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The Mystery of God with Us

Last Sunday, we were confronted with the theme of the UNEXPECTEDNESS of God and how he does not always do the things that we expect him to. We heard about John the Baptist questioning Jesus because Jesus was not doing the things John expected.

So everyone was expecting a Messiah to fulfill their expectations. Many times, we have expectations of what a person is like based on his voice, if we have only talked with him over the phone, or based on a picture of him or what someone else has told us of him. We get input from all sorts of people on all sorts of subjects. We are quick to make assumptions about people, places and things based on our expectations. As you read scripture and the story of God's dealings with his people you should come to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. God does NOT operate according to our expectations: Abraham and Sarah did NOT EXPECT to have a son in their old age. Abraham did NOT EXPECT God to ask him to sacrifice his son. The Hebrews, in bondage in Egypt, did NOT EXPECT to be rescued by one of their own brethren who had been raised in the palace, who was a murderer and a fugitive from justice. This same Moses was not even eloquent enough to speak to the Pharaoh but had to have his brother Aaron speak for him. Samson did NOT EXPECT that in weakness, blindness and helplessness that he would overcome more Philistines at his death than he had during his lifetime. The people of Israel did NOT EXPECT that their greatest earthly king, David, would come from the small town of Bethlehem. Almighty God shows his great power by working through the weak earthen vessels of those we least expect to have power. Those of us who are chosen also do not expect to be worthy of his call. We spend a lot of time denying that he is calling us to his service. In 1935, the Mayor of New York City was Fiorello La Guardia; he went to night court in one of the poorest sections of the city and took over the bench as he gave the judge the night off. An old grandmother was brought in before him accused of stealing a loaf of bread from a store. She explained that her daughter's husband had run off and left her sick daughter with three hungry children. The storeowner wanted her punished as an example to others. But La Guardia did the unexpected. He sentenced her to a $10.00 fine or ten days in jail. Then he took his hat threw in a ten dollar bill, remitted her fine, then he fined everyone in the court Fifty cents for living in a city with so little compassion. They collected $47.50 for the grandmother.

Saint Paul reminds us that God’s power is manifest in our weakness and powerlessness. When we finally admit that we have no power to do or be anything, then our heart is open for him to move in and work a wonder. A lady had a sick child at home and she had to run to the pharmacy for some more medicine. When she came out of the store she realized that she had locked her keys in car and she had no way to get home and get the medicine to her baby who she had left alone at home. She was frantic and she was running back and forth trying to figure out what she was going to do about getting into the car. She was crying and praying at the same time. A man walked up and asked what was wrong. She explained what her problem was and he found a piece of wire in seconds the car door was open. She exclaimed that he was an answer to her prayer and that he was a really good man. He looked down and sadly said that she was mistaken, he was not a good man but a bad one because he had just gotten out of jail that morning. She cried out "Thank you Jesus, you sent me a professional!!" God does the unexpected when we finally empty ourselves to allow his Holy Spirit to move in and have his way with us. Part of the Prayer of Consecration, in Eucharistic Rite One, says it very nicely "Here we offer and present unto thee, 0 Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee."

This Sunday, we heard in the lessons, UNEXPECTEDNESS Part II. For to King Ahaz of Judah the words of the prophet Isaiah seemed to good to be true. He said that by the time the child of the pregnant young woman was old enough to know right from wrong, that is how long it would take for the enemies of Judah to disappear. And the child's name would be Immanuel or God with us.

It seems that God has delighted to be with his people. He has shown himself to be consistent in that matter. However, God is rarely experienced without the involvement of other people. We live our experience of Him as a community, a community of love and faith. We experience Him and realize that He is with us. He promises to those that will follow Him that He will be with us. We see evidence of this in the scriptures when Jacob was fleeing his brother Esau for stealing his blessing he rested and had a dream and God said to him "BEHOLD I AM WITH YOU and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land". (Genesis 28:15) When Moses was confronted by God and Moses said to God "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt? He said BUT I WILL BE WITH YOU and this shall be a sign for you, that I have sent you when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt you shall serve God upon this mountain." (Exodus 3:11-13) When Joshua had taken command of the children of Israel in place of Moses God said, "No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life AS I WAS WITH MOSES SO I WILL BE WITH YOU and I will not fail you or forsake you". (Joshua 1:5) When God selected Gideon they discussed as follows: "Pray Lord how can I deliver Israel. Behold my clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family. And the Lord said to him, BUT I WILL BE WITH YOU, and you shall smite the Midianites as one man". (Judges 6:15-16) For Samuel and David it was evident that the Lord was with them, we read in scriptures "And Samuel grew and THE LORD WAS WITH HIM and let none of his words fall to the ground" (I Samuel 3:19) "Saul was afraid of David because THE LORD WAS WITH HIM but had departed from Saul". (I Samuel 18:12) The Lord spoke to Jeremiah when He called him "Be not afraid of them FOR I AM WITH YOU to deliver says the Lord". (Jeremiah 1:8) When the birth of Jesus was announced to Mary the angel said to her "Hail O favored one THE LORD IS WITH YOU" (Luke 1:28) When the angel announced to Joseph that the child Mary would bear would be the Savior he said the child would be called Emmanuel "God with us". Christ embodies that aspect of God that assures us that He is indeed among us and with us.

The turn of events with Joseph and Mary were quite unexpected for Joseph as we heard in the Gospel this morning.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'- which means, "God with us. " When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel, of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” [Matt 1:18-25(NIV)]

Now there are a couple of things I want you to notice about Joseph, first of all he does not say one word that is recorded in the scripture. On the other hand, Mary has quite a dialogue with the angel Gabriel and then sings the Magnificat at Elizabeth's house in chapter one of Luke's gospel. We might conclude that they are just fulfilling gender specific roles, with Mary being highly verbal and Joseph being the strong silent type. But we do notice a few other things about Joseph. First of all he was a righteous man; secondly, he was a compassionate man and thirdly, he was an obedient man.

William Willimon writes, “Years ago, I was talking to a little boy during a rehearsal of another church school pageant, in my old home church in Plymouth. And, I asked this clever little boy what part he had in the pageant. He said it was a rather small part, in fact insignificant. He had hoped to be a king, or a least a shepherd, perhaps one of the animals. But, he was very small so he was Joseph. “I don’t have much to do,” he said with childish resignation. But, not only did Joseph have a role to play, he played it very well indeed. The New Testament is at pains to show us that Joseph did not simply disappear after the angels and the shepherds went away, but that he carried out his responsibilities until he died.

At this time of the year when we celebrate the coming of the Christ child, it is good to take a look at the purposes of God on a cosmic scale, to stand back and take a look at the big picture. When we focus in on the Babe of Bethlehem, we see the action of God moving in such a way that we will comprehend his Incarnation and bring in to focus how he wants to relate to us. In John's Gospel we hear the term Father used for God many, many times. This was a new concept to the people of Jesus' day. God was Almighty, all-powerful, Judge, King and everlasting, but to think of him as Father was new to them. Jesus brought that concept with him when he came to give us insight into his relationship with God his Father. He came as a little baby so that he could experience what we go through. In that special relationship with Joseph, his earthly father, he caught sight of the way he could let us know how he related to God. Barbara Whitehead points out in an article in the Atlantic Monthly, several years ago, called "Dan Quayle Was Right" that family relationships is the critical issue facing us today and in the future. I can assure you that the men I have met and minister to in prison for the most part have come out of bad or poor family relationships, where the missing ingredient was Love. Many have had little if any relationships of a positive nature with their fathers. A father or lack of a father has a great influence on what happens in the family. Let us contrast Jesus' relationship with his Father. In Marks, gospel during the harrowing hours in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus called out;

"Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will. " [Mark 14:36]

In his anguish of the hour he called out "Abba” or “Daddy" showing how close his relationship is to the Father. At the point of his making expiation for our sins, he cried out in his humanity to his Father revealing the intimacy of their relationship. It is into that intimacy that we are adopted, so that as St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians;

"God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba, Father! "[Galatians 4:6]

When we can speak to God as Abba, then we are truly filled with grace, as of the Father himself, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That gracious favor of God is manifested through the Love of the Christian community, which begins in the family. That brings us back to the rest of the story in the second chapter of the gospel according to Luke.

“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look-for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you. "

"Why were you searching for me? " he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house? " But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” [Luke 2:39-52(ATIV)]

God in his infinite wisdom knew what he was doing when he put his Son in to a Blended family in Nazareth. Make no mistake about it when you have a man raising someone else's child, you have a blended family. Joseph is given the awesome responsibility of raising the Son of God. There are many men and women today who find themselves raising other people's children. Blended families are not something new on the scene. God shows us in the second chapter of Luke's gospel his plan for Blended families. His solution or plan is Love, Compassion and Dedication. How do we know this? By the way Jesus lived out his earthly life. Granted he was the Son of God, but he grew up in the home provided by Joseph of Nazareth. This man Joseph was dedicated to the Law of Moses and to God. He was obedient to the law and to God. He showed Jesus all the love and compassion a man can, because we see it leak out all through the ministry of Jesus. God's plan for the family is that the husband and wife be totally dedicated to him, first of all and the rest will fall into place, You notice that Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them, just like Joseph was obedient to God when he took Mary as his wife after she became pregnant by power of the Holy Spirit, ANYWAY.

In a sermon in Harvard University’s Memorial Church, Peter Gomes talked about the particular role that Joseph had to play in the Incarnation:

“Fear not Joseph, thou son of David.” You fear disgrace. You fear embarrassment and shame for yourself and for Mary. You fear public scandal. You fear that your reputation will suffer, but it will not happen. For out of this fear comes an opportunity that neither you nor your worthy ancestors could have imagined. And, what is this opportunity that comes out of real fear and alleged disgrace? It is this Joseph: you will become the guardian of God. You will be the protector of the Savior of the world. You, Joseph, will become foster parent to hope. Even your lucky ancestor Joseph could not have imagined such an opportunity, and it has come to you unasked, unsought after, and undeserved.”

Sometimes you have to just step out in faith and trust God that, as he said, "He will be with YOU."


1. This passage belongs to a series of colorful events in Matthew’s Infancy Narrative which serve as a foreword to Jesus’ public ministry. It identifies who Jesus is, how that is so and what role Jesus plays in salvation history.

2. The just Joseph always did what was right. His de­cision with regard to Mary shows that he obeyed the Law in a spirit of mercy. God would have him go even further and take Mary to his home. As Jesus teaches later (Mt 23:34-40), the heart of the Law is the love com­mandment which supersedes every other demand. Fur­thermore Joseph does as he is told—the true disciple who hears the Word of God and puts it into action, even in the unexpected and sometimes suspect events of life. God’s ways can be surprising.

3. Jesus is son of David not through physical beget­ting but through Joseph’s acceptance of a child conceived through the Holy Spirit. The initiative for this concep­tion comes not from human impulse but from God alone. Even the child’s name is given by God, not by the par­ents. The meaning of the name discloses Jesus’ role for humankind: He is to save God’s people by releasing them from the bandage of sin through his words and deeds of compassion.

4. Jesus is Son of God in fulfillment of the messianic promise to the house of David. By the Spirit he is Emmanuel, God-with-us. From now on God is present in human history in Jesus (Mt 28:20). Whatever Jesus does God does. The promise of God’s abiding presence is fulfilled in Jesus who reveals the limitless love and providential care of God for us.


1. A theological term for the coming of God's Son into the world as a human being. The term itself is not used in the Bible, but it is based on clear references in the New Testament to Jesus as a person "in the flesh" [Rom. 8:3; Eph. 2:15; Col. 1:22].

2. Jesus participated fully in all that it means to live a human life. But if Jesus were merely a man, no matter how great, there would be no significance in drawing attention to His bodily existence. The marvelous thing is that in Jesus, God Himself began to live a fully human life. As the apostle Paul declared, "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" [Col. 2:9]. The capacity of Jesus to reveal God to us and to bring salvation depends upon His being fully God and fully man at the same time.

3. Our human minds cannot understand how Jesus can be both fully God and fully man. But the Bible gives clear indication of how this works out in practice. No person may see God and live [Ex. 33:20]. He dwells in unapproachable light [1 Tim. 6:16]. Can we, therefore, only know Him from a distance? No! God has come near in the person of Jesus [Matt. 1:23]. He has taken on a form in which He can be seen, experienced and understood by us as human beings [John 1:14,18]. Jesus reveals God to us perfectly since in His human life He is the image of God [2 Cor. 4:4], exhibiting full likeness with the Father [John 1:14]. Jesus' godhood in His manhood is the key to our intimate knowledge of God.

4. This does not mean, however, that Jesus' humanity is only a display case for His divinity. Jesus lived out His human life by experiencing all the pressures, temptations, and limitations that we experience [Heb. 2:18; 4:15; 5:2,7-8]. That is why Jesus' life really is the supreme human success story [Heb1. 5:8]. Jesus was a pioneer [Heb. 2:10], (RSV), showing in practical terms the full meaning and possibility of human life, lived in obedience to God. In this respect, Jesus is a kind of second Adam [Rom. 5:14-15], marking a new beginning for the human race.

5. Jesus would have performed a great work if He had done no more than set a perfect example. But His full humanity is also the basis on which it is possible for Him to represent us-- indeed, take our place-- in dying for us. The Bible makes this clear when it speaks of "one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all" [1 Tim. 2:5-6].

6. When He ascended to His Father after His resurrection, Jesus left behind some of the human restrictions experienced during His earthly life. He received at that time His original divine glory [John 17:5]. But the joining together of deity and humanity that marks His incarnation did not come to an end with His ascension. Jesus took His resurrected body with Him back to heaven [Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9]. In heaven now He is our divine Lord, our human leader, and the great High Priest who serves as a mediator between God and man [Heb. 3:1. (From Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

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