4 Advent Yr A Dec 22 2013

Audio (mp3)

We have arrived here at the fourth Sunday of Advent whether we are ready or not. The coming of the baby is so very close, and yet not quite here. According to Matthew’s telling of this story, it seems that even before the angel came to Joseph, he already knew that Mary was pregnant, maybe she told him, maybe he just knew; we don’t hear anything about that. What we do hear is that Joseph considered his choices. I've mentioned this before, some of you may remember, 1st century customs about betrothals, which are very different than our ideas about engagement and marriage, were quite clear. If you think the woman to whom you’re engaged is bearing someone else’s child, both the woman and the man whose child it is get death by stoning, assuming you know the identity of the father and that the woman is seized in an area in which someone could have heard her screams if she cried out. Joseph is a righteous man, but he refuses to expose Mary to public disgrace to carry this out. So Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly, this divorce is the measure that would have to be taken to nullify a betrothal. It’s the best option he has to avoid claiming a child that wasn’t his. In the face of common law, tradition, all the cultural forces mounting against him, derision and judgment, Joseph chooses life, Joseph chooses incarnation.
When Joseph had resolved to do this, an angel appears to him too, and says the words angels are famous for in scripture, “Do not be afraid.” I’m thinking angels must be pretty scary looking, not like those cherubic angels we see in paintings, because every time one appears in scripture they start out with “don’t be afraid.” So this angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid because the child Mary is bearing is of the Holy Spirit, and when he is born, Joseph is to call him Jesus, which means, “Yahweh saves,” the way Matthew describes it is, “he will save his people from their sins.” The writer of Matthew very intentionally connects this story with the passage from the prophet Isaiah that says there will be a son and his name will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
Joseph could not ignore God’s presence, Joseph could not ignore incarnation, neither can you and I, just like Joseph, we have a choice to make. This was a child who was born of Mary, a child who should not have been born at all, and of Joseph, who had he been so inclined, would have left Mary to public justice, stoning and all. This is a child whose birth, death, and resurrection attest to God’s creativity and power.
I am reminded of a scene that I love in the first Jurassic Park movie. I realize that Jurassic Park is an old movie now, but try and picture this with me. Shortly after arriving on the tropical island that is Jurassic park, the scientists tour the whole park, and then they sit down to dinner with Mr. Hammond the owner, and Ian Malcolm, a mathematician and scientist at the park. They are talking about the cloning that has been done to create the dinosaurs at the park, and that the safeguard to not having more dinosaurs out there is that they created them all female. At the table while they are eating this gourmet meal, Ian delivers a brilliant line. He says, “Life will not be contained! Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, ah, well, there it is.”
That is what has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen with Jesus and incarnation. God breaks into our world, God interrupts our lives. The life that God creates breaks free, it expands to new territories, and it crashes through barriers, sometimes painfully and dangerously. It is the life in Mary’s womb, and in Elizabeth’s womb, that exists not because of biology and despite humanity’s tendency to end life, but because of God’s awesome, creative, power. It is the life to which Joseph joins Mary in saying yes. It is the life in which God pours out upon us the Love that wins.
This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are ever so close to that inbreaking. How do you prepare your heart and mind and body for the crashing in of God? How do you join with Mary and Joseph and say yes to this incarnation? The question at the mall, the question asked by the culture is “Are you ready for Christmas?” Are you ready for Christmas? This question is asked from the perspective of perceived expectations, not from the perspective of this inconceivable conception. What that question really means is do you have your decorating done, are your lights up, did you get your cookies baked, is your house clean and ready for the guests, do you have all your gifts purchased or even made and wrapped?
But the real question is, are you ready for God’s crashing into our world, are you ready for God’s crashing into your life and into your heart? Are you ready to be transformed into the person God would have you be? Are you ready to say yes? Now those are hard questions.
I am ready for Christmas, and I am not yet ready for Christmas. I have experienced the inbreaking of God into my life and I know that God’s inbreaking continues in new and life changing ways. I know that God has broken into this particular church and the universal church; and at the very same time, I continue to wait and prepare for the cosmic coming of Christ, for all times and all places, and the church continues to wait and prepare, and we have no idea what that will look like. All we have is what we imagine.
But we do know what God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like today, right now. It looks like the clerk at the store, the one who really needs someone to say, “you’re doing a great job in the midst of this madness.” It looks like the guy in the car beside you, who needs a smile and a nod, not a raised finger. It looks like the mom and children who really could use something good to eat in these days, and a warm coat to wear. It looks like the family that works two and three jobs just to make it to the end of the month and still needs a little help from the food shelf. And it also looks like the executive who works 80 hours in a week, and long ago forgot that it’s not about the stuff that he can give to his family, it’s about the time he can spend with his family. Or it looks like the young person desperately trying to fit into a world that values contingency over commitment. Sometimes it looks like the sadness we feel when our loved one has died, and it is so very hard to remember that life will not be contained, life breaks free.
God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like when we gather together around this altar and are made into the body of Christ, it looks like when we invite others, sometimes people who don’t look like us or speak like us, to eat at this table with us. God’s incarnation looks like the gathered church in the diocese of South Dakota, people of all colors and shapes and sizes. God’s incarnation looks like the church gathered across the United States, people from every country, of many colors, and mostly who can agree on something, maybe. God’s incarnation looks like the love we share with one another; and it is made real when we say yes with Joseph and Mary.
For me, the experience of the inbreaking of God in my life and into the life of the church has everything to do with God being revealed in absolutely new ways, in ways I couldn’t have imagined, even in ways the church hasn’t imagined before. Because that is what and who Jesus is, God comes as a lowly child, born in a barn, not as the expected King. The breaking forth of new life is sometimes painful, but always creative. Our waiting and watching is almost complete. Amen.


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