Sunday, December 18, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The celebration of the birth of Christ is almost here. Our reading from Matthew’s gospel wants us to stop and pause as to how this extraordinary event happened. It all started through the use of ordinary people and things. It also grew out of an incredible scandal. You see Joseph and Mary were ordinary people. Mary, a young teenage girl of around 15 years of age was engaged to Joseph. They were about to be married. And then Joseph hears this story that Mary is pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt- betrayed, anger, hurt, and disappointed? His dreams for his life, the plan of how things were supposed to be were now shattered. How could he believe a story like this? He was a righteous man, a man who obeyed the laws and customs of his time. And according to the rules Mary could be stoned for being pregnant before they were married on account of adultery. After much thought and anguish, Joseph decided he would end their relationship quietly. He still loved Mary, but he couldn’t go forth with their marriage under the circumstances. Joseph was troubled and I’m sure he had a lot of sleepless nights after hearing the news. His once perfect dream for married bliss was gone. This was now called a nightmare.
But God called it something else. God spoke to Joseph in a dream. An angel or messenger from God called to Joseph in his sleep and explained that this was not a nightmare, but a miracle in the making. Mary’s child was a gift from the Holy Spirit, not just to Mary and Joseph, but to all people. The angel told Joseph to call this child Jesus, which means God saves. What an extraordinary dream, yet when Joseph woke up he listened and did what the messenger told him. This ordinary man named Joseph did an extraordinary thing through faith – he listened to the message from God and changed his own plans in order that God’s plans would take place. The same Holy Spirit that caused Mary to conceive, also gave Joseph the courage to be part of God’s great plan of salvation. God needed Joseph to be a part of this plan and Joseph listened to God’s voice.
It’s not easy to listen to God’s voice when things seem to be going all wrong. Our worries and fears can get the best of us. We want to try and come up with a way to fix the problem, rather than trust that God will work it all out. This was the case for Joseph. It would have been much easier for Joseph to do things his own way. He would have spared himself and Mary the ridicule that others would say.
In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah we also heard how God spoke to Ahaz, and promised to give him a sign in his time of need. Ahaz knew that the armies that were coming to invade them were strong, and so he didn’t want to trust God. Ahaz wanted to put his trust in the Assyrian army that was coming to help him, but Isaiah said that he should listen to God. Yet that didn’t make any sense to Ahaz.
Listening and obeying God often means going against logic and reason. Trusting God may seem foolish to others. We may get treated cruelly for doing so, but this is where the real test of faith lies. Are we going to do what God wants even if it is hard, or are we going to do things our own way and the way others think we should go? Joseph and Mary listened to God. They said yes, and that changed the course of history. History is changed most often by ordinary people with extraordinary courage, and that courage comes from God.
God has great dreams and plans for us. God has great dreams and plans for all creation. And God chooses to bring these dreams and plans to life through ordinary people and events. God did not choose a princess or other type of royalty to carry the savior, but a ordinary young peasant girl. God did not choose a successful businessman or political figure to adopt and care for Jesus, but chose a simple carpenter. God did not make a grand entrance into this world with neon lights and trumpets sounding, but came into the world as a tiny baby born in a simple bare stable. God does God’s best work through ordinary people and ordinary things, and transforms them into extraordinary people and things.
That is exactly how God works through the Church. God calls ordinary men and women to be messengers of God’s holy word, and witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. People like Dennes, Jane, Greg, and Kriste who each have had their own share of struggles and pain in life, have heard God’s call to officially be part of this congregation as members, and help to spread the news that God was born into this world to save us, that Jesus died to save us, and that Jesus has risen and is alive and is here to save us. Neither they or any of us have to be perfect people in order to spread the news about Jesus. In fact, the Church is filled with imperfect and flawed people, but God does God’s best work through the ordinary people and things of this world. When we listen to God’s voice, when we are generous with our time, compassion, love and everything else we have, when we live in trust and joy, people will see Christ’s light shining through us and they will know that God is with us. Emmanuel is here, living and speaking, and working through us.
God takes ordinary things like bread and wine and transforms them into Christ’s very body and blood. Each week, we have the extraordinary privilege of receiving Christ’s very presence here in our worship service in Holy Communion. Each week we have the opportunity to be forgiven and transformed through this gift of grace. We are made holy by God’s own presence, so that we may be instruments through which God transform those whom we encounter.
Just as Joseph was told to name the child Jesus, which means God saves, our names have a meaning too. Our name of Christian, means that we are followers of Jesus Christ. We are to be his light in the world. Wherever people are hurting or suffering, we are called to show them that God is with us. We are called to show them Christ not only through our words, but our actions. We are called to be messengers of God to each other through the everyday and ordinary things we do.
A simple ordinary phone call to a lonely member who is homebound may be the voice of hope that person needs to hear. A small gift purchased on our angel tree may be the hope someone who is struggling needs to receive so they can get up the next day and try again. An ordinary cup of coffee or a meal given to a homeless person could be to them a sign that God truly cares about them. There are so many simple ordinary things we can do that are actually extraordinary signs of God’s grace to someone in need.
As the Advent season draws to a close and we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us be open to saying yes to God just as Mary and Joseph did to whatever God is urging us to do. Let us trust that God is with us and that no matter what challenges we face God will lead us through them. And let us be generous with the love and care we show to others. Let us allow God to use our ordinary selves in extraordinary ways to give glory to God. Amen.