4th Sunday of Advent, Year C
Sunday December 23, 2008
Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25
Preacher: The Rev. Laura Gottardi-Littell
I have always been very proud of my son. But then I have a most remarkable son.
He is a lot like his mother. There is no one like either of them.
Maybe you think I am just another proud father. Just another proud husband.
So allow me to introduce myself. I am Joseph of Nazareth.
My wife is Mary. Our son is Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth.
You probably know much more about my wife and son than you do about me. But that’s as it should be. They are the special ones.
I’ve never been a person who needed to take credit. When I built a table, chair, or house, my reward was in seeing it done right and giving happiness to those who would use it. I didn’t need others to praise my work. I didn’t need to be the big boss, overseeing 10 other carpenters. I was happy to have my own little shop and make life a bit better for others. And so it was with this project God had in mind, that God asked Mary and me to help build. I just wanted to help.
If I did anything right, it was trusting. I trusted God. I went along with the plan, even when it seemed really crazy, scary, or impossible.
Another thing I did right was to love Mary and to stay with her. But that was easy. I have never known a soul so pure. Such a beautiful person. And she was wise, no one’s fool. Our parents had arranged the marriage, but there was no one I would rather be with. After we were engaged, she continued to live with her parents and I went to see her sometimes. One day she gave me the unbelievable news that she was pregnant. I couldn’t take it in. I knew I wasn’t the child’s father. We were not yet man and wife. Mary wasn’t the kind to do something impulsive, and I’d never seen her hurt anyone on purpose. But now she was hurting me, as I heard her strange, unwelcome news. Had she been seeing someone else? No, she said, no!
Perhaps someone had taken advantage of her. But again she said no. She said she was carrying God’s child. Then I thought maybe she was not in her right mind. Yet she seemed to be making sense about other things. She just had this problem and this wild story. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was losing my own mind. I saw all my hopes for our marriage dissolving. What kind of life would we have together, with a beginning like this? I told Mary I would not be able to see her for a while. I would have to think.
So I went home and thought. And thought. Agonized. And it seemed to me that the best thing would be to quietly end the relationship and call off the wedding. I was not interested in having Mary punished or disgraced. It would be hard enough for her, an unmarried woman, with a child. I hated to think about the life she would live, how other people would treat her, if they even allowed her to live. But how could we marry, under these circumstances? And how in the world was I going to explain this to my mother, or my future in laws? I had a very difficult night, tossing and turning in my bed. Finally, when it was almost morning, I shut my eyes.
In a dream, one of God’s angels spoke to me. And told me not to be afraid to take Mary as my wife. That the baby came from the Holy Spirit. I should name him Jesus, which means “God saves.” He was the child the prophets had spoken of, the child who would one day come to deliver our people.
In the dream I felt a peace and joy I had never known. When I awoke, I felt it still. I went to see Mary. I took her hand and told her I would still like to marry her. We would raise the child together. I told her about my dream. We wept. We knew the road ahead could not be easy. But we loved each other. And we trusted God.
The rest of the story, I think you know. We had our Jesus, under difficult circumstances, but God was with us. I continued to dream, and God continued to guide and protect us. Like all parents, we had happy and sad times with our child. And Jesus’ amazing life unfolded the way it was meant to. He was my son. But he was much more than that. He was also God’s son.
Sometimes as parents we think we own our children. We do not. Sometimes as married people we think we own our husband or wife. We do not. In a way, Mary and Jesus belonged to me, but in a way, they never did. God lent them to me as a gift, to care for them. It was a great lesson to me about what love is and is not. It is not ownership. I loved and cared for them. And that was enough for me. I never needed to have the credit or be the big boss. And I know that even though my role was relatively small, I was important to the success of God’s plan. I think it’s safe to say it wouldn’t have worked without me.
If there is any special message I could offer you today, it is this: Trust God. Even when the going gets rough, even if your spouse or child does something really strange, even if all of your plans for the future get turned upside down, Trust God. Easier said than done, I know. Maybe that was my real gift, my contribution to the divine plan, being able to trust. And that is what I wish for you.
From me you can also learn that no one is insignificant to God. Mary and I were not rich or famous. We were not from a big important city, like Athens or Jerusalem. Sometimes I’ve wondered, why me? How did I get chosen for this part, mixed up in this drama? Yes, OK, I am descended from King David, but I am just a carpenter. It seems God can work through all kinds of limited, ordinary people like me. So don’t sell yourself short, and don’t lose hope. Your life is important to God, and you matter, regardless of who you are and where you come from.
I would also like you to remember Jesus’s whole life. Not just the angels, manger, and shepherds. Amazing and wonderful as those things were, there’s much more to the story. Remember the way my son reached out to the sick, poor, blind, and lame. Remember how he ate with outcasts. How he treated women and children with dignity. Remember what he taught us about life, love and forgiveness. Don’t forget his sacrifice on the cross, and how he lived on after that. Because the way Jesus was conceived and born – while truly amazing –is only a small part of the Great Story.
My son was called “God saves.” Remember that you are saved. The world is saved.
My son was also called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” It may seem sometimes that God is very far away. But God is always with us. God may not send you an angel in a dream, as He did for me, but God can speak to you through friends, family, teachers, even strangers. God speaks too through Scripture, and through communities of faith. And if you get quiet and listen, you may also hear God’s voice inside yourself, still and small.
Jesus was an extraordinary light in this world. There was no one like him. But that light is in you and me too, if we believe in Him. We let it shine when we forgive, accept, and help one another.
Remember the love Jesus has for you and me. Love never dies. Especially when it comes from God.
I guess you could say things worked out for me, following that plan of God’s that seemed so crazy at first. May you also be open to God’s plans for you, and may the light of Jesus, shining in all of us, bring about many small and large miracles this Christmas and beyond.