When the Triune God enters the world to bring healing and life, it’s inconvenient, it’s unexpected, it looks foolishly weak, it stirs up our lives. But it is still God with us, and it is our life.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday of Advent, cycle A
Texts: Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:10-16
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Be careful what you wish for, in case you get it.
That’s our Advent warning. We’ve been praying each week that God would come, that God would stir up things (power, hearts, our wills), that in Christ God would heal our world.
But what if God answers our prayers? Are we ready for that? A friend quoted to me one of her teachers, who said, “God coming near is of course what everybody wants, and what nobody wants.”
That’s ridiculous. Of course we all want God with us. But look what happens when God comes near. When the Triune God enters the world to bring healing and life, it’s inconvenient, it’s unexpected, it looks foolishly weak. So if we’re not ready for how God answers our prayers for coming, should we pray them?
The coming of God into the world is always inconvenient, it changes things.
We imagine God as the Great Fixer, who could cut through all red tape and make things right. Whether or not we admit it, part of that hope is then we don’t have to do anything to make a difference, we’re off the hook.
Unfortunately, God’s plan is very different. God looks at the pain and suffering in this world and says, “I need to be with them.” But not as the Great Wizard who instantly forces all things into different shapes and realities. (If God were such a god, our lives would also be radically changed; we forget that. We’re stuck with change either way.)
But God’s way of being with us is coming to us as one of us, in this baby Joseph is trying to understand today, this baby who is the Christ. But the plan continues with filling each of God’s children with the Spirit of God, so each is Christ, anointed, God’s presence in the world. As far back as Abraham and Sarah, this part is always God’s way.
We know this. But we need to remember it when we pray that God come and stir up things. The first thing God always stirs up is our lives.
Whatever Joseph might have been praying, God’s coming tore his life apart.
Did he want the Christ, the Messiah, to come? Probably, though it’s hard to know if the everyday working person in Israel had a lot of time to hope for Messiah.
Whatever he wanted, though, was lost once Mary got pregnant. Hope for a settled life with this woman to whom he was betrothed. Hope for a firstborn of his own, maybe a son to teach his livelihood. All this is shattered with Mary’s announcement that she’s pregnant, and her claim that God is the other parent.
Gentle Jesus sweet and mild in the manger is a lovely image for a Christmas card. But Joseph’s life was utterly changed by God’s coming. So was Mary’s, of course, but today our Gospel focuses on Joseph. This baby was inconvenient, unexpected, weak, dependent upon Joseph’s skill and energy and effort. This baby might have been God’s plan, but without Joseph and Mary it was going nowhere.
We could say the same about our own lives.
Whether or not we like it, like Joseph, we are faced with the reality of God’s coming being exceedingly inconvenient, unexpected, weak, and dependent upon us.
We’d rather God didn’t involve us. The problems we face just in our own lives, let alone the horrors that the world endures, are daunting beyond our ability to grasp. We wake up in the night and realize our worry again. We read the papers or watch the news and fret, get angry, feel despair.
But when we say, “Come to us, God, be with us,” God says, “I am. I’m in you. You have my Spirit.” And then we realize our lives are part of God’s answer. We realize God is stirring things up in the world, beginning with our hearts and lives.
That doesn’t always feel like good news.
If Joseph could have seen the whole story of this baby, from birth to life to teaching to healing to the cross to the resurrection and ascension, maybe he’d have a perspective of hope and expectation.
But like us, all he could see was what changed that day. That moment. Before he could get around the idea that God was changing his life, he had to believe that it was God, and not some other man. The angel dream helped.
But no angel or dream could change the truth that his life was now on a different path, a harder path, one he probably didn’t want, certainly didn’t expect. That’s often where we are when we hear God calling to us.
But here is why we pray in Advent, why we hope, why we say, “Come to us, O God.”
Because we know we want God to be with us. Yes, God’s often inconvenient, and unexpected, and we are weak and dependent. We don’t often know how we can help or if we want to.
But we know the Spirit of God in our hearts, and we know the love of God in our lives. We know the grace of being forgiven and restored. We know the comfort of being guided on our path, and having our eyes opened to ways we can be God’s Christ. We know the joy of God’s community of faith, where we meet God in each other.
And we’ve seen God’s plan actually working. Unlike Joseph, we can see how important he was. We can see countless followers of Christ Jesus the same way, living as Christ over the centuries. We can see God brought healing and life through them.
We don’t always see the inconvenience it caused them, or the suffering, or the fear that they weren’t enough. But we know they felt it, since we do, too.
But like us, they knew God was with them. So they lived, as we do, in hope.
God is with us. That’s the promise. That’s the truth. That’s the sign.
We are the coming of Christ in this world for our time, along with billions more. That might mean changed habits, challenging moments, fearful days. We might, like Joseph, wish for a simpler, calmer life, where God just fixed things and we just lived as we wanted to.
But we don’t always get what we think we want. The grace is we always get what we really want.
We get God, who comes. We get the joy of living in God’s love with each other and with the world, filled with God’s Spirit, never being alone. The hope of God’s healing coming to the world.
Compared to that, what’s a little inconvenience, a little stirring up, a little change? Or even big ones? God has heard our prayer, and is come. In us, in Christ throughout the world, God will heal all things.
That is a prayer worth praying.
In the name of Jesus. Amen