Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A

Matthew 1.18-25

Inspired by St. Andrew’s Church Advent banner 

The baby is only just beginning to take a recognisable shape.  He’s tiny, curled up, waiting, growing, unaware of who he is and what his life will be.

His mother, Mary, is betrothed to a man called Joseph.  But he’s not Joseph’s son, not yet.  Joseph hasn’t yet decided what he’s going to do about this situation.

He could force Mary to undergo a public trial because a betrothal in this society is a legally binding contract and Mary, it would seem, has been unfaithful.  She could be stoned.  And what then would happen to our tiny baby who is just beginning to take shape?  Even if she lived could he survive his mother’s stoning?

But Joseph is a good man, a righteous man and he decides that, with regret, he will quietly and privately divorce Mary and not complete their marriage to her.

And what then would happen to our tiny baby who is just beginning to take shape?

Perhaps he will live a life of shame, of poverty and vulnerability because his mother will be on her own with no man to protect her with his name, a home and financial security.

What a risk God takes when he gives himself over to a human life.

But Joseph has a dream.  He hears God calling in the night with the voice of an angel telling him not to be afraid, to go ahead and marry Mary, to accept her child as his son and to name him Jesus.

A child who will save his people from their sin.

A child who will be Emmanuel: “God is with us”.

And so what happens to our tiny baby is he grows and is born to loving parents who both said yes to God when he took that risk of giving himself over to a human life.

After his birth there will be other dangers and it will be Joseph, once again, who listens to God calling in the night, in dreams, directing him away from danger into safety.

On Tuesday at our community carol service Jim was asking what we wanted for Christmas.  He talked about the word “want” and how it can mean “lack of” something.  What do we lack this Christmas?  What do we need this Christmas?

God knows our deepest, perhaps unspoken, needs and dreams.  He knows what it is we lack deep in our hearts; he knows what we want.  And it may be that today, this Advent, God, in his infinite wisdom and love, is entrusting to us some new task, a new idea about how to live our lives, a new vision for the future, a new sense of God being with us and how that might shape our lives.  Something new that will fulfil those deep unspoken needs.

Whatever it is, perhaps it’s as tiny and vulnerable as our tiny baby; a fragile new thing that we need to protect, to treat tenderly, to nurture.  Maybe it’s so small we can’t see what it’s going to be or where it’s going to take us.

This Advent, this Christmas, let’s learn from Joseph.

Like Joseph let’s listen to God’s message sent by an angel, revealed in a dream or gently planted in our minds when we’re thinking about turkeys and Christmas puddings.

Like Joseph let’s act on that message, trusting in the truthfulness and the rightness that we sense under and behind the doubts, questions and fears.

Like Joseph let’s protect and guard that tiny gift of God that’s going to grow and save us from our sins.

Let’s allow the Holy Spirit, like fire and like a dove, to give us Holy Energy and Holy Peace so that in our lives too the word becomes flesh and dwells among us saving us from our sins.

Thanks be to God.