December 21st – An Exaltation: The Fourth Gift, Goodness!

Matthew 1: 24-25

When Joseph awoke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took his wife home, but he had no sexual relations with her until she had borne a son, and he called his name Jesus.

The day before we begged for a righteousness like Joseph’s, that selfless obedience to God which is tempered with mercy toward humanity.

Yesterday we realized that our righteousness alone could never repair the covenant between ourselves and the Lord. Mercifully, God himself initiated  that repair with the gift of Jesus, who “finished” it on the cross.

Today our Christmas grows merry, almost giddy, in the discovery of an irony: that the righteousness for which we strove so hard and so failingly suddenly appears within us after all, but as a gift!

O my love, we can be good! Good without some sneaking guilt that we’re deceiving ourselves. Good without a grinning, offensive arrogance. Good and humble and grateful at once. Good and knowing the goodness. Good, good, and glad in it!

For this is not self-righteousness. It is the righteousness of God. Its source is God and not ourselves. It comes near us in Immanuel. And it flows into us through Jesus who “will save his people from their sins,” Jesus whom God made to be sin “sin that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s a gift, the consequence of our salvation.

It is like laughter, the hilarity of God—a grand, celestial irony. For in the moment of our salvation, in precisely that moment when we are no longer required to keep the laws of God, lo: we can! Nope, don’t need to. But yep, we’re able!

Now, therefore, we turn to the Ten Commandments without fear of failure. Nor do we feel oppressed by the law. Nor does the law cause a loss of personal liberty. No, we want to keep it. It is our will, in harmony with God’s will.

O my dear, obedience unto God is now our glad thanksgiving for the gifts of Christmas. Obedience is that highest, most noble human accomplishment: honor for God, the creature’s cry of love for its Creator. We, the obedient—we are artists of the divine. We, the righteousness—divinity dwells in us and in the sight of all creation.

So we are like Joseph after all.

At the advent of the Lord within our lives, we waken from our long sleep of sin’s separations.

The invitation is ringing in our ears: Don’t be afraid. Come, join the cosmic drama wherein heaven and humanity meet in the tiny person of a baby.

Take Mary home. Honor the one who bears your Lord to you. Commit your life and all your ways to them—yes, even as if you had married them.

And name him Jesus. Recognize in him the salvation for humankind, then announce it abroad by naming the name.

Arise and obey me.

And this, Christian, becomes the fourth gift of our Christmas, that we do. We can. Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife home.”

Come, Lord Jesus!

You are my righteousness. You are my goodness, the cause and the reason for goodness. You are my life and the light of life. You are my love and all my loving. You are the most noble language I ever can utter, my words and all their meaning, my wisdom, my truth, and the better part of my self.

Come, and I shall be whole.


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