Unexpected Waiting

Matthew 1:18-25

[Watch sermon here.]

“Let the bells jingle”
by Helen Jesty

Let the bells jingle but make time for the tears to fall.
Eat, drink and be merry but do not go hungry in that inner place.
Rest, reflect and remember. Be true to yourself.
Many of us can’t play happy families at this time of the year.
December is for a difficult diagnosis as well as dreaming of a white Christmas.
December is for divorce as well as decorations.
December is for death and dying as well as discos and dancing.
December is for distances that separate us from people,
even those in the same room.
Disappointments in December are especially hard to bear.
Sometimes the light no longer shines in the darkness.
The desolation swallows us up and we die a little.
Yet a kindly word, a bird in flight, a tree alive with hoar and hips
can drown out despair and kindle determination to move on.
Dig down deeper than the tinsel to the place where hope is found.
Maybe, just maybe, the flickering flame will be fanned gently into fire.

Advent is a time of waiting.

We wait.
We wait for Christmas!
We wait for a test result.
We wait to see our dear ones!
We miss our dearly departed ones.
We wait for presents!
We wait while we quarantine.
We wait to get paid a fair wage.
We wait for tasty food!
We wait in line.
We wait.

Joseph waits.

In the early stages of his relationship with Mary,
Joseph waits for his wedding day.
He imagines what it will be like to live with someone else.
He ponders what parenthood would look like.

Then he discovers his beloved Mary is pregnant …
and he is not the father!
This is not the future he dreamed of with his beloved.
I imagine he feels fear and disappointment.
Joseph decides to divorce Mary quietly,
not calling attention to the situation.

With that, Joseph goes to bed with a broken heart.

As he sleeps, an angelic figure appears to him.

The angel says,
Don’t be afraid, Joseph …
trust this strange path … follow it …
take Mary into your home …
take God-With-Us into your home …
and see what happens ….

Then Joseph wakes up. He wakes up
and takes God-With-Us into his home.

He consents to an unexpected family configuration.

God looks with favor
on untraditional family configurations.

Now, as an adoptive father,
Joseph waits.

Joseph anticipates the day of Christmas,
the day of Christ’s birth, uncertainly.

There are so many unanswered questions,
starting with the birth plan.

Where will Mary have the baby?
Will Mary be okay during childbirth?

What will life hold for them as people living under the Roman occupation?

And what of his new family?
They will likely be excluded from society
because the male-oriented society of the time
had an oppressive view of what family looks like.
That oppressive view included an emphasis on genetic connections.

The Gospel writer of Matthew challenges those views
in his first chapter. Before he even reports on Joseph,
he tells the forty generations from which Joseph descends.
Matthew includes women in this story of ancestry;
they were not usually included at that time.
Moreover, Matthew tells how Joseph’s family includes foreigners
and non-traditional family structures.
Jonathan and David swear their passionate love for each other as companions.
Naomi and Ruth, a mother and daughter-in-law,
swear loyalty to each other.
Tamar comes from a family with dysfunctional family dynamics.
Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus.

God is saying: This is what my family looks like.
It is diverse. It includes everybody.

Amidst all of this, Joseph wonders,
What does the future hold for my family?

Let the bells jingle
but make time for the tears to fall
Helen Jesty writes.

Jesty’s words create space where bitterness and sweetness can coexist.
Waiting can hold both bitterness and sweetness:
something lost and something gained.

Mary and Joseph look toward their new family!
Joseph gives up the dreams he had of his newlywed life.
Joseph and Mary receive a holy blessing from God!
They lose their reputation.
Mary and Joseph are excited about this beginning!
They are afraid of the uncertainty of living in a colonized land.
Will Jesus be safe here?

God does not wait for this picture-perfect moment.
God is born into the real circumstances of life.

The spiritual practice of waiting teaches us
to open to God in that moment of messiness.
The messy genealogy. The messiness of Joseph and Mary’s situation.
God is being birthed into that;
God is gestating in the complex places of your life.
God is gestating in the complex places of my life.

At the end of today’s narrative,
Joseph decides to take Mary into his home.
He takes her into his home.

What are you taking into your home?

This story is about taking God into your home.

Take the God-With-Us into your home.
Into the stuff. Into the uncertainty. Into the ruins.

Far from casting her out of your home, the angel says,
do the opposite, bring God-With-Us in.

I imagine that Joseph’s waiting is stinky.
It is not this nice neat waiting like …
Oh! My birthday is in a couple days!
It’s like
Oh! I don’t know what’s going to happen to us.

Yet, Joseph took God-With-Us into that situation.
The same is true for us and our waiting.
The invitation is the same to take the God-With-Us
into our home. Into the things we are really experiencing.

Into difficult diagnoses and white Christmases.
Into decorations and divorces.
Into death and dying and dancing and discos.

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew,
Christ says, “I will be with you until the end of the age.”

This is the ministry of Christ:
God abides with you in every circumstance.

This is what the angel promised to Joseph:
To you and Mary, Emmanuel, God With Us, will be born.

This season,
God-With-Us draws near our home,
if only we would open the door,
and allow God to bless our circumstances.

Eat, drink and be merry but do not go hungry in that inner place.

Tend to your inner place this season.

Dig down deeper than the tinsel to the place where hope is found.

Here a tender word, a father’s empathy,
a fragile future, and the embrace of love holds you tight.

In circumstances just as these
God is born.

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