We hear the same story every year; the exact same story of Jesus’ birth year after year after year. Is it possible that we have lost our most basic appreciation of the greatest hope ever told, of this child coming to save us? One of the things we overlook comes in just two verses this morning: when Joseph must endure a terrible decision. You see this story about Jesus coming to save us is great and all, but it comes at a price for two people who did not ask at any point to be part of it. Nevertheless, God drags them in to this “greatest hope ever told” account. It’s great and all that Mary has this child. It’s great and all that Joseph could be there to help raise the child with her. But, of course, this child had to be different even before the start.
Joseph plays no role whatsoever in the pregnancy. Mary is with this child in the womb before marrying Joseph. They did not ask for this: for this public embarrassment, this putting them out to shame as hideous outcasts, this forcing them to face each other in the depths of mistrust and dishonor. They did not ask to be part of humanity’s hope, but God hauled them in anyway. Two verses this morning comes nowhere near to describing the fear Mary and Joseph faced, the turning in their stomachs, the sleepless nights. We cannot forget the immense struggle they endured for us to have any hope at all.
And yet it is incredibly easy to forget not just the intense emotions in that story from long ago, but the wide-ranging emotions that people very near and dear to us now are facing this time of year. We automatically assume that this story brings joy to the whole world. That’s a nice Christmas card and all, but it is far from reality for too many children of God. For far too many this will be the first Christmas without a cherished loved one they lost this year. For others, this will bring up not-so-pleasant memories from Christmases past. This will only bring to the forefront other struggles they are bearing from worsening health to a job loss and an all-around uncertain future.
This is not a “merry Christmas” for everyone. This is not a “happy holiday” season for all. In fact, this Wednesday many churches will actually put on a special service called “blue Christmas;” this Wednesday because it will be the longest night of the entire year. They will honor the people who feel as if darkness has taken over their life, and wonder if there is any way out at all. We cannot forget that this is not a “merry Christmas” for everyone, just like we cannot forget that the story we know from long ago was not a happy one for Mary and Joseph, at least not at the start.
However, God has this special care for the lowly, not only in the sense of social and economic standing, but those feel so awfully low, those who feel as if they have hit rock bottom and have no hope of getting up. God reaches into the depths of Mary and Joseph and not only lifts them to new heights of joy and exultation with the birth of Jesus Christ right in front of their eyes. No, God reaches into the depths of Mary and Joseph so that their story may give hope to those who know far too well what the two of them endured those terrible days leading up to the miraculous birth. You see, this is a story not just for the happy, not just for those who can shout, “Merry Christmas” with the brightest smile on their face; but also for those who cannot muster the strength for any holiday greeting, who feel no happiness at all. This story is for them too. This God of love and hope and compassion is just as much for them as anyone else in the world.
And evidently God had the church in mind to make sure that is brought to life each and every day. We are a church not just for those who feel good, but for those who feel bad, and those who are not sure how they feel. We are here for everyone, and we mean everyone. And as we gather on Christmas Eve this week, we will be here for those who walk into this sanctuary filled with joy and for those who, quite honestly, wish they wouldn’t be here at all. The church is here for all of them, to simply be the place and the people where God can reach them in a way they cannot get anywhere else: through a community of faith with mutual prayers for each other, singing hymns together passed down through the generations, and ultimately celebrating the eternal victory with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It’s all for everyone to experience, regardless of where they may be in this journey of life.
Because this God hauled in Mary and Joseph to bring about this hope starting with a name we cannot take for granted either. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” God with us through our joys. God with us through our despair. God with us through everything in between. God with us through life, through death, and beyond. God with us no matter how much we push God away. God with us no matter how much we feel we lost all hope. God with us no matter what now and forevermore. And for that greatest hope that can never be taken away from us, we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon