Immanuel.

Matthew 1:18-25

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

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. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All 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.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

I have not gone rock climbing in a while…I love it though.  There’s a sense of accomplishment and movement that’s amazing.  It’s also a risk.  Especially when climbing with someone and having to risk trusting them when they are belaying you.  Belaying means holding the rope as you climb and being able to stop your fall by putting tension on the rope while you climb.  I’ve had lots of belayers in my life, including my own kids!  

But, when being belayed, it is a risk of trusting with my life.  Here I am, so you can know that the trust has paid off!  

Friends, we are at a point in our church’s live where we are going to have to go deeper in our trust with one another as we are going to embark on some risks in the next 2-3 years! 

Our next congregational meeting in January will be exciting as we flesh this vision out even more.  I believe that meeting will be very encouraging to us as a congregation, and it will also mean some risk.  We all know that we need to take some risks, that’s the only way we grow in our faith…both in our personal lives as well as in our corporate life as a congregation.  That may cause all sorts of reactions, but if we trust one another and ourselves, as well as the Divine movement throughout, we may just grow in ways that we cannot imagine.  But, it does come at a cost and it will be a tad different and unexpected.  

As your pastor, in this season, I want to focus on three areas to give us a foundation for this new work as our council and action team work on specifics:  

Community Engagement

Congregation/Clergy Renewal

Congregation/Clergy Rest

All of these are important as we take risks moving into the future, while staying present with one another, and appreciating our past.  I know change brings some anxiety, but the Christmas story can bring us some hope.

As we listen closely to the gospel text this morning, we hear in Joseph’s voice some hesitation, maybe some panic.  His risk is in trusting God’s voice through the angel and trusting Mary is not without consequences.

Friends, this Christmas story is about birth…and that can be scary and disorienting!  Let’s dive in a bit more with this story.

Joseph was engaged to Mary.  In those times, engagement and marriage were pretty much one and the same.  When you were engaged, you didn’t just break it off if things weren’t going well.  You had to get a divorce.  But, this was a time of waiting, they had not been physically intimate.  Yet, Mary is pregnant.  By God’s Spirit.  There is all sorts of ways of looking at that, but God’s intimacy with her was greater than we could imagine.  God planted God’s very relational being within her.  That seed would be born into humanity through humanity and would be God with us, or Immanuel.  That seed would be called Jesus, which literally means the deliverer of salvation.  In other words, God’s presence, God’s being with us, gives us salvation.  

Now, that’s pretty amazing.  But, Joseph still has to deal with the society and norms in which he lives.  It is said that he was righteous, he was respected, he did the right things and folks knew him to be a good person.  The safe thing to do for his image, and the expected thing to do, would be to divorce Mary and make it known that he was innocent and not the father of her child.

Joseph struggled with this greatly.  So, he made a compromise, he’d break the engagement privately and spare Mary from public humiliation.

Decision made.  Move on.  But, God interrupts again.  God said that Joseph wasn’t alone.  That God was in the middle of all of this and Joseph needed to keep his commitment to Mary and marry her.  Even though Mary would still have the child, she needed community, she needed Joseph’s support.  It’s as if to say, God does great things, but God always does those things through community and in community with us.  

So, Joseph is emboldened, even as I’m sure he was still scared.  Maybe even more so after God’s angel reminds him that this baby would be called Jesus and that this Jesus would be the salvation of humanity.  Pretty heady stuff.  

Friends, I don’t know exactly where you are this morning in life.  But, God has given us Godself in Jesus.  We are not alone though.  Yes, we can try to make decisions on our own, or bargain with God, work on protecting our image, or try to live a safe life.  But, this God with us, Immanuel.  God calls us to risk trusting God, and in so doing, trusting one another.  Often we say NO to others or opportunities, we are risk averse in our lives and even collectively as the church.  Yet, God calls us to be willing to risk everything in order to bring the good news of God’s salvation, of God’s being with us, to the world around us.  WE have to say YES to more risk, to more opportunities to live out our lives in faithful response to Jesus’ love for us.  

God’s Spirit is with us, calling us out, calling us forward…loving us until what C. Baxter Kruger says in his book, The Shack Revisted, “…the whole cosmos is a living sacrament of the great dance of the triune God.”

I had a dream recently that our congregation was dancing through the neighborhood of Finneytown playing kazoos…not sure what that means, but it was interesting…I do think it has something to do with joining in relationship with one another and taking what may seem silly, or risky, and loving one another as we love this neighborhood, as messy as we are and as messy as the world is…

The Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio says this:  PP

“This God of love appears in Jesus of Nazareth, a God who gets radically involved in the messiness of the world to be God for us. . . .

To have faith in a God of unconditional love is to realize how intimately close God is. So close we forget God’s presence. In his own day Jesus was immersed in a violent culture, a culture of conflict and anxiety. But he also knew of the deeper truth hidden beneath the surface of human judgment, namely that this broken, anxious world is oozing with God. He asked us to have faith, to believe that the reign of God is among us and within us.”

Friends, this Christmas and every day of our lives, may we take the risks necessary to see God’s presence worked out in beautiful ways in the amazing paradox of our lives.  And have faith as join in the Dance!

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