Both Isaiah and Matthew, remind us that God is with us; that God is at work in this world; that the process of healing, of wholeness, of sacred knowing is grounded in the story of love and light which has been unfolding since the beginning of time.
December 18, 2022
“Reflecting the Sacred”
Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah[a] said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.
Sacred Knowing Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25
I have a confession to make….I have absolutely nothing new to say on this fourth Sunday of Advent. We have heard it all before. I have said it all before. We know these stories, stories which tell of how God breaks in, of how God breaks through, stories which tell of how God continues to work through ordinary people to bring about the Kingdom of God. As people who repeat the same Advent journey year after year, we know the promises which these stories remind us of again this morning. As people who have heard these stories time and time again, we know what awaits Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. Nothing about these stories are new. We have heard it all before. As people of faith, we know these stories, stories which tell us about the love and grace which God is extending to us as Beloved Children of God now and always.
Or at least that was my assumption before preparing this sermon. Through stories on social media, through conversations with church members, through interactions I had with others, I realized how much we take for granted this sacred knowledge, the sacred knowledge that we are named and claimed as God’s Beloved, this sacred knowledge that we are loved more than we will ever know. Through conversations and interaction with others this past week, I realized how much we take for granted THE sacred knowledge that God is with us in all things and through all things
My assumptions weren’t shattered by just one thing. It was lots of things, lots of conversations, lots of interactions where I found myself questioning, found myself wondering….if that person had ever really known, known deep down in their bones that they were loved, that they were created in the image of God, that there was this still small voice reaching out, sharing, reminding them how much they are wanted, how much they are needed. I found myself wondering if this person had ever been invited to pause, to listen, to go deeper,to go inward to find a place of quiet where they could imagine the voice of [The Divine] saying to them, “do not be afraid”, the voice of the Divine saying to them “You are loved more than you will ever know, if like Joseph or Ahab,if they had heard the voice of the Divine saying to them, “Emmanuel, God is with us”
This pausing, this listening, this embracing of this life transforming knowledge is something different than what the world calls us to do. The world around us is filled with noise and distractions. It encourages us to avoid meditation, to avoid sitting with our hurts and brokenness. The world tells us to run away from our issues, using whatever means possible. It tells us that there is not enough, that we are not enough. For thousands of years, this way of existing, this narrative of not enough,this narrative of avoidance, has caused more damage than we will ever really know. So many people carry this trauma within their beings, trauma which gets passed on to the next generation. The cycle of despair, hurt, and brokenness continues from generation to generation.
Yet our faith story shows us time and time again, that there is a different way to be, a different way to be in relationship with one another, a different way to be in community with one another. Our faith story tells us that when our world is shattered either through death, sickness, hurt, hate, or any other number of things, Our faith tells us that when our hearts are shattered, God is with us. Our faith story tells us that because God is with us, we have the strength to pick up the pieces and grieve…grieve what we lost…grieve what we had hoped would become reality….grieve for what we had planned. And then…and then, as our faith story teaches us, because God is with us, we can lift up the pieces which still resonant as Truth, which still give us life, which still hold the promise of new life. Our faith story tells us that we will always find God’s love and grace surrounding us, holding us, uplifting us, encouraging us. Our faith story tells us time and time again that in all things, through all things, God is with us no matter what.
You see, the thing we miss every time we read this text from Isaiah, every time we read Joseph’s story is that it is not really about the young woman bringing forth a child. These stories, our faith story, is about the people, people who were living in uncertain times, people who were facing uncertain circumstances. Our faith story is about people who were called to place their trust in God, people who were called on to find the strength and the courage to hold onto the hope found in the promises of God. Our faith story brings forth the true and vulnerable reality about people, people just like you and me, people who have experienced, who continue to experience a way out of the darkness, people like you and me who have come to know the love and grace of God, people who know God is with us now and forevermore.
Joseph’s story, Isaiah’s conversation with Ahab is about real people with real challenges. In these texts, we hear once again, that, in the midst of all the hurt, all the brokenness, in the midst of all the fears and worries which are surrounding us right now, we don’t need to let disappointment be what defines us. We do not need to let unfilled expectations be what shapes our faith. We do not need to be afraid to act in ways which go against what the world considers right.
Because ultimately as people of faith, we do know the rest of the story. We know that nothing, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We know that God is at work in this world bringing about what others had deemed impossible.
Both of our texts this morning ground the process of healing, the process of wholeness, they ground the life giving, life transforming sacred knowledge not in quick fixes but rather in the story of love and light which has been unfolding since the beginning of time.
This sacred knowing that God is with us resides deep in our hearts, resides deep in our souls, It is in our very bones. It is in our DNA. It is this sacred knowing that God is with us which brings us comfort and joy. This sacred knowing reminds us daily who we are and whose we are. This sacred knowing of the Divine in our midst, in our lives, in our communities, is what brings us peace, peace which passes all understanding. It is this sacred knowing that we are created in the image of God, that we are God’s Beloved Children, that we are loved more than we will ever know which invites us, which allows us to know that there is a different way in community with one another, which gives us hope that the promises of God’s Peaceable Kingdom will one day be fulfilled. It is this sacred knowing that God is with us which brings us joy. It is this sacred knowing that God is with us which reminds us time and time again, that love and light will always overcome the darkness, that love will always have the last word.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, December 18, 2022 – Sacred Knowing Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25.