Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas -- God owns our mess!

Sermon for Christmas Eve Morning, preached on Thursday, December 24, 2015.

The forgotten man of Christmas is Joseph.  We can recall the names of all of Santa’s reindeer and all the variations of Jingle Bells and Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer but we find Joseph a strange figure in all of this – one that discourages us from taking more than a cursory look at him.

Joseph could have rightfully been angry.  Mary, his intended, was pregnant and he knew darn well he had nothing to do with the birth.  The explanation was a stretch of the imagination – angels and God and the Son of God and a Savior of the world.  Well, who could refuse Joseph his righteous anger?  Why we might even allow him to express a little bitterness and revenge at his best laid plans gone astray!

But that is not Joseph.  Joseph is, even more than Bartholomew, a man without guile.  He has no wounded pride to vindicate, no public hubris to express.  He will put Mary away quietly and protect her reputation even as he preserves his own – all the while living with the disappointment of what might have and should have been.

An angel intervened to give Joseph what Mary had already received – the assurance that this was not a story or an excuse but the long promised will of God fulfilled right there in the midst of their surprise.  The child within her womb was by the Holy Spirit and Mary’s virginity was in tact.  Her betrothal to Joseph was not threatened by the work of God.

None of this would protect Joseph or Mary from the wagging tongues of those who be happy to gossip about the pregnancy.  Joseph was given no assurance he would not suffer from all of this but only the promise that this was God’s saving will and purpose at work.  Joseph was morally, legally, and honorably free to say “no” and walk away from it all.  But here we see that just like God saw the heart of faith in the blessed Virgin Mary, so did God choose well Joseph as a righteous and good man of faith.

God never calls us when it is convenient.  His plans are never parallel to our will and desires.  It does not work out just right.  Life is messy and faith only makes it messier.  Those preachers who would tell you otherwise are lying through their teeth.  Do not listen to them.  But neither should you despair that now for a little while you must suffer various kinds of trials that prove your faith genuine.  You stand in a good crowd, people.

Christmas is not a nice story.  It never was.  But it is the story of God’s abiding love that proceeded with creation even when He knew how it would turn out.  It is the story of the God who knew it would cost Him His Son when He breathed the breath of life into dust and called him Adam and when he stole a rib and called her Eve.  It is the story of the God who would love us more than life itself, surrendering Himself to our flesh and blood for the one purpose of walking to the cross where our salvation would be won.  It is the story of the God who does not reward the worthy but declares the guilty and unworthy righteous.

So Christmas is come and with it will come many wonderful moments.  And many not so wonderful.  It is my families first Christmas without my father-in-law and my dad, with one son nearly a thousand miles away, and with a son whom we must now share with his own in-laws.  I expect we will be more alone than we ever expected a year ago.  So many of you find yourselves in the same boat.  Death, distance, and other details conspire to disrupt the perfect plans.  Life is messy.  Christmas is even messier.

But God owns our mess.  That is Christmas.  God has come to our world and in our flesh to own our sin, to carry our guilt, to bear the burden of our disappointment, and to herd us reluctant sheep into the blessed fold of His mercy and grace.  God owns our mess.  That is Christmas.  We could be bitter or resentful.  But Joseph shows us the path of faith.  We don’t have to like God’s plan or timing but we can trust it.  God will probably never do what we want but He will always do for us what we need and cannot supply.

He has given us a Savior, God in flesh.  He has called us to approach this mystery not with reasoned logic or dreamless wonder but bringing all our sins, all our disappointment, all our shame, and all our doubts and dumping them into the Manger where Christ was born and at the cross where He died.  Swallow up your pride and let go of your disappointment.  God has done something wonderful.  Faith alone can see it.  It is shocking, messy, and surprising but it is the will and love of God to own our mess, to buy us out of our captivity, and to deliver to us a life not even death can quell.

So, what did you get for Christmas?  We got Jesus – the gift we did not ask for and were not sure we needed or wanted but He has proven to be more than we could ever hope for.  He has opened heaven to us and now we can live in life’s messes and deal with life’s disappointments.  What He has come to bestow, no one can steal.  Thanks be to God!

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