Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (December 22, 2013)

Wordle: Untitled
“Christmas Expectations” (Matthew 1:18-25)
            During the season of Advent, we talk a lot about hope, anticipation, and expectation.  In repentant trust, the Church prepares to celebrate the First Advent of the Lord Jesus while we watch and wait for his Second Advent.
            Expectation.  That’s a big part of Advent and Christmas, isn’t it?  What am I going to get for Christmas?  What is inside all those brightly wrapped packages under the tree?  Will I get what I asked for?
            At our last Wednesday night Advent service, I mentioned the longing that so many of us have for a perfect Christmas.  We have an idealized picture in our head of what Christmas should be like. Stockings hung by the chimney with care.  Visions of sugar plums dancing in your head … or at least an assortment of See’s Candy!  The pungent smell of freshly cut evergreen mixed with the sweet smell of cinnamon and vanilla from the sugar cookies and other tasty morsels that mom or grandma baked.  Everyone home and happy for the holidays.
            But after all the packages have been ripped open, after the turkey has been ravaged, after the relatives return home, you still find yourself feeling a little empty.  You didn’t get that gift you were so hoping for.  Or you did and it broke soon after you used it.  Or you soon bored of it.  It wasn’t as exciting as you thought it was going to be after all.
            Then there were those relatives and others that rubbed you the wrong way.  Far too many Grinches have stolen your Christmas joy.  Far too many Henry Potters have made your wonderful life miserable.  You can totally relate to George Bailey.  Hardly anything is going right for you.  Your resentment and desperation brings forth the nastiness in your own heart.  You find yourself snapping in anger at your little Janies and Tommies and Zuzus.  Maybe you’ve even gone so far as to say right along with George Bailey, “I wish I’d never been born.”  And unlike what happened to George in the film, an angel named Clarence never shows up to earn his wings by encouraging you and helping you put things back into perspective, giving you the chance to see what the world would indeed be like without you.
            Joseph had expectations.  Hopes and dreams of a wife.  A family.  A whole quiverfull of children.  Joseph, a faithful Son of David, surely knew Psalm 127: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (Ps. 127:3-5).  He had only to wait for his year-long betrothal to be over and then he could take Mary as his wife.  He was committed to her in the meantime.  Unlike in our culture today, engagement in those days was tantamount to marriage … without the living together.  You were legally bound to your betrothed even before the public marriage ceremony.
            Then suddenly, Joseph’s world fell apart.  Mary is pregnant.  All of Joseph’s expectations, all of Joseph’s hopes and dreams, are shattered.  No more wife.  No more nice little home in Nazareth.  No more child of his own.  But plenty of shame.  Joseph has been hurt and insulted.  Mary – as it appears on the surface – has sinned.
            Yet Joseph is also described as a just man.  He’s a good guy.  A decent fellow.  He doesn’t want to take revenge on Mary.  He could, you know.  According to the Law of Moses, the penalty was stoning (Deut. 22:13-29).  He would have been within his rights to go public.  It would be public soon enough, as soon as the little baby bump began to show under Mary’s tunic.  Instead, he decides to divorce her quietly.  How long did Joseph “consider these things” as Matthew tells us?  We don’t know.  But whether it was a day or a week or a month or more, you can imagine his agony.  All that he was looking forward to was now ruined.
            And that’s when Joseph was visited by an angel in a dream.  Not Clarence.  Probably Gabriel, if he’s the same angel that also had informed Mary of God’s plan as St. Luke records for us.  God comes to Joseph and his unfulfilled expectations and brings him an unexpected word.  God reveals the unexpected way in which his promises to the patriarchs were about to come to fruition … in the fruit of Mary’s womb.  The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.  This is a miracle from the Holy Spirit.  Moreover, the angel also announced the name of this child.  He will be called “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  Jesus.  Yeshua, as it would have been in those days.  “The Lord saves.”  That’s what his name means.  That’s what he came to be … the Savior.  And Matthew reminds us that all of this took place to fulfill the words of Isaiah some 700 years prior: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”  God with us.  God in the flesh.  God in the womb of Mary.
            What an amazing, unexpected turn of events for Joseph!  How overwhelming for Joseph!  Can you imagine his thoughts?  “I’m going to be the foster father of the promised Messiah!  Am I up to the task?”  But through the word of the angel, which was God’s Word, faith was conceived in Joseph’s heart and enabled him to trust the Lord and do what the angel said.  He took Mary home as his wife.  She gave birth to a son.  And he called his name Jesus.
            What unfulfilled expectations are bothering you today?  What are you expecting from God today?  Straighten out the messes others have made for you through their sinful words and actions?  Straighten out the messes that you have made for yourself because of your sinful words and actions?  Are you demanding that the Lord work according to your plans … that he act in your life the way you expect?  Or are you willing to trust that he knows what he is doing, even when it seems like your world has fallen apart.
            God certainly knew what he was doing in Joseph’s life.  Now, granted, I know that Joseph’s circumstances were extraordinary.  For you, there has been no angelic visit.  For you, there has been no angel speaking in a dream.  But God has still spoken to you.  He has spoken to you through his Word.  And he does some extraordinary and unexpected things through his Word.  Connected to water, God gives you the Holy Spirit who conceives faith in your heart where there was no faith before.  Through the mouth of your pastor, the Lord announces that the sins which weigh you down are quickly lifted by his grace and mercy.  Under bread and wine, you receive the Body and Blood of Immanuel.  In the elements on the altar, and in your hands and in your mouths, God is with you to forgive you, to save you, to encourage you, to help you by his might.
            The Son of God entered our world in an unexpected way.  And though our expectations today often go unfulfilled, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior.  Joseph may have been a “just” man, and we honor him for caring for Mary and Jesus.  But Joseph was still a sinner like you and me.  Jesus is the only perfectly “just” man who ever lived.  And although our sin brings guilt, Jesus does not want YOU to be put to shame.  And so went all the way from the manger to the cross, from virgin womb to empty tomb, and lived up to his holy name … he saved you from your sins.  The guilt of your sin is forgiven and you are “just”-ified.  Not guilty.  And one day, you will finally also be saved from the effects of sin in this world in the healing of your bodies in the resurrection and the restoration of all creation at Christ’s Second Advent.
Our hope and expectation,
    O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, O Sun so longed for,
    O’er this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted,
    We plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth’s redemption
    That sets Your people free!
(LSB 515.4)

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