December 22, 2013
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Shera Nesheim, DM
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who comes to intervene and make a mess. I know it’s not Christmas yet, only 2 days until Christmas Eve, but who’s counting, right? Today we hear a Christmas story. Not the one we usually think of when we expect a baby lying in a manger, with cattle lowing next to shepherds quaking and three wise men. Today we hear about the birth of Jesus, from the perspective of his father. It may seem picturesque, when we think about the sweet baby Jesus glowing as his adoring parents beam with joy, but the arrival of Christ into the world is quite unexpected and messy.
When a girl whispers to a boy, “I’m pregnant,” you can bet that there are butterflies raging in any man’s stomach as he realizes how quickly his life will change.
Joseph is a good guy. He has a solid name and comes from a good family. Joseph is a blood relative to people like King David, like Jacob and like Abraham, very important people you can read about in the Old Testament.
Joseph is a “righteous dude.” Righteous here means to be morally good and follow religious and moral laws. Joseph keeps the religious traditions alive in his life, by living in accordance with the Jewish law and doing things like honoring the Passover and the Sabbath day.
We can suppose Joseph is a quiet guy – no where in Scripture do we read his own spoken words. He has a reliable job as a carpenter, so he can provide for and take care of his future wife.
Mary has found a keeper right? Or I should say, her parents found her a keeper. Because in those days the parents chose who you marry. Everything is perfect. Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married. But we all know that life is messy. Relationships are sloppy and imperfect.
Two words can change your life forever: I’m pregnant. “I’m pregnant,” she whispered. Butterflies had to have been exploding in his stomach. They don’t live together yet, so he knows that this is not his baby. Maybe he even wanted to throw up as he felt his heart breaking. Perhaps a million thoughts run through his mind… What do I do? Who is the father? What has she done? What will people think? Is she lying? It’s impossible that she is carrying the Son of God. We don’t hear any words from Joseph, so we can only imagine the thoughts racing through his mind. The disappointment and the fear reverberating with just two words.
Maybe he tossed and turned at night thinking about this predicament. Losing sleep. Praying to God for a sign. There were no paternity tests back then, and Joseph knew this wasn’t his baby. So he had to weigh his options:
- He could choose to be righteous, and follow the religious law. That would mean he could dismiss her quietly, divorce her. Doing this would clear his name, but she would be publicly disgraced and condemned for adultery (aka cheating on him) and possibly stoned to death.
- He could stay with her. He could marry her. People would gossip. His good name would be tainted. He would probably lose some work. He would have to learn to trust her again. He would have to love a baby that isn’t his own flesh and blood. But she (and the baby) wouldn’t have to die because of this mess.
The second option is the scary option, right? It’s the choice that would make Joseph the most vulnerable. It’s the choice that would change his life and completely alter his journey. It may not be the righteous choice, but it’s the RIGHT choice.
At first, Joseph sticks with the righteous choice. He decides he will divorce her. And I think this part is cool, because not every day do angels come to us in dreams, but Joseph needed an intervention from God. To encourage him to make the right choice.
Yet, on one wild cold night, a baby came into the world shivering and screaming, needing Joseph. Joseph, a man who’s calloused, splintered carpenter’s hands cradled this vulnerable infant Jesus, as he became a father. God doesn’t use perfect situations to make Christ known to us in our lives. God uses the mess. Just like Joseph, God shapes and chisels us into fathers, mothers, mentors, role models, into the children of God we are made to be.
Often we are faced with choices. Choices that seem to make sense if we follow the rules or do what we’re supposed to do or go with what is popular at the time. But God pokes and prods us to make the right choice. The question is, how do we open ourselves up to allowing God to speak to us, through dreams or people, so that we can make the right choice?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran Pastor who also had to choose between a righteous decision and the right decision. It was World War Two and he did not agree with Hitler’s corrupt leadership. So, although he was a righteous man, he highly resisted the Nazi dictatorship, the mass killings of the Jews, and so he, with others, were involved in a plan to assassinate Hitler. The plan did not succeed and he was arrested and executed, only 23 days before the Germans surrendered.
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this, knowing that being open to following God is a messy, even dangerous choice. Trusting that the Christ child is coming into our lives is dangerous. It means our lives will change. It means that God will use us and our sloppy lives to do something amazing. It is in the crazy-ness that life brings, we are reminded that God jumps right in to be there with us, to prepare in us a way of hope and life, through unplanned pregnancies and step-fathers, and Nazi fighters and even our very own messy and unstable lives. This baby Jesus, the Son of God, comes unexpectedly into our lives, and shakes our world up, changes us forever.
Photo credit: <a href=”http://photobucket.com/images/mary%20and%20joseph” target=”_blank”><img src=”http://i1014.photobucket.com/albums/af267/sweet_faith/Christmas/mary_and_joseph_by_kartk-d34ro481.jpg” border=”0″ alt=”mary and joseph photo: Mary and Joseph mary_and_joseph_by_kartk-d34ro481.jpg”/></a>