Series: Angels Among Us: #DoNotBeAfraid – Flying in the Face of Fear at Advent
Title: Do Not Be Afraid: #morejoy
December 16, 2018
Rev. Sandy Johnson
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This has been an exciting series to preach…Angels Among Us, I hope you are enjoying it. It seems that angels are coming out of the woodwork. Has anyone else noticed that? Miriam experienced an angel when flowers appeared at her door, on the day she was feeling most vulnerable. Ida received a new water heater and our new friend in Las Vegas (Missy) received Christmas gifts for her children. We have had experiences of being angels and of receiving angelic messages and blessings.
We witnessed angels in our scripture story two weeks ago, when we encountered our first angel, the one who appeared before Zechariah to let him know not to be afraid, he and Elizabeth would have a baby in their old age. This boy, John, would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Last week we met the angel who appeared before Mary. She also was afraid but quickly submitted to God and agreed to be the vessel God chose to bring forth the son of God into the world.
Which brings us to today, Joseph’s angelic encounter. I would argue that if the other two, Zechariah and Mary, were afraid at the appearance of an angel, Joseph must have been terrified. The news the angel brought Zechariah was certainly shocking, but it didn’t bring shame or dishonor to he and Elizabeth, in fact the opposite occurred. They were accepted and respected because they now had an heir.
Mary certainly was afraid, her future was in the hands of her betrothed, Joseph. The fact that she was pregnant, and they had not yet married was a tremendous problem. We see Mary standing firmly on her faith and in the face of extreme odds, she exclaimed, “Here am I, the servant of the lord; let it with me according to your word.”
For Joseph, his whole future was at stake and his response to the news about Mary’s unplanned pregnancy would determine whether she was dishonored or even killed. That is a heavy burden for any man to have to carry.
We know the story, don’t we? Here we have a young couple, betrothed but not yet married who have a difficult decision to make. While Mary was visiting Elizabeth, she met with Joseph who lived in Bethlehem, just a few miles from where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. I can imagine a very nervous Mary explaining to Joseph the situation she found herself in. And I imagine Joseph was upset in equal measure.
This woman he hoped to be married to had just dropped a bomb that would explode their relationship, permanently. We know that Joseph didn’t believe her story about an angel telling her she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit because our scripture today says that he had planned to divorce her privately.
He never wished to harm Mary so instead of publicly disgracing her which would have resulted in her being stoned to death, he made plans to quietly break the engagement. Then when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, others would assume Joseph was the father and he would be shamed, not Mary. Joseph was a righteous man for certain. He demonstrated in this story why God choose Joseph to be the earthly father of our Savior.
But Joseph didn’t follow his plan. Enter the angel, who appeared to Joseph in a dream and his life was changed forever.
This morning we are focusing on the joy of the advent season. The opposite of Joy that derives from fear is worry. Worry is the illusion that we can somehow prevent tomorrow’s heartache. When we live in worry, we can’t live in the present. Our minds keep us tending an unknown future. We often miss the joy of what is occurring right here and right now, we miss opportunities to be fully present to others with our attention and support.
When we are robbed of our joy, it is difficult, isn’t it, to create more joy in the world. But when we are joyful, when the joy is bubbling up from the tips of our toes, it’s hard not to share that joy. When we find the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, we can’t help but share it with others, friends and strangers alike become recipients of God’s love.
Now, for those of you who have had children, I want you to think back and remember the feelings that you felt when you first learned you were pregnant and going to have a baby. Probably there were different feelings bouncing around? Joy, fear, worry, excitement, anticipation. “Oh my gosh, what have I done?”
I remember a fair share of excitement and fear at the same time. Was I ready to become a parent? Did I have what I needed to be a good mother? Would my body do what it needed so that the baby born would be healthy and vital?
Most news of pregnancy conjures up both joy and worry. This must have been so for Joseph as well. He chose to believe the angelic messenger, that things would be alright, and it was ok to go with the flow on this one. He stayed present to Mary instead of giving into the worry of what might happen. Joseph’s response was a gift for the whole of humanity. Joseph already knows that Mary is pregnant and is faced with a decision. He is called “righteous,” “just” or “law-abiding,” but Joseph was going to break the law, a law that would lead to a severe and humiliating sentence for Mary, Joseph was going to “quietly” divorce her.
We can tell already that Joseph loves Mary more than he has need for retribution. What a foreshadowing of grace! How many people would be able to put the needs of the other ahead of their own needs? How many of us would risk our own reputation to protect someone we love? Especially someone who had just betrayed us? This story of grace experienced is rich with the anticipation of Jesus, of the grace and love he would offer to us.
Matthew writes for a Jewish audience and this connection of being “righteous and just” even while making love the ultimate power–rather than rules–is important for them (and for us) … sometimes described as the “heart of the law” instead of the “letter of the law.”
The angel’s role here was to intervene.
Matthew’s readers would not have known the Luke annunciation, the story of the angelic visitor to Mary and the news that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. They would not have had this additional information to boost the story that this pregnancy had a higher purpose, that this baby was divine. These messages that intervene into human history is our focus here. God calls us to focus on bringing joy to others, to lift up others, even if it means that we are put down.
Jesus taught us that to be first we must be last, that we are not greater than our master and that we are to become like a servant, humbling ourselves and doing the will of God. We are to find joy in the difficulties because like Joseph, we may not yet see the blessing that when everything seems like it is going wrong, God is doing something remarkable and we just can’t see it yet.
“This new Emmanuel was God’s way of assuring humanity that no matter how dark our circumstances, no matter how afraid we might be, no matter what is happening in our life or in the world around us, God is always with us. Jesus is the visible sign from God that God is with us.”
Once this this joy is experienced, we become the those called to be the signs of Emmanuel – of God’s presence in the world – and to be visible reminders of joy! As disciples of Jesus Christ we present God to the world through our actions, by being angels ourselves.
These stories of divine messages delivered by Angels Among Us, demonstrate joy in the face of fear. Yes, sisters and brothers, I do believe there are angels among us. We all can be messengers of joy, flying in the face of fear, for God, Emmanuel, is truly with us.”