5 days 12 hours and it will be Christmas day, of course you’d rather your children didn’t come bouncing in at midnight. The advent calendars, those exquisite mechanisms of torture for children visualise the waiting is nearly finished.
Someone said these words: "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If it is worth having, it is worth waiting for. If it is worth attaining, it is worth fighting for. If it is worth experiencing, it is worth putting aside time for."
We’re used to waiting; some things are worth the wait: your wedding day, the birth of your children, others maybe not: the iPhone 4, the latest box office release, any game Ipswich are involved in on TV.
I wonder if you spotted the people waiting in our reading. There’s Joseph, he’s betrothed to Mary, it’s not like our engagement to break it required a divorce. He’s been waiting for the wedding day when the bomb shell hits – Mary is pregnant. And his instant assumption isn’t that this is the son of God, his instant assumption is unfaithfulness, so he plans to divorce her quietly. All that waiting for nothing, or so he thinks until a spectacular intervention convinces him otherwise.
But Joseph isn’t the only one waiting. Israel had been waiting, if you’ve got a bible you’ll notice a long list of names(1-17) that stretches back centuries, all waiting. The question as Matthew opens his gospel is what have they been waiting for and has it been worth it?
We see what they have been waiting for in the two names given to Jesus as the angel reveals to Joseph that his waiting has been worth it because he has a part to play in the most important moment in history.
Waiting for forgiveness
How do you get forgiveness? When we’ve done something wrong we say sorry, we may follow it up, or accompany, the apology with a bunch of flowers or a meal. When Lucy and I had our first big argument she rang me to apologise and say she’d bought all the things for a romantic meal to apologise, but there was a problem, it was the play off semi-final. Later that evening the scene was set; romantic candlelit steak dinner, the background music not Celine Dionne or even John Secada, but Ipswich versus Sheffield United.
But what about if you have offended God?
You see that’s what Israel have been waiting for. Look at (21)what name is the son to be given? Jesus, why? “Because he will save his people from their sins.”
I wonder what you think of when you hear that word, sin. We tend to think of bad people – the man who stabbed the police officers this week, or the bomber in Sweden. But the angel doesn’t say Jesus has come for bad people but for all Israel, good and bad people, religious and irreligious. Because sin isn’t doing bad things it is simply saying no to God.
God as creator deserves to be listened to, he determines what is right and wrong, sin is when we dethrone God as ruler of our lives and decide we’ll decide right and wrong for ourselves. The by-product of sin is seen in a world in chaos, where Mr Assange decides it’s right for him to leak as many wiki documents as he likes, while governments decide it isn’t, where North Korea decides it’s right for them to fire on South Korea, where someone decides it’s right to strap explosives to themselves and detonate it in a busy street, where we each think we can determine right and wrong according to our own thinking.
It sets us on a collision course with others, but most importantly with God. God isn’t indifferent to our rebellion he cares passionately about it and will one day hold us accountable for it.
Jesus comes to save us from our sin, to deliver us from our greatest danger, judgement from God.
There are lots of ways we try to earn forgiveness from others; meals, flowers, being good, making it up to them, promising we’ll never do it again etc... But God’s forgiveness is a gift, he sends Jesus to save us because we can’t save ourselves, Jesus comes to pay the price for our rebellion against God and is judged guilty instead of us, and we’re given the gift of his perfect record. He comes to the cradle to go to the cross.
Are you still waiting for forgiveness? Do you feel guilty for things said or done? Can you see in your life how destructive determining right and wrong for yourself has been? Jesus is born so that we can be forgiven, don’t wait for forgiveness he has come so you can know forgiveness now.
Waiting for friendship
Have you ever had a wait that has ended in a surprise so much better than what you were waiting for? For my thirtieth birthday Lucy threw a surprise party. Normally I’d like to think I’m pretty good at picking up clues about what’s going on. But I was so clueless I hadn’t even changed out of the clothes I’d spent all day gardening in. That surprise was so much better than just another birthday.
Joseph in these verses experiences lows and highs, at the start he’s waiting expectantly for his wedding day, then he realises Mary is pregnant, then he’s told that this baby is “from the Holy Spirit”. It’s tempting to think how gullible Joseph was believing in a virgin birth – but if God exists, if he created the world in all its variety and incredibly finely tuned balance, well if God is God then a virgin birth is child’s play. You can imagine Joseph is a bit shell-shocked but there is more to come – not only will this baby end the wait for forgiveness but he will end the wait for people to know God.
Look at (23)the angel says Jesus will be called Immanuel; it means God with us. He’s not just a saviour, Jesus is God in flesh, this is what Isaiah promised hundreds of years earlier, it’s what Israel have been waiting for, what the world has been waiting for.
Sin separates us from God, but now in this baby God is coming to us. We can’t get to God so the almighty creator puts on his creation. Jesus is God made man; he feels hungry, thirsty, weeps, mourns at the death of a friend, gets angry, knows the burden of too much to do and not enough time to do it in.
And yet as God made man he heals the sick, casts out demons, walks on water, feeds thousands with one packed lunch, calms the storm and raises the dead. He is the creator walking among his creation, getting to know them, laughing with Peter and James and John, smiling at his friends fears, challenging them to faith, forgiving sin.
Jesus is God come to restore us to friendship with him.
Who is the most famous person you have ever met? What about the most famous person you count as a friend?
Matthew is saying something astonishing, in Jesus we don’t just know about God we can know God. He is God with us, not just when things are going well but all the time, he becomes someone you can talk to – that’s what prayer is, who you can listen to – that’s what the bible is for, and who you can trust in.
What are you waiting for this Christmas? The great news is that the waiting is over. We can be forgiven, but more than that we can know God, enter into a relationship with him because Jesus makes this possible.
What are you waiting for? Christmas reminds us the wait is over.