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Where you want to be

Matthew 1:18-25

The Rev. Jon Roberts

22 December


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

Where you want to be

Angel appears to Joseph in a dream by Gaetano Gandolfi, 1790

If there is a place that gives you no grace nor peace,
A place where you don’t want to be.
Do not be so quick to judge what is really there;
The gift that you were meant to see.[1]

There are certain places where you don’t want to be and there may be certain people who you don’t want to see.

Once upon a time a Bible group study leader says to his group, “What would you do if you knew you only had four weeks left before the great Judgment Day?” A gentleman says, “I would go out into my community and minister the Gospel to those that have not yet accepted the Lord into their lives.” “Very good!” says the group leader. One lady speaks up and says enthusiastically, “I would dedicate all of my remaining time to serving God, my family, my church, and my fellow man with a greater conviction.” “That's wonderful!” the group leader comments. One gentleman in the back finally speaks up loudly and says, “I would go to my mother-in-law’s house for the four weeks.” The group leader asks, “Why your mother-in-law’s home?” “Because that will make it the longest four weeks of my life!”

I wonder what Joseph’s mother-in-law would have thought if she knew he was going to privately divorce her daughter, his wife, young Mary? Not only would he be denied grace and peace, perhaps he would not even be afforded four weeks either! No offense to mother-in-laws, but the relationship of two people is always balanced by their opposition and ability to complement.

This relationship is seen between the two Evangelists. Both Matthew and Luke recount their story of what led up to the Nativity, with emphasis on different characters. The Matthean narrative of the birth story of Christ is quite different than the one from the Lucan version. Instead of the angel of the Lord announcing to Mary she will give birth to a son, it is Joseph who is visited, in a dream no less, to receive this announcement. The emphasis in Matthew is also on the Wise Men and Herod whereas Luke puts more light on the Shepherds and the innkeeper. Put together, one may argue for Joseph, the other for Mary; one may argue for the importance of the wise men and the other for the shepherds, but taken together they enhance the story, rather than refute it. One wonders if, when telling their side, they found a place of grace and peace. St. Paul writes to the followers in Rome and gives them this exhortation at the end, to receive grace and peace in the name of the Lord.[2] Gentiles and Jews must learn to live with one another, but perhaps in their company is not the place they wanted to be. What a gift, however as they learned to live with one another by acceptance of Christ in their hearts.

This brings us to the proclamation of “Emmanuel,” the one who comes and restores the grace and peace of God within us.[3] Our entire lives will be a pursuit of understanding who we are, the place we are in and how we share it with the people who are with us. For God to be with us, we must be with each other. Where do you want to be; isolated from those who are opposite; distant from those who are different? Joseph perhaps wanted to quietly distance himself from his betrothed when he heard she was pregnant, not with his child. This would have prevented shame and pain. It was out of fear that he was about to send Mary away, but God sent His angel to restore Joseph, in his dream, grace and peace. Sometimes we think the best way to handle things is to run away from them; to push them aside and hope they go away. It is borrowed time. Don’t judge too quickly what is right there, an opportunity to relate to God, through the other, in a most special way. Aged Joseph and young Mary are brought together. Jew and Gentile, the same.

Have you ever wondered what it was like in that place called heaven, the place we want to be, when three figures discussed where they want to be for all eternity? One raised their hand to say they would rule all creation from the cosmos and teach His commandments; the other would go forth and lay witness to healing those who suffer and feed those who are poor; but the last one said, “I want to go live with the humans we created. They will put me in a trough where donkeys and cows eat, a place that is dirty. They will put me to the task of hard labor, building things with my hands. They will eventually mock, beat and kill me. That will be the longest 30-some years of my life.” Why would Jesus go to a place where certain people did not want to see him?

God, the three-in-one, decided that living with us was not something to judge so quickly because God knew we had so much to offer. We have so such potential to change if we receive his grace and capacity to love if we receive his peace. Jesus saw what was really there; the gift He wanted to see; He wanted to spend all eternity with those filled with receiving his grace and peace.

The place He really wanted to be was with those whom he loved; right here, with you and me.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Romans 1:1-7
[3] Matthew 1:18-25

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