Matthew 1:18-25
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 24, 2023

It was good of Mary to decide, when she could’ve chosen otherwise, to bear Jesus: a Son who would, growing in her womb as a baby, occasion her disgrace and who would, suffering and dying as a grown-up, occasion in her pain like a sword piercing her soul.

It was good of Joseph to decide, when he could’ve chosen otherwise, to spare Mary from as much disgrace as he could and to go ahead with the marriage despite its causing him to share in her disgrace and hardship.

It was good of them both.  But it was even better of God to give, when He could’ve chosen otherwise, the gift of His Son whose name, Jesus, means “God saves” and whose name, Emmanuel, means “God is with us”.

Behind the goodness we see in Mary and Joseph is the infinite and eternal goodness of the loving God who incarnated Himself by Jesus.  By Jesus, the superhuman became human; the invisible, visible; the beyond, near; the spiritual, physical; and the ideal, real in mortal flesh.  By Jesus, the penalty we had incurred was paid for us; the way to God we couldn’t make was opened up for us; and the chance to have a great life here and now and an even greater one in the hereafter was obtained for us.

Christmas sprung forth from the awesome goodness of God, a goodness that goes on forever.  Hear this true story from J.D. Greear’s book, Looking for Christmas.

Ryan and Morgan had adopted a child from an orphanage in an unstable, Third-World country.  They’d paid all the fees and satisfied all the legal requirements to make little Charlie their own.  But just before they were scheduled to welcome him home in the States, political upheavals ground his country to a stop and halted all adoptions.  No children could leave the country.  Ryan and Morgan responded to Charlie’s not being able to go to them by immediately going to him.  They flew to his country and camped outside his orphanage.  They spent half their time loving on him and playing with him, and half their time lobbying the courts and meeting with government officials to plead for his release.

After a few weeks of this, Morgan had to return to the States, but Ryan stayed, even though it was late Advent and he hated being away at Christmas.  But Ryan was a father who loved his child, and he remained with Charlie in that foreign land to fight for him.

That Christmas, as he battled a corrupt court system on the other side of the world, Ryan was imitating Jesus who’d left His home to rescue us, traveled an even greater distance to be with us, and refused to leave us until He could bring us home with Him.  So Ryan persisted in his long, hard struggle until he too succeeded and could usher Charlie into his new forever family.

We can never exult enough in the goodness behind the good gift of Christmas.  It started its work to rescue God’s homeless children 2,000 years ago, but it continues that work to this day. For God’s love and power were not exhausted in that Bethlehem barn, but endure from age to age.  Thus, the God who was with folks then, is with us now – to help us find a home in His heart. He cares about us still, watches over us still and seeks still to give us His companionship and empowerment.

In her DVD Fingerprints of God, Jennifer Rothschild tells her own true story about a fellow blind woman named Susan and her husband Mark, a military officer.

When Susan first became blind, her life fell apart and she fell into a deep depression. With his heart breaking for her, Mark rallied around her to lift her spirits, to help her learn the skills she now needed such as reading braille and walking with a red-tipped cane, and to assist her, in every way he could, in her transition into a new life in a pitch black world.

As over the months Mark gave her his devoted encouragement and patient support, Susan built up her self-assurance enough to try returning to work.  Mark would drive her in, help her get settled into her office, and then leave to go to the military base across town where he served.  At the end of the day, he’d return to pick her up and take her home.  Mark persisted in this regimen for a long while; but the extra load of work wore him down and compromised his health.  Furthermore, his commanding officer was complaining a lot about his tardiness and declining job performance.  It became apparent that Susan was going to have to take the bus.  “But how can I, blind?” Susan protested.  “I don’t know how to board a public bus or find an empty seat on one!  And how will I figure out the transfers?  Mark, you can’t abandon me!”  Though her words pierced his soul, Mark promised her he would, as he had before, do whatever it took, for however long it took, to help her grow competent and confident in her bus riding.  He swore he’d be there for her until she felt fully ready to commute independent of his assistance.

With Mark’s help, Susan learned how to use the bus system and finally announced she was good to go on her own.  So the following Monday she commuted by herself – without miscue or mistake!  The Friday of that first week of independence, Susan boarded the bus; and, as she dug in her purse for her fare, the driver remarked, “Ma’am, you’re sure lucky!”  “Are you talking to me?” she asked.  “Yeah,” the driver replied, “it must feel good to have someone care about you like that.”  Perplexed, she responded, “What are you talking about?”  He said, “That man in the military uniform who’standing at the opposite corner every time I drop you off.  Once you step off the bus, his eyes never leave you.  He watches you make your way through the parking lot, climb the steps and enter the building.  Once the door closes behind you, he stands straight and tall, like a sentinel, and salutes you.  Then he blows you a kiss.”  Susan’s eyes widened and then she burst into tears.  She’d had no idea her husband had kept his eyes on her all week long.

The good God who is with us always never takes His eyes off of us.  He sees our need, teaches us the skills necessary for us to succeed, and watches over us until we do. We may not notice Him any more than Susan did Mark, but God is ever there for us as our Helper, Supporter and Enabler, that we may attain our best life.

So let us be at peace despite our challenges, and be endlessly grateful and glad.  Let us praise God for His goodness behind the good gift of Christmas!

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