Fourth Sunday of Advent 18 December 2016
(Isaiah 7:10-16 Psalm 80 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25)
There is a show that has been on stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for 26 years. I think it’s been running for just as long in Boston. Its title is, “Shear Madness” mostly because the things that happen on stage are just beyond belief, they’re wild, and just basically, foolish It’s a “who done it?” type of comedy.
What makes it unique is that just before intermission the audience gets to vote who they think committed the crime; then after intermission, the cast concludes the play based on how the audience writes the ending.
So, at the risk of becoming “shear madness,” I am going to ask you to help me write the end of today’s sermon.
First a few words of explanation. Each year on this final Sunday of Advent, we move to the very edge of Christmas without crossing the line. In the year when we are reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we actually hear the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus, which is literally one verse (half of vs. 8; half of vs. 25). We just heard it! In the Isaiah text we are told that the son will be called “Emmanuel.” In the Gospel reading, Matthew quotes Isaiah and we are told that the word “Emmanuel” means God is with us! On this weekend we usually sing “O Come, O Come Emanuel!”
Here’s where you come in: I’d like you to share some examples as to how “God is with you” in your daily life.
(Go out into the congregation to accept examples)…..don’t worry, these will come back to us before I am finished!
So let’s look at the Gospel text. I hope you can feel the heartache in this story of pain, uncertainty and confusion; however, I think too often, we miss the heartache at the very core of this story because we’ve unintentionally domesticated this birth story.
Whether hearing it read in hushed tones or by candlelight, it is easy to forget that Joseph and Mary were real people. Pregnancy outside marriage ended in disgrace, humiliation and sometimes even death. But in a dream, Joseph is told to name the child “Jesus” in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that Emmanuel—God with us— will now be born.
It takes a visit from an angel to come and calm all this down and orient Joseph and Mary to God’s intentions. And as angels usually only get involved in Biblical stories when heavy-lifting is involved, I think it is safe to say that the months leading up to Christ’s birth were not filled with one blissful baby-shower after another; rather, these months were fraught with anxiety and concern and flights of emotion we have all experienced at various times.
And that, of course, is the point. Each one of us has experienced similar upheavals. There are families here this morning who are struggling with discord, couples who feel disconnected; kids, teens, young adults wondering what future they may have. Elders wondering the same thing, but from a different point of view. Some here are seeking jobs, some relationships, some a sense of worth.
I think of some of my conversations this past week: inmates in Adams County Prison away from family on Christmas, many with children. A person with cancer saying to me, “I know this will be my last Christmas.” A person crying her eyes out because she does not want to be in a nursing facility. Planning funerals for only a day or two before Christmas. Reading news articles as to how religion continues to fuel bloodshed and bigotry throughout the world and in our own country.
So, as the seminary intern wrote in her paper after spending her first week of Clinical Pastoral Education on a floor with rape, shooting and drug overdose patients: “Where is God in all this?”
If I haven’t taken all the tinsel off your emotional Christmas trees yet, then let’s turn the corner and go to the answers you gave me at the beginning. Here are some ways that you experience “God with us” in your daily lives:
1.) Music (both in and away from church)
3.) Finding a woman standing in the lobby of a nursing home needing to use a cell phone; you offered her yours to use.
4.) Birth of a child
6.) Rite of Healing at church
7.) Difficult people
8.) Praying throughout the day
And I know you could name many more! I may not be Dreaming of a White Christmas or Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. The point is that when we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” we better know what we are asking. We are asking for God to come and be with us; come and be with us, the God “who is with us”!
I am here to remind you on this Fourth Sunday of Advent that God is real, and that God works through real people. And so if we say we are looking forward to Emmanuel, to “God with us,” if we really believe this, we better know where God is with us in our daily lives.
It may feel like shear madness for you to write the end of my sermon. But it is really shear madness for our God to be become human, to be born to a young girl. And it is just as shear madness to know that God comes to us in Christ to be with us, to use us to bring light to a darkened world, to accept us as we are, and make us holy by God’s own presence. Yes, God is really with us, really and truly as we are. Yes this is our Emmanuel.
Come, we pray, come again and again and always through your Word, through your sacraments, and through the fellowship we share. It may seem to be shear madness, beyond belief, just basically foolish! But, Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Come, God be with us, stand next to us, stand with us, help us know it is you! Amen.