Where Hope Grows

Matthew 1:18-25                                                                          12.22.19

There is a division among us.  We have it at our house.  You may have it at yours.  Some people love to get surprised by a Christmas gift, trusting that the giver will know what will bring joy to the recipient.  Others prefer to give gift suggestions to the giver, ensuring that the gift will be exactly what is needed or desired.  I want to take a little poll this morning to see just how divided we are as a large group.  I am going to ask you to raise your hand if you prefer being surprised by a gift or if you prefer receiving an item that you have requested.    (raise hands)

God is the kind of giver who likes to surprise!  God did not select Mary because of anything she had done.  There was no contest to see who could bear the Son of God that she won because of her charisma or good looks or caring heart.  God selected Mary as a vehicle to surprise the world with an intervention of hope.  To say the least, Mary was surprised.  Her family was surprised.  Her neighbors were surprised.

God did select Joseph because he was of the family of David.  Our gospel writer spends the first 17 verses of this gospel of Jesus Christ documenting how Joseph is a member of the historic families of Israel, name after name after name, all the way back to Father Abraham.  Then we find out that Joseph is going to miraculously be the father of this child even without human conception.  God selects Joseph as the vehicle to connect this baby to the promised Savior from the line of David.  To say the least, Joseph is surprised!  His family is surprised.  His neighbors are surprised.

This birth is a direct intervention by God in history in a surprising, unconventional, unique way.  There was no way for Mary to be the mother without God’s Holy Spirit.  There was no way for Joseph to be the father without God’s Holy Spirit.  God’s intervention is cause for hope, for the beginning of something new.  It is the Spirit of God which fills us with hope even today, for the one born is God with Us, Emmanuel.

I would like to ask you to contribute your ideas for a few moments this morning as we have a bit of a conversation around this hope born to us in the shape of a baby.  Set aside your worries about the gifts you still have to wrap or the food you plan to prepare.  Ignore your anxieties about the state of our city or our nation for a few moments.  Settle in with me and focus on the surprise gift of hope we have been given in Jesus the Messiah, the Christ.

Too often we get blasé about the enormity of the scandal this birth would have caused in the neighborhood in first century Palestine.  Joseph knew how people would look at Mary.  He also knew how it would reflect on him.  They were in the time period after their marriage had been publicly announced, but were not yet living together as a couple, for the ceremony and days of feasting had not yet occurred.  Here she was, showing already, with child.  This was breaking social conventions, scandalous.  Imagine how her family felt.  Mary’s mother probably had a difficult time going to the market once the neighbors could tell that her daughter was pregnant before the wedding ceremony. And what about Joseph’s parents?  They would have been embarrassed as well.

What is Joseph to do?  He could have drawn attention to it, pointed a finger at Mary, claimed he had no connection to this child, which was true.  But he chose to keep it quiet, to call off the engagement, to try to separate himself from the shame and move on.  Given the options in front of him, it was not a bad choice.  What words of advice might you have given to Joseph if you were his friend or family member?

He makes his own plan until God intervenes in his life in a surprising way.  He was given the message by an angel to go ahead and marry this pregnant woman for her child is God’s child.  Contrary to typical social practices, Joseph is the one who will name him, not Mary.  This is a sign that this child belongs to him in an unconventional, unique way.

And the name…  Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.  It is not a unique name, for there were other kids named Jesus in those days.  But it is a unique reason for the name.  Jesus comes from the root word in Hebrew meaning “he saves”.  The meaning behind the name carries a lot of weight– it would obviously carry a kingly connotation, for the kings were often understood to be the saviors of the people.

And then there is that other name, Emmanuel.  Matthew connects this child to the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah.  Can you all join me in reading the prophecy printed in your bulletin from Isaiah 7:14?  This Hope born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph is like the sign of Hope given to the people of Israel in ancient times.  The Hope is that God will be with them, God will be with us.

Emmanuel means God with us.  That is the hope for a people living under Roman oppression, hope for a change, for a beginning of something new.   This whole story of Jesus, from beginning to end, is infused with hope.  Can someone pull out a Bible and find the end of Matthew’s gospel, chapter 28?  Read v. 20 aloud please.  Jesus has all authority (like a king would) AND he will be with us always—God with us.  Matthew brackets the entire story of Jesus –the beginning and the end –describing him as the king who saves and as God with us.

The truth that God intervenes, that God came down, that God is with us continues to be  the hope for us and for this world that seems so full of upside down values and priorities, where violence has become routine and expected, where neighbors ignore one another and a sense of community has disappeared.  It was a surprise.  It is a surprise.  It continues to be a surprise that God works through regular Joes and Marys, that God moved into the neighborhood, that God knows human life inside and out.

Surprises can often be signs that God is at work…  let me tell you an amazing story.  On Thursday a group of leaders from the Rosemont Coalition met at Alexander Hamilton Elementary to sort through multiple boxes of toys donated for the students at the school.  The children and their parents were gathering for a family literacy event and a Christmas concert, and would come through our “toy shop” at the end of the evening.   Included in the boxes of toys was a box of basketballs and footballs that needed to be inflated.  What two things do you need to inflate a basketball?  The little needle to insert into the ball and a pump.  We had a pump but were unable to access a needle at the school.  So, one of the pastors headed out on a search for a needle to inflate the balls.  He tried the Walgreens and the CVS nearby, to no avail.  He was pondering about where the closest sporting goods store might be (none are nearby) as he walked out of the CVS.  He saw a man in the parking lot with one of those portable pumps to fill your car tire.  He was inflating his tire.  The pastor stopped and talked with the man, and discovered he had a needle to inflate balls that came with his pump.  And he did not need it.  He willingly gave him the needle so he could return to the school and we quickly pumped up the basketballs and footballs so they would be ready for the children to use.  Unexpected.  Surprising.  Out of the ordinary.  God at work.  God with us.  Even today.

I am going to give you just a few minutes to think about a time when you were surprised.  You can share it with your neighbor near you in the pew or just jot it down in your bulletin, so you remember it.  Could it have been God at work?  God with you?

As the Ghanaian song tells it:  God came down that we might have hope.  Hold onto that hope this Christmas and every day.  Hope for you.  Hope for your family.  Hope for this community, this state, this nation, this globe.  For God is with us.  Even today.  Amen.

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