Advent Actions: Acts of Faith Mt. 1:24
Advent 4A December 16, 2022, St. John, New Orleans
We do most things from a self-centered point of view.
from the drastic fight or flight response to danger,
to indulging in practices which make us feel good,
to behaving in ways which will endear others favorably toward us,
nearly every choice in life revolves around the question, “what's in it for me?”
Even the risks we take are calculated toward this end.
We drive to work each day reasonably sure our cars will get us there safely.
We use checks, credit cards, banks, and banknotes, which is paper money,
assuming they will all convey the value of money we have earned when the time comes.
And that when we demand it in some form, it will still have value.
And sometimes we even gamble a bit in the stock market, betting that, in the long run, we might get ahead.
Someone in my family bought stock in Jiffy Lube when it first went public in 1987
and in a few short years later was able to sell it and pay for medical school for his child.
Even when we do something altruistic or what would seemingly be for the benefit of others it may still be all about us.
Loving relationships feel good and make us feel special.
Making a large donation to charity makes us feel like we are a good person.
Attending our child's extracurricular activities shows how good a parent we are.
Following traffic laws demonstrates that we are a good citizen.
“Advent” means arrival, and as advent comes to a close, I'm going to ask you, why do you celebrate the arrival of Christmas?”
For a great many of us it is for a time spent with family and friends.
We spend time and money and move heaven and earth
to go “over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house” at Christmas.
And many, if not most, businesses that are not service or sales related,
will close shop for the week,
save for a skeleton crew to keep the lights on and answer the phone.
For others it's a cultural celebration.
The sights and sounds are the highlight,
or it's the food traditions which predominate.
And for some, its just another reason to party.
Did you know that Christmas Eve is quickly becoming one of the biggest bar nights among college age and young singles?
And did you know that at Charles Dickens time Christmas was not allowed to be a public holiday in some places because it had become so debauched?
Our texts for today give us an entirely different reason to celebrate Christmas: “we do it for God!”
In opening his letter to the Romans Paul writes,
“for the sake of his (that is Jesus’) name among the nations.”
not for himself to be sure his conscience is clear about what they've been taught about Jesus,
and not for them or their edification either.
He writes so that they, the Roman Christians, their church, their actions, and their very lives, would project Christ to the nations.
Paul is doing all this for Jesus and his reputation before the world.
In the gospel, we have a similar motivation for Joseph's actions.
A man in his position, which is with a pregnant fiancé with whom he has not yet been intimate, would ruin him and her alike.
His initial, “noble” thought was to send her away to have the baby and quietly end the engagement,
thus saving them both a modicum of dignity after some time had passed.
But instead, Joseph does as the Angel instructs,
and becomes father to the child, because it is God's son,
and it is what God wants so that his plan succeeds.
Both men are doing things in a way which goes against human nature... and that is a good thing!
Because our nature is sinful from the start, we've inherited it.
And it's not that taking care of yourself is bad, because it's not. It's good stewardship of the gift of life itself.
What makes us sinful is our desire to not trust God and to disobey him.
The sinner in Paul knows he has much to boast about and the sinner in Joseph wants to get as far away from Mary as possible.
But the faith each of them had in God has moved them to act on God's behalf; To commit acts of faith.
Paul would keep preaching Christ as the Savior from sin
and Joseph would protect and provide for the helpless son of God until he could come into his own strength as a man.
Thankfully they were not selfish, acting in accord with their own best interests at heart.
A world filled with selfish people only brings about discord, dishonesty, and disillusionment.
And at times we see this state of the world very clearly.
Whether it's by war, authoritarianism, crime, or neglect.
But a world focused on a single point of reference for salvation brings concord, honesty, and enlightenment.
From battling a common enemy, like Hitler in World War Two,
or achieving scientific breakthroughs in medicine,
to engineering marvels like sending men to the moon,
when people look outside themselves for answers,
they are usually well rewarded.
But as we look at the lives of Paul and Joseph, we might wonder, “what was their reward?”
Paul was martyred in Rome and Joseph was not acknowledged in scripture after Jesus was about 12 years old.
From a worldly perspective, they were swept into the dustbin of history.
Yet to God, they are his Saints who faithfully completed their task,
so that faith in God would abound.
Simply put, Paul and Joseph lived their life for Jesus.
They were the epitome of a believing disciple,
and they were beacons shining the light of Christ to the world.
This is why we keep Christ at the forefront of Christmas.
To remind ourselves that we need a savior.
If we were not all sinners, Jesus wouldn't have had to be born.
And if anyone else were perfect, He wouldn't need to be the unblemished Lamb of God.
But we also need to acknowledge that this needed savior did come, and he did save us all.
Because his death on the cross defeated death for sinners
and his resurrection from the grave was the proof we needed of our own eternal life.
And we keep Christ in Christmas, so that as we celebrate, the rest of the world would know that he came to save it as well.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let heaven and nature sing!
Go tell it on the mountain!
That Jesus Christ is born!
As we approach Christmas
all eyes which are on the Manger will quickly be raised to the cross just eight weeks later on Ash Wednesday.
The world packs away the tinsel and the Garland.
Elation turns to horror and sorrow.
Birth gives way to death.
What was given will be taken away.
But as believers with faith, our excitement and joy are not extinguished.
Because we know it is all about Jesus, we also know that Jesus was all about us!
He was the ultimate example of selflessness as he hung on the cross,
he forgave his executioners and affirmed the faith of his fellow condemned.
Just as he still extends forgiveness to those who do not yet believe,
hoping they will one day receive it with faith,
and just as he promises heaven to us condemned sinners when we ask him to “remember us…in his Kingdom”.
We don't mourn the baby born to die, but we celebrate the Savior who finally came to earth to save us.
We don't celebrate our good fortune as believers, but rather His grace and mercy in choosing to come and abide with us.
So, as Christmas fast approaches, why do you celebrate Christmas? What motivates your actions?
When we feast can we be sure it is to celebrate the abundance of Jesus’ love for us?
When we are generous with our gifts, can we show an equal Thanksgiving and offering to our Lord through his church?
When we share a toast and have a cup of good cheer, can we acknowledge the greatness and compassion of our God to send Jesus?
Surely, as expectant believers, we can act this way because we have faith.
May that faith always be the reason we celebrate the season.
May it always be the comfort and joy that comes to you and those around you.
And may it be the spirit behind your actions and activities this Advent and Christmas season.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.