Beginnings of a New Thing
And He Appears!
Matt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
So often, the gift we need is so different than the gift we want. Shoot, if we left it up to our own hearts desire—it would kind of look like my Facebook feed. And my Facebook feed—well, it is need of being fed something different than its current eating habits. We too often find our patterns—our truth statements through a one dimensional lens. It is this, or that. In this one dimensional world, truth is reduced to absolute certainty. The kind of absolute certainty where we can be presented with the same evidence and derive two completely different outcomes. And somehow we paint one side—ours as right, and therefore, that makes the other wrong. My rightness is equally understood through another lens as wrongness.
This rightness and wrongness this week included on the same day, a pastor who was defrocked for officiating his gay sons wedding on the same day that the patriarch of Duck Dynasty made some colorful remarks on the wrongness of homosexuality. Meanwhile, this same day, New Mexico becomes the 17th state to approve same-gender marriage. Think about this? The approval of the pastor gets him kicked out of the church, the disapproval of a southern duck hunter gets him kicked out off A&E. Perhaps they could switch roles, and move to New Mexico? But could they get along?
So, on the feed this week, one person who shares a different idea of rightness—she inserts her one dimensional view to another in her disagreement proclaiming…’You are an idiot.’ And this is our world—when we become removed from one another—when we live in the comments section. When my rightness is more important than your worth. That absent a connection to one another—the predominant voice feeding the response is fear.
And then I hear your stories. And I am welcomed into your homes. The hand grips tighter on mine about the worry of a child. The tears well when wondering how a friend is going to continue without family support. The sanctuary goes quiet last week as people share stories about life’s abrupt changes. That sometimes life brings us to a crossroads. As if it were as simple as choosing between Albert Lea or St. Paul, but sometimes this Crossroads is a twelve road interchange with oncoming traffic.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
Found-to be with child—from the Holy Spirit. A child, from the Spirit—the giver of life. Right here, a new beginning. A do over. That in our comments sections, or mistakes, our darkness, our worry, our real messiness—we have a do over. And this do over brings hope.
O come Emmanuel, giver of life. By God entering in this way, through a poor, wandering woman—the mountains are lowered and the valleys are raised up. There are no hierarchies. That no matter how we measure the self worth of another—that no matter how worthy—we receive all of the benefits and can take none of the credit.
God enters—and there are great expectations.
Luke asks me again—only to be reminded by little Ray last night, Luke asks, “Dad, are we going to get the Christmas lights outside this year?” And I have good intentions—but maybe tomorrow, it is cold…maybe tomorrow, I am busy. Maybe tomorrow. And there are no. lights. Outside. It is dark outside. Darkness.
I really want to create—manipulate—fabricate the perfect Christmas. But it is dark outside. But God is unconventional. God enters and may we enter into the nativity scene. By entering, we find confounded together, wonder and scandal. It is quite the makings really of a good reality show. Picture it.
Mary with child—by the Holy Spirit. But imagine sharing this with Joseph? It’s a story that plays out on Maury Povich, “Who’s the daddy?” She tries to explain…so this angel came, said do not be afraid, that I will bear a child—this new hope…
And Joseph goes, ‘yeah, right?’ Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
“Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” As a righteous man, a faithful man, this is unconventional. During engagement, betrothal, for her to be pregnant is a violation of the law. Righteous obedience would to disgrace—to shame, or worse.
Try to imagine Joseph going to bed that night. Imagine the distance separating the two, the thought of betrayal. Imagine trying to fall asleep. When Joseph had gone to bed, resolved to leave quietly, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” For the third time this Advent, we hear the word—‘Do not be afraid.” To Zechariah, to Mary, and now to Joseph… “Do not be afraid.”
God enters—do not be afraid. When God enters, rather than our one dimensional—finite—black and white minds—God brings an alternative. God brings another way.
May this help shape us to live another way. May God’s unconventional lead us to be unconventional. May we be unconventional in how we approach the comments section. Like Joseph, may we be unconventional in how we respond in our relationships.
Joseph doesn’t have the script. He is at a crossroads without a road map. He is unable to see what the next 32 years will bring, but he hears the words “Do not be afraid.” And he moves forward faithfully with one step. He has yet to hear the teachings from his own son about forgiveness. He doesn’t know the tough path that leads from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from manger to the tomb. But he is faithful in little. And to be faithful in little leads to faithful in much.
That in our shortcomings, we are called to be faithful with little…to take the small steps towards Jerusalem.
In God’s pronouncement to Mary and to Joseph of new birth—the word for birth is the same word for ‘Genesis.” And together, birth and Genesis mean a new beginning. May we trust Emmanuel to lead us. To lead us in new birth, and to lead us forward.
“How is your life bearing God’s fruit?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.
“An angel of the Lord came to [Joseph] and said, ‘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’” (Matt. 1:20, TNIV).
Each of our lives began with someone waiting: parents and family, at turns eager, impatient, joyful, frightened. And when the time was ripe, we arrived. This is how God, too, comes into our lives. Jesus, God-with-us, arrives just as we did, sharing in our lives from the very beginning.
Hold one of the stones. Let it warm up and settle into your hand. Feel its weight. Feel its weight both as a burden and as potential. Imagine that God’s presence, like this stone, is settling on you.
We are waiting for God’s arrival in the world and in our lives. And when the time is ripe, God’s work will bear fruit in us.
 Reformed Worship, Erica Schemper, Sept. 2013 issue, Advent Prayer Stations. Advent Week 3.