Good News is Coming!

A sermon preached at First Church, UCC Middletown, Connecticut, on December 11, 2022

Matthew 11:2-6  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

One of the beneath the surface stories in Matthew is the rivalry between John the Baptist and Jesus – if not between the two of them literally, then certainly between their followers.  Their followers badly wanted to be right, to be following the right guy, doing the right thing, standing with the true Messiah, or rebel against the Romans.  And since our Gospels are stories about Jesus, we see there a number of little stories about discussions between followers – or, as in this case, a direct question of Jesus:  “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another…”

Now, today we’re not going to be getting into the rivalry between John and Jesus or their followers.  What I want us to focus on today is Jesus’ response to the question:  “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”  What I want us to think about is what’s really important, what is really good news, what is true happiness….

There’s good news, and then there’s good news.  There’s happy and then there’s happy.  . . . 

Think about it:  there’s the happy of getting the last piece of pie, of making it home before the traffic gets bad… and that’s a good, solid kind of happy.  

But there’s another happy, and that happy is even better.   That’s the happy which transcends those little daily goodies, and focuses the life-changing happies – the happiness of a good result on a medical test, or the happiness of seeing people thriving, or the happiness of knowing that we have done good in a life well lived, productive, valued.  Think of it perhaps as the difference between the happy of the job done “good enough”, and the happy of the job well-done, no matter how long or how hard.  

When the Psalmist writes “happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,” he’s thinking of that second kind of happy.

This is more important than you might think at first glance because it is a happiness that is not based on always being right, always being perfect.  It is a happiness which grows out of our intentions.

Think about it.  How often do we discount our efforts because they weren’t perfect?  How often do we feel like failure because things aren’t quite up to expectations?  And yet, we’ve given it our best, we’ve tried hard.

I don’t know about you, but one of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years is that if I don’t think there’s a chance in the world that I can succeed, it really kills my motivation to even try.  It feels like the game is rigged, and who wants to do that?

But the psalmist says, forget those lines that tell us we’re worthless.  Forget that stuff about having to be perfect to be acceptable.  Because, you see, God loves us as we are.  God loves us so much that God’s Son came to live with us…God think that it’s so ok to be a failure that Jesus came to a poor family in one of the most dismal parts of the Roman Empire.  

Jesus wasn’t born in Rome, not born to a wealthy Roman family, not born the son of Caesar Augustus.  Jesus wasn’t born to perfect parents who always knew the right things to say and do, who had the latest baby gear.

The good news in Advent is that God has come to care for the barren land; God has come to stand with those who feel deserted, those whose lives are surrounded by stress and trial.  God shows up, not when we are perfect, but when we are in need, when we have failed, when we are tired, discouraged, when we feel inadequate, unwelcome and unacceptable.  

Christmas is that sure and certain sign that God loves us.  Here and now, we celebrate the idea that God loves us so much that Jesus as come to live with us, as one of us, human, prone to failure, sure to be disappointed, and yet, here with us.  That is the most magnificent gift of all.

God’s good news is the kind that encourages, that strengthens, that keeps us looking forward.  

Jesus’ presence among us is also the sign that our physical reality is good.  Martin Luther once asked “how could God have demonstrated his goodness more powerfully than by stepping down so deep into flesh and blood, that he does not despise that which is kept secret by nature, but honors nature to the highest degree.”[1]

 We are worthwhile, old or young, thin or not, well-dressed or struggling to afford clothes.  “God does not love the person we are trying to be, or hoping or promising to be, but the person we actually are.”[2]  That’s the foundational support to the happiness of Christmas – that we are loved as we are.

Years ago, when I was new in ministry, I officiated at the wedding of a beautiful young couple who’d planned every detail to be perfect –the right dress, the right ring, the right place for the reception – and even the right time for the service – just as the setting sun caused the interior of the church to glow pink.  It was a gorgeous day, and every one of their plans went the way they’d wanted.

About a year later, I got a phone call from the husband; could, would I come to the Maine Medical Center in Portland, where their newborn son was in the ICU?

I found the parents huddled around their son, who lay in the middle of an adult-sized bed in the ICU.  To this day, I’m not sure why he was there and not in the pediatric ICU.  They turned to me in desperation, asking for their son to be baptized, to protect him from what he faced.  After the baptism, they shared with me their frustration and puzzlement – we did everything right, they said, we made all our plans like responsible people, saved the money for the wedding, didn’t even live together before hand.  Why is God punishing us?  Why has this happened to us?

The God who comes to be with us in Jesus Christ does not send bad things to us, not to punish us, not to toy with our feelings, not for any reason at all.  Our God loves us.  Our God stands with us when the worst happens.

But sometimes it’s so very hard to know that.  That long-ago bride and groom didn’t feel God’s presence, and in their fear and grief, they really felt as though they were being punished, and punished unjustly.  Too often, we also feel that way when things go wrong — When a spouse dies,  a job is lost,  a marriage fails?  When the world falls apart before us?

And yet, the Christmas story tells us that it is not so.  Long ago, in Bethlehem, God came to live with us.  God came to us because we are God’s beloved Children, and because God did not want us to live our lives alone.  

God wanted us to know, know that God knows how hard our lives can be. 

God knows the feel of temptation, the pain of sorrow, the heartbreak of loving and losing.

At Christmas, God tells us that human beings matter, that all of us are loved, all of us welcome at the Table. 

The best gift of all is not in a fancy box under the tree.  The best gift of all is not a perfect job, or even a loving family gathered around the living room.  The best gift of all, the most magnificent present, is the gift of Jesus Christ, given to us this Christmas once again.

Let us give thanks for the God who brings joy with the gift of Christ.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child


[1] David Lose, In The Meantime blog, http://www.davidlose.net/2016/12/hallowing-creation/, retrieved 12/10/16

[2] Ibid.