ďExpect the UnexpectedĒ
December 22, 2002
For the first three Sundays of Advent, we have looked ahead to Christís coming, and we have focused on Advent as a time when we are called to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord.† The two sermons I preached for the first two Sundays of Advent have given us ways to prepare ourselves as we wait for the day of the Lord, and I have given us some buzz words to remember.† The first sermon told us to ďkeep awake,Ē to wake up for the kingdom of God is at hand.† Godís time and our time will once again intersect in a dramatic and radical way very, very soon so we need to keep ourselves alert and awake for that day.†
The second sermon told us to ďbe at peace in Godís timeĒ, to live lives of holiness and blamelessness, to be patient during this time of waiting, to be at peace, for we are living in Godís time, and the Eternal God, who is the God of all times - past, present, and future - is also our God, who is with us every second of our lives.† Keep awake, be patient, and be at peace.† This is what we have been called to do during this time of Advent, in this ďin-between timeĒ†
So now we come to today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we are very close to Christmas.† The line between the season of Advent and the event of Christís birth is becoming blurred for us.† Our excitement about the coming of Jesus as a baby in a manger is beginning to overshadow our eager anticipation of the coming of Jesus in glory.† How natural this is for us, for we have invested much of our life and faith in the reality that in the baby Jesus, we have been given the one who is God with us, the one who is our Lord and Savior, the one who is the light of the world.†
Yet, we must not move too quickly from this Fourth Sunday of Advent to Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.† We still have this Sunday to go, one more Sunday of the season of Advent, a time which is primarily focused on Christís second coming and itís implications for our lives of faith.† The texts we have read for the first two Sundays of Advent has emphasized this fact, pointing us to the future when Jesus will come again and enter into world history in a dramatic, spectacular, and amazing way.†
We must not lose sight of this meaning of Advent, for our hope, peace, and joy - our very faith - lies, not in the event of Christmas only, but primarily and most importantly in the event of Easter, in the fulfillment of Godís promises through Jesus Christ.† This is what we have been doing the last three weeks.† We have been focusing on Godís promise that Christ is coming soon, that the coming of the Lord is really and truly at hand, and so we have been preparing ourselves for that day.†
††††††††† In just a second, I will read our Gospel text for today, Matthew 1:18-25, but before I read it, I want you to sit back and relax, take a deep breath and clear your mind.† Clear your mind of all things that you are thinking about as you prepare for Wednesday, for Christmas.† Clear your mind of all your errands and chores, of what youíre going to cook, and of what you have left to buy.† Just clear your mind and remember what you have heard for the last three weeks of Advent, and as I read, listen, listen for Godís word to you today, this day, the fourth Sunday of Advent, and again listen for how we are to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord.
Why this story?† Does it seem strange to you that we would read a story such as this during the time of Advent, a story that seems to be about the birth of Jesus?† This is the question I have been asking myself all week, why this story?† Why is this story a lectionary reading for Advent and not for Christmas Eve or Christmas?† It would certainly fit better as a scripture reading for Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, but not for this Sunday.† It certainly isnít a text we expected to hear during Advent.† Aha!† There it is.† This isnít something we expected to hear!†
This story doesnít fit into our normal Advent readings!† It doesnít fit with our readings about the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds, about the return of Christ in glory, about the end of the world.† No, it is not something we expected!† There is nothing in this text about the sun being darkened or stars falling from the heavens.† There is nothing in this text about angels coming to gather Christís elect or about the heaven and the earth passing away.† Nothing like that at all.† Nothing about a thief coming in the night or about the heavens and the earth and all the elements being dissolved.† Not even anything about Christ coming again in glory.† Itís not a story we expect to hearÖbut wait, thatís not all.†
Not only does it not meet our expectations of what an Advent text should be, it doesnít even meet our expectations about what a birth story should be.† There is nothing in this story about shepherds or about a star in the night sky.† There is nothing in this story about the three wise men or about their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.† There is nothing about swaddling cloths or even about a baby lying in a manger.† And it isnít even about Mary, but about Joseph.† No, this story is a very different story from what we expected to hear this Sunday morning.†
††††††††† We expect things to be certain ways, donít we?† We expect people to behave in a civilized way, to drive on the right side of the road, and to be polite. We expect our children to behave in public, your teenagers to be responsible, our parents to be fair, and your grandchildren to give you a hug and a kiss.† We expect the fruit in the produce section to be fresh, our newspaper to come every morning, airplanes to fly, boats to float, the sun to rise in east and set in the west.† We expect our worship services to be only an hour long, life after death, and the Triune God to be the Triune God.
We donít like surprises, well except for presents.† We donít like to be caught in the dark, to have our feet knocked our from under us, or to be blindsided.† Can you imagine what Joseph must have been going through when he found out Mary was pregnant knowing he wasnít the father?† Can you imagine the shock he must have feltÖthe painÖthe heartache?† This isnít what he expected to happen.† He expected different things from his marriage with Mary.† He expected his wife to be faithful, to raise a family, to have a home and a job as a carpenter, but not this, no way, no how.† But facts were facts, he expected certain things and they didnít happen, so now he was going to do what was expected of him.† He was going to follow the letter of the law.† He was going to be faithful and obedient to the commandments of God.† Even though he was going to save her from public embarrassment, he planned to dismiss Mary quietly, and just walk away, no matter how hard or painful it was for him, because he was a righteous man.
But then something surprising happens.† An angel of the Lord comes to Joseph and tells him that what appears to be a moral outrage is in fact a divine and holy disruption of his expectations.† The God of all times and places is doing something new in the world, something so radical and extreme, something so unexpected, that neither he, nor Mary, nor the world will ever be the same way again, for the declaration of the angel is that the baby in Maryís womb is not a violation of Godís will, but a perfect and loving expression of it, and a gift from the Holy Spirit.† The one who is in control of human history, the one who is in control of our own lives, the one who shatters our expectations of how things should be, is none other than the Almighty God.
Our story ends with Joseph being transformed by the announcement of the angel, and he embraces and is responsive to this new and strange and unexpected act of God.† He takes Mary for his wife and names his adopted child Jesus.† And as they say, ďthe rest is history.Ē† Or is it?† The story of Joseph may come to an end, but the story for us does not, for God is still filled with surprises, and someday soon God will again act in human history in a new, dramatic, radical, and unexpected way.† Are you ready for the unexpected?
In this time of Advent, in this time of preparation and waiting, let us remember that as we wait, we wait not for something small but for something big, not for something expected but for something completely unexpected.† Who would have expected that the tiny baby in the manger would be Emmanuel, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords?† Who would have expected that the little baby who was born in a small town in the Middle East, will be the same one who is coming again to turn the powers and principalities on their ear?† Who would have expected that the transcendent, all powerful, sovereign God would become human and save his people from their sins?† Are you ready for the unexpected?
†As we move from Advent to Christmas, let us keep awake, let us be patient and at peace in Godís time, and let us be ready for the unexpected, for if the message of Christmas is that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and brought salvation to a broken world, then the message of Advent is that through Jesus Christ, God is working even now to create a new heaven and a new earth, and when Jesus returns he will bring with him a new tomorrow, a tomorrow that is much greater than what any of us can even imagine?†
After all, isnít that our hope?†
After allÖisnít that what we expect?
In the powerful name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.††††