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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Date: 12/19/2004
Feast: 4th s of adv
Church: LHPC
Bible text: Matt. 1:18-25
Theme: Love

Isaiah 7:10-16 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.


Are you ready for Christmas? Got all your presents bought? Got your meal plan diagramed and assignments delivered? In those regards, you may be ready for Christmas. I seriously doubt Joseph was ready for Christmas, in any regard. I doubt he had much more than a dream of what he was in for. And that may not have been a bad thing.

Matthew 1:18-25 (KJV)
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. [19] Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. [20] But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. [21] And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. [22] Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, [23] Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [24] Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: [25] And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

Joseph “knew not” Mary. Nor did he know Jesus. This child of the Holy Ghost was to be born into Joseph’s house and lineage. But then again, not. On Christmas, Joseph would have his baby boy. But then again, not. Known, and not known. His, and not his. Cradled in his fatherly arms, wrapping an infant hand around his daddy’s little finger, looking into his eyes – a son. And a stranger.

In Joseph, we see the mystery of Christmas. As much as we might think we know everything about Christmas – after all, it’s pretty much the same every year, isn’t it? As much as we might think we know everything about Christmas, we’re all a lot more Joseph than Mary. Mary had a visit from an angel. Mary carried the child for nine months. Mary could feel when he would kick and when he would roll over. Mary could whisper lullabies as she touched her round tummy.

Joseph had a dream. And as real as a dream might be, dreams take us to places we can’t know. Not really know. The Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream. The Lord told him what to do, what to name the child, what to believe – but in a dream. You know what it’s like to wake up after a particularly vivid dream. What’s the first thing you ask yourself? “Was that real? Or did I only dream that?” You don’t know. You want to know. But you can’t know. Because it’s a dream.

When it comes to Christmas, we’re a lot more Joseph than Mary. We know a little about Christmas, but what we don’t know about Christmas would fill volumes. We have Christmas dreams. And every year we play out the dream, play at the dream, hoping to get it right. We might be dreaming of a White Christmas just like the ones we used to know. We might have visions of sugarplums. We might have this mental image of the perfect family gathering, with a perfect Christmas dinner, with gifts that fit so perfectly that nothing has to be returned, alleluia. We stage Christmas pageants. And we all have our own little Christmas dramas, complete with a colorful cast of characters (or a cast of colorful characters), many of whom are related to us.

But even with all this, we barely pierce the surface of Christmas. We imagine. We dream. Yet as with Joseph, Christmas is close, but never quite close enough. We’re like kids with our faces pressed up against the window glass on the first snowy morning of the year; our own breath fogs up our view of what we’re longing to touch. We’re only human. We want God. We want to feel complete. We want peace, hope, joy and love. We really want them, and we want them real. So we dream. But this reality always wakes us up a split second too soon. Like Joseph, we’re startled back to wrangling with grumpy innkeepers, donkeys that won’t budge, and worries of what the neighbors might be saying beneath their breath. What do we do with this Jesus situation? Do we put it away privily? How do we really keep Christmas in our hearts, instead of only in our dreams?

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not…. God sent Joseph a wakeup call. “Joseph!” – God’s angel knows his name. “Joseph, thou son of David!” – Uh oh, the angel even knows his daddy. Actually, his great-great-great-great granddaddy. “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not!” Oh, right. A fine thing to say to someone in his pajamas.

God knows Joseph. God knows Joseph’s name. God calls Joseph by name. Joseph is not merely the one-thousandth customer through the door. God has chosen him, and God knows who he is.

Joseph, son of David. Whoa. You remember David. David the shepherd boy. David the little guy that everyone laughed at when he said he could slay the giant Goliath. David who was late to the meeting the day they anointed him king. David who built an empire from the smallest of tribes. Yeah. That David. Joseph, you remember him now don’t you? Joseph, do you remember that David’s blood runs through your veins? Joseph do you remember that Jesus isn’t the only child of God in this house? Joseph, do you know that God has chosen you for a purpose and that you, little old you, are going to have a very important part of something so great you can’t begin to imagine?

In all the Bible, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus never even speaks a word? He pretty much disappears from the story early on in Jesus’ life. He may have died young, leaving a wife and family to care for themselves. We don’t know. Joseph himself is kind of a mystery.

But what we do know about Joseph is this: God knew Joseph. God knew Joseph well enough to entrust God’s only Son to his care. God knew Joseph and knew the kind of stuff he was made of. Joseph wasn’t a king. Joseph wasn’t wealthy. Joseph didn’t have clout.

Joseph had a dream.

And Joseph had enough courage to stick with Mary, and stick with Jesus, and stick with God’s dream, even though in a million years he could never have been ready for Christmas. Fear not, Joseph, son of David. Don’t be afraid of Christmas.

Jesus is God’s only Son. But Jesus is not the only child of God in this house, either. You are a child of God. And God knows your name. God knows your daddy’s name, and your mama’s name. God knows what kind of stuff runs through your veins. God knows the good, the bad and the ugly about you. God knows you’re better than some and worse than others. And you know what else? It doesn’t matter. God has a dream. God has a dream of Christmas. God has a dream where everyone matters, whether they’re born in a mansion or a manger. And you are part of that dream.

Are you ready for Christmas? You may well have the presents brought. You might have the menu printed. But what you don’t know about Christmas, what you can’t prepare for, is infinitely greater than what you can know and what you can prepare for. What we accomplish at Christmas is so little. The miracle of Christmas is that it comes, whether you’re ready or not. The mystery of Christmas is that its dream becomes reality – is a reality. And you don’t have to be afraid. You may not be great; but you’re good enough for God. You’re good enough for this baby Jesus… even if your name isn’t Joseph. Every year God gives us all the chance to be surrogate mothers and fathers to this child. Every year God again makes us adoptive brothers and sisters to this baby. Sure, we’re new to the family. What we don’t know about God and God’s ways would fill volumes. But God’s not asking us to know everything. God’s not asking us to be completely prepared. God is simply asking us to listen to the angels, to rejoice in the mystery, and to be glad for all we don’t know.

The night Jesus was born, Joseph held a stranger in his arms. Or maybe the stranger held Joseph. It’s hard to tell sometimes.