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, year A
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Beloved 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 pray for. You might get it.
Each week in Advent we’ve prayed for God to stir up things (God’s power, our hearts, our wills), and come to us, that, as we prayed today, we might be freed from the sin that hinders our trust, or, as we prayed another day, that we might walk in God’s way, the way of God’s healing.
But what if God answers our prayer? Are you ready for that? For God to be with us? With you?
God’s coming inconveniently changes lives. It’s unexpected. Looks weak. And depends on us.
We want God to be the Great Fixer, cutting through all red tape and making things right. We may not admit it, but part of that hope is that 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 things into different shapes and realities. God’s way is to come as one of us, in this baby Joseph’s trying to understand today, who is God’s Christ. And in each of us, God’s children, so each of us is God’s Christ, God’s anointed, God’s Messiah in the world.
Remember that when you pray God to come and stir up things. The first thing God stirs up is your life.
God’s coming turned Joseph’s life upside down.
We don’t know if the everyday working person in Israel had a lot of time to hope for Messiah, or if Joseph prayed with that expectation. 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. Mary’s announcement utterly changed Joseph’s life.
First he had to trust that this baby came from God, not from a neighbor. But he also now faced all the challenges of being a father, on top of fleeing from political persecution to save the baby’s life. This baby was inconvenient, unexpected, weak, dependent upon Joseph’s skill and energy and effort. God’s plan was going nowhere without Joseph’s life.
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 often daunting beyond our ability to grasp. We wake up in the night and realize our worry again. We see the news and fret, get angry, feel despair.
But when we say, “Stir up things, God, come and be with us,” God says, “I am. In you. You have my Spirit.” And we realize our lives are God’s answer, God’s stirring, God’s healing.
And we rarely have God’s view of the big picture.
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. His life was now on a different path, a harder path, one he probably didn’t want, certainly didn’t expect. A journey he could not see the ending of. And that sounds familiar to us when we hear God calling.
But here is why we pray in Advent, “Stir things up, God.”
Here’s why we hope, why we say, “Come to us, O God.” Because we know we want God to be with us.
Yes, God’s coming is often inconvenient, and unexpected, and we are weak and dependent. We don’t often know how we can help or even 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 they weren’t enough. But we know they felt it, since we do.
And like us, they knew God was with them. They lived, as we do, in that hope.
God is with us. That’s the promise. That’s the hope.
You and I are the coming of Christ in this world for our time, along with billions more. That will mean changed habits, challenging moments, fearful days. We might, like Joseph, wish for a simpler, calmer life, where God just took care of things and we lived as we wanted to.
But you don’t always get what you think you want. The grace is you always get what you really want.
You get God, who comes. You get the joy of living in God’s love with each other and with the world, filled with God’s Spirit, never alone. You get the hope of God’s healing coming to the world, even through you.
Compared to that, what’s a little inconvenience, a little stirring up, a little change? Or even a lot? God has heard your prayer, and is come. In you, in me, in Christ throughout the world, God will heal all things.
That is a prayer worth praying.
In the name of Jesus. Amen