The Fear of Betrayal: Advent Reflections on Matthew 1:18-25

“He will need a father like you to teach him to take risks like the one you are about to take, for he will be tempted not to take them.

“He will need a father like you to teach him to withstand the disapproval of others, as you will soon have to withstand it.

“He will need a father like you to teach him what to do in situations like this one, when all hope seems lost and only pain remains; to model how to believe the unbelievable good news and to walk ahead in faith.

“If you do not walk the hard road to Bethlehem, who will teach him how to climb the cruel hill to Calvary?”

In this way, I imagine the father of our Lord was born that night.

And Joseph awoke from sleep and said, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Jesus is not the only one who needs an example like Joseph. For we all struggle with tough situations and yearn for assurance from one who knows from experience that God’s unbelievable good news is true! If we prayerfully ponder the example of Joseph this Advent, surely God will work in us as God worked in him.

I almost forgot to tell you the end of the Legend of the nuns of Loretto Chapel. It seems that one night while the sisters were praying about their predicament, a white bearded stranger appeared at the door of the convent asking for work. A toolbox was strapped to his burro and he told the sisters he was a carpenter. When they told him their problem, he offered to build a spiral staircase.

His spiral staircase was an engineering feat for its time, containing thirty-three steps and two complete turns of 360 degrees with no center support. The carpenter used wooden pegs instead of nails, and his only tools were a saw, a T-square, and a hammer.

As soon as the staircase was finished, the unknown craftsman disappeared without asking to be paid. Many today believe the carpenter was indeed St. Joseph.

Oh, maybe it’s just a legend. But I say Joseph is out and about this Advent, toolbox in hand, a model of faith in hopeful outcomes to hopeless dilemmas. Don’t expect lots of conversation from him. Expect, rather, a demonstration of how to build a despair-defying staircase.

This Advent the fear of betrayal is met by the hope of the birth of an infant savior.

O Little Town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie
Above they deep and dreamless sleep the silent starts go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

A portion of this meditation appears in Novel Preaching: Tips from Top Writers for Crafting Creative Sermons by Alyce M. McKenzie.

Read John C. Holbert's Old Testament reflection for this week here.

12/11/2010 5:00:00 AM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
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