22 December 2019: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The gospel text for the day was Matthew 1.18-25.

The first line of our gospel text today,
throws us off,
if we don’t read past it.
We’re in the middle of Matthew 1
when we get to today’s passage,
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah
took place in this way.”
It’s still Advent, right?
but Matthew
doesn’t have much of a birth narrative.
Just that Mary has a baby
at the end of our passage,
and names him Jesus.

Before we get to this part of Matthew 1,
we’ve got 17 verses.
Matthew, the Jewish writer,
spends those 17 verses
laying out Jesus’ paternal lineage,
although Joseph isn’t Jesus’ biological father.
God’s anointed, the Messiah,
was supposed to be descended from David,
so even with the Creator of the Universe
as Jesus’ father,
Matthew makes it work via Joseph.

Mary and Joseph aren’t married,
but Mary is pregnant.
The baby isn’t Joseph’s, either.
Joseph is righteous,
he wants to avoid scandal,
and he wants Mary to avoid shame,
so he’s going to quietly call of the engagement.
Joseph wants to change the plan,
but not make a big fuss of it.

A lot has changed in our lives lately,
without a big fuss being made of it.
Particularly, I’m thinking,
of changes to how people apply for
and are granted asylum.
Statistics were released this last week,
that .1% of Central Americans seeking asylum —
running from gang violence
and drug cartels —
are being granted asylum.
Certain countries of origin
have been excluded for eligibility.
Despite US law that gives asylum seekers the ability
to appear on US soil and ask for asylum,
a program called metering is in place.
It can take five months waiting at the border
before you can start the application process.

After you’ve started the process,
you have to wait in Mexico for the next phase,
which can take more months —
in a city where you likely don’t know anyone
in facilities not designed to for people to live in.
When you do get to come in to the United States
your case may be heard in a “court” in a tent.
.1% of people are being approved,
as they live in conditions that are dangerous
and don’t sustain the fullness of life.
This week a seven year old
who had a rupture in her abdominal wall
had attorneys and advocates seeking
for eight or nine hours to let border patrol
let her cross to go to the hospital.

Like the Holy Family in Matthew’s next chapter,
these people are trying to stay alive.
They’re having to wait to ask for that opportunity,
and then having to wait in places
not designed to sustain human life.
Not enough showers,
not enough food,
rampant illness,
brought about by quiet changes of plans,
not a big fuss being made about those changes
or how they impact real, live, humans.
But when Joseph wants to change the plan quietly,
an angel comes to him with Good News.
“Don’t be afraid!
This baby is from the Holy Spirit!
You will have a son,
you should name him Jesus.
He will save people from their sins.”
Then Matthew reminds us
that there was a prophecy
about a virgin conceiving
and the son being called Emmanuel,
God with us.

Today’s text is the first Advent text
where we hear about Jesus coming
not at the end of time
but Jesus coming as the Christ Child.
We aren’t hearing John the Baptizer
reminding people that Jesus the Messiah is starting his ministry.
We’re hearing that Jesus comes from God,
and is born as God with us.
After Joseph wakes from his vision
he keeps the original plan.
He marries Mary,
doesn’t have relations with her,
and names the son Jesus.
Through Joseph’s adoption and Mary’s conception,
Jesus comes as God with us.
We won’t be at church on Saturday
to hear about the Holy Family
running as refugees from Herod’s purge,
but even in their fear,
God is with them.

The asylum requirements and processes of our government —
and their impacts on human lives —
haven’t been announced or shared with fanfare.
An angel didn’t appear to anyone
seeking to quietly change plans
and convince them not to.
Fleeing violence to fall seriously ill
is a reality people along our southern border face.
But Joseph didn’t change his plan.
Mary said yes,
and Jesus was born.
We’re moving toward Wednesday,
when we celebrate God with us.
As we celebrate that,
we should be reminded
that God is with us.

God is with the people on the border,
and God is with us here.
As we remember God with us here,
we should remember Jesus toddler the refugee.
That God loves us enough to come among us
and dwell with us in Jesus
is a grace upon grace.
That grace upon grace,
invites us to respond
and show that love and grace to others.

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