“They shall name him Emmanuel which means God with us.” God with us. What an amazing thought. That the God of the universe, creator of all time and space would desire to be so intimate in our little lives that this God would become incarnate…..with us….
But lest we be tempted to get all romantic about this….get caught up in a Christmas pageant version of the story all covered with angel songs and reverent shepherds…. Matthew wants to remind us that there is more to the story as well.
Matthew’s Christmas story is the one that begins with the long line of genealogy, fourteen generations leading to David and fourteen more beyond him. What we know of this history is that it is a story of God’s faithfulness to a covenant with God’s people. It is a story of a God who called God’s people back again and again and again through prophetic voices and simply being faithful through the times when humanity wandered away from God and in enduring faithful relationship on God’s part whether the human part remained faithful on their side or not. It is a story of a God who called God’s people to something. A story of a God who continued to hold fast. A story about a promise of something, of someone to come.
And now Matthew is writing the story of the birth of this promise….making the connection through history, but also making the connection with this faithful God who called God’s people, called them out, called them back, called them to be faithful just as their God was faithful. Throughout all of time and history, in all of these stories God is always doing the unexpected, always doing a new thing with God’s people. They are never allowed to become complacent, never allowed to become comfortable. With God, things are never business as usual, because God is, after all, in the business of transformation, of salvation.
In today’s Gospel we meet Joseph. Joseph was at the end of this long lineage of descendants of the House of David. He was a man who know the ancient stories. A good man. A faithful man, and a law-abiding man. And because he was these things, we can only imagine his horror when he finds out that his betrothed is pregnant. In the shame-honor culture of that time, the punishment for this was that Mary would be stoned to death if this became common knowledge. And to be the father of another man’s child was not an option in a time and place when your birthright was your claim to everything. So Joseph was going to do a compassionate thing for that time and place. He was not going make a public accusation that would get Mary killed. He was going to keep the whole thing quiet, perhaps thinking she could go back to whomever the father was and all would be well. But then of course Joseph has his dream in which he learns that Mary is the God-bearer and everything changes for him. He is called into a new relationship with this situation. God has once again done a new thing.
This story of course focuses on Joseph’s dilemma. The Luke Gospel narrative focuses much more on Mary and her yes to participating in the incarnation. These two very human people whose lives were changed by allowing God to be at work in them, allowing God to do a new thing in them, to transform them. Just like the whole sweep of the First Testament that brought humanity to that place. And certainly what follows continues this amazing story of lives touched by this ever-faithful God incarnated in Jesus that were to be never again the same.
This gospel like all of scripture tells the story of a working together of divine and human faithfulness and energy. This is the true mystery of the Incarnation, this great both/and in human history, as our summer seminary professor put it so well. That God, in Jesus, shows us both who God is, and who we can be.
Because the story isn’t over. What happened for all of those people in the twenty eight generations in the lineage of David, what happened for Joseph, what happened for Mary….it is still happening for us, right here and now today. God is still calling us into faithful relationship, now with the Incarnate one who comes, not once or twice but ever and always. This Jesus who is ever present with us in Word and Sacrament, this “God with is” is still saving us from our sins every single day. Because we do sin. As much as we don’t like to think about it, or admit. We do. We break relationship. With God, with one another, with ourselves. We need to repent, to turn and start anew, to be forgiven. And the really truly wonderful and amazing, absolutely dazzling Good News is WE CAN and WE DO…...and it’s all because of what began on Christmas and ended on Easter. And because faithful people said yes along the way. God called them to do a new thing and they responded.
God calls us to do a new thing every day as well. Like Mary we are called to be God bearers. Like Joseph we are asked to put compassion first and have courage. We are asked to trust in God and be faithful so that Christ might be born again in our world every day. And the other really truly wonderful and amazing, absolutely dazzling Good News is WE CAN and WE DO this also. We are beacons of that in our individual and corporate lives in this place.
Faithfulness….those many years of waiting for an uncertain future, then being willing to change the vision of what that future looked like, trusting that God and the Spirit would carry us through…..taking on an MDG project, being willing to reach out to others a world away when we ourselves are far from secure…and now taking our “Leap of Faith” for accessibility, trusting that in some way with God’s help and our work, another new thing might be born here.
Over and over our loving God calls us to new opportunities, new life, new love. Over and over we are offered the chance to say yes like Joseph and Mary did to the Incarnate one to life more abundant in this unending Christmas gift. May it be so.