The Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon,
Advent IV (or Advent VII, expanded season)
Our Gospel reading for today is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, up until the birth itself. In this reading, we are introduced to Joseph, the earthly stepfather of God’s son Jesus. Joseph is kept so busy following God’s dreams in Matthew’s Gospel that he has been called the errand boy of the Incarnation.
A betrothal in first century Judaism was a formal contract. Girls were betrothed typically at the age of twelve to twelve and a half years old. They would not go live with their husband, but they would be committed to them at that point.
Breaking the engagement took a divorce decree. Divorce could be written by either party and witnessed by three others to be legal. Adultery was also grounds for divorce. Adultery during the engagement, just as in marriage, was punishable by death according to the Jewish law. While public humiliation was often the only punishment meted out, Jesus will later defend a woman caught in adultery, saving her life from a crowd intent on stoning her. Jesus own mother, Mary, could have likewise been killed for the crime of adultery had Joseph pursued justice.
I notice three sets of plans. Plan A for Joseph was to marry Mary. During the engagement, Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant and he knows that he is not the child’s father. Now comes Plan B, which is for Joseph is to quietly make some arrangements to break off the engagement without Mary facing an angry mob. Then God intervenes with Plan C. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream to assure Joseph that this was God’s plan all along.
In God’s plan, Joseph will take on the minor public dishonor of having everyone assume the child that would otherwise be born out of wedlock is his own. Joseph marries Mary. She has a child who Joseph names Jesus, which means “God saves.”
God will save and God will do it through Jesus. But Joseph and Mary were essential to the plan. Mary had to consent to the pregnancy and Joseph to the marriage. It wasn’t their Plan A or Plan B. But it was God’s plan all along.
I think there is a reason this pattern repeats itself. We have our own desires, our own plans and dreams. Then life throws things at us we never planned, a pregnancy, a sickness. Who knows what it has been or will be for you? But somewhere along the line, you start looking for another option. Like Joseph who decides God’s will must be to put Mary away quietly, you don’t always ask God’s opinion in making plans for life. But God is still there. For me in a small and unimportant way and for Joseph in history changing way, getting our own plans out of the way can help God to lead us to the life he had for us all along.
If Plan A is my plan and Plan B is my quick knee-jerk reaction to my plan not working out, then how do I get to God's plan, Plan C? For me, I see God's plan only when I begin the harder work of spiritual discernment. This week as I journey toward Sunday, I am wondering about how I am holding on to my own dreams, and what must I set aside to get to neither my plans nor reactions, but God's will.
Frank Logue is a member of the APLM Council having served previously as its secretary. He is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia and blogs on congregational development at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org
The photo of three Camels ranging free in Mahktesh Hagadol Israel illustrates plans A through C lined up.