12/19/2010 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- The Fourth Sunday of Advent

posted Jan 3, 2011, 2:34 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Jan 3, 2011, 2:36 PM by Terry Brady ]

The Unexpected Nature of God

Matthew 1:18-25

Let us pray

Loving God, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas just around the corner, prepare our hearts to be transformed by you that we may walk in the light of Christ. Amen.

Cell phone rings. Pick it up. Look at it with frustration and answer.

Hi  (pause) oh hey Joe – you know I can’t talk now.  I’m in the middle of something.  No the something can’t wait. What’s that? It’s important you talk to me? How important? (sigh)  Are you in the hospital? No.  OK Yes I know your finance Mimi.  She’s what? Pregnant?  And you don’t know how it happened?  Really! And what did she say?  That the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. You know Joe I have to go. I’m sorry. That’s sounds really hard.  (pause) What do you mean everything is OK!!! Oh, you had a DREAM and an angel told you that the child is from the Holy Spirit and that you shouldn’t be afraid to marry Mimi.  Joseph, son of David, what are you talking about? (pause) You know I don’t think I’m hearing you properly.  Let me call you when I get home and can give you my full attention.  Bye bye.

Put phone down and say to the congregation.

I’m sorry about that.  These calls from biblical characters can be so distracting.

 As I read the gospel reading this past week, what kept coming to me over and over was how easy it was for me to fast forward though Joseph’s story. I know how it is going to turn out in the end so when I hear about him finding out that his fiancé Mary was with child, thinking about divorcing her in the quietest and best way possible, and then changing his mind because of a dream telling him that it was God’s child, I don’t think about it too much. I see him waking up from the dream, accepting the situation and then I have a vision to of Mary and Joseph traveling on a donkey against the backdrop of a deep blue twilight sky.

I think I came up with this scenario in the phone conversation I shared with you earlier to help me bring this story into my context and to spend time with the magnitude of the situation. If Joseph had called any of us up with his story, we would be wary and worried. Today, at least in this country, being pregnant before you are married does not bring the severe and sometime life threatening punishment it did in the time of Jesus. However, it still would be a very difficult and challenging situation if       your beloved, the one you planned to marry, were to say that she was having a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. There would be issues of trust and anger, and worries about her sanity to be considered. If your friend called you up with this situation what would you say?

 Perhaps you if you listened to your friend long enough you would hear something else – a conviction in his voice that he was doing the right thing that went beyond words. Maybe if you looked at him you would see something in his eyes or in his demeanor that said something extraordinary was happening – something that transcended logic or good old common sense – something that was connected to God who dwells with in our hearts.  

 What happened to Joseph in that dream was extraordinary. After spending what was probably several days and nights struggling with what was probably one of the more difficult decisions of his life and coming to a practical and compassionate solution regarding his pregnant fiancée, he changes his mind. An angel tells him that this child was conceived by the Spirit, and is to be named Jesus and will save people from their sins. Joseph believes and takes Mary to be his wife.

This is but one of the life-changing extraordinary stories we will hear in this season of Advent and Christmas. From a young women saying yes to an angel’s request for her to bear a child, to the birth of the savior of the world, in very lowly circumstances, this is the season of stories that turn lives upside down - stories of God breaking into the world so that the world and the lives of the people who respond are never the same again. 

It’s amazing isn’t it – the power within these stories that have become so well known to us and that are often portrayed in beautiful pictures and cards to be safe and comforting. And while I love that the warm fuzzies that the preparation for Christmas can bring, I cannot forget how radical this whole event is - God becoming human, a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, and a young couple being willing to say yes and to travel into the unknown.

 But I have come to find that this is the way of God.  Following God is not exactly a safe undertaking that can be planned out.  If you want safe and predictable, you might be better off staying home and reading the paper than coming to church. If you let God in your life, you never know what will happen.  You show up at church looking for community and perhaps to work          on being more spiritually grounded and connected to God and the next thing you know is that you are questioning parts of your life you never thought you would question and doing things you never thought you would do. You may find yourself taking precious time on a Saturday to prepare the altar for the Eucharist, the celebration that binds us together and nourishes us. You may find yourself giving huge amounts of time to groups such as the vestry or the rector search committee as you care for life of and prepare for the future of this church called St. Margaret’s.

You may find yourself spending time in daily prayer whether it be the Daily office, the prayers of the church said throughout the day, or meditative prayer, because it sustains you as much as your daily exercise.  You may find yourself speaking up at work, maybe even risking your job, to say a situation is not right and it needs to stop. You may find yourself giving large amounts of money to the work of this church instead of buying your favorite things.  You may find yourself giving up whatever you thought made your world work, because God has entered into your life and everything is completely different.

This morning’s story of Joseph is a wonderful example and reminder of what can happen when God gets involved in your life and you start listening. It doesn’t matter who you are, and what gifts you bring, because God is able to use all sort of people in all sorts of ways. Remember this is the God who was born of an unmarried young woman, who was adopted by a human father because of a dream and whose birth took place in a stable where the animals were kept because there was no room in the inn. God and the unexpected seem to go together quite a lot.

 As Nathan Nettleton[1], one of my favorite preachers says, if nothing surprises you this Christmas, then you can bet that you have successfully celebrated Christmas without the Christ. If the Christ shows up — breaks through our frantic preparations and sugary sentiments — and sounds the call of the gospel into the midst of our Christmas stories, then all our expectations will be turned upside down and blown away and the approaching kingdom of God will be defining a whole new reality and challenging us to let go and come with it.

 So in these last few days before the Christmas season really begins, whether you are planning a wonderful traditional Christmas that you and your family always celebrate or whether things are a little different this year due to crazy schedules, financial challenges, illness, or the death of a family member, remember the unexpectedness and the radical nature of these stories that lead us to Christ’s birth and the journey beyond. Be aware of where the unexpected nature of Christ is showing up in your life and like Joseph see where it takes you.


[1] Expect the Unexpected A sermon on Romans 1:1-7 & Matthew 1:18-25 by Nathan Nettleton, 19 December 2004,  http://www.laughingbird.net.