This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 22, 2019. The texts were:
Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25
Children’s sermon: How many of you have heard story about yourself from when you were really little, from before you can remember or even a story that you do remember and you remember it differently? Such as when my sister and I talk about Christmas’s when we were growing up, she has different memories than I do. She remembers what we ate for the meal, and I remember who was there, or she’ll remember having fun sledding and I’ll remember being cold and wet. What’s cool about that is between us, we have more pieces of a story and important parts are remembered. I have this book to read to you “Room for a Little One,” Jesus’ birth story told from the perspective of the animals. This story reminds us that there are different ways to hear and tell a story. Today we hear from the gospel of Matthew the story of Jesus being born. If you come back to church on Tuesday, you’ll hear a different story of Jesus’ birth from the writer of Luke. They remember different pieces of the story and sometimes that might seem confusing. But both stories tell us that the important piece is that Jesus was born to be God’s love with us. The details of both stories help us to connect with how much God loves us and the world. Here are crayons and paper. If you were going to tell the story of Jesus birth to someone what would you say? Let’s pray:
This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. Pregnant before I’m married by the Holy Spirit? Who’s going to believe that? And if no one believes that, then the message that this baby is the Messiah is going to be a really hard sell. As it is, everyone in town is talking about this-well about me. I see the side glances and hear the whispers behind my back. The people shaking their heads at me in judgment. Friends pretending to not know me. My family too embarrassed and angry to even leave the house, as this isn’t how they raised me to act and they think I’m bringing shame to the family name and legacy. I wonder if they’ll let me live with them still, especially since I’m was supposed to go live with my husband soon and not even be in the household any longer. And Joseph…he’s such a good, God-fearing man who lives his life by the law and would never dream of doing anything scandalous. What is he going to do? By law, he could have me stoned and then none of this will matter. At the very least, the marriage has to be off and I will be alone and expecting a baby. Why God is choosing this way to bring the Messiah? Surely there is an easier way that would be more convenient and believable. If only I understood the whole plan.
This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. But I can’t shake this dream of the angel speaking to me. It’s hard to believe that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit…yeah right. Who is going to believe that? I hear what everyone in the town is saying, the names that they are calling her and how they look at me with disbelief. I never thought that I would be involved in a scandal like this, that’s not who I am or how I’ve lived my life. Following God’s law matters, the law keeps just these sorts of things from happening, you know. People were surprised when I simply went to her father to quietly end the marriage when many thought that Mary should receive the full punishment of stoning, but that is also not who I am.
Don’t be afraid the angel said. Well what does this angel know? Afraid doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what life will be like if I continue with the marriage. We’ll always be “that family” and I’ll always be the guy who is raising a child that isn’t mine-a son none the less. Not really my heir, not technically from my lineage which does come from King David himself. I am supposed to just ignore that truth? But what if the angel is right, that this baby IS the one who will live up to his name that comes from our ancient history-Joshua or as some would say Jesus-the one who saves from sin. God doesn’t give names lightly. I remember from the reading from the prophet Isaiah who spoke of this that there would be a child who will be God with us. I never thought that I would be connected to such a thing or that God would really come as a helpless child. Babies aren’t convenient in most cases, but God as a powerless baby? How will that save us?
This whole experience is inconvenient. But what if this isn’t only about me and my reputation and future? What if there is something beyond myself and Mary? Is marriage or any relationship ever convenient? God is mysterious and doesn’t always seem interested in convenience in how God acts, I mean look at our history as Israelites, wandering around in the desert for 40 years wasn’t super convenient and neither was placing the law on heavy stone tablets or our exile experience. Being Israelite and belonging to God has never been convenient and has often been cause for hardship. But in those experiences, we did learn to trust God, and that God’s love never leaves us. We learned that God keeps God’s promises. What if this isn’t an inconvenience but an opportunity for me to trust God? No matter what choice I make, my life is forever changed, as is Mary’s. Maybe this is living life faithfully, not by the rules I’ve always known, but by trust and love of God. Love is rarely about what’s the easiest but is about what matters in the big picture for living and trusting in God’s love. The easiest thing is for me to walk away, the loving thing is for me to believe that God loves me, Mary and this baby who God says will transform the world, even though I don’t fully understand. Perhaps one day this will all make sense to someone and God’s promise will be clear.
This really isn’t convenient at all. It’s more complicated and messier than we like. We want God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus to makes our life easy, comfortable, and predictable. God at work in our lives and in the world should mean that everything in our life will be respectable to the outside world, that following whatever rules we think matter will mean that we are protected from chaos and hurt. But that is not the promise. God works through the inconveniences to reveal God’s transformational presence and love with us and for us through Jesus, an inconvenient birth, in an inconvenient place to fill our lives with God’s forgiveness, mercy and life forever. Jesus, as God incarnate, enters the real everyday messiness of our lives, the strained or broken relationships, the worry of our reputations, the fear of harm and rejection, and hardships that come when we focus on only ourselves. It might seem inconvenient for God to decide to meet us in the form of a fallible human with grace, mercy and love, but God has never been interested in convenience. God has always been interested in you-in offering love and abundant life to you, and us all, in whatever way possible, no matter what the cost. Love that comes in words of encouragement and words of reflection. Love that is tenacious and vulnerable. Love that moves us beyond rules and the past. Love that comes from people whom we like and from those whom we don’t. Love that comes to us in memories or dreams. Loves that comes to us whether we want it or not. Love that calls us to trust and step forward into a future we don’t fully understand to reveal God’s promise, healing and embracing of all. Love that might be inconvenient but with us always. Amen.