A Holy Disruption
a sermon based on Matthew 1:18-25
by Rev. Rick Thompson
A man confided in his pastor that,
in the earlier years of his marriage, he hadn’t been too concerned about
his commitment and his devotion to his wife. He was much more concerned
about what seemed to be the main purpose of his life: making money—more
and more money—in a job which took him on the road for long periods of
“But one night,” the man reported, “I got turned around. It was
the night I walked into the hospital room and held my little baby in my
arms for the first time. I realized that she was part of me, even if
she was better than I deserved. At that moment, I vowed to my self,
‘You’re going to have to stop your foolishness and start living like
somebody, because she is somebody.’”[i]
The birth of that baby called forth the man’s best, whereas, in the
past, he had simply been sliding through life.
Those of you who are parents can understand, I think, that idea of
a child coming as what Thomas Long calls “a holy disruption”[ii]—a
gift from God which changes us for the rest of our days on earth.
So, perhaps, we can appreciate what it was like for Joseph.
His life was going just the way he expected. He was living a quiet
life in the quiet little town of Nazareth,
working in his carpenter shop, living as a faithful and obedient Jew.
He was betrothed to Mary. They were legally bound to one another, and
their relationship could only be broken by divorce, but they had not yet
finalized their marriage. They were not yet living together as husband
So we can imagine how shocked, angry, and embarrassed Joseph must
have been when he got the news that Mary was pregnant. He knew that
he wasn’t the child’s father! He figured Mary had been unfaithful.
And he knew that the only way he could avoid public disgrace was to
divorce her. But Joseph was a kind and fair man, who didn’t want Mary
to be publicly shamed either. He could have made a big fuss, and Mary
would have been subject to the death penalty under Jewish law, but,
instead, as Matthew tells us, Joseph “planned to dismiss her quietly”.
Joseph thought his life had taken a disastrous, embarrassing turn
for the worst.
But then he discovered he had experienced “a holy disruption”. God
stepped into his life, and changed it, sent Joseph in a new and positive
An angel spoke to him in a dream—have you noticed that in the
Bible? Have you noticed how often God speaks to a biblical character in
a dream? Do you suppose God might still speak to us in our
In his dream, Joseph was told that Mary’s child was not a child of
scandal, but a miraculous child, conceived by the power of God. The
angel instructed Joseph to receive Mary as his wife, to name the child
“Jesus”—meaning “Salvation”—and to care for the baby as his own.
I think it would be fair to call that “a holy disruption”—don’t
And isn’t it a miraculous disruption?
First, there is greatest miracle of all: the miracle of God’s
taking on human flesh and coming to dwell among us. That's QUITE a
And then, there is the miracle of the faith of Mary and Joseph. In his
Gospel, Luke tells of Mary’s incredible response to the angel’s
announcement: “Let it be, just as you have said.” And Matthew tells us
about Joseph: how he followed the angel’s instructions, took pregnant
Mary as his wife, and raised the child Jesus as his own.
That holy disruption changed Joseph’s life!
It ALSO changed the course of history for all
eternity, changed YOUR life and mine!
THAT’S QUITE A DISRUPTION, ISN’T IT!
Just think about it: the God of all that exists, the God who made the
mountains and the seas and the stars, the God who created you and me,
has chosen to dwell among us, as one of us. And, in doing so,
God has chosen to experience fully all that we experience
in our lives—including, even, death! God has sent God’s own Son to a
cross, done battle there with our sin, and our death and
with all the powers of evil, and has risen in glorious triumph to share
that victory with you and even with me!
I’d say that what God has done in Christ is, indeed, “a holy
disruption”. It’s our good fortune that God took on human flesh,
disrupted the lives of Mary and Joseph and that, in response,
they believed and acted on their belief!
Why would God do that? Because of God’s deep, intense commitment
to the world. Because of God’s desire to recall lost and straying
humanity into the fullness of life, life lived in relationship with
God. Because of God’s ancient promises, fulfilled in Jesus, to forgive
sin and right wrong and bring to the creation justice and peace in such
a way that it would endure for all eternity.
That’s what happens as a result of the holy disruption that God
created in the lives of Mary and Joseph!
I’d say that’s a pretty good result!
This is the bottom line: God desires to be with us. God desires
to be with us. As much reason as we’ve given God to write us
off, to wash the divine hands of us, God has, nevertheless, remained
intensely and passionately committed to dwelling among us! That’s
why Jesus is also known as Emmanuel—“God is with us!”
Yes, due to that holy disruption, God is with us!
In his book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw tells the
story of Mary Wilson, a World War II hero. When the Allied Armies got
bogged down in the southern boot of Italy during that war, they
attempted a daring breakout by launching a landing on Anzio Beach.
However, the Allies got pinned down at the beach and were almost driven
back into the sea.
Mary Wilson was in command of 51 nurses who made that landing. At
one time, bullets ripped through the tent in which she was assisting a
battlefield surgeon. The situation got so bad that arrangements were
made to evacuate all the nurses. But Mary refused to leave at the time
when her skill was needed most. As she told her story to Mr. Brokaw,
she related, “How could I possibly leave those troops there? I was
part of them!”[iii]
Doesn’t that sound a lot like God? Can’t you imagine God saying,
“How could I possibly leave those humans in their hour of
greatest need? Instead, I think I’ll become part of them!”
And, as a result, there was a holy disruption. Jesus was born.
Now, let’s be clear about something here. It happened that time in
a unique, powerful and miraculous way. But it didn’t happen only
then! The same one who came into the lives and home of Joseph of
Nazareth and his betrothed, Mary, keeps on coming to us!
Yes, Jesus keeps coming! God keeps working!
And, as a result, we, too, should not be surprised to experience holy
William Willimon tells the story of a young woman whom he served as
campus minister of Duke University:
“Her enthusiasm and excitement were self-evident. ‘I love, I
really love, teaching those kids, and they love me,’ she bubbled.
“I had been in on long conversations with her about what God
intended her to do with her life. She had decided to offer herself to
Teach America, and that organization had placed her in a miserable
little school out in an impoverished rural area of the South.
“She obviously loved it, and was surprised how much she loved it,
and how much the children loved her. It was wonderful!
“’Wonderful,’ she agreed, ‘and also more than a little scary. What
if God really is working through me? What if this is how God
expects me to spend the rest of my life?”[iv]
Those were precisely Joseph’s
questions, when a holy disruption entered his life.
And they just may be our questions, also. If God were to
come to us, if we were to experience a holy disruption, would we respond
like Joseph? Would we embrace in faith and obedience the new course our
life was taking, joyful in the call to follow and serve God?
I believe that’s one of the lessons of Christmas, isn’t it? This
is one of the lessons of Christ’s coming: don’t be surprised if God
enters our lives with a holy disruption, and calls us to live faithfully
and obediently in a new reality.
Don’t be surprised at all. Why not? Ask Joseph and Mary. Ask the
young man who became a new father, or the young woman who was
considering a call to teach.
Why should we not be surprised if God should disrupt our lives and
call us to holy living?
Because that’s exactly what God has done, in Christ.
related by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource, 1998, Vol.
26, No.4, p. 49.
I do not recall the written source of this phrase from Thomas Long,
which obviously provides the theme for this sermon.
Brokaw, Tom, The Greatest Generation,
1998, Random House,
Personal story related by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource,
2004, Vol. 32, No. 4, p. 52.