Well, it’s almost Christmas—and if you’re like most people, you have majorly mixed feelings about that.
I’m not saying that Christmas can’t be a happy time. We know that it can—we have images all around us on TV and online and in print media showing us how happy Christmas can be. We see happy kids opening presents, family and friends gathered around a table eating a huge meal in celebration, Norman Rockwell kind of stuff. And those images make us feel like they can become reality.
And they can…. to an extent. But no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, Christmas is NEVER perfect. Hence the mixed feelings—we know this is a joyous time of year, and parts of it are really fun and really great-- but we have other stuff going on that makes Christmas an emotional mixed bag.
Maybe you’ve been running around like a chicken with your head cut off, trying to get everything done before Christmas comes, and the stress is getting to you.
Maybe you’re disappointed because a loved one isn’t able to travel to be with you.
Maybe Christmastime reminds you of less happy things-- like loved ones who have gone to eternal life and are no longer with you, of children who have grown and moved away and have less time for family, of happier times gone by.
Maybe you simply feel guilty because you are unable to feel as joyful and happy as everyone says you should at Christmastime.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook a brutally honest status last week. She said, “Stressing so much about Xmas. How do I tell my son I have no money to buy him anything? So broke I just bought groceries for first time in a month. I don't know what to do. Poor kid didn't get much for his birthday and now Xmas. He's gonna think I don’t love him.”
So even though we have a lot of good stuff going on at Christmastime, it can also be a difficult time for us for a whole lot of reasons.
Well, I’m here to tell you today that we’re in good company. Leading up to the very first Christmas ever, things were not all hugs and puppies and rainbows either.
We read a few minutes ago in the Gospel of Matthew how Joseph was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Joseph and Mary are engaged. Being engaged back then was a legally binding agreement—it meant that they were legally bound to one another, but hadn’t consummated the marriage and weren’t living together yet.
And… Mary is pregnant. And since Joseph and she haven’t, you know, gotten together yet, he knows without a doubt this baby isn’t his. This is not a good place to be. This is the stuff of Maury and Jerry Springer and crazy TV paternity tests.
Except it isn’t, because Mary knows exactly who the father is. It’s God.
Now you tell ME how well that conversation would go over with Joseph.
“Honey, I’m pregnant.”
“Ummmmmm…. OK, so how on God’s green earth did THAT happen??”
“God. The Holy Spirit made me pregnant. I’m carrying God’s son.”
“…………….RIGHT. And I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.”
It’s not hard to understand why Joseph is having a hard time with this.
So he makes a plan. Rather than calling out her sin of adultery publically, which would mean stoning and death for Mary, he decides to break off the engagement quietly. Feeling conflicted, but probably generally OK with this decision, he heads to bed.
And while asleep, he has a dream. An angel, a messenger from God, shows up, and tells him to marry Mary, because she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and that they should name the baby Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (The original version of Jesus’ name, Yeshua, means “to rescue” or “to deliver” or “to save”).
Now unlike most of us, who would wake up from that dream and be like, “WOAH, I gotta lay off the pickles and Christmas cookies before bed,” Joseph does exactly what the angels says to do. He marries Mary, and she gives birth to a son, who they name Jesus.
And that son, God in human form, grows up to do amazing things. He walks on water. He calms storms. He heals people. He casts out demons. He teaches people about God’s love. And he does the most amazing thing of all—dies on a cross so that we could be made right with God and have eternal life with him.
The crazy thing is that God worked through all of the uncertainty and stress and even death to make this amazingness happen. God can work good through the crazy.
In our healing service tonight, we have on our hearts and minds all of the crazy in our lives. We bring physical ailments, emotional upsets, mental disorders, worry over family and friends, spiritual doubts.
And we know that because God is good (all the time) and all the time (God is good), God doesn’t cause these bad things to happen. Because God has given us the gift of free will, we live in a broken world where sin and illness and other bad things happen to us, because life happens. We live in the crazy.
But here’s the thing. Even though we know God doesn’t CAUSE the crazy, God is so awesome that God WORKS IN the crazy. God can work good even in the midst of awful, crazy things.
There’s another Joseph in the Bible, in the Old Testament, in the very first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. And this Joseph was also no stranger to the crazy in life. His eleven brothers were jealous because he was the favorite son of their dad Jacob, so they planned to kill him-- but decided instead to sell him into foreign slavery so they’d at least make a buck on the deal.
What happens after that is a whole HOST of crazy-- as if being sold into slavery wasn’t enough. Joseph ends up going all the way to Egypt. And when he declines the sexual advances of his master’s wife, she falsely accuses HIM of making a pass at HER and he gets thrown in prison, with no end to his sentence in sight. While in prison, he gets a reputation for being an interpreter of dreams (How’s that for fun—both major Josephs in the Bible deal with dreams—how cool is that??), and eventually the Pharoah hears of him and summons him to interpret his dreams. When Joseph interprets Pharoah’s dreams as a future prediction about a major famine, he makes Joseph his right hand man to plan for the upcoming famine.
But the crazy doesn’t stop there—when Joseph’s brothers back in Canaan are starving because of the famine, they travel to Egypt and begs one of Egypt’s major leaders, Joseph, for food—except they don’t recognize Joseph at all. Eventually, Joseph tells them who he is and provides food for them. How’s that for poetic justice? They try to get rid of him, yet he’s the one who feeds them when he has the choice to get rid of THEM!
And at the end of the story, the brothers are worried Joseph will seek revenge for what they did to him. But Joseph says to them (I’m using the Message version, because it’s just so good): “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me, but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.”
So although Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery to get rid of him, and then Joseph gets unfairly thrown in jail, God was able to still work good out of all the crazy and Joseph ended up saving lives by planning for the famine. God works good through the crazy.
God worked good through the crazy that first Christmas too. An unwed pregnant teen, check. A fiancé who is freaking out and about to break up with her, check. Having to travel when Mary is heavily pregnant and about to pop out said kid, check. Giving birth far away from home in a stable, check. All of that is pretty crazy. But God is able to work good through the crazy, and ultimately save lives, through Jesus’ birth and death. God works good through the crazy.
And it isn’t just for people in the Bible either. God works good through the crazy in YOUR life. No matter what you’re going through right now, God can make good happen in the midst of all the crazy. Even when it feels like the crazy is overwhelming and nothing good could come from it, God is acting and working in ways we would never expect. God works good through the crazy.
So as we worship during this healing service, as we continue to move towards Christmas, and as we live on this roller coaster that we call life and experience all of the crazy things life throws at us, may we always be reminded that GOD WORKS GOOD THROUGH THE CRAZY. Amen?