Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:15-16
Joseph discovered that his boulevard of broken dreams was, in fact, part of a greater journey to a dream that was bigger than anything he could imagine. Matthew gives us a glimpse of that larger dream when he says, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'-which means 'God with us'" (1:22 NIV). Your broken dreams are not the end.
Joseph had almost decided what to do with his broken dreams when an angel of the Lord gave him a new dream. The angel not only told Joseph that he should take Mary home as his wife but also confirmed Mary's preposterous explanation of her pregnancy. God was involved in this mess in a way that was inconceivable.
With the bad news of an unplanned teenage pregnancy, "the hopes and fears of all the years" were apparently shattered, as were the dreams of Joseph and Mary. We're not told anything about Mary's reaction here, but she must have been hurting, even though the angel had told her what was going to happen (see Luke 1).
Where do you expect to meet God in this season of Advent? We've seen that Zechariah and Elizabeth met God at the end of their rope, where they least expected him. Now we turn to another couple from the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph met God at the end of broken dreams. We won't read their story today. You already know how an unplanned pregnancy shattered their dreams of a happy engagement and a glorious wedding.
In the story of the old folks at the end of their rope (see December 5), did you notice anything about praying? No, I don't mean the people praying outside the temple. I mean what the angel said to Zechariah in Luke 1:13, "Your prayer has been heard."
Zechariah wasn't able to speak because of his unbelief, but his wife made up for his silence because of her belief. After the child was conceived, she didn't explain her pregnancy away as an accident, some sort of medical fluke. "The Lord has done this for me." And at the birth, she testified again. When the authorities tried to give the baby his father's name, as was customary, she spoke up. "No! He is to be called John," as the angel had commanded. When Zechariah scrawled his agreement, his tongue was loosed and he praised God.
Zechariah's response to the angel's good news was audacious-not the audacity of hope, but the audacity of unbelief. "How can I be sure of this?" I know the facts of life. I'm at the end of my rope. How can I/anyone be sure of God's Word in our world today?
An older member of my church was very worried about his wife. As she submitted to serious surgery, he prayed fervently. God spoke aloud to him, "she's going to be just fine." He never expected such a word from God. It had never happened. It changed his life.
At the beginning of Luke's Gospel of certainty (v. 4), we meet a couple who were certain of one thing. As a minister friend put it, they were sad members of the "and never will" club. Zechariah and Elizabeth had not been able to have children, and now, given their physical condition and age, they never will. They were at the end of their rope.
Jeremiah felt mangled by God (Lam. 3:11 NIV), as good as dead. In our text today Paul says all of us actually were dead. "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions. . . . We were by nature objects of wrath." What a wonderful text for this joyous season! Leave it to a Calvinist to cast a pall over Christmas.
Maybe you find it difficult to get your hopes up. Perhaps you've "waited for Godot" too, but it seemed that God never came. So you don't really expect to meet God anywhere in this Advent season, or ever.
Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, tells the story of a poor orphan named Pip, who dreams of becoming a wealthy and educated gentleman. Dickens weaves a twisted tale of love and loss, longing and disappointment in which Pip is given a fortune, and loses it. He gets the haughty Estelle, and loses her. But dissatisfied with that sad ending, Dickens wrote a new one in which Pip takes Estelle's hand and sees "no shadow of another parting from her." Did Pip's great expectations ever come true? You be the judge.
Whenever my wife and I visited her mother in her assisted living center, we saw an old man dressed in a coat and hat sitting by the front door. We often wondered why he was sitting there. One day it occurred to us that he was waiting for someone. No one ever came, and then he died.
Rejoice always? Pray without ceasing? Give thanks in all circumstances? Really? Can the apostle Paul be serious here? These rapid-fire admonitions seem utterly unrealistic. And yet Paul is dead serious in these closing words of this letter to the Thessalonians.