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This Sunday, Dec 8 10:30am: Christmas Cantata
Youth Deliver cookies, Dec 8 6pm
Thursday, Dec 12, 11:30am Senior Luncheon
Sunday, Dec 15: Children's Christmas Pageant
Tuesday, Dec 24: Christmas Eve Worship, 7pm

Brass Quintet
It's Christmas!

Worship: Sundays at 10:30am
Sunday School at 9am for all ages

Each of us is on a unique spiritual journey.
Here, through study and prayer, worship and service,
we discover more fully who God intends for us to be,
in Christ.
December 22, 2019 Fourth Sunday of Advent Matthew 1:18-25 Every three years, we hear the Christmas Story from a different Gospel, and this year it’s Matthew’s turn to tell us how the baby Jesus was born. Matthew’s Gospel starts with these words: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew wants us to know where Jesus comes from, who his people are. And he goes through it generation by generation for 17 verses, which I won’t read this morning. No, we’ll pick up the story with an angel – But not Mary’s angel. No, Matthew’s story focuses on Joseph, and the angel who visited him in a dream with a message from God. Listen for a word from God, from the Gospel of Matthew, 1:18-25: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call of their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son. And they will call him “Emmanuel,” (Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’ When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus. May God bless our hearing and our deeper understanding of this word – Because we usually skip over these words without giving them much thought. We assume since God appears to speak directly to the folk in the Bible, that they had it easy. They didn’t have to struggle to know how to move ahead. After all, for Joseph: A dream, an angel, a clear message. Stay with Mary, name her child “Jesus,” raise him as your own. The Scripture makes it seem so cut and dried, so obvious, so easy. Except, except. We know more about Joseph than that. We know that he was a righteous man – A good man, a faithful man, a man concerned with doing the right thing. And then, in the blink of an eye, Joseph’s entire world is shattered. Wait, what? Mary is pregnant? Now what does it mean to be a good person, a faithful person, a person concerned with doing the right thing? You’ve been there – You know that feeling. You didn’t even know how attached you were to your own plan of the future until it gets ripped from you. Why would Joseph be any different? He was ready for the next phase of his life; a bride had been found for him; they were on this straight path of how life unfolds, step by step by step. He was ready. He was prepared. He’d probably finished his apprenticeship as a carpenter and was ready to support a family. He probably even had already made some furniture for his new wife. He might not know the specifics about married life, but he knew generally what his future looked like. Have you heard the essay called “Welcome to Holland”? It’s a brilliant analogy for when the baby who shows up in your family isn’t the baby you were expecting. The author talks about how you were all set for a great vacation in Italy. How would you get ready for a vacation in Italy? Maybe you’ve planned your itinerary, packed the right clothes for the Italian countryside, gotten your VISA and your airplane tickets and made reservations at the cutest BnB. You’ve read up on the great masterpieces of Italy – The coliseum, the leaning tower of Pisa, Rome, the food – O, the food!! You were especially looking forward to Italian pasta and gelato and pizza and on and on and on. That’s Joseph. He was excited and ready for Italy. He’d been expecting to go to Italy his whole life. Only, now, he may want to go to Italy, but he’s now on a plane heading for Holland. He never even considered Holland. He doesn’t have the right clothes – no winter coat, no hat and gloves. He knows nothing about the food – maybe because Holland isn’t really known for its food? Or skiing, or tulips, or Van Gogh or Anne Frank. And now it’s too late to get ready. Have you had something like that happen to you? If you have kids, they certainly can upset your best laid plans about how life will unfold. If you have a human body that has broken down at one time or another, you know what it’s like to think you’re going to Italy, only to discover you’ll never get to Italy now. If you’ve had a friend let you down, or your work situation not work, or you’ve gotten married – Well, pretty much, if you are a human being, you may want to go to Italy with all your heart – You may assume most everyone goes to Italy and everyone wants to go to Italy and that’s where life is taking you. Maybe, even, where God wants you to go. Only, you hear news that puts Italy out of reach. You’re heading for Holland. And you aren’t ready. We know Joseph is a good man, a righteous man, a faithful man. And we know he’s bound by the laws of his culture – According to those laws, he has two options, and only two: One, publically condemn Mary, which will result in her death by stoning. Or two, the more compassionate option, quietly divorce her – It won’t be a great life, but she’ll live. Right? What else can you do? You’ll get off the plane in Holland, turn around, and catch the next plane back home. And you will be sad, but it’s the only way ahead. Have you been there? Have you been so torn up and worried and scared you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, your brain just spins over and over and over again, trying to find a different way out, a different resolution, a different solution? And you are in a state of absolute panic. You are not ready for this, not prepared for this – You never even imagined this scenario now facing you. You’ve never heard of Holland. You never imagined you’d be going to Holland. And your options are limited. Exhausted and worn out, you crash asleep with your broken heart and shattered dreams and ruined future. And then, and then, you dream. We don’t pay a whole lot of mind to dreams these days – But we do know that our brains are still hard at work even – especially – in our sleep. Lots of the energy in our sleep goes to deleting all those memories we don’t need – It’s a disc defrag, or a hard re-start, not exactly wiping the slate clean, but clearing up space for the new day. But, that’s not the only thing that happens while we sleep: Our brains keep mulling over the problems that plague us. Mathematicians, scientists, artists, musicians, all sorts of creative folk, have found that they go to sleep mulling over a problem, and then, when they wake up, they see a new way ahead. Maybe that’s our 21st century version of God’s angels? For Joseph, it was an angel of the Lord, offering him another option. One that is so radical, and will cost so much, it never even occurs to Joseph. This is no small change in plans – It’s not like he’s diverted to France. France has good food, too, and the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. No, the angel is offering a way forward that will cost Joseph. “No good deed goes unpunished.” Ah, yes. That’s what Joseph is facing. He is being asked to do a good deed that will make people talk about him, gossip about him, judge him harshly. No one will see this as the righteous choice, the good choice, the faithful choice. Instead, the same shame that surrounds Mary will now surround him as well – He is voluntarily joining in her scandal and shame. No one will consider him a good, faithful, righteous man now. No, they will be the talk of the town, maybe for years. But go back to how Matthew opens this whole account of Jesus birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection: Chapter 1, verse 1: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” If Joseph is the descendent of David and Abraham, and Joseph is clearly not the father of Jesus – the angel makes that very clear – How is it that Jesus becomes part of this holy biblical lineage? Apparently, lots of things that matter to us don’t matter to God. Like our reputations. Like what other people think of us. Like what we think is good and faithful and righteous. God’s working in a different universe altogether. The angel tells Joseph to stay with Mary, and to name the baby. Naming the baby is the 21st century equivalent of giving the baby Joseph’s last name. He publically claims Jesus as his own, as his own family, his own lineage. Jesus belongs to him. He belongs to Jesus. According to God, Jesus and Joseph are now family, and Jesus counts Abraham and Sarah, Rahab and David as kin. Joseph will be the father of this child who is not his. Of course, this has been happening throughout time – Men claiming kids they know couldn’t possibly be theirs – But that makes Joseph’s act, and their acts – no less remarkable. Because we all want to go to Italy. We all assume Italy is where we’re headed. Then, whether we like it or not, we’re on a plane to Holland. And the question is, now what. Can we be as radically kind as Joseph? Can we imagine such radical faith as this? Can we allow God’s angels to coax us outside our carefully constructed boxes of goodness, and kindness, and faithfulness? It takes faith to think outside of the box – It takes faith to realize we’re in a box; faith to see the edges of the box clearly; and faith to listen for God’s radical call – To step away from Italy, and accept we’re heading for Holland. And that is not a bad thing. It too is an act of faith. Maybe even we are capable of faith that goes far beyond what we’ve assumed is good enough, faithful enough, righteous enough. Because that’s what Joseph did. He gave up Italy. He gave up being right. He gave up his idea of his future. He gave up his reputation as a good, faithful, righteous man. He put the needs of a coming baby and a vulnerable young girl ahead of everything else. Faith can take us places we never dreamed, but we also places we never wanted to go. And like Joseph, our lives will be changed forever, if we let God’s messengers in, and give up Italy. But like Joseph, we can have faith that this baby will bring such love, he will save not just Joseph, but the world.