Today we begin a new preaching series for Advent entitled, “All I Want for Christmas is...” where we will look at the aspects of Hope, Peace, and Joy and the role that each of them play during this time of year. Today we are beginning with hope and how God's actions delivers just that very thing to us this time of year.
At the mere mention of Christmas time I think we all feel some sort of emotion. Lately, for me I have felt a sense of hope. When I think about what this season is truly about and what that little baby Jesus really means for you and me today, I get a real sense of hope. A real sense of anticipation about what God will do this year during this advent season. And I think if we look closely at the Scriptures from today we can see that hope, we can see that anticipation, in how God worked behind the scenes to orchestrate this wonderful event.
When I was in high school, the church that I attended was extremely fortunate to have a playwright in our congregation. This woman would write our church two plays a year, one at Easter and the other at Christmas, and her scripts were absolutely wonderful. She would pull from her long life of experiences and really write some truly magnificent plays. You see she was 90 years old when she began writing these plays. She told me that she had seen and experienced so much that she felt this would be a great way to pass those experiences on to others. I was usually involved in these productions and would get my copy of the script about three months before she wanted to put it on. Realizing that she did not have the desire to direct these plays, she enlisted the help of another woman in our congregation, Sandy. Sandy loved directing the plays and she always had such good suggestions. She would help us figure out the best places to stand, what to do with our hands, and give us direction on our acting. Sandy was tireless in her duties. You see since Sandy was so involved behind the scenes, most people rarely had any idea that Sandy was even involved. But you see, as wonderfully as those plays were written, without the love and care of Sandy to take care of the behind the scenes stuff, those plays never would have gotten off the ground. And it is in that manger scene we read about in Scripture today, that we can see God working so tirelessly behind the scenes to give us hope.
In the beginning of this passage a few things have already happened that we need to be aware of. First, we learn that Mary and Joseph are engaged, Next we read that Mary is already pregnant. Third, we read that Joseph has been informed of Mary's pregnancy, although he does not yet understand its divine source. And finally, we learn that Joseph has decided to avoid the letter of the law and not have Mary stoned but decided to divorce her quietly. And it is in what happens next that we see how utterly and completely God gives us hope.
Hope in God coming to Earth as a Human
At his point everything is centered around Jesus. We the reader, understand that Mary is pregnant and that her child is Jesus Christ, but Joseph is still in the dark about this. As Joseph is sleeping he is visited by an angel and he is clued in as to what is really happening and what his role is going to be in this wonderful miracle. He is told to take Mary as his wife, that she will give birth to God's son, and that they are to name him Immanuel, "God is with us". Everything is about the baby. I am sure we have all seen the manger scene and we all know about baby Jesus and how cute babies are. And that is where the hope lies, in how Jesus came to be among us. Jesus came as a baby, God came as a helpless, dependent, vulnerable baby. He did not come as a mighty warrior or as a powerful king, but as a baby. He came into this world in the exact same way each and every one of us did. Now he could have come triumphantly but I believe that he wanted to make a connection with us, a bond with us, and that was best accomplished by coming into this world the same way we did. To understand that Jesus came as fully human in order to connect with us and show us just how important we are to him, then and today, can give us great joy, great hope, that he loves us so completely and so dearly.
Hope in Who God Used
But you see it is not only in the act of Jesus coming to Earth as a human baby that is remarkable but it is also who God chose to be the parents of this blessed miracle. He did not choose a king and a queen of some large, powerful land. He did not choose some adored religious leader. God chose two very ordinary people. I have often thought that if it was not for being the earthly parents of Jesus, that we may have never known of Mary or Joseph. There was nothing particularly special about either one of them. But that is the point. By God trusting these two ordinary people, to be the caretakers of his one and only son, of God himself in human form, God is telling us that we do not have to be socially important or powerful or some sort of world leader for God to love us and to use us for his work. There is great hope in that knowledge that God loves all of us so fully that we are all important to God.
Hope in God's Work Behind the Scenes
And we can also find hope in God's faithfulness and we can see that throughout this story if we look closely. If we give this passage a quick reading we will find no mention of God performing any action. But we do find God mentioned as being the possessor of angels sent to talk with Joseph and of a prophecy from God that Isaiah proclaimed many years ago that a virgin would give birth to a son to be named Immanuel, God is with us, being fulfilled in Jesus' birth. You see just because God does not perform a direct action does not mean that God is not present. And we can find hope in that. It is in the difficult or hectic times of our lives that we often fail to see God or think that God is not there. But God is. God is always there supporting us, guiding us, and most importantly loving us. You see, God knew what would happen to Jesus before Mary became pregnant. God knew that Jesus would have to die and God knew the pain that God would feel watching Jesus die. But he chose to send Jesus anyway; he chose to come to dwell among us anyway. What a pure and beautiful act of love and devotion to us, God's children.
God is nuts about us and we can see that in our advent story today. It is in that love that we can also see hope, that we can feel with great anticipation the wonderful things that God does with and through us, each Advent season. This time of year is a very hectic time. With the decorating of our houses and the buying of gifts we can get very distracted and lose sight of what Christmas is really about. I know we have all seen those clichés like "Jesus is the reason for the season" and "Keep Christ in Christmas" but do we truly apply them? When we are caught in the hustle and bustle of Christmas are we looking for the ways that God is at work even though we may not be at church? Are we looking for God in the places that we would least expect God to be? That is the hope that I am talking about with Advent. The hope, the anticipation of the wonderful things that God will do this year. I challenge you that as you go through this Advent season, the Christmas time, to not only look for God, but to expect God. And I pray that each and every one of you will find hope in this time of year, and be amazed with the wonder of a child, at what wondrous good work God will do through you this year.