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Archive for December, 2016

Hurray, Joseph!

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.”  Matthew 2:15-16a (NRSV)

Every so many years, I like to preach a sermon on the Sunday after Christmas that has the title, “What Happened to Joseph?”  Somehow it seems like we need to give Joseph a little credit for the part he played as Jesus’ earthly father, and it’s amazing to me in the biblical writings that Mary (or any woman) has a “front and center” role.

I’m grateful, to be sure, because I think that Mary had a huge influence on Jesus’ faith development and theological understandings.  From what we can tell, she was a remarkable person – she had to have been since God chose her to bear the Savior of the World.

Yet, somehow, it feels strange to push Joseph to the back of the manger and totally ignore him.  Let’s think about what Joseph did:

  1.  In a culture where a young woman became pregnant without the benefit of marriage, the custom would have been to stone her.  But Joseph chose not to sensationalize Mary’s pregnancy and initially decided to divorce her (release her from their betrothal).
  2. When he was told in a dream to take Mary as his wife because the child she carried was of the Holy Spirit, he did what God had asked him to do – quite a leap of faith!
  3. He and Mary traveled a long distance to reach Bethlehem – about 100 miles from Nazareth – a LONG walk for him pulling a donkey with his nine-months-pregnant fiancé on board!
  4. If we take the Lukan birth narrative at face value, Joseph was the one who delivered the baby, too – a BIG no-no in that culture because it would have rendered him unclean.  Of course, there were extenuating circumstances.  He probably had seen birthing all around him as he was growing up, so he had some idea of what would happen.
  5. He stood by Mary when she would have been shunned by family and friends and townspeople.  He protected her as they traveled.  He stayed with her when the baby arrived.  He was the “hovering” presence when strangers showed up at the stable (the “dreaded” shepherds who didn’t have a good reputation among the villages) and then the Magi from the East (an odd sight for anyone).
  6. When Herod became so paranoid that he sent the soldiers to kill all the infant boys from the age of two and under, Joseph listened again to God’s instructions to take the mother and baby to Egypt to keep him safe.  They traveled another LONG journey and became refugees in a foreign country, only to return to Nazareth once Herod had died and it appeared to be safe for them to go home.
  7. He would have raised Jesus as his own son, teaching him practical things, but he also would have taught him – as all the fathers apparently did – about the Torah, Jewish customs, and probably told him the story of his birth and early childhood.
  8. Joseph gave Jesus legitimacy by giving him a name and a father.  He took Jesus as his own child, and he was faithful to Mary, as well as to God.

I think Joseph must have been a remarkable man, just as Mary was a remarkable woman.  Our Bible study group watched the movie “The Nativity” for our Advent study this year.  It was fascinating to see how they portrayed all the characters, but the one that struck me the most was the actor’s portrayal of Joseph.

His kindness and selflessness was so evident, and in the movie, he and Mary gradually bonded as husband and wife.  In one scene, Joseph had fallen asleep from exhaustion, and Mary decided to wash his muddy and dusty feet.  She looked down at her stomach and told her child that he would have a kind and loving father.

It is good for us to ponder Jesus’ earthly parents because we can learn a lot from them.  Both of them exhibited amazing faith and courage.  Both of them accepted their role and responsibility as parents of the most precious gift of all – God’s Son.  Let’s keep Joseph right up front with Mary because they both were remarkable people.

What can you learn from Joseph?

What can you learn from Mary?

How will you carry that with you in your faith journey?

Merry and Blessed Christmas

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5 (NRSV)

This Sunday is December 25th.  It happens every so many years that Christmas Day falls on a Sunday.  Some churches choose to let their Christmas Eve services be the worship for the week, and some have always had some kind of service on Christmas Day no matter when it fell during the week.

We fall in the middle.  I am a firm believer that worship should be held no matter what day it is, so we will have Sunday morning worship on Christmas Day.  However, rather than read the Luke and Matthew birth narratives again (we will have heard them at least twice between the children’s pageant and Christmas Eve), I decided to use the passage from John 1:1-14.

It’s a little different approach and expands the idea of Christmas from a birth in a manger with visits from shepherds and Magi to the presence of Christ in our world.  This was and is the Light we all need as we live our lives.

The passage above from verse 5 reminds us that the Light of Christ will not and cannot be extinguished.  Nothing this world delivers or does will change that.  For some of us, that is an important message to remember.  In Romans 8, we are reminded that nothing – nothing at all – NOTHING AT ALL – will separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).

In a world where terrorism often seems to “win,” anger and hatred abound, pain and suffering are all around us, people live in poverty, on the streets, families struggle to feed their children, and so many things seem to be negative, we need to remember that the Light will not be extinguished – nothing will separate us from God’s love.

We need Christmas Day and Easter Day to remember what God has done for us through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus who came into the world to be our savior.  And, we also need to remember that we are part of sharing the Light of Christ with others because that Light shines through us.  As the church, we are part of the Body of Christ on earth and called to give generously, speak up when we see injustices, and offer kindness and compassion in a world where we can sometimes see very little.

We are part of making a difference.  My former district superintendent used to remind me:  it’s not about you, meaning that it IS about Jesus Christ.  Sometimes, we have to put ourselves aside and stretch ourselves out of complacency and comfort zones to bring the word of God’s love to the world.

That’s what the celebration of Christmas does for the world – we are part of it.

How will you go a step beyond this season to show care and compassion for someone else?

Where and how will you shine the light of Christ in your world?

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

[Jesus said,] “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”  Mark 10:14 (NRSV)

Tomorrow in both of our churches we will celebrate the nativity through our children’s pageant.  This has been a tradition in church with a variety of presentations for decades.  I’m always struck by the ways in which we adults revel in hearing the “old, old story” of Jesus’ birth in new ways, and especially through our children.

Maybe it’s because we have so much to learn from our children.  I wonder sometimes if their innocence and absorbing stories and information like sponges is some of what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples to let the children come to him.

When we look at the history of the culture during Jesus’ day, we discover that children were not considered worth anything until they were old enough to begin carrying their load of the family business or the household duties.  But, throughout the gospels, we find references to being like children in order to receive the kingdom of God.

Sometimes I think we become jaded as we grow older.  Our habit become part of who we are, and our opinions are rigid and unchangeable.  Whenever I preach, I am also preaching to myself because I need to hear the Good News over and over again, too.  I need to hear the reminders of what it means to be a person of faith.  I need to hear the instructions from Jesus about how to live my life as one of his followers.

Yet, there are also times when I wonder if anyone really pay attention to what I am saying. It seems as if behaviors don’t change much, but then I have to ask whether MY behavior has changed as I try to live in Jesus’ ways.  Besides, I trust that God is working through the preaching because I certainly don’t have all the answers – only God has those.  I am just the vehicle through whom God speaks – or doesn’t.  We all hear the words and apply them as best we can, the behavior changes come from God.

So, when Jesus said to let the little children come to him, I think he really meant that, not only are the children welcome in the Kingdom, but they have something to teach us, too.  I guess that’s why I enjoy the pageants – the children are teaching and preaching to us all about Jesus.  Maybe they are the ones who really know him best after all.

How do you learn from children?

How can we be open to the message God has for us?

In what ways can we approach God as a child?

Just Sayin’

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was dong, 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?”  (Matthew 11:2-3 CEB)

What John was really asking was, “So, Jesus, so far you haven’t amassed an army, overthrown the Roman occupation, set up your kingdom to rule over Israel.  You just don’t fit my – our – expectations of the Messiah, King of Israel!  Just sayin’.”

The prophecies of the one who is to come – the Messiah who would save the people – were based on a different part of scripture.  Since the Messiah was to be from the line of David, the assumption was that he would be a great warrior king like David, conquer Rome and restore Israel to its own nation and to power in their region.

Jesus was not fitting that expectation.  When have our expectations of others left us disappointed and wondering?  I have an expectation (probably unreasonable, but who knows) that when I e-mail a friend or someone in the congregation asking a question or looking for help, I’ll get a response.  When nothing comes, I’m let down, disappointed, frustrated, and feeling like they just don’t care enough to answer back.

But then, I’ve been like that all my life.  As a child, I had several pen pals, and it was great for a while, but then eventually, it would fall off, and I stopped trying.  John’s concerns and expectations were far greater than my example, but his wonder over whether or not Jesus was “the One” was very easy to understand.

Yet, Jesus answers from the scriptures – just a different part of the scriptures in Isaiah:  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.  (v. 4).  Jesus was the ONE!  Just because he didn’t meet John’s expectations, doesn’t mean he didn’t meet God’s!

How often do we place great expectations on God and find disappointment?  Maybe we can turn it around and ask how we are meeting God’s expectations of us.  Have we let God down?  How have we met God’s expectations?  Where is God leading us to minister in our world in the ways of Jesus?

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