Do You Know the Way to San Juan?

Matthew 1:18–25

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 21, 2014

First Christian Church

Mahtomedi, MN

Five years ago, Daniel and I worked to get Mom and Dad down to Puerto Rico. It was a big trip for me, because I hadn’t been on the island for 35 years. The original plan was that my parents would leave from Flint and Daniel and I would leave from Minneapolis. Since we were flying the Delta, the plan was to meet in Atlanta. Having been through Atlanta a few times, I was concerned about trying to get from our arrival gate over the plane bound for San Juan.

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Delta Air Lines Boeing 757–200 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with the skyline in background. Photo by redlegsfan21.

We needn’t have worried.

We got to the airport and on to the plane ready to make our journey South. The plane taxied and was ready to take off…and then it didn’t. The pilot noted there were some issues with the plane and they needed to head back to the gate. Understandable. So our plane taxied back to the gate where we waited. And waited. And waited. We were starting to wonder if we would make our connection in time. It was then that the pliot said this flight had been cancelled, so we had to get off the plane. Daniel and I tried to see if there were any other flights to Atlanta, but there were none. We asked if it was possible to have my parents paged in Atlanta. No dice. We were told their might be some room on a American Airlines flight to Dallas and on to San Juan. We ran to that gate, and found out there was just one seat left. Daniel told me to get on and he would figure out what to do next.

So now, I’m on a flight to Dallas, with my parents probably just landing in Atlanta. We got into Dallas and I realized there were a few messages on the phone. I knew this wasn’t going to be good. I called the number left on the voicemail to hear my mother’s voice. And she wasn’t happy. Mom and Dad decided not to get on the jet to San Juan since they didn’t see Daniel or I. So, I am in Dallas. Mom and Dad are in Atlanta. Daniel is back in Minneapolis. After talking to Mom and realizing that I wasn’t not going to get from our present terminal to the International terminal in time to catch the flight to San Juan, I concentrated on trying to get to Atlanta from Dallas. I was able to find a patient agent at the Delta desk who was able to deal with my own frustration and get me on a flight to Atlanta and book me on a the same flight Mom and Dad were going to take to San Juan in the morning. So at the end of a long day travelling pointlessly accross the country, I met my parents in Atlanta. The next morning, the three of us and Daniel were able to catch the flight to San Juan.

The next time we took my parents to Puerto Rico, Daniel and I flew to Michigan and then we all went to Atlanta.

Oh, I won’t tell you about how we had problems with our plane in Atlanta heading back to Minneapolis and had to get on another functioning jet to get back home.

Life is odd times. We have all these plans on how things will work and every so often things don’t work out. There is that line in John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy” that goes “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Our text today features Joseph. Joe never says anything in this text, but he is basically the central character in this passage. This is passage is also the “Christmas” passage for Matthew. Most of us are familiar with another story found in the second chapter of Luke and made famous by Linus VanPelt, in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. That story has angels singing and a bright star and shepherds. Luke is like a big time Vegas production with fireworks and showgirls and maybe a few clowns for good measure. Matthew is kind of a little more toned down. Actually a lot toned down. There is no star. There are no angels singing. There is just boring old Joseph.

The story opens with Joseph finding out something. He had planned to get married to Mary and you have to imagine he was excited. They were already engaged and in this culture the engagement was marriage with only a few exceptions. He could imagine a life together with Mary. It wasn’t going to be much, but it would be something and it was going to made all the better now that Mary was in his life.

The he finds out that Mary is pregnant. He is heartbroken. Since she was engaged to him, the only way she could be pregnant was by another man. Joseph was a man that wanted to follow the law. But he still loved Mary even though she betrayed him. He would keep the law and break off the engagement, but he would do it quietly in order to protect Mary. Joseph was a righteous man but he was also compassionate.

A few days after finding out the news, Joseph has a dream. An angel appeared to him saying that he shouldn’t dismiss Mary. She had not been unfaithful to Joseph, no the baby growing inside of her was concieved by the Holy Spirit and it was going to be a boy. Joseph would name this child Jesus, the Greek version on the Hebrew name Joshua which meant “God Saves.” Jesus would live up to his name, the angel said. He was going to save people from their sins.

The passage says that Joseph woke up and did as the angel said. He took Mary as his wife and named the child Jesus.

As I was preparing for this Sunday, I realized how much faith it took for Joseph to do this. He had to set aside his own dream and then his own pride for something much larger. And he had to do it while people would wonder why his betrothed was already pregnant. Joseph had no proof that this was the right course of action. All he had was a dream.

The Advent story is not just about waiting and it is not just about hope. It is also about faith. It is about believing in something, something greater than ourselves even when we have no proof. The Advent story is about giving up our own expectations and having faith of something that we can’t prove. But the Advent story, is part of the larger story of God. Way back in September we heard the story of Abraham, who left all that was familiar to head to a new land where he was told he would be the father of a new nation. He had no proof. He probably even had other plans. But God called him to another adventure, one that would found a new nation and would bring salvation to all of creation. But that meant giving up his own story, his own plans for something greater.

During Jesus time, there were a lot of different ideas floating about describing what God was going to do to help the people of Israel. Some people thought God would come like a warrior king, one that would overthrow the Romans and start a new Israel. Others thought they needed to withdraw from society so as not to be contaminated by the pagan Roman culture. Jesus coming into the world was not like what people expected. He was born to poor parents. He didn’t come in as a warrior king. He was not what anyone, not even his own disciples, expected.

God is not what any of us expect. God can call us on journeys that are not part of the official tour. Like Joseph, we are called to give up our plans and let life happen to us, to let God happen to us.

The Advent and Christmas story is that our story is not our own story. That God is doing a new thing. The God who is with us will come to us in a different way. I pray that we all can have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart ready to see how God has worked in creation and how God will work in our lives.

Just hope that God doesn’t route you through Atlanta. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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