Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
Given On the Fourth Sunday of Advent at UPC of Amsterdam
It is not hard to imagine the scene described by Matthew in his description of that which happened leading up to birth of Jesus. It is not hard to imagine because I’m not sure that the scene would be all that different today. We are told that Mary was found to be with child and that this child was a gift from the Holy Spirit and as a tenet of faith we can accept that but living in a small town, amongst peoples who did not know of the Holy Spirit, who did not know of the miraculous nature of the conception of Jesus, Mary must have felt as though she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. It is a story that is too fantastical for folks to believe and surely if she had told it it would have sounded as if she were simply trying to make excuses. And Joseph, his reputation within the community impeccable, perhaps wanting to maintain that reputation, perhaps wanting to shield his fiancé from the ridicule that can only arise from a small town when you exist on the outside of the boundary of proper behavior, sought to dismiss her to return to her family, where they might figure out what to do with this child that clearly wasn’t his. Joseph, who becomes buttressed from the criticisms following a dream in which an angel came and explained the same crazy story that Mary was telling him, deciding to place his standing within the community, his relationship with Mary, his livelihood all on the line following this dream. Doing all this, while maintaining the strict cultural codes of the day that demand that the couple not consummate the relationship until after a final commitment. In this way, did Jesus come into the world.
And there is a lot that we can glean from this story, there is much to be made of the interpersonal relationship between the two, much to be made of the way in which Jesus was conceived, much to be made of the reaction of the townspeople to the news that Mary was to have a child. And all these things say something profound about the way in which love can slip into the world so silently as to not be noticed and completely wreak havoc on the lives of all those it touches. Because rather than being conceived by the physical nature of the conception process, the new baby is conceived strictly in love. And rather than dismiss Mary, the way that society dictated that he do, Joseph loved her. And rather than run the other way, rather than cry out, “why me, not me, anybody but me!,” Mary loved the newborn and named him Jesus, because he would save the people from their sins. When love is born in the world, when love is born in us, when love is born, nothing else matters.
In physics, we are taught that objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and because of this we have come to view our world in much the same way. When it feels as if it is careening at breakneck speed into chaos and confusion we presume that it will always be moving in that direction. Think about it, it seems no longer possible to turn on the television and not see the abject hatred of some placed on full display, it seems no longer possible to turn on the television and not see the machinations of war as they continue to turn on themselves until a new location for our wrath is chosen, it seems no longer possible to turn on the tv and not be given the salacious details of someone’s life that we’d just as soon not hear, and maybe that is the way that it has to be. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion and we often end the law there. But Newton would have it be another way. “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted on by an external force.” An external force. This is how the birth of Jesus the messiah came about. An external force. When the Spirit conceives a baby in a womb. An external force. When love emerges out of the nothingness and the all-ness of God it is an external force acting on the broken nature of the world. We are called to be as Mary and have the love of God born out of us.
There are two ways in which to view the world. The old order of the world demands that Mary be castigated for her licentiousness and looseness. The older order of the world demands that Joseph dismiss her to maintain his dignity and let her family deal with her mess. The old order of the world demands that we all become so overwhelmed with the issues that face our community and our planet that we hunker down and grab what we can and horde it away until the last of days and let everyone person do the same until we are warring with other nations over the meager resources of the planet and in competition with our neighbors for survival. The new order, the new being, the new way, forged from the love of God and heated to a white hot tip demands that we see each brother and each sister as our brother and our sister. Demands that we offer all we have for the good of all, demands that we vision a world greater than the one in which we inhabit and we begin the journey to get there, together.
When love is injected into the world chaos soon follows. The old foundations of the world are shaken until they are toppled in a new age of peace, hope, faith, and love. It happened in a nothing town, in a nothing country, in an otherwise forgotten part of the world and it lit a flame that continues to alight the whole of the world. Friends we are almost there, a few days journey left to have the love of God born in a baby once again. Let that love be born in you but don’t wait until Wednesday, the world is desperate for it today. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen.