Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Picture-Perfect Christmas?

Fourth Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Matthew 1:18-25

The well known Christmas story is from Luke 2. It’s got all those details we know and love so well. The swaddling clothes, the glory of the angels, the joy of the shepherds, and of course the baby Jesus. The account Matthew gives us, that we heard moments ago, isn’t as well known. It also has some memorable parts to it. But it also has some details that don’t seem to fit with the cozy images we have of Christmas. Think about what Joseph and Mary were dealing with 2000 years ago. Even the Luke account gives us things that don’t seem to fit into the comforting picture we have of Christmas, like a pagan ruler who considered himself to be a god. And then of course there’s the difficult conditions Joseph and Mary struggled through in their trek to Bethlehem and their stay in a stable with animals. Not ideal conditions for the birth of their baby. But we have almost come to romanticize even those details.

What we have in the Matthew account are details that not only don’t seem to fit in with the pleasant scene of Christmas, but things that we normally don’t like to deal with at all: a child out of wedlock, divorce, and an almost cryptic message from an angel. What is Matthew trying to do here, ruin our Christmas? Hasn’t society already done a good enough job of that? Can’t we just stick with the cozy and comfortable picture of Christmas Luke gives us?

We deal with family issues enough in our lives, why do they have to be inserted in here in the joyous event of the birth of the Savior? We deal with unpleasant issues enough throughout the week—do we really have to engage them here on Sunday morning where we’d expect to have sanctuary from them?

I’m sure Mary didn’t want to have to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. God only knows how she dreaded telling her husband-to-be that she was pregnant. I doubt she was mentally or emotionally ready to go through nine months of pregnancy since she and her fiancé were faithfully waiting until their marriage to begin having children.

What do you think Joseph was experiencing? Anger? Betrayal? Depression? We do know that he felt he had to break off the marriage. And we also know that, though he may have struggled with the decision, he resolved to do it in a way to protect Mary.

But then there was more for Joseph to deal with—this crazy dream occurred. What was this all about that what was happening was actually all from God? That Mary was indeed as faithful to him as he had been to her. That he would have a son but in a way he never had dreamed of!

Joseph and Mary were just two ordinary people. Caesar Augustus told them they needed to go to Bethlehem, so they went to Bethlehem. They were told the only place they could spend the night when her delivery was imminent was a stable, so they went in with the sheep. They were told by angels that though the bearing of children is reserved for marriage, this was one conception and birth that would be different.

As much as we have romanticized them, the circumstances of Christ’s birth couldn’t have been more strange. Why would God choose to come to us in this way? If Joseph and Mary were wondering what in the world was going on in their brief life together, what do we possibly think of God that He would enter into such a crazy world that we have? With as many issues we deal with, as many problems we go through, why would God want to become a part of this craziness?

The angel’s quoting of the Scriptures to Joseph says it all: “‘they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Crazy as it seems, God wants to be with us. He wants to come to us. And that didn’t mean sending His angels down to earth to tidy things up first. Straighten out all the political messes. Sweeping up the tragedy of broken families, divorces, arguments, grudges. He sent them instead to simply tell people that He was coming. He would come to deliver us.

And not just from the crud we experience, the difficulties, the struggles. From the sin. The guilt we can’t escape. The angel told Joseph to name His bride-to-be’s son “Jesus”. Why? “He will save His people from their sins.” This is why Jesus came to us, right where we’re at. This is why He chose to be born in, shall we say, less than picture-perfect conditions. This is why He chose anything but a glorious exit, choosing the rejection, humiliation, and even crucifixion of men.

So, yes, this is the place where you come to escape the craziness of your life. But it’s not by ignoring it. Bring it all here with you. Confess your sins where you have done wrong. Bring your petitions to God for others where they have wronged you. Hear the words spoken here to you. They are clear. They are authoritative. They are eternal. They are powerful. They are rich in comfort, grace, and mercy. They are profoundly simple and simply what you need, no matter who you are or where you’re at.

Remember, Christ didn’t get everything fixed up before He came. He just came, in the midst of all the craziness, the crud, and the sin. Here today He comes again. He comes in His Word. His Word is spoken to you: I forgive you all your sins. His Holy Gospel is read and you hear and receive the blessings spoken therein. His Gospel is preached to you and the Holy Spirit enlivens you. At this altar, you receive His very Body and Blood given you for your forgiveness and the strengthening of your faith.

He doesn’t tell you to get everything fixed up in your life before you come here. He simply tells you to come. To receive. To hear. To be blessed. To be comforted. It’s not picture-perfect. It never is. When you get to heaven, yeah, then you will know what perfection is. But not even Christ tried to fix things up when He came to save us. He just came. And He just saved us. He did what needed to be done, though in less than ideal conditions. Good news, actually, as your life is in many ways similar to Joseph and Mary’s. Not always quite what you’d expect, and at times less than ideal. But He came right in the midst of it. So He does with you. Amen.


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