December 22, 2019

Advent 4 Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
We have arrived at the fourth and last Sunday in Advent. The schools have let out for Winter break, kids are home, families are traveling, presents are wrapped or if not being stressed about, frenzied shopping continues, all in pursuit of that perfect Christmas. We are just days away, but we are not there yet. All too often at this point in the year we have pushed our budgets too far, our stress levels too far, and as you can hear in my voice today, our immune systems too far. We are sold an image of a perfect holiday, a hallmark Christmas in all the fun and wonderful movies we watch this time of year, and we come to expect a certain level of output from others in pursuit of this ideal experience. But our Gospel reading today offers us yet another perspective to consider in all of this. All too often one operates under the assumption that there is one correct way to do Christmas, and any deviation from that will ruin the whole experience. When we think about that first Christmas, when we think of all the joy of Mary and Elizabeth, of the glory of God in this miracle of incarnation, it is also important to remember someone else who’s experience was less than glorious, but who responded with peace all the same.
There was nothing perfect or conventional for what we are told is Joseph’s experience leading up to Jesus’ birth. In fact, here we have a man who has found out that his bride-to-be, with whom he has not yet been intimate, is pregnant. Imagine first, just how devastating that would have been to him. And then realize, that of all the options offered to him, of all the ways in which he could seek justice, he decides on the most quiet, kindest approach he can. In the twenty-second chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, one of the many places where the traditions and laws of the Hebrew people are laid out, it says quite clearly that if a man marries a woman who claims to be a virgin, and then finds she is not, he can have her brought to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of the village stone her to death. So when you hear of Joseph, as Matthew puts it, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace”, understand that he is choosing not to invoke drastic measures or seek the sort of public vengeance that will keep his own dignity intact. And that’s before God even steps in.
I think it’s fair to say that the faithful thing to do, the faithful way to be in some circumstances is neither the way that social convention tells us it should be or usually the way that feels best in the moment when we feel we are the injured party. The whole situation surrounding Jesus’ birth defies social convention, and yet God has chosen this moment, this place, and these people to bear witness to the long awaited messiah. Before Joseph knows anything other than Mary is pregnant, he has already decides that he will be gentle and caring in this moment of hurt and disappointment, but then God’s intervention takes him even further down a road that defies societal expectation of the time.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream. Now I think that already we need to give Joseph extra points for the fact that this all happens in a dream. Joseph doesn’t get the benefit of a conscious experience, with a burning bush or parting clouds or booming voices from mountain tops. It’s all communicated in a dream. Joseph could have woken up and thought, gosh, that fish I had for dinner must have been off. But he didn’t. Joseph took what was told to him in that dream by the Angel of the Lord and faithfully set to what God was telling him to do.
The promise that is given to God’s people throughout the ages from the prophets, the promise even given to Joseph in this dream is so incredibly huge. This little baby that will be born will shoulder the salvation of all humanity. That is why, through those promises we find in the readings we come to the word Peace for this final Sunday of Advent. It is the Peace of God’s salvation, the peace of God’s incarnation in the world that we look towards in this time of waiting for the messiah to be born, and the perfect peace of God’s kingdom to come in our second Advent as we await Christ’s return.
Peace is, of course, as I alluded to before, something I think we all have in short supply this time of year. I also suspect that if I was foolhardy enough to stand up here and tell you just to go and find more, the most charitable thing you could do is politely roll your eyes. But instead where we find ourselves most of the time during the holidays is trying to meet those expectations I mentioned, trying to create a perfect peace that we hold in our minds and we can sometimes catch glimpses of. Amidst all of the stress and extra work, if we don’t find peace, or love, or joy, or hope, then it makes Christmas a little harder.
As followers of Christ, our hope is in that baby, about to be born to a world that is aching for peace. We are just a few short days away from the day we celebrate Christ’s birth in the midst of waiting for his return. So as we brace ourselves for what comes next, whether it is overwhelming amounts of activities, or perhaps frustrating lack thereof, take the peace that God is offering us as a light of hope to your weariness. Take the peace that Joseph had, to step into a hard situation and be willing to love even though it completely went against what society was telling him to do. Remember that our expectations of perfect holidays are often not where we are going to find our greatest joy. Coming into our Christmas season, take with you the four words that accompany the four weeks of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. In that you will find everything you need to know to prepare yourself of Christ’s return