18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[b] and he named him Jesus.
Last Sunday of Advent. Can you believe it? It seems like we just started but here we are with just a mere three days left until Christmas. Where does the time go? They say it flies when you are the happiest, so maybe that’s what we have been doing? Being happy? Maybe, but feeling deadlines and stress could also be a part of what makes the time seem to fly. Our world is filled with it. Then add to that all the happenings on the news and in our nation’s capital this week, that adds stress to us. Even if we say we don’t follow politics, you can’t help but wonder what will happen next. In the midst of it all we gather today to see where God is leading us, not of this world, but of the kingdom.
We begin with the passage from the prophet Isaiah. He reminds us of a time in which another nation was stressed. Ahaz, the king of Judah was staring in the face of what we become known as the Syro-Ephraimite War. 734-733 BCE. The Assyrians were on the move from Mesopotamia towards Syria and Israel. The leaders of those two countries appealed to Ahaz to join them to resist the Assyrians, but Ahaz refused. The issue for Isaiah is whether to trust God’s promise of maintaining the Davidic line or to go with the Assyrians—which eventually he does. Isaiah tries to explain to Ahaz that if he goes against God and trusts the Assyrians it will not last. Human will always loses to God.
He tells Isiah that anything he wants God will give him, from the depths of Sheol to the heights of heaven. Here God is saying through Isaiah anything you want it can be yours if you will remain with me. But Ahaz is a stubborn man and replies, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” (v.12) In essence Isiah says OK, you fool, here is what God is going to do. And we get the well-known scripture “Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (v.14) This same passage is quoted in our gospel text today. But before we move to that gospel text and our piece of artwork for the day, a couple observations from Isaiah.
Notice how Ahaz was more than willing to make an alliance with a foreign power than with his neighbors? He was even more willing to accept the foreign alliance than allow God to do anything to show how much he loved his people. Then God says in essence, OK have it your way. I will bring a male child into your spot of the world and he will be greater than you ever imagined. A direct threat to Ahaz. This male child will be so great that he will even be named Immanuel (God with us!)
The good news in all of this is that no matter how bad we become; self-absorbed, proud, arrogant, indignant and malicious God is still active and working to bring about God’s plan. The love that God has for the creation in which we are a part of is greater than we can mess up. There truly is hope that God’s plan is better. God will do whatever God needs to do in order to make the kingdom come. Now our artwork.
by Hannah Garrity
inspired by Matthew 1:18-25 | acrylic on canvas
“I imagine Joseph scoffing at Mary’s explanation. “Trust me.” “How can I?” I hear a tense conversation filled with tears and devastation. I sense fear of societal judgement. What will people say?
Joseph is skeptical. He knows he cannot be the father of the baby.
He decides to break his engagement with Mary.
He must feel so betrayed by her. So, how is it that he can believe the angel in the dream?
Suddenly, he welcomes the opportunity to parent Jesus anyway. He follows through on his commitment to Mary anyway.
Trust in Mary, trust in God; Joseph could only have managed his role in this story with trust. His faith relies heavily on trust. Deep down, we know who we can trust. Subconsciously, we all know right from wrong.
In this image, Joseph has just placed the wedding ring on Mary’s hand. They have just said their vows, committing their lives to each other. Here, Joseph seals his trust in Mary’s word, his trust in the word of God, with action.
Whom do I need to let God lead me to trust? Where in my life is my justified skepticism keeping me from God’s call? How am I letting my concern for the opinions of society impede my willingness to act on God’s word?”
This imagery of love is beautiful. I have to ask how many of you have this scene of the wedding rings in your wedding album? When I do a wedding I say, “What do you bring as a sign of your promise?” After the best person gives me the rings I then pray, “By your blessing, O God, may these rings be to the named couple symbols of unending love and faithfulness, reminding them of the covenant that they have made this day.” A ring does not have a beginning and an end, it lasts forever.
We know Joseph could have ran, but he didn’t. He was planning to do the right thing by the standards of the day, dismiss her quietly. God said no way! God told an angel to go and get Joseph’s head on straight. Love is more important than the popular thought processes of the day. How many times do you think he was called a fool for taking on a wife that was pregnant and the Son was not even his? You can just hear the guys at the local coffee shop. The Holy Spirit Ha! I got some swamp land south of the Garden of Gethsemane you can have really cheap also!
But you see God’s love is different from our love. God sees what is good and makes come to be. The love that God brings to us each year in the manger is a sight to behold. But we can’t leave that sight in the past. God with us means not only the past, but it is the present and the future. We today have love among us, but we sometimes forget to see it for love. (Pictures start here) We have a child in our midst that has battled his entire life. On Monday he had his third heart surgery. His parents love him dearly. Yet they have lost their jobs because of the time and effort it takes to be with this little boy. But they promised each other that he would never be alone when he is in the hospital.
Love comes to us in this little boy. He is an example of how God intends for us to be with one another. When our world comes crashing in around us and we got caught up in the noise of the day, we look for God’s love. It is right here in those smiles. It is in the tiniest of steps. It is those who care for him and support one another. We can share in this story as well. We can be support for him when he comes back home. We can even help today. This is the miracle of Christmas. This is God’s love wrapped in a 3-year-old package. This is where we find Immanuel—God with us! Amen.