Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 22, 2013
First Christian Church
I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours
But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor
And when I die I expect to find Him laughing
-Blasphemous Rumors, Depeche Mode, 1984
Those are the lyrics of a song called “Blasphemous Rumors” by the British New Wave band Depeche Mode. It’s an interesting song, because it takes on the topic of suffering and where faith intersects. In the song, we hear of a young girl trying to commit suicide, failing at first and then succeeding and another girl who became a committed Christian only to end up in a accident that left her on life support until the decision was made to turn the machine off.
There was a time in my life when I didn’t like this song because it seemed to denounce God for not stopping the evil that overtook these two women. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to see how this song is a song of complaint and questioning. Why does evil exist in this world? How can a good God allow such bad things to happen?
Saturday was the Winter Solstice, the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the day in the year with the shortest amount of daylight. A number of churches are starting to do services around that day that are little less festive than the rest of the season. The service goes by different names: Blue Christmas, Longest Night, Service of Light and so on. I’ve done a Blue Christmas service at First Christian in Minneapolis in 2011 and 2012 and I hope to do one here next year. The point of the service is to help those who might be facing a Christmas without a loved one, or are facing a job loss or anything that could keep you from celebrating during the holidays. These services provide a space for grief and sadness amidst the joy. It helps people remember that God has not forgotten them.
In our two passages today, we encounter two men who are facing challenges. We have Ahaz, the king of Judah, the Southern Kingdom and Joseph, Mary’s husband and father to Jesus. Ahaz is worried about the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria who are threatening Judah. God tells Ahaz to not worry. God even offers a sign, a woman would give birth to a child and by the time that kid could eat solid food, the two agressive kingdoms would be gone. This baby would have a name, Immanuel, or God With Us. Now that’s a sign. God will be with Ahaz in this dark time. It’s wonderful, except Ahaz didn’t think so. Instead of believing that God was with him, he sought an alliance with Assyria. The result wasn’t so good, because Judah ended up being a vassal state of Assyria.
On the other end of the spectrum is Joseph. He’s not a king trying to make alliances wth rival powers. He’s just a simple carpenter who was getting ready to enter into marriage with a young girl named Mary. Things are going well, that is until he learned that Mary was pregnant and the child wasn’t his. This was a big thing, because it seemed that Mary wasn’t faithful to Jospeh. Joseph could have told the religious authorities about what happnened. But he knew doing that brought a condemnation of Mary which could even lead to a stoning. Joseph instead decided he was going to quietly call the wedding off and let Mary have her life. Joseph goes to be and has a dream where he learns that Mary would give birth to special child that would have not one but two names: Jesus, which is the Aramaic version of Joshua which means “God Saves,” and Immanuel, God with us.
Unlike Ahaz, Joseph takes God’s advice. He sticks around and months later, Jesus, the Emmanuel was born.
On the surface, neither story has anything to do with suffering at least not in the ways we think about. What ties these two stories together is the name Emmanuel, God With Us.
Joseph believes that God will be with him and his family in the coming months and he would need it. How did he deal with the stares coming from the townsfolk? Would he feel the need for an Immanuel?
In this season of waiting, we sometimes wonder if we are alone in the world. These passages remind us that we are never alone: God is with us all the time.
That’s a message of hope the world needs to hear. Those facing the loss of a loved one through death, those dealing with a cancer diagnosis, the town that hears the factory is closing leaving many people without jobs in the coming year, all of these people need to hear that God is with them.
The wider culture sees Christmas as a time to buy presents and maybe have a party. But that’s not what Christmas is all about. It is about the coming of God into the world, our world. It’s when God dares to get involved in this world, full of pain and chaos and offer grace, redemption and hope. Christmas is about God being with us.
Christmas has to give an answer to those dealing with pain and unhappiness. It has to tell everyone that God is here, with us, in the good times and in the bad times.
In two days, we will come back here to welcome the coming of the King. But this is not just a reminder of what happened long ago. Christ’s birth means the wait is over and no matter what we face in this world, God is always, always with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Just listened to this song… It certainly does raise an interesting question about the evil in our world. Thanks for your insightful post!