, not to rehearse or nurse them. But she is a woman who trusts God more than anything. She has learned how to disperse & reverse them.
This Christmas, I suspect there is hurt in your heart. Just like there was in Joseph’s.
But do you remember what the angel said to Joseph? “You are to give Him the name Jesus (which means “The Lord saves”) because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus’ name described his fundamental purpose: it was to save us from our sins. Sin is the basic (if not always the immediate) cause of our hurts. Our sin or the sin of others.
Jesus came to deal with sin, Jesus came to deal with hurts, Jesus came as our healer, our Redeemer, our Lord.
This Christmas, let him do his work in You! (Let us pray)
Philip Yancey, in his book, Disappointment With God, suggests that there are three fundamental questions that plague us as Christians, yet we are generally hesitant to ask them aloud. The three questions are: Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God hidden? When we consider the disappointments we experience with God, we find that they involve one or more of these questions. The manner in which we choose to answer these questions then directly affects our perception of God and how we will live out our faith. There are three basic conclusions and responses that we can come to.
God is not
The first is that we can conclude that God is unfair, God is silent, and God is hidden. We can choose to view God as a cruel cosmic being who delights in our suffering. When we choose to believe this way, we usually wind up determining that God is not. Our disappointment with God can lead us to believe that what the Bible has to say about a loving, nurturing, responding God is all false—just wishful, “pie-in-the-sky” ramblings—because we didn’t see the evidence we needed to validate such claims. Unfortunately, this has been the decision of many.
God is, I’m the problem
The second resolve that we can come to is that God is not unfair, that He is not silent, and that He is not hidden, so the problem must be with us. This is perhaps the general consensus of most believers. There must be some sin or defect in our faith that is the reason behind the suffering we are experiencing. God is chiding us or trying to teach us some wonderful lesson. And generally, the supposed lesson that we are to learn is simply to “have more faith and then the problems will disappear.” The results of such a conclusion are just as devastating as for those who completely turn from God. Let me explain.
What I have observed about those who cling to the sin/defective faith theology is that they always live in defeat. Some of us have become so disappointed with our Christian experience, in general, and with God, in particular, that we have resigned ourselves to living complacent, miserable lives. We have arrived at the belief that this is what our faith experience will always consist of, or that this is perhaps all there really is to Christianity after all—not much different than the life anyone else leads, just more rules and a faint hope of an afterlife that will make up for all the grief we have had to endure in this life.
God is and beyond my understanding
The third choice we can make is to believe that God is not unfair, that He is not silent, and that He is not hidden, but that we simply do not understand all there is to know about God or how He is working in the world, in general, or in our lives, in particular. Instead of blaming ourselves for the troubles we experience, we leave room for the fact that God operates on another plane—in an unseen realm—but that He is working just the same. This does not minimize the disappointment we experience, it simply gives us a different vantage point from which to view our circumstances.
Warning: Christmas can hurt
Tuesday December 21, 2004
Britain’s most venerable safety organisation unashamedly donned the mantle of Scrooge again yesterday to highlight such Christmas hazards as tripping over toys and getting scratched by tree needles.
A week after listing every imaginable danger at the office party – down to breaking the photocopier glass while making images of body parts – the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents turned its attention to the day itself.
More than 6,000 people were taken to hospital in Britain on December 25 last year, RoSPA said. Over the full 12 days of Christmas the estimated number of casualties rose to 80,000.
The society’s warning list includes predictable dangers such as kitchen scalds or dicing your fingers as well as the carrots while preparing the day’s big meal. But the most common are people stabbing themselves with scissors while trying to open – or wrap – presents in a rush.
After that comes a mass of bruises and broken limbs suffered by children falling off rocking horses or new bikes.
The list ends with a series of decoration-related accidents, from the stab of needles or – worse – prickly holly, to falling while trying to put up Christmas cards.
Tinsel has caused a large number of cuts and trips and Christmas tree lights accounted for some 350 emergency admissions in 2003.
My sister-in-law and her mother went shopping 2 days before Christmas
at one of the local huge shopping centers. Her mother tripped and
scrapped her face on the pavement. My sister-in-law help her mother
up, noticed her bleeding and told her they get back into the car and seek
medical help. At this point the mother said, “But we have such a good