Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (A)
December 19, 2010
Text: Matt. 1:18-25

One can’t help but sympathize with Joseph. The young woman to whom he was betrothed, his fiancée, her to whom he was giving himself and all his possessions, was found to be with child. And he knew it wasn’t his. There are some great and serious difficulties to be overcome here. This was a time and culture that took seriously God’s commandments against fornication and adultery, that properly regarded God’s good gift of sexuality as sacred, to be kept pure, for the marriage bed alone. By all appearances, Mary had committed adultery, and Joseph had every right to have her stoned, so seriously did the Jews take the 6th Commandment (you know, the one we reluctantly acknowledge, but for all practical purposes pretend to be outdated, as if it doesn’t apply anymore). But being a just man and unwilling to put Mary to shame, Joseph “resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19; ESV). Yes, the word is “divorce,” because engagement was, at this time, the same commitment as marriage, only the marriage hadn’t been consummated yet. We should have the same regard for engagement today, but as with our 6th Commandment scruples, we pretend the rule is no longer applicable. Joseph had decided to divorce her. Because after all, his honor and standing in the community were at stake. People were talking. Everybody knew everybody else’s business. The gossip machine was running full throttle at the Synagogue Sabbath services. Who was the father? Was the child Joseph’s? Was he complicit in this sin? Or had Mary put him to shame by playing fast and loose with her virtue?

Of course, Mary had her side of the story, too. You can imagine how the conversation went. “Joseph, God is the Father. This Child is conceived by the Holy Spirit.” “Mary, please don’t insult me by resorting to fantastic stories. Haven’t you hurt me enough? Just go away. May God forgive you this sin. As for me, it’s better if we never see each other again.” Now, we know Mary is speaking the truth, the divine truth, but Joseph doesn’t know that. The damage is done. The teenage, unwed mother runs back to the home of her parents, who are beside themselves with grief. Where did we go wrong? What do we do now? The shame of the whole community is upon us. Perhaps we had better send Mary away to her uncle Zechariah and aunt Elizabeth for a few months. Of course, Zechariah and Elizabeth had a miraculous pregnancy of their own to deal with, Elizabeth carrying the last great Old Testament prophet, St. John the Baptist. But that’s another story for another day.

Look at the brokenness of this little family. Disappointment. Heartache. Divorce. An unwed mother. A fatherless Child (well, seemingly anyway). Kind of sounds like our families, doesn’t it? And here’s the miracle: It is precisely into this mess of chaos and brokenness that Jesus breaks in and changes everything! Mary’s story is unbelievable. It would take a miraculous revelation from God to believe her story. And that is exactly what happens! An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (v. 20). Mary was telling the truth after all. She had not been unfaithful. No, in fact, the opposite was true. She had been faithful, and Joseph had been faithless, unbelieving. But now more than even the marriage is at stake. There is great good news, the Gospel to be reckoned with here. “She will bear a son, and you,” Joseph, you “shall call his name Jesus,” Joshua, The LORD Saves, “for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Joseph is given the great privilege and responsibility of caring for the Mother of God, and her Son, God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us (v. 23). Joseph will raise the Messiah in his own household, as his legal father, but of course with the recognition that God is the Boy’s Father. When Joseph awakes from his dream, he does the right thing. He obeys the command of God. He takes Mary to be his wife (v. 24). But her virginity remains intact. In fulfillment of our Old Testament lesson, the Virgin conceives and bears a Son (Is. 7:14). Joseph knows not his wife until her Son is born. And he calls his name Jesus (Matt. 1:25), for He will save His people from their sins.

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus comes to us in the midst of our mess: our brokenness, our disappointment, our heartache, our sin. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our dying and death. He comes to turn everything on its head. Jesus breaks in, and everything changes. That is why we celebrate Christmas, the Christ-Mass. That is why we come to Jesus’ house to celebrate His birth by hearing Him speak to us, to each and every one of us, and feed us with His body and blood in the supper. We take a holiday, a holy day, at Christmas because this day is set aside, set apart from regular work, as a Day to focus on Mary’s Son and His Word. We gather with family on this day, come to church as a family on this day, because God miraculously held the holy family together in the midst of crisis, that He might through this family give us Jesus, the Savior of all families, and of the whole world. We give gifts on this day because Jesus is God’s gift to us, because Jesus gave Himself for us, the Son of God wrapped up in human flesh, to be the sacrifice for our sins. One who has received the Gift of God that is Jesus Christ gives generous gifts to his neighbor. That’s the nature of faith. We decorate and we sing and we feast, first around the altar of the Christian family, and then around the dinner tables of our families and friends, because this is occasion for rejoicing, for great joy, for the greatest joy, the only real joy. Jesus comes. He takes all that is wrong into Himself: our sins, our sorrows, our failures, our ills, and He gives us His righteousness freely, as a gift, without any work or worthiness on our part. He has kept the 6th Commandment, and every Commandment for us. And by His death He pays the penalty for our not keeping the Commandments. By His grace and mercy, He lifts our sins from us, the sins which weigh us down (collect). He reconciles us to the God who loves us and sent His Son for us. Everything is different, now that God is a Man. The Word became flesh. He is Immanuel, God with us. He saves us from our sins.

Joseph still had it hard. Sticking with Mary was even harder than divorcing her. People still talked. They gossiped, they maligned, they slandered. They assumed they knew the story, when they didn’t have a clue. And it got even harder. Joseph had to take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem to be registered for the imperial tax. When they arrived, there was no room for them in the inn. Mary gave birth among the animals. Our infant Lord was wrapped in makeshift swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, a feeding trough for livestock. What a reception for the King of kings! Within a matter of months, Herod wants to kill this Child, and Joseph has to flee with his wife and the toddling Savior to Egypt, while all the other boys of Bethlehem under two years of age are mercilessly slaughtered. Some time later Joseph is told to return to Judea with his family, that it is safe once more, and other than the incident at the Temple when Jesus is twelve years old, we never hear of Joseph again. Except in memory. Presumably he dies while Jesus is still young. So it goes for our fallen flesh. So it goes with our life under the cross.

Jesus comes, and everything changes. He saves His people from their sins. He makes all things new. And yet, this earthly life is still hard for you. You may still be lonely this Christmas. Maybe you will not have a family table to gather round. Maybe you will feel so isolated even in the midst of the biggest family celebration, that you may as well be alone. Perhaps you will be depressed this Christmas, as so many are. Perhaps you will be disappointed that Christmas didn’t live up to your expectations. Maybe you will spend this Christmas in a hospital bed. It’s hard to say. None of us knows yet what this Christmas holds. Because the old Adam is still wrapped around your neck. You still live with the reality of the old sinful flesh. And yet, Jesus comes, Immanuel, God with you. Jesus comes to you in your mess. You are not alone. While you bear the holy cross, the Crucified One bears you! And all of these hardships are passing away. You are a new creation in Christ Jesus. You are baptized into Christ. He has spoken His absolution over you. You’ve been bodied and blooded by the One who gave His body into death for you, and shed His blood for you. So it really is different. There is an end to suffering. It will be manifest, for all to see, for you to see with your very eyes on the Last Day. Mary’s Son is your Brother. God’s Son is your Brother. Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is your Lord. And He has redeemed you, that you may be His own. There is no greater gift. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home