“When Angels Speak”

Matthew 1:18-24

Advent 4A  -  22 December 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 1:18-24

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 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.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

 

Prayer.

 

I love how our Gospel begins with

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way”

and then the author goes on to talk about Joseph.

This is the most non-birth

birth narrative

that can be found in the Bible.

What a sharp comparison with Luke’s birth narrative.

In a mere two days we will hear

a narrative crafted with a poetic,

some might suggest,

a feminine touch in Luke’s Gospel:

Angels, shepherds, and an actual birth of the baby Jesus.

Today, not so much.

 

Matthew communicates the awkward position

In which Joseph can be found.

A hint, actually,

comes to us in what was intentionally not read this morning:

Matthew goes to great pains to list

the genealogical tree from Abraham to Jesus,

fourteen times three,

or forty-two generations in all.

Like all family trees,

students of Hebrew scriptures will recognize

Jesus did not have the picture perfect gallery of ancestors.

There is murder in his line.

Adultery, too.

In fact, things got so bad,

God’s judgment caused Judah to be defeated

and threw Jesus and Joseph’s ancestors into Babylonian exile.

Down through the generations,

the characteristically masculine family tree

tells story after story

of men who’ve been

caught in a jam.

Every choice was a bad choice.

Every potential outcome was certain to bring pain and suffering.

 

That must have been an awkward conversation;

when Joseph’s teenaged betrothed

comes to him and confesses that she is pregnant.

Talk about being caught in a jam!

Let this play out in your mind for just a bit.

Life in a small village of perhaps 400 people,

just a few dozen families,

and a public engagement.

Joseph was righteous;

or so everyone thought.

They didn’t live together.

And now she ends up pregnant?

There could only be one explanation.

This isn’t going to end well.

 

Like electricity,

water flows according to the path of least resistance,

And so does the logical mind of Joseph

and his ancestors;

with their long history of

being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Matthew reports his line of thought

went something like this:

1) “Avoid public disgrace.”

2) “Dismiss her quietly.”

What isn’t mentioned is number three.

3) “Pray to God Mary isn’t caste out of Nazareth and stoned to death.”

 

Have you ever found yourself in a mess like Joseph?

Where there is just no good outcome?

No upside to any decision?

Have you ever found yourself with a succession of Euchre hands

holding only nines and tens in life?

Time and again the only choice

is between losing and humiliation

OR losing while getting your legs broken?

The only choice is death;

one that is slow and painful

OR another death that is slower and with even more pain?

There is no way out.

Joseph has no options.

He is all alone.

And he is going to pay dearly

for trouble he had no hand in creating.

 

Just then,

an angel spoke,

“do not be afraid.”

 

The first miracle was the fact that Joseph was able to sleep.

I know when I’m caught in a jam,

trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle,

I can’t sleep. 

With Joseph’s sleep

came the second miracle,

an angel from God,

bearing good news

and the assurance that,

yes, this IS going to end well.

Despite previous outcomes,

better judgment,

and the overwhelming, sinking, drowning, pervacious feeling of doom,

the angel spoke

and a new door was opened that gave assurance

that all would end well.

 

With God,

all seemingly unsolvable problems are solvable.

Simply with the whisper of an angel

Jesus - Emmanuel - God is with us

provides complete confidence

that this is God’s world

and every outcome

will be God’s outcome.

 

Be certain about this Gospel truth:

consider your world

and your place in it.

Because God is with you,

your world is bigger than you think!

Waaaay bigger!

God can not,

and will not,

be confined by our limited number of options.

The world is more than just a rock and a hard place:

it also includes God’s grace and mercy,

love and comfort,

healing and forgiveness.

Living with God with us,

and in us,

means there is always an opportunity

to hear the whisper of an angel,

to be directed towards

heavenly,

Divine,

outcomes.

 

Listen carefully to what the angel spoke:

“Joseph, son of David,

do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,

for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

She will bear a son,

and you are to name him Jesus,

for he will save his people from their sins.”

God with us

- Jesus -

is born to save his people.

When God is with us

our forgiveness,

our salvation,

becomes job one.

Jesus saves us from our sins,

washes us clean

as if we never committed a single sin in the first place.

Jesus invites us

to clean up,

sober up,

straighten up,

to grow up,

and lead a life faithful to him.

Jesus,

God with us,

becomes our salvation;

not only over a life mired in sin,

but into a life freed from the grave.

Where, thou Death, is now thy sting?

The Easter story became our story

with the birth of our Savior,

God with us,

Jesus Christ.

 

The only path forward for Joseph

was to listen to the whisper of an angel

who appeared to him in a dream,

to follow the angel’s directions,

to live up to the righteousness

of his reputation.

During this high stress time

between Thanksgiving and Christmas,

there are so many distractions

vying for our attention,

that drown out

the voice of angels.

The best strategy might be

to turn down,

turn off,

unclutter,

simplify,

ease up off of the accelerator.

Make room for quietness.

Take the time to breath.

Do not be afraid.

When angels speak

the wise

always listen.

Amen.