Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2013

Matthew 1.18-25
(with some allusions to chapter 2)
Advent is a season of preparing, of getting ready for the coming of our God.  Our text for this week is one of promise fulfilled but it is quickly followed by warning in chapter 2.  Our text tells us of Joseph’s resolution to put Mary away quietly. He could have chosen public humiliation or worse for this young girl but Joseph is a man of conviction, of righteous behavior.  All of us have heard of, or perhaps have acted in “righteous indignation” toward someone or something with which we have taken exception. Righteousness in the first century was roughly equitable with living by the Law, and in this case the Law was quite clear what Joseph’s options were. But Joseph gives us a glimpse of real righteousness, a righteousness that extends grace in the face of insult, of caring rather than condemning. Joseph himself is an image of God.

We are reminded that there is anticipation of the coming of the Christ child, the incarnation of God. This is not widely known or anticipated by the world, but the hosts of Heaven know what’s coming. It was an angel, a messenger of God who announced to Mary what was to happen and Joseph is told in a dream that this child will save the people from their sins. This birth will mark the fullness of time, a point  or space of time in which the plan of God  will be revealed as the salvation of peoples and the reconciliation of the Creation to God. Scripture reminds us that this Jesus will be none other than God with Us.

God with Us. Imagine that, roll that around in your mind. Let it settle in your heart and your consciousness.  God, the Creator of the World, the Sustainer of Life itself is coming as a child, on par with a creature. This is a return to the Beginning when God walked in the garden and spoke with the original Two; this is the relationship God has always wanted with humans—to move among us and to grant us Life with Him.

Not everyone in the world is ready, is open to receive this God Among Us. Scripture and our experience tell us that some folks suffer from the same misplaced trust and confusion with which the original Two suffered. Not having seen God in the world and coming to believe that self-reliance and human power are the bases of right, of rightness, of righteousness, they will be blinded to the coming of the Redemption; they will refuse to see.

As has often been recited in Scripture, the coming of God is both blessing and bane. Being granted Life means being mortal; being chosen as His people results in being taunted, attacked, and disparaged; having this people cleansed means forced marches into exile; and the coming of this child results in both redemption and death. The world, even those within the people of God who reject Him in various ways, pushes against true righteousness, true Life and they try to seize their salvation with their own hands.

And innocents suffer. Rachel will wail when this child comes not because of the promise fulfilled but because of the blindness and self-referential life we are all tempted to live by the Deceiver.

We rejoice at the coming of God, and at the same time know that the offer of reconciliation is pregnant with rejection. This rejection requires us to consider our faith, our faithfulness. God is with us; are we with Him?
We often overlook Joseph; he becomes a part actor in this play overshadowed by Mary, Jesus, and even the Magi. Too often as we read familiar texts, we fail to enter the story, to read between the lines. What might Joseph’s example of righteousness tell you about your own righteousness and righteous behavior?

Relax for a second. Get comfortable in your seat and imagine God with you. Not with you in some ethereal, vague way, but right in the room with you. What emotions arise for you? Are you glad He has come, or do feelings of fear come to the surface?

God has come and the world continues to reject Him, to rely on human wisdom and power. Are you prepared to strengthen your faith, to hold tightly to the righteousness of God, to suffer for and with the God who is with you?

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