“A Baby is Born”
Matthew 1:18-25, December 23th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Light the Fourth Advent Candle – Love
“On this fourth Sunday in Advent, let us hear once again the accounting from the gospel of Matthew pertaining to the birth of the baby Jesus. Listen to these words from Matthew chapter one, verses eighteen thru twenty-five.”
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. 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 fulfil 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.
“Having heard this accounting let us now reflect on how we understand the birth of this baby, born of Mary so long ago.”
“A Baby is Born”
A baby is born to be loved… Jesus was born to love! I have seen my share of newborn babies; baptized a few too! What I witness to, on such occasions, is the love which pours out from the baby’s mom, the dad and grandparents and great grandparents too! No matter how difficult or long her pregnancy; despite the agonizing pain of childbirth, the new baby is seen and looked upon with love, especially by the baby’s mom. Even the bewildered sister or brother that lays eyes upon the new child, they too, look with wonder and love, perhaps not fully grasping how their own lives have been altered due to the baby’s birth. It is the normal conclusion to such a time, for the new born baby to be looked upon with love and awe! Babies change the lives of everyone connected to them. When Jesus was born one could surely have said the same, despite the underwhelming bleakness of the baby Jesus’ birthplace. Yet, we know, the baby Jesus, the Christ child, was born to love all of humankind, pouring out his very life for the sake of all the children of God!
Pastor Jennifer Chapman, Lead Pastor, Nexus Community Church of the Nazarene, reminds us of the reality of child birth in our modern-day times. “Jesus’ birth story in Matthew reminds us how often pregnancy, or more broadly, the being and becoming of families, can be a situation of strife, fear, or even scandal. It de-sanitizes the typical Christmas portrait of the holy family and their newborn child, reminding us of the messiness of it all.” /Jennifer Chapman/ Joseph and Mary were not wealthy parents. No, their community was under the oppressive rule of the Roman empire. Their life situation was that of lower-class people striving to keep food on the table, while paying their taxes to Herod and Pilate, and ultimately to Caesar, the Emperor of the Roman Empire! It was for this purpose that they were compelled to travel to Bethlehem, during Mary’s pregnancy, to register for the tax census! This concept of lower verses upper class structures, found in ancient societies, has lived on throughout the ages. Taxes are very much part of modern life. The separation of those who have – from those who have not – is still very much a part of modern world realities.
The historical truths, during the time period of which the birth story of Jesus springs forth, are well documented. The tribes of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, having been freed from slavery in Egypt, wandered in the harsh lands and territories between their enslavement and that of Palestine. By the time they arrive they are strong enough to occupy the “Promised Land.” Yet, history moved forward and in ‘their’ glory, they fall prey to their humanness. Weakened, they are conquered by invading armies. By the time of Jesus, their plight had shifted into the hands of the Romans. Yes, it is well documented. This brings us to another point of reference, which contrasts much of humankind’s realities to our current time. Pastor Keith Anderson speaks to us of the humble existence of Jesus’ earthly life. “Jesus’ earliest days were lived on the religious, political, and economic margins of his time – marked by homelessness, immigration, and oppression. This fledgling holy family lived a fragile existence.” /Keith Anderson/ Indeed, the sad likeness of our time to that of Jesus’s birth, more than two thousand years ago. How utterly discouraging that with all the miracles of science, technology, the advancement of higher education, ‘to the point that the majority of people upon this earth,’ can at least read and write, and in first world societies, a higher percentage each year go on to college and thousands upon thousands get their Masters, PhD’s and Doctorate degrees! Yet, we still have millions living in “religious, political, and economic margins of ‘this’ time ‘in history’ – marked by homelessness, immigration, and oppression!’ /Keith Anderson/
Heart breaking to reflect on this. Yet, despite the folly of humankind, the love of God has been poured out upon all people of all nations. Today, this very moment, this Sunday morning before Christmas Eve… when we shall celebrate the birth of Christ, this very day, we have lit the Advent candle of Love, reminding us of the gift of Love… the very foundation of our Christmas celebration! Once again, we must turn to our Advent wreath, with its reminders of Hope, hope which is born out of the belief that the God of our humble understanding, the God of Abraham and Moses, from the ancient writings of the Old Testament… passed to us via the traditions of Judaism, loves us still! We pay tribute to the peace candle, with its symbol of God’s power to sooth our sin sick souls, and bring us to a new state of peace, basking in the Light of the Living God. “Peace be with you.” /John 19: 26b/ Jesus said this unto his disciples in the Upper Room shortly after the discovery of his empty tomb and reports of the Risen Jesus’ appearance to Mary. The candle of Joy, which we lit last Sunday, only can be understood when we allow our skeptical ‘world view’ to be replaced by the mystical wonder of the hope and peace which comes with believing in the Living Spirit of God.
Most of modern society, is focused on the importance of power and material possessions, which has consequences. One of which is: fear, fueled by the growing gap between those who have power and influence, including those who have excessive material possessions, and those whom are at the other end of this pendulum. Fear is fueled by the distrust of present time difficulties and problems not being resolved before tomorrow gets here. Fear, greed and the lust for self-importance and power, blind us to what is real and what is truth! Leaving folks, fearful and angry, with what is and what shall befall them… tomorrow! How poignant these words sound, especial when emotions are so high as we quickly burst into our celebration of Christmas! However, hiding from the truth will not make our celebration any more joyful. Neither will our ignoring the plight of those around us, make our interactions with families and friends more pleasant. No! Facing the truth, trusting in the overflowing abundance of God’s love, this will bring us to a rich, rich understanding of what it means to know God’s love! Power is the mystical Spirit’s to give and to take. Material possessions are gifted by the Creator, meant for us to use and to share with those in need. Faith will dispel the fear that holds us back from living in the fulness of God’s love.
The Reverend Sam Portaro, muses about the future. “We’ve no idea what the future holds for us, for the church. We forget (to our peril) that neither Mary nor Joseph could’ve anticipated the fullness of their child’s life, much less its enduring power in our own lives.” /Sam Portaro/ No, when a child is born, no one knows what that child’s future shall be. Yet, we do know, that a child born in love, cared and nurtured in love… shall grow in love, developing in a sphere of loving goodness. Love shall be their compass as they develop and mature. Parents that live in fear will pass that fear to their child. Conversely, parents whom raise their child in a circle which includes faith in a Supreme being; parents whom are believing that the Divine One in their lives, cares for them and wants them to prosper and be happy, growing in faith; these parents will create a home filled with goodness, kindness and mercy. Fathers and Mothers, whom are basking in the sunlight, allowing the Light of a Living Spirit, born out the concept of a God, a God whom loves unconditionally, they will pass this to their children. Their future shall hold a household, a family, blessed and nurtured by the Spirit of the Living Christ!
The Rev. Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie is Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology, calls upon us to hold close the good news of the birth of the child named Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, so long, long ago. “Let us embrace this child, this God with us. Let us embrace this Good news whatever bad news we may face today or in the days ahead.” /Alyce M. McKenzie/ I know, and you know, that there are those among us, including those that will hear my voice on the internet, that are going through troubling times. The news says we are at the height of a long and prosperous upswing in our economy; unemployment is at a record low. This rings hollow, if you have been left behind or marginalized by the hustle and bustle of others who seem to have forgotten your plight. The widow or the orphan, the families grieving the loss of a family member or friend; to these, the parties and the rituals of gift wrappings, seems shallow and insensitive; their new loneliness takes center stage. Sickness and pain seem to drain the joy right out of a new suit or a golden ring. Reverend McKenzie is encouraging us: “Let us embrace this child, this God with us. Let us embrace this Good news whatever bad news we may face today or in the days ahead.” /Alyce M. McKenzie/
No matter where we are in life, good news is always welcome. Let us be sure we approach this time believing in the metaphor of a ‘half a glass’ of whatever we have; remembering always, our glass is still half full. Let us give praise and rejoice for what we have. If you are out of work, rejoice in the gifts you still possess. Do not discount the gift of the talents and the health you do retain. Lost a loved one? Treasure and cherish the abundance of memories of the one – whom has gone before you to a place which ‘The Holy One’ has promised. Reflect on the awesome mystery of new life, a sight that makes every nurse and doctor in a maternity ward, ‘glow’ with the knowledge and awareness of the miracle of life!
Yes, indeed, the baby Jesus was born to love. That love was born in the heart and Spirit of God; contained in the written words of the Prophets; the Word which: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” /John 1:1/ From the beginning, Jesus was meant to pour out the love of the Creator, the Holy One, upon all people! Let us rejoice in Christmas love! Let us open our hearts to the true meaning of Christmas! God, incarnate, born in the fullness of human life, born in humility in a lowly manger bed, born out of love, to pour forth the love of a Creator that cares for us and about us, one and all! The Spirit of Christmas lives, lives in our hearts, lives in the smile of a child’s face when they open a gift given in love! The love of God was passed to us that we might give it to another and feel the joy of Giving!