Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus took place this way ... Kind of hints at the beginning of an authoritative story, doesn’t it? And then, it really doesn’t tell us about how Jesus was born; we are given a glimpse into how Joseph dealt with finding out how his fiancé had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He thought he was getting married, then he needed to “put away” his fiancé for infidelity and then, told by the angel in a dream how things really were going to be. An amazing story, right? Quite a dream ...
When I was 16 my grandfather died. I was very close to him, the elder George from whom I got my name. When I was a boy, I often went up to his sprawling property in north Raleigh and helped him with little chores. He died and I am not sure I really knew how to deal with it, the first major death I can remember. Not long after he died, I began to have something of a recurring dream, which I still have a variation of now and again, when my grandfather comes to me, looking just like he did when I was a boy. The setting is always different but he is always the same. And his visitations never seem to have a major point, but they are always pleasant conversations. Somehow, I have always understood, my grandfather was communicating to me, from the larger life with the God in whom he firmly believed, that he was alright and I was going to be, too. And that he loved me enough to stop in for a visit.
Matthew is the only Gospel that has the enigmatic dream of St. Joseph, the adoptive father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. And the visitation of the angel, like my granddaddy’s visits, was to tell Joseph that all would be well and he should do as his heart had originally told him: take Mary to be his wife. But the angel, more than grandpa George, communicates something very important: not only would the child Mary is carrying be Holy, he would be the Son of God, and save the people from their sins. Joseph would find his purpose in Jesus in a very unique way, to shepherd him through his youth and to care for his mother and to play his part in the great story of salvation.
What is our purpose? All of the readings this week point to the prophetic sign that God will show us himself – the source of salvation – in the one called Emmanuel, which means God is with us or Jesus, Yeshua, which means God saves. Our readings this week bring us to the very precipice of the Nativity, the coming of Jesus, promised by the prophets, ordained by Almighty God, when God took on flesh and became one of us, for the purpose of our salvation. The purpose = salvation. What is our purpose? Jesus’ is so clear, so complete: to bring about God’ plan of salvation for all of humankind, to bring about the unity of all creation with God through sacrifice and, by that sacrifice, to redeem us for God. And by redeeming us, making us a vessel for God’s love.
So, again, what is our purpose? Might our purpose be to live into Christ’s purpose?
“A Dog’s Purpose” – (see the movie!) is to love.
What is our purpose? Is it to love? Is it to make the world a better place? To raise children who will be good or even change the world? To make money? To be successful? To do no harm? To love … what is our purpose?
What if we say that we are not only people of God, but God’s children; then, what is our purpose? Maybe the only way to answer this nagging, existential question is to ask ourselves again, “What is God’s purpose for us, made clear, made known, in Christ Jesus? “To bring about God’s plan of salvation for all of humankind; to bring about the unity of all creation with God through sacrifice and, by that sacrifice, to redeem us for God.” I know this is just the purpose of God according to Fr. George, not the Archbishop of Canterbury or anything, but it makes sense to me, at least😊. But, as children of God, if we desire to align our purpose in life with God’s purpose in Christ for us, what might that mean or look like?
Well, we must remember that God’s purpose was ordained from the beginning, and Holy Scriptures remind us that, not only was God constantly not only calling his people to faithfulness, but taking them back when they weren’t. And God was so committed to our redemption, to His purpose, that God took on these human bodies of ours, giving up his eternal self, to be born in a stall or cave, live a life of poverty and challenge. He was willing to grow among us, teach us, love us, call us to him, challenge us, love us some more, teach us how to love each other – and he was willing even to die. The work of salvation is messy work, it’s human work, done by God in our condition, because God can’t and won’t save us from some far-off place but here, where we are, where we need Him to be with us. God’s purpose is you and me – to love us into being and into and for redeemed life.
So, if we desire to find our truest purpose in God, what must we do? I think, really, to understand that we are our truest selves when we see that our purpose is to love God and, by extension, to love one another. Love requires intention and obedience, kindness and patience, attention and praise. And perhaps seeing our purpose through the eyes of God’s redeeming work in Christ is to find all our gifts in life – love, work, relationship, trial and pain, hope and blessing – through the lens of who we are to God: a creature He made to love so much he would stop at nothing to redeem us. Even if it meant coming down, as if in a dream – but it isn’t a dream, it is far more real than anything we will ever know or experience – to come down and become one of us.