Sermon: "When God Crashes Your Party"

4th in the "Something to Celebrate" series.
Delivered December 24, 2006 (10am service) by Rev. George Antonakos.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Matthew 1:18-25

I've heard there are two kinds of people, those who are ready for Christmas and those who aren't. I think you all are ready because if you weren't you wouldn't be here, you would be doing some last minute shopping or preparations. Although, even though you are here you may find it difficult to concentrate today, because you might be thinking about what you still have to get done last minute; that big meal still has to come together or that complex assembly has to happen or maybe even among those are those who will dare to brave the mall this afternoon. And even if everything is set for you there is still a touch of anxiety that it all will come together, everything from recipes to relationships, Lord just help it pull together during the next 24 hours.

Well, this is the last of four advent messages in our "Something To Celebrate" series and we have been using the theme of a party over the last few weeks. Now God invites us to a party and everyone is invited, ordinary people, sinful people are invited. And in today's gospel lesson we focus on a man who at one point in the text was so overwhelmed with anxiety because everything that he had prepared and planned for seemed to completely fall apart, but he learned that when God crashes your party and seemingly ruins your plans it is wise to adjust to His plan. We can learn a lot from Joseph, his example in his faith. Let's look at the lesson. It's found in Matthew's gospel, Chapter 1, Verses 18 to 25 and let's pray before we read the text.

Our Lord we give you thanks for sending your Holy Spirit to us, your promise is that your spirit would take the things that you have given to us and make it clear. Open our hearts and help us to see light in your light and to follow you. We pray it in your name. Amen.

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel", which means, "God with us." When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."

In this passage we see that God chose a father for his son, as well as a mother. Some of you may have seen the show "Bachelor" or "Bachelorette"; it's about choosing somebody. In Bachelor a guy has to choose from among twenty women, twenty lucky women get to get connected to this fellow deeply at some point at the end of the show. Those who make it and last get a rose. Those who don't make it get the boot and it finally just boils down to one and usually they don't live happily ever after, but that's the premise of the show.

Well, I can imagine that God is looking out over all of Israel to choose just the right person. In fact, just the righteous person, because that's the way Joseph is referred to in this text. Joseph was a righteous man. In this context, it meant that he was a fulfiller of the law. He was deeply committed to an uncompromising obedience to God's law. No ham sandwiches, no unclean food, no hanging out with the wrong people. This righteous man has come to appoint his life where he is not just planning for a particular day or a particular party. He is planning for a promising future. Everything is going along well; a beautiful job, nice situation, nice girl he's engaged to, looking for a new development in Galilee, his cell phone rings, I mean his carrier pigeon comes and just three words that crush his heart and crashes the party; "I am pregnant" signed Mary. At this point in the story there is no revelation to him yet. I have a question, why is that? Why did God wait to fill him in? I mean couldn't he send Gabriel the next day before all of this happened? Couldn't he have cut him some slack and no anxiety, just let them all know at the same time? Why let him go through this struggle? It's an important question that we are going to come back to. But this pre-revelation, so what's he to think? Man, what would you think? The girl that you are about to be married to is pregnant. You don't know who the father is, although there is definitely one person that you can rule out. How do you feel? Not just what do you think, but how do you feel?

Well, what Joseph does next reveals both his humanity and his kindness simultaneously. His humanity is revealed by his decision to say, "This relationship is over." His kindness is revealed by his decision to carry it out quietly. That literally means, that phrase literally means without bringing charges, because a person who followed the Torah would have brought charges of adultery and that could have led to Mary's death by stoning. And even if that had been avoided, to not do this quietly would have led to everlasting humiliation and shame for her.

And just as he is ready to carry out his decision God speaks to his confusion and in to his sadness in Verse 20. "Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife." And then what follows is an explanation vindicating Mary's story. He is told that she will have a son, indeed by the power of the Holy Spirit and that Joseph is to give the child his name, Jesus. Joshua is where Jesus comes from; the Lord saves is the meaning. He will save his people from their sins. And that is all addressed to Joseph in Verse 21 and 20. And in 22, the shift in the scriptures. It is now addressed to us. All this took place. It's now speaking to us the text. And it's speaking to Matthew's readers 2,000 years ago, that this Jesus, this one is prophetsized by Isaiah, he is a descendant of Abraham. He is a descendant of David. He is the one who has promised; this is the promised Messiah. That is Matthew's point and purpose in Chapter 1.

Now let's go back one page in the New Testament. Oh you can't go back one page in the New Testament, it's blank from this point. You see, Matthew was put right in the beginning to connect all the promises of the Old Testament, three times 14 generations is what the; as a matter of fact let me read the genealogy to you and you will get the point. They are like, no, don't please. It's like reading the phone book. Please don't read the genealogy. But it's there for a reason, that Jesus is connected to all the promises of God through salvation history and he is trying to get his readers and his people 2,000 years ago to understand that that's the case. Why? Because in the first century years after Jesus had been ascended it was tough sledding. They were promised that he would come back. He hadn't come back. There is a Jewish backlash, religious backlash. There is a persecution that starts to set in and people are asking the question, hey is it really worth all the problems we have to put up with to follow Jesus? Matthew is saying yes. He is saying; let me tell you about a man named Joseph who had an extremely difficult time configuring his life around Jesus.

Yes, when we subject our life to God for his purposes it can get really difficult; to have to deal with those who don't understand or those who reject you because of your alignment with Jesus, that can be very hard. But yes it is worth it. So why did God let Joseph go through this struggle and anxiety? For us, to show that following Jesus will reorient our lives and it can be a struggle. Joseph's decision is put to every single one of us. Will you conform your life and your plans around Jesus no matter what the cost to you personally? That's a challenging question.

Well, look at how Joseph responded. He wakes. He does what God commands. Don't miss that word commands. He followed the commandments. He honored Mary and Jesus in a physical relationship until Jesus was born. He named the child as he was told. Everything was about Christ, not him. I can see him going to a religious bookstore asking the clerk "Do you have any books on parenting the Son of God?" I find it interesting here that in a dream he is not only called by name, Joseph, but he is reminded of his ancestry as well. It links back in to the genealogy. Joseph, Son of David, don't be afraid. Afraid of what? Don't be afraid that you will be breaking the Torah, but even more, don't be afraid that you will be losing your reputation as a righteous man. Don't be afraid that your dreams seemingly have been put on hold. Don't be afraid to do what God says even though the rest of your life some people may not understand. Don't be afraid because his birth and his name tell the story. You are forgiven. You are God's child. You can experience the wideness of God, Emmanuel, God with you here and now in this moment through a relationship with this child.

Listen dear friends, a God that watches over his plans and purposes for your life knows you by name and he wants you to know that he has chosen you for a purpose if you will respond in faith and obedience. Some may think that you are important to God's purpose. Some might think that your circumstances are so messed up or that you have messed up so badly that no way God would ever have a purpose for you again. Some may think that the duties that have been forced upon you by life circumstances could have no possible purpose. By Joseph nothing could be further from the truth.

Do you know that Joseph gets no lines in the Bible? I think you might have realized that, but maybe not. Mary gets all the lines. The one chance where a dad could really have had a line, even a step-dad, was when Jesus was age 12 and he got away from him for three days. What a great time for dad to have a line. He could have had one of those Bill Cosby line's you know? "What's wrong with that boy?" Or something like that. Not one line. But his purpose is so important. See if doesn't matter if you are prominent or not, that you align yourself with God, he has something unique for you to do and in this case it was to protect Mary and Jesus. In our case, it's whenever we care sacrificially for others in Jesus' name.

I got an email just last night from a member. He said, "I won't be there tomorrow morning. I will be there tomorrow evening. I've got to accompany my mom to her church. She started going back to church ever since her husband, my stepfather died and I need to be with her." I wrote him back in an email and I said, "Hey this is a Joseph thing. I have been studying about this. This is what you are doing. You are doing something that Joseph would have done. You are inconveniencing yourself so that Jesus might be glorified and supported in another person's life." See sometimes our lives can take a nasty or unexpected turn and we can be very perplexed, but then God comes to us and speaks our name and I think he might be speaking your name right now to the sound of bells. You have that special identity as my child, I know you by name. You are mine. If you will fully trust me, your circumstances will be used for my glory and the working out of my purposes, even when it is not easy.

A young preacher began his ministry in Philadelphia in 1859. In 1861 he took the pulpit of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and for seven years it grew under his leadership. Later he was called to the Trinity Church in Boston, but he was an eloquent communicator. He was becoming well known in the middle 19th century, but by 1863 he was approaching burnout. In the midst of the Civil War he would look out over his congregation, in which everyone knew someone who had been killed on the battlefield. Scores of women would come to the church on Sunday dressed in black. At war's end he was visibly fatigued and he hoped that things would get better, yet his pain only intensified when President Lincoln was assassinated and although he was not Lincoln's pastor, he was asked to speak at his funeral because of his reputation. Around that time he was completely drained and he exhausted decided to go visit the Holy Land. His spirit was renewed as he rode on horseback into the still tiny and remote village of Bethlehem. He recalled there the story of Jesus' birth and felt surrounded he said later by the spirit of the first Christmas and later he would tell his family and friends that his experience on that trip and that city was so overpowering it would be forever like a singing in his soul.

He returned to the United States and tried to communicate what he experienced, but he always fell short. He would relive the experience over and over again in his mind, but nothing would bridge the gap of relating it. Well three years later or so in December of 1968 he envisioned his trip again and this time he didn't try to force any words. He simply lived in the moment again and let words flow from his head on to the page.

"O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by."

You know the words and we are going to sing the words in just a moment. But in a sermon later on Philips Brooks said,

"It is while you are patiently toiling at the little tasks of life that the meaning and shape of the great whole of life dawns upon you."

That is what happened for him in his weariness in Bethlehem. If given a line, Joseph would have said the very same thing. It was Philips Brooks that created the off quoted phrase or sentences.

"Do not pray for easy lives,
    but pray to be stronger people.
Do not pray for tasks that are equal to your power,
    but pray for power equal to your tasks.
Then the accomplishing of your work shall be no miracle,
    but you shall be the miracle.
And every day you shall wonder at yourself and the richness of life,
    which has come to you by the grace of God.

Again, something that Joseph could affirm.

So my prayer for you all and I hope your prayer for me as well will be that your reality will be experiencing the faithfulness of Jesus, following faithfully his steps to fulfill God's purposes and plans for your life even when an adjustment is required.

Let's pray. Lord, we pray that you would seal this word to our lips and that you would help us in whatever state of mind or heart we are in, to worship you, to give you praise, to be lifted above any distress or weariness, as we follow in your footsteps through the power of the Holy Spirit, we ask this in your name. Amen.

© 2006, Rev. George Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145