Awaiting Jesus in the Messes of our Lives

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Peder Stenslie
4th Sunday in Advent
Matthew 1:18-25

We know that God does not hesitate to enter the wrecks of our lives… as today’s Gospel lesson reminds us. In fact, he seeks them out, like a shepherd seeks his lost sheep. Expect God to be with you, around you… in you. Seek… ask for… and receive his grace, his strength, his direction. Let him lead you into new ways of thinking and living. Let him lead you to new life.


We are now very late into the season of Advent. At this point, we are leaning far forward as we anticipate the coming of Christ. And as we think of this amazing event we are awaiting, what a strange and painful scene emerges in today’s Gospel lesson.

It’s a terrible mess. We have this story of a simple craftsman… a member of a conquered and oppressed people living in a far-off corner of a mighty empire. He is engaged to a girl… who he has discovered is pregnant before their marriage. And he’s not the father. These two people are common, ordinary people. So we can relate to them. And we can imagine what it would be like to have this crisis suddenly erupt in our lives… the terrible disappointment, a broken engagement, broken dreams, a moral dilemma; people’s whole lives are completely upended… a terrible mess of a situation.

This situation of great disappointment, uncertainty and brokenness is the setting for God’s arrival. Today, as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, we are reminded that God reveals himself in the messes and troubles that afflict the lives of his people. We sometimes fear we are just so far gone that we cannot hope for good things… for healing or wholeness.

But the message delivered by Advent and Christmas… and all of scripture really… is that our lives… especially the lives of the poor, the suffering, the wounded… should shine with hope because God’s way and will… his pleasure… is to enter the mess of human life, human failures… and give his healing power to create new life in us, new opportunities for joy.

God’s angel reveals to Joseph two wonderful names Mary’s baby will have. The first is “Jesus,” which means “He Saves.” The other is “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” These names remind us who God is and how he works in the world. They remind us why we live in hope in spite of our weaknesses and failures.

Our Sunday school children have presented music for us today that proclaims the joy and wonder of Christmas. They have sung to us about the birth of Jesus and the light he brings into the world. May Jesus also bring his light into their lives. The reason for Sunday school… the reason we teach our children about the story of God’s love and care for his creation is our hope and belief that the word and spirit of God that has sustained countless generations through the centuries will sustain them as well.

We recognize, as parents and adults, that our children aren’t ready to face the challenges and trials of life. We see in them unbridled selfishness and self-centeredness. We are aware, sometimes delightfully so, of the childish ideas they have about things. We observe their dependence on others to care for their basic needs and to watch out for them… their inability to accomplish many things necessary to provide for themselves and others.

We know they need love and nurture beyond what we can give… they need the grace and power of God… to grow and become the people they were created to be. That is something we know.

And so we endeavor, through Sunday school, by bringing them to worship, through the sacraments of baptism and communion, by teaching them at home, showing them the Gospel in our words and actions… we endeavor to pass on to them the gifts God has to give. We do this in the hope and expectation that they will grow in faith and in gifts of grace.

It is our hope and prayer that you students who come and worship with us on this and other Sundays will also come to know God is at work in you. Whatever troubles you have known… whatever mistakes you have made…whatever disappointments you have suffered… you must always remember: your lives belong to God. It is his will and intention that you grow in strength, health, wisdom and goodness. He will always be at work in you in order to bring forth in you the life and light he has to give.

We know that God does not hesitate to enter the wrecks of our lives… as today’s Gospel lesson reminds us. In fact, he seeks them out, like a shepherd seeks his lost sheep. Expect God to be with you, around you… in you. Seek… ask for… and receive his grace, his strength, his direction. Let him lead you into new ways of thinking and living. Let him lead you to new life.

Our Gospel lesson has a messy beginning. But as we see, God is there in the mess, drawing new life out of loss and broken dreams, making the lives of Joseph and Mary a part of his work in the world. We too look to God from the messes… the disappointments and failures… the weaknesses of our own lives… and ask him to come and enter our hearts. O God, come into our lives, take hold of our hearts and weave us into the fabric of your kingdom.

Amen.