Christmas Eve December 24, 2021
“A Return To Normal” Matthew 1:18-25
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Christmas letters can give you lots of information in a page or two. Births, deaths, moves, retirements and what trips got canceled this year fill the page. My cousin, Amy, who is about to retire from teaching in Crystal Lake, Illinois, spoke about the challenges of teaching these last few years, “I am trying to cherish my last months as a 7th grade teacher. We are back in person as well, though we have to wear masks still – anything is better than trying to teach on-line. Last year was so hard…this year is a different hard. Lots of different things we have to manage on a daily basis – very tiring. Though I will miss teaching, I am ready to be done.” But the notes I received also lay out what is wished for the new year. Here’s a line that I saw in more than once in the letters I’ve received, “We’re hoping for a return to normal in 2022.”
A return to normal. What will that look like? No more masks? No need to isolate? Going back to work in a building? No more cancellation of concerts, sporting events, or events at school? A conclusion to living in fear about the uncertainty of what lies ahead? Actually, I don’t want to return to normal. I think that we would be setting our sights way too low if we just want to return to normal. Normal is like getting a “C” in life. You do alright in some things but in others you barely get by. Normal in regards to living with our families is not enough. Normal in relation to what God wants for us isn’t enough. When 2022, 2023 and beyond comes, God has something more than just average for us. The miracle of Christmas is about our God who goes far beyond what we could normally expect.
Look at the folks that were involved in Christmas. Their participation and reactions were not normal. Our reading from Matthew centers on Joseph and his response to the news of the birth of Jesus.
It was Joseph’s father (Jacob) and Mary’s father (Joachim, according to tradition) who were the matchmakers for Joseph and Mary and their marriage. The two fathers determined what the future of their children were going to be when they were but small children. There wasn’t any romance nor any dating for these two, they were simply betrothed to each other. For one year from the time of being betrothed they would anticipate the marriage and the consummation of marriage. That was normal. That was tradition.
But what was not normal was the day that Joseph noticed, or was told, that Mary was going to have a child. But it wasn’t his child, and so, the normal thing to do was to end the marriage before it began. He was going to divorce her. This arranged marriage was a bad idea and he was going to have nothing to do with it. That is normal. I suppose, though, that Joseph was acting quite graciously about this whole thing. “Because Joseph, her husband was a righteous man and did not to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19) End of story. He sends Mary away to some relative and life is hard for her and for her child. That is the return to normal. But that is not what God had in mind. God does not simply return life to normal.
Listen to what happens, “But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)
Normal? Not in any way. An angel speaking? A miraculous conception? A son who will save his people from their sins? Normal? God doesn’t do normal.
And that is good news for us. I don’t think life is ever normal – even before COVID began. This year so many of our folks have had their dearest friends, their family, their spouses, their kids die. They will have a seat empty at the Christmas table this year. Their heart is heavy this year. We need something that addresses hearts that are especially burdened this year.
We have extra challenges, deeper loses, greater grief. Only a God who goes far beyond what would be expected can help us. That is what Jesus does. That is why Christmas is so needed and so glorious.
Christmas wasn’t normal for Joseph and not for Mary and especially for Jesus. Jesus, forever God, ruler of all creation, takes on weakness and lowliness. Paul describes the greatness of Jesus in this way, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
That’s who this baby is. When we hear that God was going to send a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord, we stand amazed but then, when we see that this great God, the master of all things, is a little child, we acknowledge that this is not normal.
We don’t need normal. We need something better than this. Normal, for us, is a life that can turn inward, consumed with self. Normal, for us, can be where sin takes over and serves as our master. Normal is life lived, death died, and the uncertainty of what is going to happen to our body and soul when we breathe our last. A normal life, just by our own doing is a life without a living hope, without an all- consuming peace and without a vibrant faith.
We need something greater than just a return to normal. When Joseph was told God’s plan that this child, Jesus, was going to be “Immanuel – God with us” – all according by what God had in mind from the beginning of creation – we read, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25) And Mary, when she heard of God’s plan for her to be the mother of God? “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
There is nothing normal about Christmas. Christmas – the birth of Jesus is amazement and miracle. For Him. For us. Don’t settle for a life that is simply a return to normal. With God is your life, with Christ as your Savior, with the Holy Spirit filling you, life is not just normal. You are forgiven of sins that have carried for too long, you are changed and transformed by God’s Spirit, as you come with true repentance and seek a transformation of life. You have hope that your life that will change when you die becomes eternal and participates in the eternal praise of your Savior, Jesus.
A return to normal? Don’t settle for just that. God takes you far beyond that. May our God take us into a firmer and fuller faith and a life of great joy and purpose. Normal? No. “Lord, Do more in us!!” Amen!!