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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Christmas Eve, Tuesday, December 24, 2019  

Today’s Scripture Reading | 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (NRSV)

Packages are wrapped, children are bouncing off the walls, and people coming in from the cold are gathering for worship. It’s a season of spectacle, light, hope, holy awakening, and we wrap it up with beauty, calm, grace, and, surely, hope beyond hope. But Matthew casts a different view on a spectacle-laden Messianic birth. With his few well-chosen words we are plunged into a world of trouble.

Joseph found himself in a hot mess with the young woman to whom he was engaged. It was near nightfall, and his mind was reeling. “Yes, she’s pregnant. Yes, she’s lovely. No, it’s not mine. I cannot throw her out, as is the custom, I just can’t. So, I’ll dismiss her from my home with no fanfare, no judgment, no nothing.” And he slept on it. That night, the drama takes an epic turn.

An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. The angel reminds Joseph of who he is—“son of David”—and what are the next words out of the angel’s mouth? Words clear and direct: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” The angel then provides Joseph with the child’s name: Jesus, savior of the world that awaits healing, savior of our lives when they are in shambles.

’And Joseph’s calling to step boldly off the grid of expectation and to dare respond by holding the very light of the world in his very hands, this night and every night, then and now, portends our very momentous listening to angels in the night as well. For this night, in the very disturbed heart of the world, we find nothing but the baby in our arms, the promise and the preposterous hope in Joseph’s radical act that reached out and continues to do so.

On this night of all nights may our hands reach, our hearts brim, and our dreams give way to the Word made Flesh. And may we find ourselves offering your promise, O God of life made whole, by daring to love with abandon. Through the baby of Bethlehem. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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