Sunday 22 December 2019: Advent 4
Isaiah 7:10-16; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Context: shared with ministerial colleagues at a Christmas function
Aim: to picture the real people behind the narrative as well as to wonder at the goodness of a God who came to this earth
Nothing strikes me with a greater sense of panic and fear than when my wife of 32 years, Jennifer, says the following words to me: ‘Ian ... we need to talk!’
Those four words ‘we need to talk’ are the harbinger of a conversation that I really do not want to entertain.
When Jennifer states that ‘we need to talk’ I know that I am going to a place where an uncomfortable conversation is about to be conducted, a conversation that will expose my deficiencies, inadequacies and faults.
Uncomfortable conversations are a key component of the Nativity narrative.
Matthew records the background to uncomfortable conversations that must have taken place, when we read in 1:18,19
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Although we do not have a record of the uncomfortable conversations, we can reasonably believe that two conversations occurred.
The first would have been Mary announcing to her fiancé that she was pregnant. We can only imagine the anxiety that must have passed through Mary’s mind as she built up the courage to say, ‘Joseph, we need to talk. You may have noticed that it looks like I am putting on a little bit of weight, but actually I’m pregnant.’
For Joseph this news must have been devastating and his natural reaction must have been to enquire, ‘and who is the father?’ Mary’s answer: ‘.... the father is the Holy Ghost.’ Joseph must have responded with the Judean equivalent of ‘yeah right!’
And then at some point, Joseph must have geared himself up for the uncomfortable conversation he was going to conduct with his fiancée. ‘Mary, we need to talk. I am sorry but, you and me, it is over, there is no way our marriage can work.’
Then we come to a third conversation. This conversation Matthew did record, for it is when an angel announced to Joseph that he was to proceed with his marriage to Mary despite the fact that the child she was carrying was not his. The angel said (1:23)
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.
Although we see this as a message of comfort to Joseph and us, it also contains elements of personal discomfort. I will explain.
Some time ago, I had a parishioner, an elderly gentleman, a veteran of the Second World War, and at our initial meeting he had been a widower for eight years. In the twilight years of his life, his only companions were his pet cat and dog. Being in his 80s he was not able to get out of the house often and so had very little contact with the outside world and he looked forward to my visits with him.
To my shame, while he looked forward to my visits, I did not.
When he opened the door of his tiny bungalow a stench would hit my nostrils. The stench was a combination of a lack of personal hygiene, rotting pet food in bowls, an unflushed toilet, no fresh air and more besides. The dog and cat were infested with fleas and everything about his living conditions was filthy and atrocious. Offers of assistance were always refused and I had to gear myself up mentally to enter his home.
I tried to touch as little as possible.
He was ever welcoming to me and anyone who would visit, but would you have easily responded to an invitation to live in his home as it was found?
To be honest and to my shame, in that condition I could not live in that home with him.
But this is part of the wonder of the uncomfortable conversations.
For Jesus to leave His Heavenly home, and live with us, was a step far greater than us leaving our homes to live with that elderly gentleman.
Immanuel – God with us, is a name that takes us beyond our comfort zone!
Immanuel – God with us, reveals the depths of love and concern that God has for us!
God did not come to this earth to be comfortable, but I am so grateful that in this season we can find comfort, that His Son came to us and is with us still.
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