the one about the holy couple...
December 23, 2019, 9:00 AM

Sermon from December 22, 2019

Text: Matthew 1: 18-25

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Messiah who has come down out of love; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, on this penultimate Sunday before Christmas, we get to hear another part of the story of Jesus’ birth. At times it may be confusing because usually when we hear the story of the nativity, all the gospels – ok only Matthew and Luke because those are the only ones that talk about Jesus’ birth – get squished together. So, it might seem rather strange that in Matthew’s gospel we don’t get the angel coming to Mary, telling her that she is to carry and birth the Son of God for the world.

Instead, we get a story about Jesus’ adoptive father – Joseph. There isn’t a whole lot we know about Joseph, and most of what we know is inferred from what others do.

He was righteous. He was Mary’s fiancé and then husband. He was (probably) considerably older than her. He was a carpenter because Jesus was. He probably died before Jesus’ ministry began because he’s never mentioned again (and also, he was believed to be considerably older than Mary).

But, this morning, I want to spend a little less time on just Joseph and instead talk about this blessed couple of Mary and Joseph.

Now, we only have two birth stories of Jesus and each one focuses on a different parent. Luke has the beautiful and brave account of Mary talking with the Angel, visiting her cousin Elizabeth, and singing a song of resistance and hope which we’ve called the Magnificat. If you were able to attend our Holden Evening Prayer services, we sang that song of resistance and hope each week.

Matthew’s gospel tells the righteous and brave story of Joseph. How, although he loved this young woman, he was going to dismiss her quietly because he didn’t want any further shame and disgrace to be placed upon her. Yet, he was told in a vision that Mary hasn’t wronged him, but is in fact going to birth the Son of God.

Both Mary and Joseph do a wonderfully faithful thing. They both agree to something that others would find ridiculous. They bear the shame the world will give to both of them.

Mary would hold and bear the shame of others giving her side-eyes and mocking because she got pregnant. She ‘fooled’ around. Who is going to believe that preposterous story?

Joseph would hold and bear the shame of others giving him upturned noses and whispered voices of being weak, soft, and less-of-a-man because he still held Mary close as his wife-to-be.

They bear one another’s shame.

In many ways, it is a testament to what a marriage should be. Being there for one another, in spite of what people will say and do around you. Supporting one another. Believing the other person.

But, even though their stories are different here as they both prepare for the birth of a son, there are parts that are incredibly similar – powerfully similar. Those similarities just might be the reason that they are able to bear one another’s shame in love and respect.

An angel of the Lord speaks to both of them, and what are those words?

The angels’ first words are. Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

I cannot imagine the fear that ran through both of them in the midst of these angelic conversations. First Mary being awakened in the night by a mysterious being telling her what is about to happen to her body, not to mention what the neighbors and her family are going to say. The unknown for her would be terrifying.

Though, quite different, Joseph more than likely was afraid that his reputation was about to be knocked down quite a few pegs. How his honor is about to be tarnished. Even if he dismisses Mary quietly, the stain of this shame will still travel with him – there goes Joseph – the guy who had to dismiss that pregnant girl. And at this culture and time, honor was everything.

Knowing those potential realities, our and their God speaks through the angels and says, do not be afraid.

How much do we long to hear those words spoken from on high into our hearts? How we at times crave to hear those words as we wake up with those 2am worries and anxieties.

They might not be on the same level as what Mary and Joseph dealt with, but they are all so real and urgent for each of us. Those worries about our jobs, our school, our community. Those worries about whether my family will still love me? Will my friends still care for me? How am I going to pay back this loan and feed my children? What do we do when the people we love and respect speak such terrible things? How? Why? When, O Lord!

BE NOT AFRAID! That is what God speaks into our hearts. That is what God booms to Joseph and Mary and the entire world. Be not afraid.

Scripture is full of those words. Be not afraid. I am with you. I love you. I cherish you. I am your God.

This story begins like many other angelic and prophetic moments in scripture.

But, thankfully, blessedly there is more.

Because though the angel begins with a familiar ‘do not be afraid.’ The angel ends with the new thing that is about to be done.

Be not afraid – name the boy Jesus – name him Immanuel. God. With. Us.

I believe the Joseph and Mary were able to bear this gift, this love, this burden not just because an angel of the Lord told them to ‘chin up’ and be not afraid.

Everyone else was told that as well.

But, Joseph and Mary were able to withstand the stares, the whispers, the snide comments, the cruel jokes that inevitably were assailed against them because of the promise of who their child would be. It is the same promise that is given to each of us.

Where we too hear the words ‘do not be afraid.’

Where we’ve heard the words, “I am with you.”

Where we’ve heard the words, “I am.”

Where we’ve heard the words, “You are not alone.”

Where we’ve heard the words that Joseph and Mary heard first; this one you bear and birth into the world, this one you will adopt and raise as your very own, this child, this Jesus, this one is Immanuel. This one is ‘God with us.’

That is why we can live without that sort of eternal fear. Because God is already with us. God is here. Hope has come down. Love has been birthed into the world. The heavens and earth have been torn open because of this thing that God has done.

God has come down to be with us. God has taken on flesh and blood. God has done something new. God will lead us from within creation.

Why? Because that is how much God loves us. Cares for the world. Yearns for the world to be free. Free to serve. Free to love. Free.

Mary and Joseph’s stories are quite different. Yet, together they tell the story of a magnificent couple, a couple who lived in and through their faith. A couple that despite what the world would tell them, knew the truth. That this one, this child, was and is and will always be Immanuel. God with us.

They knew. Oh they knew. And because of their grace, faithfulness, and bravery, we know too.

Hope has come down. Immanuel is here. Be not afraid.


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