Meg Peery McLaughlin
December 13, 2020
Matthew 1: 18-25
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When 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 fulfill 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.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
A covid screen discovery for the McLaughlin girls is a project by a computer coder named Neal Argawal. He made a data visualization site called The Deep Sea. We cuddle up and start at the top of the ocean seeing animals like polar bears and penguins, and they say “go deeper” so we scroll down and see facts like: 332 meters down is the deepest dive a human scuba diver has gone. “Go deeper” they say. And we find their favorite: an anglerfish with the bioluminescent lure and big teeth. “Go deeper.” At 3000 meters down there is a creature called a zombie worm. It keeps going down. At one point when you are way down where no light ever shines, it tells you that you’ve scrolled the height of Mt. Everest. You’re that deep.
Joseph, it seems to me, knew was it was like to go deep.
On the surface of it all, it was clear what he was to do.
But he kept scrolling down, down, down
perhaps into what felt a bit like the dark,
but nevertheless down to a deeper faithfulness.
Here’s what I mean:
Joseph was engaged. And back then, engagement was a legal thing, serious and binding. It could only be broken by going to court. Engagements lasted a long time. Families came together, signed the papers, and when the young people came of age, they were married. Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant and it’s not his. Ouch. I wonder if he felt like a zombie worm.
And instead of lashing out Joseph dives deep.
Matthew tells us he was unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.
Perhaps this is really the miracle of Christmas.
Because you know what?
Do you know what the Bible says?
It says “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.”
That’s what it says, right there in Deuteronomy 22, it’s in the book.
Preacher Fred Craddock says it best when he says:
I am absolutely amazed that Joseph is the first person in the New Testament who learned how to read the Bible. Joseph loves his Bible and he knows his Bible and bless his heart for it. But he reads his Bible through a certain kind of lens, the lens of the character and nature of God who is loving and kind. Therefore he says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value. I will protect her.” Where does it say that, Joseph? In your Bible? I’ll tell you where it says that. It says that in the very nature and character of God.
Yes, Joseph goes deep.
He doesn’t settle for a surface read of the book.
And my guess is he has to go deep in his trust
to endure all the chatter he was likely to catch wind of,
the synagogue scuttle about family virtues
the comments section about fidelity to the Word of God.
Thank God for Joseph.
Perhaps his depth is the real miracle of Christmas.
And it’s just right that we get his story on this third Sunday of Advent.
Another candle is lit.
Another week of waiting.
Waiting for the vaccine.
Waiting to hug people again.
Waiting for the world to be set right.
Waiting for what the prophets promised.
Waiting is hard.
I know someone who calls this season Sadvent.
But today, today the candle is pink. A little respite. Today, it’s the candle of Joy.
Some call this Sunday Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete is latin, for rejoice.
And the first word of an old Christmas carol:
rejoice! rejoice! Christ is born of the virgin mary.
Do yourself a favor and google Gaudete by the King’s Singers. So worth it.
But like Nancy said in her Children’s Time.
This year doesn’t altogether fit the theme.
This year one of my dearest clergy friend’s mother died
and her sister has covid
and bless her, she is still preaching and still going for runs in the cold,
but she said “I feel my heart growling, so hungry,
and my pantry of normal remedies is pretty bare.”
All of us are having to dive deep into our stores to get through this it seems,
scroll all the way down in the dark parts to make it.
Which it seems is kind of how joy works.
Leave the shallow end to Happy.
Joy is much deeper.
Joy is what you find way down deep in the dark.
The theologian Henri Nouwen said “While happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.”
Last week I preached about our Thanksgiving Turkey that ended up being stuffing instead. The caterer felt terrible. It was an honest mistake and they gave us a full refund and a gift card to boot. My family will still be loyal to them. The company was started by Laurey Masterton, who got cancer. Laurey’s motto that she lived by while dealing with her disease was “Don’t Postpone Joy.” You can still see it on bumper stickers all over the mountains and on coffee mugs and nalgenes.
If we wait until 2020 is over to rejoice,
if we resist joy until everything is just right, all the pieces in place, all the grief gone,
if we choose the circumstances around us rather than the deep deep reservoir beneath us,
then we have missed the gift of Christmas.
As for Laurey, she lost her struggle to cancer,
but it gives me great pleasure to say that she never, ever lost her joy.
(And her stuffing recipe was delicious.)
Joseph shows up on Gaudete Sunday,
because it seems to me,
Joseph shows us what it looks like to go deeper,
to dive down into the very nature and character of God,
revealing a love that is bottomless.
Friends, no matter what else is happening around you,
that love will never run dry.
So, how could we not rejoice?
 Fred Craddock. “God is With Us” The Cherry Log Sermons John Knox Press, 2001