Reverend Philip Stringer
December 18, 2022
LET US PRAY: Come, Lord Jesus -- and fill us with expectant waiting. Give us ears that hear your coming and receiving hearts. Come and lead us into the world to serve you, as we watch and pray for your coming in Glory. AMEN
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. . . . . .”
When we hear those words, we expect the words that follow to tell us about a manger in a stable in Bethlehem, because there was no room in the inn. We expect to hear about a village sound asleep in the peaceful Judean night-- and shepherds and angels and songs of praise and glory. That’s the way that the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place.
But our text today hardly mentions Jesus, and Matthew isn’t interested in telling us about stables and shepherds and the like at all. In fact, Matthew doesn’t seem to be concerned with the events of that night at all. When Matthew tells us about how Jesus was born, he tells us about other things-- perhaps the most important details; details that set the scene and the context for Bethlehem-- details about promises, emotions, suspicions, expectations, uncertainty, faithfulness, doubt. This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place-- in a sea of emotional upheaval and spiritual wrestlings that took place in the hearts of two simple people; a young peasant girl, and her fiancé, the carpenter. The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in an unexpected way, and it caught everyone off guard-- most especially, Mary and Joseph.
It would be burden enough if it were merely another unexpected pregnancy-- but this one was much more complicated than that. There would be embarrassment ahead for them-- perhaps in family circles-- certainly in the village as people talked about the girl who got pregnant, and the young man who either participated, or tolerated it.
Perhaps the worst feeling in the world is to be misunderstood-- the feeling that nobody knows who you are-- or what you are like. Mary and Joseph both would be misunderstood from this time on-- and so would their son. A misfit family. A lonely family. No matter where they settled, they would be-- in a certain sense-- a family without a home.
“. . . .the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. . . .”
It is often the way of God-- that God’s will stands in such stark contrast to the order that the world relies upon. God chose Mary because of her innocence, and you might expect that when God honors a quality, the world would take notice-- and yet, because God chose her for her innocence, the world would question that innocence. Even Joseph suspected her to be anything BUT innocent.
Joseph was a righteous man, but because God had chosen Mary, his “righteousness” nearly brought about the end of his dreams of marriage. Because he DID NOT end his engagement to Mary-- because he did the RIGHT thing-- it surely spelled the end of his righteousness in the eyes of gossipers.
And it was through a dream given to Joseph that the simple dreams of Mary and Joseph came to an end; Any dreams they had of a humble, quiet life together. Perhaps dreams that there would be nothing special or unusual in their life together -- all of these dreams ended with a visit from the Holy Spirit-- and with a dream from God in the night.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. Disruption. Mary and Joseph had just become uprooted-- displaced people. Refugees from a predictable life.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.
What do you suppose this young couple’s emotional roller coaster was like? shock? Fear? Perhaps. And ultimately progressed-- not to clarity, but merely, simply, to faith. For they surely did not fully understand what this new plan of God in their lives would mean-- the odyssey that they were about to embark on. Surely, they never imagined themselves as refugees in a foreign land-- or as the most influential, shaping people in the life of the God-in-flesh. No, they likely did not understand any of these things. They simply came to trust God, and to live with the resolve to be faithful servants.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.
How is Jesus born in us today? A common phrase among us. But if we were like Matthew, how would we write about the presence of Christ in our lives? The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in what way?
How convenient it would be to be a visitor in Bethlehem! -- like the shepherds, we would go to see the Christ child, pay our respects, comment about how nice it is, and then return to our lives.
But it was not so with Mary and Joseph. The birth of Jesus the Messiah wasn’t something they could leave behind. No, they were involved. They hadn’t asked for the job, but now they were the parents of Jesus the Messiah-- helpless and lying down in a manger, and they could not change that-- they could not leave the facts behind. They could not return to their routines and pretend that none of this had happened. They were inextricably connected to this child, and their lives would never be the same. For them, the name Emmanuel-- which means “God with us” meant a total and complete life change.
It did more than change their plans. It did more than change their routines. It did more than change the way people looked at them from the outside. It changed who they were on the inside. God came to them, not as an outsider, but as a member of their family. The WAY that God came to them changed who they were. Mary and Joseph were not visitors that night in Bethlehem-- nor are we.
How hard it is and how deeply we wrestle with God when our plans are challenged. When our routines are disrupted; when we face possible embarrassment before others. When our ideas about innocence and righteousness and faithfulness are challenged.
Jesus the Messiah was born that our lives might be changed, too. The living Christ comes to us and to be born to us anew so that our lives might be changed as Mary’s and Joseph’s were-- because it is the difference between visiting God and belonging to God.
We are as inextricably involved with God as were Mary and Joseph. But while they found themselves in the role of parents to a Child-God, we find ourselves, through baptism, as children before a Parent-God. Just as Joseph adopted the infant Jesus and took him as his own, so has our Heavenly Father adopted us in baptism, and taken us as his own.
We are connected to God intimately-- not as outsiders, but as members of God’s family-- and it changes who we are forever.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah happened in this way-- in hearts that had released themselves to the will of God for them. In hearts that let go of the pain of being misunderstood by the world, and held fast to security in the God who does understand them deeply and passionately; in hearts filled with a holy peace that comes from knowing that God is your family.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place among people who did not know where the path would lead, but only that God was going along it before them and with them. And regardless of how they may have felt in those first moments of surprise, they did not count the change as a burden, but a blessing-- behold, the servants of the Lord who saw God in their family.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place surrounded by faith. That’s the way it happened.