Fourth Sunday of Advent | Matthew 1.18-25
The voice that pierced the silence was careful and gentle,
But also clear and resolved.
It was a difficult conversation.
“Joseph,” he said, “I know this is not what you expected.
I know that this is not what you planned.
I know this is difficult to hear, and it a lot to process.
From now on your life will be different in many ways, but none bigger than this.”
Advent has been full of difficult discussions, and this week brings even more.
The first one is in the background – Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.
In summary, it goes something like this:
“You’ll have a Son. You’ll call Him Jesus.
The Lord will give Him King David’s Throne,
And He’ll reign forever and ever.”
“That’s very nice,” said Mary, “But it sounds like a lot.
Are you sure you aren’t looking for someone more experienced and worldly,
Someone more virtuous, or pious, or famous?
Regardless, I’m a virgin. Doesn’t that complicate things?”
“I know all about you, o favored one,” said Gabriel. “Just let Him handle the details.”
“Very well,” said Mary. I’m His servant. Let it be so. Amen. Whatever you say. I’m in.”
The conversation she must have had with Joseph was likely a bit longer, probably More difficult, and it could not have ended as happily or hopefully.
And so the messenger returns.
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary for your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
That last line, “He will save His people from their sins.”
That last line means that Christ comes into an incredibly broken world.
It means that God’s coming to restore Eden,
That Garden Kingdom we overthrew so long ago,
Will cause some disruption.
Mary is young – maybe 13, but almost certainly not more than 16.
She has her whole life ahead of her.
She’s about to be married.
She’ll be going on a trip.
Things are great.
And now she finds that her plans are quite different from God’s plans.
Gabriel may be an Archangel, but he is not a bully.
She could have refused.
But she didn’t. She said yes.
And so she was found to be with Child of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph has plans as well.
He’s got a beautiful young bride,
And he’ll be headed to Bethlehem, the home of his ancestors,
To show her off to everyone.
We don’t know all of the dreams that danced in his head like sugarplums.
Like most groomsmen, they were certainly full and ambitious.
But whatever his plans were, they were certainly threatened.
Again, Gabriel isn’t going to muscle anyone.
That’s not how gifts work.
Scripture never says it was easy for him.
But, by his actions, Joseph says,
“Yes. I’m in, too. I don’t understand it. But whatever use the Lord would have of me, let Him have it.”
And so it is that all these very difficult conversations
Are really the perfect setup for Christmas.
Next week we come again to celebrate that God Himself would be born into a world as messy as ours, and that He would clean it up.
Next week we will travel with Mary and Joseph, even unto Bethlehem.
And as we peer into the manger,
We will see God’s plan to save us when all our own plans failed.
It’ll be just as confounding and mysterious as those very difficult chats with Gabriel.
In that way, Christmas is a lot like Good Friday. It doesn’t make sense.
We look at the manger and it doesn’t make sense. He’s just a Baby.
We look at the wood of that manger, fashioned into a cross,
And that doesn’t make sense. He’s God, but…He’s dead.
We look at the empty tomb, and that doesn’t make sense either.
He was dead, but behold, He is alive forevermore.
It won’t make sense like your sins.
They were yours, but Jesus has made them His.
It won’t make sense like your righteousness.
It belongs to Jesus, but He has made it yours.
It won’t make sense like your Baptism.
But this is God’s M.O.
He took a Palestinian teenager, spoke His Word, and Jesus was born.
For you He took simple water, added His word, and you were reborn His child,
Forgiven and free.
The first Advent was long; The first Christmas was messy,
This one is no exception.
And until Jesus comes again, this world will continue to suffer the effects of sin –
This sermon began with a voice that spoke a difficult word, and a change of plans.
That voice did not belong to Gabriel, but to a doctor in Chicago who,
This week, diagnosed my 32 year-old brothers-in-law with testicular cancer.
That was a change to his plans.
The treatment requires a surgery that will leave him unable to father children.
That is a change to his plans;
And not just his plans – but my sister’s plans, too.
This is our world east of Eden – a broken place where even noble plans must change.
Joseph didn’t do some specific thing to deserve this.
Like sin itself, his sickness is genetic – passed down from generation to generation.
We have yet to see what his battle with cancer will look like.
But because of the Christ whose coming we await with joyful hearts,
Because of this Jesus, born of Mary, Joseph’s battle with sin, like yours, is decided.
We have inherited sin and death from the first Adam, as David writes in Psalm 51.
But we have received life and salvation from the second Adam, Jesus the Christ,
Whose own Father is theirs, and yours, and mine by Holy Baptism.
And so, as children, they will receive their Father’s care.
Like Mary they will leave the details to Him.
The world offered them a chance to stick to their plans through IVF.
But because this almost always means discarding,
I.e. killing several children before they are born, the answer is no.
They will bear these crosses without handing them to helpless babies.
My sister’s Joseph will not father children of his own.
But, like Mary’s Joseph, he still hopes to be a daddy.
Joseph, the Guardian of Jesus, adopted Mary’s Child, loved Him, and raised Him.
And so, in imitation of his faith and piety, that is what they hope to do: adopt.
I told them that this would also be a beautiful picture of what God has done to them and to you.
In Baptism, God has adopted you as His children.
At least, that’s the way He describes the transaction.
I don’t know what will come and try to steal your happiness.
I don’t know the devil’s plans to attack you over the next week, month, or year.
But I promise you that whatever good plans of yours he can change,
Christmas changes even more.
He is, “Emmanuel” after all; “God with us.”
Not far away, but here, sharing your flesh.
Baby Jesus here to save us.
And so whether your plans seem to be your own,
Or whether the devil has complicated things,
You may hand all of that over to Him.
Like the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Joseph, like my sister Megan and her Joseph,
Come what may, you are the Lord’s servant; you are in His hands.
And that is enough for a Merry Christmas.