2022-12-18 Advent 4
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
Well dear friends, it’s only 7 more sleeps till the pandemonium begins! Christmas is nearly upon us in 2022. Advent 4 is nigh! We’ve touched on the themes of hope, peace and joy. We’ve talked about the need for preparation and getting ready for Christ the King to come and to come again. We’ve been comforted that peace with God and people has been restored in Christ. We’ve marinated in the joy that comes from being a Baptized child of God. And finally, we’ve got the last blue candle lit up on the Advent wreath, all four are glowing brightly. The last candle is reserved for the very heart of Christmas: love.
And that’s what we would expect about this time of year, right? Love and happiness, peace and serenity? But that doesn’t sound like the pandemonium that usually accompanies this time of year! Christmas lights half fallen off the house, extension cords running hither and thither. Kids fighting and screaming over presents. Wrapping paper shreds and scotch tape stuck to everything. Christmas tree tipped over by the 2 year old. Cat at the vet after getting fried from chewing the tipped over Christmas tree lights. Smoke pouring out of the kitchen stove because the turkey is on fire. Mom is crying because last year’s Christmas dress doesn’t fit this year. Dad is crying because of the ballooning credit card bills!
Now that’s the pandemonium we are familiar with! And, Christmas has always been an utter gongshow for pretty much every family ever. So don’t feel bad! We’re all in this together. Just think about that very first Christmas. We look back with all the love of that little manger scene. Mary, Baby Jesus, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen, etc. But think about Joseph. Cue the pandemonium!
Things would have been tough for Joseph, to say the least. Often in our minds we have a mental image of Mary and Joseph as a young couple. Certainly Mary was young – possibly in her teens even. But Joseph was probably older, though it is true we don’t know much about him. He was still alive when Jesus was a 12 year old kid, arguing with the Law teachers in the Temple. But after that, we don’t know what transpired. If he was still alive when Jesus entered His public ministry, or even at His crucifixion, it is probable that Jesus would have commended Mary to his care – or one of her other children if she had any. But instead, Jesus relegates that duty to St. John from the Cross (JN 19:26-27).
But getting back to Christmas, things would have been just crazy for Joseph. He was betrothed to Mary, meaning they were legally married but that time of engagement lasted a year. They hadn’t begun to live together under the same roof. And in the midst of this arrangement, the pandemonium of Christmas occurred and the Virgin Mary was pregnant with Jesus. On the outset, this was a huge problem, culturally and spiritually. Pregnant out of wedlock broke the 6th Commandment. Everybody knew that in the Garden of Eden God brought the man and the woman together and “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply”“ (Gen 1:28). The marriage blessing always came before the multiplying. And that is still God’s will today.
But you can see why Joseph would be sweating bullets. Not only was there cultural shame and spiritual disgrace, there was also the personal betrayal Joseph would have felt. We know that Mary was “with child from the Holy Spirit” because St. Matthew records for us. But Joseph didn’t! As far as He was concerned, it was time for a Jerry Springer paternity test! He knew he wasn’t the baby daddy. He was convinced that Mary had cheated on him. And the burden of evidence just kept getting bigger and bigger every day! The Christmas pandemonium was in full swing!
Yet despite the tricky situation he was in, the Scripture says “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (MT 1:19). He did not seek the justice of the law. He did not seek out his rights or what was owed him. Joseph, the betrothed was also Joseph the betrayed. Yet, he sought the path of mercy. Talk about cool under pressure! How many of us would have the grace about us to react this way when conflicts, tragedies and sins are committed against us? The first instinct is often to fly off the handle and demand justice be served! But not for Joseph the guardian of our Lord. What good would justice do? What good does it ever do? Could it restore the broken relationship? Can it bring back what was lost? What about a murder? Can justice bring a lost life back? The answer is no. Justice can only protect others from similar harm. This is why we lock up ghastly criminals and throw away the key (theoretically). But it is only mercy and forgiveness and love that can heal what has been wounded and help us carry on in life, maintaining our sanity.
I doubt it would be any different for Joseph. His mind would have been unrelenting in bombarding his conscience with the traumatic details of the very first Christmas that was before him. The same thing happens to us in a conflict. No matter how you try to push the thoughts, hurts and questions to the back of your mind, they always flip to the front, giving you no rest or reprieve. “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (MT 1:20).
And then, the light bulb switches on. The absolute pandemonium that his life had become was transformed by the Lord’s grace into a blessing. Indeed, it was the greatest blessing the world has ever received! Christ the Lord took on human flesh within Joseph’s fiancé! The Savior of the universe became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. Joseph was the firsthand witness to the miracle of Christmas. Although it certainly didn’t seem like a miracle at the time!
Yet again, we are amazed at the Lord’s uncanny ability to work blessing from dicey and difficult situations. The turmoil and tumult, the uproar, the shame, the doubt, the sadness, the madness, the regret, the hurt all of these things that Joseph no doubt was experiencing melted away as he, with faith, heard and believed the angel’s message. It was the same message angels of God always say. “Fear not.” God’s got this under control. The big cheese is on the payroll! He’s got it covered. Don’t worry. Everything is going to work out just fine in God’s own timing. For “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).
This dear friends is a message we also can believe and trust by faith. Like faithful Joseph, we make our way through life trusting that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). No matter how crazy the situation seems - and not much could seem worse than a teenaged fiancé pregnant by miraculous means! - God continues to work blessing. And this, is love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (JN 3:16). There is no other way to describe it. For love, God comes to earth. For love, Joseph becomes the guardian of Christ. For love, the same little baby placed in the manger grew up and spread His arms wide for you on the Cross. For love, the risen Savior calls you to Himself, to His font, to His table. The fourth candle on the Advent wreath is love.
Proclaim the wonder, O Joseph, to David, the ancestor of God:
you saw a Virgin great with Child, you gave glory with the shepherds,
you worshipped with the Magi, you received the news from the angel in faith.
Amen! Come Lord Jesus!