Sermon (a Homily) December 18, 2022

A Homily


The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton

Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ

December 18, 2022

“Wait A Minute.  What Did You Say?”

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” 

Matthew 1:20[i]

Oh my!  Mary and Joseph.  They might be the first miracle of Christmas.  Let’s be honest.  Would you have been relieved if you had had Joseph’s dream?  Would the appearance of the angle Gabriel have lessened your stress if you had been Mary?  Here’s how Luke records her encounter:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30) 

I fail to see how either of these visitations – the one to Mary or the one to Joseph – could lessen their fear.  These two had a future planned for themselves.  They would marry, have kids, raise a family, pay the bills, and await the grandchildren.  Now, suddenly, they are being tasked with a burdensome mission that would uproot them from their home and see them become political refugees.  If they were thinking clearly, their fear should have been intensified.  Their openness to God’s plan may be the first miracle of Christmas.

            Yet this is how God became flesh and dwelt amongst us.  It all came down to two young people being open to the seemingly impossible.  If God is to break into our lives, what can we learn from Mary and Joseph?

            First, the reality we perceive with our senses fails to take in all that is possible.  We live our lives as if the rising of the sun, the changing of the seasons, the routines of daily life are predictable and prosaic.  We seem to echo the words of McBeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time….

Oh, we like to think that we live in a sophisticated age of science, but in everyday life we live with Newtonian physics.  On an intellectual level we know that reality is far more complex than the three dimensions we readily perceive, but to make our lives manageable, we suspend the findings of quantum physics and embrace the predictable.  Then, when we encounter the unimaginable, we often reject the uncontrollable and embrace a world of predictability, and when we do this, we call it “rational” when actually is a denial of life’s complexity.  So, the first learning I take from Mary and Joseph is a newfound openness to the unimaginable.

            If our first learning is that reality is more complex than first imagined, the second learning is to let go of our need for control.  How difficult this is.  Most our lives are dedicated to increasing and managing our control.  From infancy to adulthood life is a journey seeking to maximize one’s control.  Indeed, we are held accountable to the lives we shape.  It is assumed that we have agency, that we can be masters of our own lives.  Now we are being asked to forgo control?  It grates against our conditioning.  But this is exactly what Gabriel in asking Mary to do.  It is what Joseph had revealed to him in his dream.  And while this second lesson may be difficult for us to accept, it may be the most beneficial.  Why?  Because life is not always shaped by our wills.  Things happen, twists occur, the unpredictable becomes the inevitable and parents are left with a child who has special needs.  A marriage is challenged by the unforeseen.  The course of history takes an unexpected twist.  The collective greed of humanity becomes an existential threat to our future as a planet.  What then?  Are we to going to lament our lack of control or open ourselves to the new challenges before us?  Can we still affirm God’s overall intention for the good when our control is gone and the dreaded is before us?  Are we so sure of our own sense of what the future holds for us that we refuse the future that has been given to us?  Had Mary and Joseph refused to relinquish control would the baby have been born?  Our second lesson is our need to let go of our control.

            There are, of course, other lessons to be mentioned, but let these two suffice — namely, the reality we perceive fails to take in all that is possible and our need to forgo control.  May they be enough to open us to the reality of God’s coming.  Let us pray….

[i] Matthew 1:18-25

18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.