Readings: Isaiah 7. 10-16; Psalm 80. 1-7; Romans 1. 1-7; Matthew 1. 18-25 (view all)
It’s hard to believe that this is now my third Christmas here in Cyncoed, having begun here at the beginning of Advent 2017. For my wife Amy and I, moving here was the culmination of a long period of feeling unsettled and unsure of what God’s plan was for us.
We loved being where we were in Newport, but had begun to feel that God was unsettling us, that there was somewhere else we were being called to be. But we were unsure where that was, and whether we willing to make the jump and leave behind all the friends we had made over the previous ten years.
In the end, though, it was much a ‘God-thing’ that we ended up here. In a chance conversation with the Bishop, the possibility of Cyncoed came up. And much to both his surprise and mine, the more we talked it through, the more it seemed to make sense.
It has become one of a few key episodes in my life when, looking back, I can see where God was at work bringing me to where I am today.
In today’s gospel reading, with Christmas just around the corner, we get our first glimpse of Mary and Joseph, and their obedience to God’s unfolding plan for the salvation of the world.
How can we, like them, hear and understand God’s call on us in our lives? And what does it mean to respond in obedience?
The most distinguishing feature of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is that it is very much centred on Joseph.
In Luke’s account, which we will hear tonight in our Carol Service, as well as on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we discover Mary’s courage and obedience in her simple acceptance of the role entrusted to her. Something extraordinary is happening. She is to become mother to the Messiah, to become the ‘Theotokos’, the ‘God-bearer’ as she is referred to in the Greek Orthodox tradition.
But it is in Matthew’s account that we discover the fallout of all this for Joseph. We’re told that he discovers Mary’s pregnancy before he discovers the cause, and is left to decide how to respond.
And isn’t that so often the position we find ourselves in, in our own lives? Stuck in a difficult moral dilemma, trying to discern the right, fairest course of action. Or with a strange sense of feeling unsettled, but unable just yet to see the bigger picture.
For Joseph the bigger picture is the whole grand narrative of scripture the story of our world, the story of salvation, in which both Joseph’s story, and ours, are a part. The sense that God has a plan, and is at work to bring it to fruition, but it is one which will take time, and patience, to unfold before us.
Those who first read or heard Isaiah’s prophecy, in our Old Testament reading, would have felt very much the same. Who was this child who would be born to a young woman? What is the significance of the name Immanuel? And how would this child be a sign of God’s grace to the world?
Indeed, Jesus’ identity was something which, even during his life and ministry, would constantly confound and astound those who came into contact with him. This was Joseph the Carpenter’s child, wasn’t it? So why was it that he spoke with such Godly authority?
And yet, for Matthew, this child’s identity was clear from the very beginning, plain to see in the name which was chosen for him. Jesus, meaning, ‘God saves’, the one the prophet called ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’. God in the flesh, who came to seek and save what was lost, and who by his resurrection, says Paul in our epistle, has revealed himself once and for all as the Son of God.
All of which takes us back to the carpenter Joseph, who today we see as having just a very small part in God’s great story. And yet, even though he can’t possibly know the bigger picture of what God was doing. Even though it meant bearing all the risk of fathering a child who was not his own. Even though the whole thing may well have seemed, well, unbelievable — still Joseph chooses to say ‘yes’, and to co-operate in God’s plan.
And Christ’s call to us today, as his Church, as individual Christians, is to do the same. To participate in the outworking God’s plan of salvation for our world.
To shine a light on evil and injustice, rather than turning a blind eye, even at great personal or professional cost.
To extend grace and peace to those around us, choosing to give the benefit of the doubt, choosing to forgive, even if it costs us, even if it means risking being let down.
To hear and heed to prompts of the Holy Spirit in our lives, even if doing so might seem like foolishness to others, even if we can’t yet see the bigger picture.
As Christ’s Church today, how can we co-operate in God’s plan of salvation? How can we find our small part to play in this chapter of God’s great story?
Pope Francis, describes the way in which God works in our lives as being like weaving a tapestry:
What I know is that God makes stories. In his genius and mercy, he takes our triumphs and our failures and weaves beautiful tapestries that are full of irony. The reverse of the fabric may look messy with its tangled thread — the events of our lives — and maybe this is the side we dwell on when we doubt. But the right side of the tapestry displays a magnificent story, and this is the side that God sees.Pope Francis and Friends, Sharing the Wisdom of Time.
So, as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may we encounter once again our loving God, who weaves a magnificent tapestry from the tangled mess of our lives, and, hearing his call, may we, like Joseph, be willing to play our part in God’s great story. Amen.