A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
“Until Christ comes again, he is hidden among us.” We heard those words from Fleming Rutledge two weeks ago. Advent is not only about waiting to see Christ come again on the Last Day, it is also about seeing where Christ shows up now: in the Holy Sacrament, in the face of our neighbor, and in our own lives. Christ shows up in our own hearts, in our own lives, in the middle of our night, in the middle of our difficult spots and trials. Christ, the King of Glory, is hidden among us, even in our own hearts.
I think many of us know this. We know that Christ lives in us, that his Spirit abides in us, that he is present with us–Immanuel. But there is a temptation to think, if that’s true, then things should always go my way, things should always be sunny side up. There are some Christians who preach that. They preach, if you’re following Christ you’ll always have money in the bank, friends in your corner, and happiness in your heart. I’m sorry; they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Because the truth is, following Christ does not make us immune from difficulties. Following Christ does not mean everything will always be good and nice and easy.
Sometimes we follow Christ and we don’t have anything figured out. Sometimes we follow but we don’t know which way to turn. Sometimes we follow but we feel hurt or abandoned or forgotten. Sometimes we follow and we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death, surrounded by enemies on every side, and we can’t bring ourselves to believe that God really will set a table for us in the middle of it all. Sometimes we walk into the darkness, and we can’t see a thing.
Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. In those moments, we are trying to see with our eyes, not with our faith. We are trying to hold on to our control instead of letting go and letting God. We are trying to maintain our ego–ego, Alcoholics Anonymous will tell us means, edging God out–we hold on to our ego instead of on to God’s unchanging hand. We go forward and we feel alone, because we let fear overtake us. We forget that Christ, the King of Glory, is hidden among us, in our own hearts, even when we are in the darkness.
Our Gospel passage today holds up to us the example of Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord. We read that Joseph is a righteous man. That doesn’t mean Joseph is a perfect man, but it means he is following God the best he can. He is doing what God asks of him. He is living a life of trust in God, and he says yes to God. That’s what God asks of us, too.
You know, sometimes we think of Joseph as a tag along. Mary is chosen by the Holy Spirit to be the Theotokos, the Mother of God. But Joseph? Just luck of the draw. This passage makes it clear that’s not the case. Just as God prepared Mary, so God prepared Joseph. For Joseph, who was righteous, was in the habit already of saying yes to God. So when God comes to him now, with this impossible request to take Mary as his wife anyhow, Joseph has had some practice. He says yes.
It would not have been easy. He would have been subject to shame, to dishonor, to ridicule, to being the talk of the town--and not only him, but also his whole family. But the right thing and the easy thing are rarely the same thing. Or, to use the words of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, “There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” That’s true for Joseph today, and I bet it’s true for us, too.
But when those times come, rest assured that Christ is right there in the middle of it. Christ was right there in the middle of Joseph’s dilemma, in the womb of his mother. Joseph had to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, and he had to follow the words of that angel: Do not be afraid. Even when things are hard, even when things are dark, even when times are trying and you feel all alone, even when it feels like you’re in that valley of the shadow of death–do not be afraid. Because Immanuel: God is with you. Christ is hidden in the middle of it all, and he has made your heart his throne.
Where was God for Joseph? Where is God when we go through such times? In the middle of it all, hidden in the details of our lives, present in our very hearts. Or here’s how St. Patrick put it:
“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
When we walk through trials and our world spins out of control, Immanuel, Christ is with us. When we feel alone and afraid, Immanuel, Christ is with us. When the unimaginable happens and a good man is killed, and when we can’t understand and we need to cry, and when we want to shout in anger at the evil in the world—my friends, Immanuel, Christ is with us even now. And even when we lie down to draw our final breath, even then, Immanuel, Christ will be with us. Whenever we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Immanuel, Christ is with us. Not only is Christ with us, but he has prepared a table for us in the wilderness in the middle of all of this, with food, his very Body and Blood on offer for us, with grace and strength sufficient to carry us through.
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