Christ's Birthday Observance: Make a Place

CBO 2022  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  28:17
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Entertaining Angels

is the Christ’s Birthday Observance theme for 2022. We will be collecting a special Christ’s Birthday Observance Offering at the end of our service today.
We have another Angel Visit that shows up in our Gospel passage this morning. But first, let’s catch ourselves up.

Waiting for a Messiah

The Jewish world had been waiting for God to show up again. It had been 400 years since the last words of the book of Malachi was penned, the final book in the Hebrew Canon we call the Old Testament.
These are the records of a a people who were given the words of God through Moses and the prophets and the histories and wisdom of the writings of Moses, Joshua, and the writers of Judges and Samuel and Kings and Chronicles; the stories of Ruth, Ezra and Nehemiah, and of Esther. The majesty of God is told in the midst of tragedy in the tale of Job and the ancient hymnal of Psalms. There were the writings of Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and finally from Babylon the words of Ezekiel, and of Daniel.
Along the way were the other 12 prophets, hi-lighted by Micah’s focus on a simple faithfulness, Zechariah’s vision of the coming king, and Malachi’s call to a fickle and faithless people to honor their vows–ending with another promise of the Day of the Lord, and of the Messiah to come, and the return of the spirit of Elijah and of the Prophet, and of the do-or-die of coming together as a nation under God once more.
Malachi 4:1–2 ESV
1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
Malachi 4:3–4 ESV
3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
Malachi 4:5–6 ESV
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
And on that somber note, the Testament closes.
A voice of prophecy worthy of Scripture had not come again over the the next 400 years.

Why So Long?

For a century, the Jews struggled along, and missed a big hit from Persia when they were more interested in ransacking the Hittites and Greece than Palestine.
But then from Macedonia a young man named Alexander rallied the Greeks and Macedonians and marched eastward. With a conquering skill that was exceptional and inspiring, this man of 19 when he became king of Macedonia formed one of the biggest empires the world had seen, stretching from Greece through Turkey an Syria and Palestine and Egypt, and right into the heart of Babylon and Persia, and to Northwest India. He took rest in Persia, but then died of a fever when he was only 32.
Alexander was tutored by none other than Aristotle, and had brought with him the Greek culture, which he enforced upon the conquered peoples not so much as a punishment but as an invitation to greatness. He built cities, he built gymnasiums and encouraged strength and courage and learning. Quite and amazing thing in less time than Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president of the United States a couple thousand years later.

Looking for Freedom

But a conqueror’s culture, no matter how attractive, is not what a people’s heart longs for. After Alexander’s death, his empire was taken over by 4 generals he had trained, and that lot was a mess. The guy in charge of Palestine was a real piece of work, and between his clan of the Ptolemies and the Seleucid clan that took charge of Egypt, and all the fighting back and forth that happened there, and the desecration of the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanies IV, things got real messy again.

The Maccabees

After most of the priests and civil servants of Judea had been massacred, there was a man name Judas Maccabbeus who led a revolt against the occupying Greeks and actually won back the country, defeating the Greeks and re-taking Jerusalem and the Temple. They cleaned it up and re-consecrated it, but only had enough holy incense oil for the lampstands to last a day, but it would take a week to make more.

So That’s What Hanukkah is About!

By a miracle of God, the oil lasted until the new oil was ready. And that’s the story of Hanukkah that is celebrated for 8 days near the time we celebrate Christmas every year.
But, miracle oil or not, the power of the dynasty of the Maccabbees wore thin on the Jewish people, as they saw immorality, deceit, lies and oppression coming from one of their own. So, less than 100 after the Jews had regained Jerusalem, they almost invited Rome to march in a restore order. Hardly a shot was fired, and the Caesar in Rome became the emporer, as he set up procurators or governors over all the colonies.
That happened about 55 years before the New Testament began, and the people had gotten real tired of Rome already. Rome was brutal in their enforced peace, and used the people in their empire to do the heavy lifting. Everything came from the seat of power in Rome.
And so, the Jews prayed harder and harder for God’s Messiah to come and set them free. And that’s what gets us to the Birth Narratives of Matthew and Luke that tell of the incarnation of the Son of God, which John calls the Logos, or Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us.

Matthew’s Story of Joseph

In Matthew’s Gospel, we see what God was doing from Joseph’s point of view, while it was Luke that gave us Mary’s perspective.
So when Joseph is introduced in Matthew 1:18-19, we see right away that there is a big problem for the hero of this part of the story.
Matthew 1:18 ESV
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
Here’s what Joseph had to face. The woman he was looking forward to marrying, the one promised to her, the one that he had been preparing a home for, it seems had broken her responsibility of chastity.
Here he was, looking forward to becoming Mary’s husband, and she was “already with child”. It’s hard for our culture to understand how great a scandal this was in Palestine 2000 years ago. The woman betrothed to him had apparently been unfaithful at worst and spoiled by another by for at best.

The Shame and Scandal

What was a man to do? What about his reputation? What about Mary’s family? What was going on here?
Matthew 1:19 ESV
19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
This all follows on the heels of the Genealogy, in the first part of Chapter 1 of Matthew, which names the four scandalous women in Jesus’ family tree who have some sort of sketchy past but show up nonetheless as named and remembered women in Jesus’ own story of ancestry. There was Tamar, who gained an heir for Judah by prostituting herself to her father-in-law. Then there was Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, who was protected from destruction because she let Hebrew Spies stay with her, and escape out a window over the wall of the city. Ruth is in the list too, and remember her background: She was a Moabite woman, not an Israelite, who was widowed when Naomi’s sons had the bad form to make her a widow, and who followed Naomi back to Bethlehem and got cozy with Boaz, and became the great-grandmother of King David.
Then there was Bathsheba, called “Uraiah’s Wife” in Matthew’s genealogy, a married woman who slept with the king, and whose second son by King David was Solomon.

This is How The Son of God Shows Up?

So let’s come to this story with fresh eyes that are willing to see the scandal that this really is…that the one God of heaven chose to come into the world through a dark-skinned, unmarried, poor girl from a backwater town in Galilee. The mother of Jesus is literally, in the earliest days, an unwed teen.
Joseph must have been in a real state right about now. I’m not sure I can understand his situation all that well, but this really shook his world.

What Does a Good Man Do?

Matthew 1:19 ESV
19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
And so, Joseph, from what we can tell, a good man, wants to do right by her but also wants to preserve his good name and intends to put her away quietly–hide her, it seems, so nobody will know what is really going on because it’s disgraceful.
Except the angel comes and says hold up, Joseph; this is not what you think this is!

Cue the Angel of God

This is actually the in-breaking-in of the kingdom of God; this is God coming into the world.
Matthew 1:20 ESV
20 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.
Matthew 1:21 ESV
21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:22–23 ESV
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
This child, Mary’s child who will also be your child, is the son of God, and you will call his name Jesus because this child is actually who the prophet was talking about when he said, the virgin shall bear a son and call him Emmanuel which means God with us.

What if Joseph Had Done His Own Thing?

And Joseph could have missed it all, dismissed her, and left her in the country with Elizabeth. He could have followed the prescribed rules for what you do with women who were found to be pregnant outside of wedlock…or he could open his heart to the notion that God was doing something miraculous and holy in and through the most unexpected and vulnerable kind of person there was in his day, a young, poor, un-wed girl from Galilee.
Maybe he thought back to the other women in the family tree…Tamar, who had broken the rules of widowhood to save the house of Israel; Rahab, the prostitute who had welcomed the enemy spies into the city of Jericho; Ruth, who was an Edomite but who saved her mother-in-law from famine and continued the family line in wedding Boaz, and Bathsheba who became the wife of David and mother of Solomon after David had her husband killed.
Matthew 1:24–25 ESV
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

We Have to Make a Place for Truth

Sometimes we have to make a place for the truth that there is more to the story than we know or can see.
Sometimes, we have to reorient ourselves to the biblical narrative and the work of God through history so that we remember God has always made a place for the weak, the poor, and the lowly. Sometimes, we have to refocus our lens on the story of how this God came into the world so that we begin to see the way he sees and love the way he loves.
How will you continue to make a place for the oppressed, the dispossessed, the weak, the poor, the powerless?
Will you hear the voice of God breaking into your comfortable word this season? Will you follow the lead and serve others in the name of Jesus, who came to serve you?
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