God With Us – Dec. 13, 2020
God With Us – The Angel and Joseph
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
December 13, 2020
Main Idea: God is with us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This Advent season we are listening to angels. Our Scriptures are full of them; radiant beings bringing messages of hope, comfort, and challenge. Angels dazzle us with bright light, great power, and holy presence. Especially in this season, we see representations of them everywhere, but their true presence among us is often dismissed. For the first two weeks of Advent we pondered the angelic proclamations of the angel Gabriel, first to Zechariah and then to Mary. Today we will explore Joseph’s angel visitation. Matthew’s Christmas story is less familiar than the story in the Gospel of Luke. It is a story of hard choices and family turmoil. It deals with heartbreak and scandal. And yet it is a story of love, and of hope, and of joy as it tells of the birth of our Savior Jesus. There is an old church expression, “God makes a way out of no way” and today’s text is a great example of this. This year has been difficult for all of us. Joseph’s visit with the angel shows us that God is with us in all of the complicated and difficult circumstances that come up in everyone’s life. God’s presence with us empowers us to make choices with love rather than fear.
The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah on the best day of his life, the pinnacle of his career, and Gabriel shook him up with the answer to his deepest prayer. Gabriel came to Mary on an ordinary day with extraordinary and completely unexpected news. Joseph is visited by an angel on the very worst day of his life. It is a day on which Joseph’s plans and dreams for the future have been shattered. As the story begins, Joseph has already decided to divorce Mary. Engagements, back in the day, were not just promises between two people. They were legal contracts between families. Although Joseph and Mary were not yet living together as man and wife, legally they were wed. Her pregnancy could only mean that she had been unfaithful, and as a “righteous man”, meaning one who follows the Law, Joseph’s only options for dealing with Mary were public stoning or divorce. The text tells us that Mary’s child is from the Holy Spirit but Joseph does not know that yet. He decides that he will divorce her quietly, to protect her from public disgrace and punishment. He is heartbroken. He feels betrayed and humiliated. He goes to bed, resolved to end his engagement to Mary on the very next day. Now Joseph shares a name with a famous Old Testament dreamer who saved himself and his family by paying attention to his dreams. Our Joseph is a dreamer too, and in his dream, he is visited by an angel.
This angel, whose name we are not told, speaks directly to Joseph’s anger, fear and disbelief. The usual angelic greeting of “Do not be afraid” is expanded. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (1:20b). She has not betrayed you. She needs you, God needs you, to help bring God’s love to the world. You both have a role to play. She will give birth to the child but you will name him and claim him for the House of David. His name is to be Jesus which means “YHWH saves” for he will save his people.”
When Joseph wakes, he does just as the angel had directed. He stays with Mary and he raises Jesus as his own son, adopting him into the House of David. The angel’s call to Joseph was the exact opposite of what Joseph had expected God’s law to demand but Joseph is brave enough to put aside what is expected of him and to embrace this new calling. He chooses love instead of anger and fear. He looks beyond his own troubles to see his role in bringing God’s love into the world.
This story reminds me of a great book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama entitled “The Book of Joy; Lasting Happiness in a Changing World”. Both of these men have lived through incredible suffering and grief and yet they both exude exuberant joy. Both have done tremendous work of bringing peace and justice to the world. Throughout the book, these two spiritual giants reiterate over and over again that the key to Joy is looking beyond ourselves to see the love and potential of others; to move through the world with humility and gratitude.
This is what the angel tells to Joseph. Recognize the gift that you are about to receive. Choose to participate with Mary in bringing God’s love to the world.
This is the Good News of the angel’s proclamation; that God is with us in all our messy and complicated lives and that God works with us to bring light and life and love to the world. God needed Joseph to stay with Mary and to love Jesus as his own child. As Matthew’s Christmas story continues, we find that Joseph goes to extraordinary lengths to protect his son, Jesus. God makes a way out of no way and over and over again. God meets us in our difficulties, and journeys with us as we move through all aspects of life.
In this Advent season, how are angels speaking to us, calling us to unexpected and sometimes difficult things? Certainly, our familiar ways of life, our traditions for celebrating the season, have been upended. We are like Joseph, overwhelmed by circumstances in our lives which seem beyond our control. The whole world is unsteady. So many are anxious, or angry, or afraid. But, like with Joseph, God is with us. God is among us, empowering us and calling us to participate in bringing God’s love to the world. God is counting on us to let go of our fears and embrace God’s plan. We can do this by recognizing the gifts found among the challenges of this extraordinary year and season. Of course, there is deep grief and anger about what has transpired this year but there have also be opportunities and insights into who we are and how we can live more peacefully and justly together. We can work with God by making all of our decisions based on love instead of fear. We work with God by focusing on how we care for each and how we bring each other together. In our most difficult circumstances, God makes a way out of No way. Emmanuel, God with Us.
Let us pray,
Incarnate God, we thank you for Joseph who was willing to set aside everything to participate with Mary in the grandest adventure; loving and raising Jesus, the son of God. Help us to trust your leading so that we too might participate in your divine plan. Remind us that you are with us at all times and in all circumstances. Amen.
Carol – O Come O Come Emmanuel
Benediction – “We hear the Christmas angel, the great glad tidings tell. O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.” May we move through our lives secure in the knowledge of God with us and empowered to share that love with the world.