barnabas today christmas sermon doing the right thing

The road to Bethlehem, like it was for Joseph and Mary, demands both a willingness to obey God and the courage to do the RIGHT thing.

It must have been difficult for Mary (a young, unwed mother) and Joseph (a surrogate father). It was not just the long trip Mary took on a donkey when she was very far along in her pregnancy; it was also everything that happened before that.

Mary had become pregnant after being filled with the Holy Spirit. An ‘unwed’ pregnancy is obnoxious within the Asian cultural backdrop.

In all probability, Mary’s story must have been everybody’s favourite waste of time. Her story must have provided fodder for neighbourhood gossip.

Every stare and every careless comment must have hurt her. Most of all, the silence of the immediate family must have hurt her the most. She must have felt the pain of being misunderstood.

An engagement within the Jewish context had the same binding as that of a marriage. How could she explain this to Joseph?

For Mary, obeying God meant losing family (including Joseph), friends, and even her face.

Submitting to God’s Will

Perhaps backing out was Mary’s best option. That would have been a smart thing to do. You shouldn’t bite off more than what you can chew. It may have easily secured contemporary peer group approval.

Taking the easy way out would have been the right thing to do. But, sometimes, doing the right thing is not doing the RIGHT thing.

Mary submitted herself to God’s will at the risk of embarrassment, public disgrace, and ridicule in order to do the RIGHT thing. She willingly went through it all.

It may not have been easy for Joseph either. True, Joseph was unlike most men in that he did not want to publicly shame Mary.

But Joseph worked hard to get out of this awkward situation. He was hesitant to accept Mary and even wanted to quietly call off the engagement.

Perhaps, that would be the smartest thing to do. For most people, that would have been the right thing to do.

But Joseph had his moment of Truth. He listened to the Word of God that came to him through an angel. He willingly accepted Mary against all odds.

His willingness to obey God is demonstrated in taking Mary to Bethlehem to register her name alongside his in the official records.

The Cost of Obedience

Sometimes, doing the right thing is not doing the RIGHT thing. What did it cost Joseph to obey?

It must have taken a lot of courage to agree to become a surrogate father and to later deal with suspicion, ridicule, and neighbourhood gossip.

Both Mary and Joseph saw the value and worth of believing God’s Word, even if it was not the easiest thing to do.

Both of them felt that God was behind what was happening and was willing to do whatever God wanted them to do. God’s will does not always promise a ‘pain-free’ experience.

Obedience to God might take us through embarrassment, ridicule, and public disgrace. And doing the right thing is to look for an easy way out. But that may not be the RIGHT thing to do.

The strength of what we believe in is measured by how much we are willing to suffer for it. “O come all ye faithful”, O come to Bethlehem, and come let us adore him – Jesus is born in Bethlehem for us.

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Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.