Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, December 18, 2022

YEAR A 2022 advent 4

Advent 4, 2022
Isaiah 7:10-16
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So this gospel text we just heard, you probably know it very well by now.  The angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, even though she is pregnant.  It’s kind of key to the story, right?  Or at least key to how Matthew tells the story.  And speaking of how Matthew tells the story, there are couple things we need to know in order to understand the story correctly.

First of all, Matthew is writing for the Hebrew people.  Mark wrote for the Romans; Luke wrote for the Gentiles; Matthew wrote for the Jews.  And for this reason, Matthew is always emphasizing the connections to the Hebrew scriptures, what we sometimes call the “Old Testament.”  In Matthew, we are likely to find phrases like, “This happened in order to fulfill the scriptures.”  So for Matthew it’s important to make these connections to the Jewish faith, so his audience would understand that Jesus is the Messiah.

That’s why in the first chapter of Matthew, we get what is called “The Genealogy.”  The first 17 verses of Matthew’s gospel never come up in the readings in church (thankfully), because it’s just a long list of names to you and me.  However, that long list of names is important to his Jewish audience.  Because it ties Joseph all the way back to the beginning of the line of David, and to Abraham.  

On the other hand, this is an odd thing for Matthew to do.  Because although it proves that Joseph is descended from Abraham, Joseph is not the father of Jesus, as we just heard.  I have never understood this, and I’ve never seen a good explanation for it, so I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.  But I did.

But there are two things I want to talk about from this reading we just heard.  Mary is great with child, and “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”  That doesn’t seem too crazy to you and me, right?  It’s like, Joseph is a decent guy, and he’s just going to kind of do right by Mary, even though he is probably personally devastated to find his fianc√© is pregnant.  Except here’s the thing . . .

A righteous man would not dismiss her quietly.  A truly righteous man would report Mary to the authorities, and she would then be publicly humiliated and stoned to death.  A righteous man does not ignore the religious codes in order to save a sinner, even a sinner whom he loves.  A righteous man follows the rules, even if that means a horrible outcome.  That’s what it means to be righteous.

Moses wrote down the rules for the children of Abraham to follow.  It is clear in the Torah exactly what is supposed to happen to a woman who has sexual relations before marriage.  And a righteous man would follow those rules.

So why do we hear that because Joseph was a righteous man, he is going to violate the religious laws?  Well, I think the answer is one that we have run into before.  God loves people more than rules.  Or, in the words of Jesus, the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.  Or to put it another way, because of Jesus, the very definition of righteousness has been transformed.  Compassion and sympathy are what is righteous.  No longer is strict adherence to the Law more important than saving human beings.  Joseph, in his righteousness, saves Mary from the righteous Law.  A righteous man saves her from righteousness.  Everything has changed, because Jesus has come to fulfill the law, not to replace the law.

And the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.  Because she will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.  She will, you will, he will.  Isn’t that interesting?  In one sentence, she will, you will, he will.  She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.  And what I love is how all three wills work together.  Mary must give birth.  And Joseph must name him Jesus, because the name Jesus means “God saves,” and that’s what Jesus does: he saves.

And here’s where maybe there actually is a connection to that Genealogy I brought up earlier.  Joseph is descended from the House of David—from Abraham’s line.  In giving this child the name Jesus, Joseph is making the connection for us.  Joseph, a descendant of David, a child of Abraham, is announcing to the world that God saves, because of Mary’s son.  

But there’s another name we heard this morning as well.  We heard it in Isaiah’s prophecy to Ahaz, in the first reading.  Isaiah says, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”  And then in the Gospel reading, Matthew writes,
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
Which is a very Matthew thing to do, as I mentioned earlier.

So, today we hear that Jesus means, “God saves.”  And Emmanuel means, “God is with us.”  God is with us, and God saves, both promises coming together in the birth of this Messiah.  God is with us, and God saves. 

And here’s what I find truly important about Joseph’s situation here.  It is messy and confusing and by no means what we’d call “neat and tidy.”  And not coincidentally, the birth of a baby is also not neat and tidy.  And when it comes right down to it, life itself is not neat and tidy.  In our day to day lives, we never know what is coming, and when it arrives, it is rarely what we expected.

But notice how God meets Joseph where he is, in the midst of the not-neat-and-tidiness of his life.  The angel brings a message from God that there is another way.  That he need not be afraid to do what his heart tells him to do: to let Jesus be born into our messy world.  The story of Joseph and the angel and Mary and the baby are reminders to us, that God has not given up on this world.  God meets us in the not-neat-and-tidiness of our lives, and reminds us that we are not alone.  God is with us, and God saves.  And this morning, you will stretch out your hands and receive that reassurance in bread and wine, the body of Christ and the cup of salvation.  You are not alone, and God is with us, and Jesus saves.


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