Without a doubt, apart from the issues of global warming and living with a pandemic, the biggest issue in the world today remains the issue of safety and security.
1. The World
In a world gone mad, we are constantly being reminded of the violence and threats that many people face daily. We’ve witnessed wars, organised violence of the state, and seen terrorist groups in action.
More locally, in the developed world, life might be a lot easier. But even we faced our share of murders, violence, armed robberies, physical and sexual abuse, and the list goes on . . .
3. The Church
And the church . . . Well, the church isn’t that squeaky clean either. Indeed, there’s the continuing issue of the abuse of children (most, however, hopefully historical). And there is the abuse of church workers, which statistics tell us, that at the end of the nineties, in England, 70% suffered from some sort of abuse.
When you sum it all up, then, there are a lot of negatives.
Now I’m sure that a lot of positive things have happened too, but it sometimes seems that all the negatives are at the forefront.
However, if that’s true, then maybe this is a good opportunity not only to reflect on what has happened, but to ask ourselves, ‘How can things improve?’ After all, what sort of things can we do to make a difference?
Of course, we could all throw up our hands in despair, and say it’s all too big, all too much. And we could sit down and pass the blame on someone else. But what would be the point of doing that?
Surely what’s important is, not what’s been done or not done. But rather what can we do to make a difference from now on.
And with that in mind what I’d like to do is to pick one example of someone who was a nobody. He had no power, no position, and no authority. But boy did he make a difference.
And the person I’m referring to is Joseph (husband of Mary).
1. The Escape to Egypt (13-18)
Now Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem. It was after the birth of Jesus, the shepherds had come and gone, and the Magi had just visited. Indeed, the Magi were hardly out the door when an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Jesus’s life was in danger, and Herod was out to get him. And Joseph was told to immediately get up, grab Mary and baby, and flee to Egypt.
And what did Joseph do? Well, without a moment’s hesitation, Joseph got up and fled with his family—and not a moment too soon. Because when Herod realised that the Magi would not be reporting back, he ordered that all boys two years and under, in the vicinity of Bethlehem, were to be killed.
Faced with the safety of the baby Jesus, Joseph didn’t hesitate to do what God asked of him. And as a consequence, the baby’s life was spared.
2. The Return to Nazareth (19-23)
Now. of course, we’re not told how long the family stayed in Egypt. However, the next thing we’re told is that Herod died (which we know happened in 4 BC). And, after that, an angel appeared again to Joseph telling him to go back to Israel.
Now at this point there was not the urgency as there was before. There were no safety issues as far as the family were concerned, only the matter of Joseph’s obedience. But Joseph did as he was told anyway, and they left to return home.
However, as they travelled, Joseph got some bad news. He heard that Bethlehem was still not safe. Herod’s son Archelaus ruled instead of Herod. (And he was noted for being particularly cruel and tyrannical). So, Joseph hesitated, he was concerned for the safety of Jesus. But he was then directed by an angel to go to Galilee where they settled at Nazareth.
Now whatever way you look at it, Joseph made a difference.
He had made a difference when he was engaged to Mary and found she that was pregnant. Indeed, he had decided to divorce her quietly rather than risk getting her stoned to death. But God had sent an angel to tell him to marry her anyway. And Joseph did what he had asked. That was the first time.
The second time was when he was told to collect up Mary and baby Jesus and escape to Egypt.
The third time was when he was told to go back to Israel.
And the fourth time was he was told in a dream to go to Nazareth.
So, what was it about Joseph? What made him so special? Was that it that he was just a caring sort of person, who was concerned for the welfare of first Mary and then the baby? Or was there something more?
Well, I would suggest that there was much more. Indeed, his actions and his willingness to obey the voice of the angel suggests that he was a man of faith and that his mindset was steeped in the Jewish religion.
4. The Jewish Faith
Indeed, he would have been aware of the creation story and God’s command to care for all of his creation (Geneses 1). He would have been familiar with the story of Cain and Abel, and Cain’s response to God (after having killed Abel) ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9). To which the answer should have been ‘yes’. He would have known the story of Ruth and her care for her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth). He would have been familiar with the story of Elijah, and Elijah’s part in the care of the poverty-stricken widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24). How he had helped her (with God’s help) come back from the brink of starvation, and with the restoration of her only son. And he would have been aware of the story of Jonah: a prophet who refused to go to help the Ninevites, but who in the end was given no option by God, and the people were consequently saved.
Joseph made a difference—because he cared. And that caring was a fundamental part of the faith that was part and parcel of who he was. It wouldn’t have mattered to Joseph whether God asked him to do a big thing or a little thing. What mattered to Joseph was the need to care, and the need to be obedient to his God.
1. Our Responsibility
And that’s the way it should be with us too. And, should we want any evidence of what we should be doing, then not only have we got all the Old Testament stories that Joseph would have been familiar with, but we have all the stories and instruction from the New Testament as well.
We’ve got stories of Jesus, as an adult, demonstrating by his behaviour and example that he cared. We’ve got the example of Jesus trying to protect the woman caught in adultery and saving her from being stoned (John 8:3). We’ve got the parable of the Good Samaritan, demonstrating the responsibility to care for our neighbours. And following the resurrection, we have the instructions given to Simon Peter to ‘look after the sheep’ (Jn 21:16).
So, just as Joseph who was a nobody, with no power, no position, and no authority, but who was able to make a difference, so the expectation is that we should make a difference too.
2. Some Issues
But how do we do that? How can we make a difference? Well maybe we could start by looking at some of the issues and asking ourselves some simple questions:
For example, if we are the people of God, with the welfare of others very much in our care, is it good enough to only look at the world from the perspective of how it impacts ourselves and our culture? Shouldn’t we also be concerned about others who live with whatever they are going through, day after day? Shouldn’t we be actively involved in trying to ease the suffering and hardship? Shouldn’t we be trying to deal with the issues behind the desperation of those involved in such terrible acts?
Shouldn’t we do more to involve ourselves in law-and-order issues? Shouldn’t we be more active in the issues of poverty, discrimination, and injustice. And regarding children, shouldn’t we be more vigilant and more active in keeping up the fight against the abuse of children, and pursue whatever means we can to ensure the safety of those at risk?
Now these are some big questions, but not too many answers. But they are questions we should be asking—and answers we should be seeking—if we are to make a difference.
3. A Common Criticism
Now over the years some people have been very critical about the church’s involvement in political and social issues. Some people believe that the church should restrict itself to purely religious issues.
However, the bible is quite clear—and Jesus himself stands as an example—as Christians we cannot stand by passively while poverty and injustice continue. The gospel demands that we get involved. And, as a consequence, we need to develop a mindset of care and safety that is consistent with our faith too.
4. A Practical Plan
Some big questions, then. But how do we even begin to deal with some of these current issues of life? Well, I’m going to suggest three simple steps we can take so that we too can make a difference.
And the first step is that we should steep ourselves in the Christian faith. We need to study what kind of God that we have, and what his expectations of us are. That’s the kind of example we can get out of people like Joseph. Joseph wasn’t an important man. But everything he did and believed was based on the firm formation of a good knowledge of God, and a good knowledge of his own position relative to his creator.
The second step is that we can pray. We can seek guidance from God to the direction that he wants us to take. Communication between God and Joseph was a very important aspect of the nativity story. God is recorded to have intervened directly at least four times in the space of a few years. And it doesn’t take much of an imagination to believe that the habit of prayer for Joseph was integral to his whole way of life.
And the third step is that we can do what God asks. Now this third step is very important. Because it’s easy to study and pray if we haven’t got the intention of doing anything. That’s a temptation we all face. The hard thing is the doing—the stepping out in faith to do the things that God wants us to do. But Joseph is a good example of someone who didn’t hesitate to help.
He didn’t stand and debate God over time—about what he was being asked to do. There are no words recorded of Joseph arguing with God, that he was asking too much. Whether Joseph was being asked to do things—big or small—wasn’t the issue. Joseph just did what he was asked, and he did make a difference. And that should be our way too.
Living in today’s world is very difficult for many people. Global warming and a pandemic aside, many face the problems of war, oppression, and violence.
Now for most of us, here, a lot of what we see is on the television or in the papers. Despite that, we are not immune from the problems of the world.
As Christians, however, we cannot sit idly back and do nothing. The Bible, through the good examples of Ruth, Elijah, Joseph, and Jesus, and through the bad examples of Cain and Jonah, show us quite clearly, we all have a role to play.
Now we may not all be asked to do big things, but we are all asked to do something. We all have a part to play in making a difference, and it all begins with our need to be steeped in the faith.
Posted: 2nd March 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis