Sermon December 22, 2019

“Living in the Midst of the Wait: We Wait Not Alone”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Matthew 1:18-25
December 22, 2019

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’  Matthew 1:23i

I didn’t say much. I didn’t do much. I was there. I sat and waited with the family of a man who was in a life and death battle. He was in the operating room. We were in the waiting room. I didn’t say much. I didn’t do much. I was there.

The gratitude expressed by the family was both overwhelming and humbling. I was flattered, of course. Don’t we all want to be appreciated? But I knew that this was more than gratitude expressed for Jeff Long-Middleton. It was the office I represented, the church, the body of Christ. In their hour of crisis, they had not been forgotten. I didn’t say much. I didn’t do much. I was there.

There are great moments in the history of faith when God acts in bold fashion. Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers becomes the means by which the fledgling Israelites survived a famine and when Joseph talked about the treachery of his brothers, of their having sold him into slavery, he proclaims a truth that we affirm today, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Had he not landed in Egypt they may not have lived and had they not lived, would Jesus have been born? This was a great and powerful moment and proof of God being with us.

In Egypt the Israelites become so numerous that the Egyptians came to fear them. Into slavery the Jews were pressed. Astrologers in Egypt had predicted that the liberator of the Jews would be born on a given date and the order was given that every Jewish child born that day was to be thrown into the Nile. It is on this day that Moses was born. Three months pass with Moses’ mother keeping him hidden from the Egyptian authorities. Unable to hide him any longer, she places him in a waterproof basket and sets him afloat on the Nile. He ends up being found by Pharaoh’s daughter, adopted by Pharaoh and grew to lead his people to freedom. The Nile, the very river that Pharaoh used as a means to destroy the threat to his power, becomes the means by which Moses escapes destruction. This was a great and powerful moment and proof of God being with us.

And then there is Mary and the birth of Jesus. No event in all of human history has proven as powerful, as life altering as a birth so few noticed.

These are great and powerful moments and there are many others within the pages of the Bible, but in that waiting room, I didn’t say much, I didn’t do much. I was there. Oh, I don’t think my presence impacted the final outcome. He survived the surgery only to die a few months later. The brain cancer had been slowed but the quality of his life had been diminished and at the end he was no longer the man he had been. I wasn’t able to part the waters of the Red Sea. I was not able to save him or his family from the anguish of their loss. What I offered was my presence, the reminder that they had not been forgotten, they were not abandoned. I didn’t do much. I didn’t say much. I was there.

And so we hear again of Joseph’s resolve to quietly leave Mary, whom he believed had been unfaithful, because he wanted to save her from being stoned to death. In the visit of the angel, Joseph is told that the child within Mary’s womb is from the Holy Spirit, that he is to be named Jesus, that he would save His people from their sins. If you look closely at our text, we learn that Jesus has a second title. Not only is He to redeem His people, He is to be called, Emmanuel — which means, God is with us.

This is the great affirmation of this day, for it changes everything without necessarily altering anything save our perception. You see, God could not or would not wipe away the cancer that ravished my friend’s brain. God did not or would not suspend the forces of nature to save this man’s life and thereby through us all into chaos. God does not or will not remove the dark moments of our lives by suspending our free will or preventing others the free exercise of their own even if it leads to our suffering. We might have structured life differently. But this is the way God has chosen to let freedom abide. Given the hardship that some have faced, I certainly understand how railing against God seems fitting. But I ask you now to look again. There, in the midst of your darkest moments, was a light that the darkness was not able to put out. There in the suffering you or a loved one endured, there was the formation of your character. There, on a Judean hillside long ago, the homeless shepherds learn that even while the nation lives under the yoke of foreign oppression, God is with us.

Let this day serve as a reminder that we wait not alone and let the words of Paul ring in our ears:

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

We may await yet again the inbreaking of God. Even though the wait be long, we wait not alone. “And, lo, I am with you always till the end of the age.” Let us pray….

i Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now 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 fulfil 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.