Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Baby Watch": a sermon for Advent 4

For the past couple of months, I’ve been engaging in a sort of unusual activity for me – but one somewhat appropriate to the season, anyway.
I’ve been waiting for some babies to be born – three to be specific.
I was told, earlier this year, that three young women from our congregation were going to have babies.
Coincidentally, all three of them were due at just this time of the year.
One of them, in fact, was supposed to have her baby on Christmas Day.
(By the way, she had her baby just this past week.)
I was especially interested because I was the officiating pastor at all three of their weddings, and – let’s be frank,
I was also interested because of the timing: Christmas! – what a great time for a baby watch!

I remember 18 years ago when my niece was born on December 23, two days before Christmas.
I remember visiting her in the hospital almost right after she was born, and how she came home on Christmas Eve, a tiny tiny baby who fit in the crook of our arms.
Both parents got violently ill during the holidays, so the rest of the family took turns caring for her, holding her, watching over her.
It gave new meaning to the word “baby watch” for us.

But I digress – for the words “baby watch” usually refer to the watching and waiting before a baby is born, which is our situation right now, a few days before Christmas.
We are watching and waiting for a baby to be born, aware both of how much there is to do before Christmas, and how much is out of our control.
It seems that before a baby is born there is so much to get ready – there are all the ways that we prepare for the coming of a new baby into our lives, our homes, our hearts.
There are cribs and diapers and clothes to buy, there are books on parenting to read, there are parties to attend.
And there are so many things that, no matter how much we prepare, we are never ready for, and we can’t control.
Two out of three of those babies that I have been waiting for have now been born – and I am mightily resisting calling up the third prospective mother and asking parents grow to hate, “Well? Have you had that baby yet?”
In fact, Once a mother-to-be with a good sense of humor referred all of her well-meaning “baby watchers” to a web site: “”
Just so you know, the answer is always, “Nope.”

It is the 4th Sunday in Advent – just a few days before Christmas, and here were are, on a different kind of “baby watch.”
But I can’t help thinking that there are some similarities between waiting for a baby to be born and waiting for Christmas to come.
There is the same watching and waiting, there are the hopes and joys of anticipating new life and promise – and there are the worries about whether we will be ‘ready’ as well.
I remember one year one of our worship coordinators was lighting the 4th candle on the advent
wreath, and telling me a secret story before the services.
She said, “You know how there are four candles on the advent wreath and they have names?”
“Yes,” I said. “And sometimes the names are: “Hope” or ‘Joy” or “peace”? Yes, I said.
“Well, there’s another name for the 4th Sunday in Advent. It’s called ‘panic Sunday.’”
We both had a good laugh about that, how as Christmas comes near, the time is shorter and the list is longer, and – sometimes a sense of panic does set in.

Will we be ready? Will we have a ‘good and meaningful Christmas?”
will we get the right presents? But ready or not, Christmas always comes.
Ready or not, God comes down ... the child in the manger.

It is the 4th Sunday of Advent now, Both our Old Testament and our Gospel reading are about a certain kind of “baby watch”
– although there is a different slant in each case. The prophet Isaiah speaks to a king and tells him that God will give him a sign.
The prophet actually is inviting the king to trust God – to trust God as he is in a spot, threatened by invading armies.
But this particular king isn’t interested in signs, or in trusting God.
He already knows what he wants to do.
The prophet gives him a sign anyway: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
And the meaning of the sign, “God is with us.” God goes ahead and gives the sign anyway.

In our gospel reading from Matthew Joseph has received unexpected news.
And at first, the news is not altogether pleasant either. Joseph is reminded of that promise long ago – and still good -- “A baby will be a sign.”
Mary is on a “baby watch” – and he does not know what to make of it. Poor Joseph.
This is not what he expected.
This is not what he had hoped.
But he is a compassionate man. To his credit, he doesn’t even consider calling her out and letting her be stoned by the community, which he could do, within the law. Instead, he decides to ‘divorce her quietly.’
Then he gets the message about the baby. The baby is a sign – an unexpected and not entirely welcome sign from God – “God is with us.”
He is to trust God and take Mary for his wife.

And he does.
He takes Mary for his wife, not knowing what it will mean for them, for him, for their lives, simply trusting God’s promise: “God is with us.”

You know, we don’t know very much about Joseph.
We know that he is descended from King David. We know that he worked as a carpenter, so he was a poor man.
We know that at least twice, in dreams, he heard God’s call.
And we know that he was a righteous man.
He took Mary for his wife, even though it might mean that other people would think he was a fool, that he had been taken advantage of.  He took Mary for his wife, despite his fears, his misgivings, his own hopes and disappointments.
And he trusted God’s promise, “God is with us.” –

“Baby watch.” As Christmas draws nearer, it is good to remember that we are on a
‘Baby watch’ – watching and waiting and preparing for the child who changes our lives.
“God is with us” – that is the meaning of the sign.
But it is good to remember as well that this is an unexpected sign – Joseph did not expect God’s promise to be fulfilled in this way.
Jesus is an unexpected blessing, and like every baby, his coming will change our lives.

Anna Quindlen wrote a book several years ago called, simply, “Blessings.”
The central character is a young man who lives in a little apartment and works for a wealthy family.
Late one night, a newborn infant is placed on this young man’s doorstep.
Though he knows nothing about caring for babies, he takes this newborn into his life – and as you might imagine
– it turns his whole life inside out and upside down.
Suddenly his life has a new center and he has as new purpose for living.
There are many complications in his life because of this unexpected gift.
For one thing, he tries to keep the baby secret for a long time, which is not an easy task.
There are many twists and turns, but it is a fact that this baby changes his life, changes his life direction.

And friends, as Christmas approaches, it is the same with us.
The coming of this little one we are watching for – changes our life.
The coming of this long-expected unexpected one changes us.
He doesn’t make our lives less complicated.
He doesn’t make our lives trouble-free.
He doesn’t make us prosperous or “rich” in the eyes of the world.
In fact he turns our lives inside out and upside down.

For he changes the focus in our life.
It’s just like the pictures I’ve seen of one of the families with their new baby – everyone is looking at the baby – they have fallen head over heels in love.
Suddenly the focus of our life is not ourselves – but the little one
the focus of our life is not ourselves but the Little One
The one who came unexpected into our lives

God with us
not just in our joys but in our sorrows, not just in celebration but in grief and loneliness
God with us
the great God of heaven and earth
who became little for our sake
Who loved us so much
who loves us so much
is willing to live in this complicated, cold, lonely world with us.
To live with us, to die for us, to live in us.

“Baby watch.”



Terri said...

Diane, I like the sermon - panic Sunday LOL....I'm not sure you need the section about Joseph...but the rest of the sermon hangs together with a good theme of baby-watching.

Diane M. Roth said...

thanks for the feedback, Terri. I'll decide about whether 'joseph' can go when I practice for tonight. It's the right length for me, though... so if Joseph can stay and is not too out of place, I'll leave him...