Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sermon: Advent IV

Look in the Mirror
My sons do, straightening their hair, looking at the missing tooth that came out…

Look in the Mirror
See the person who was named in Baptism before God and the congregation

This Sunday, with all the advent candles lit, the light of God has grown brighter and we hear Jesus named by the angel to Joseph in a dream in the gospel of Matthew…

When Joseph heard the angel speak to him in that dream, he had a decision to make. Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. He found out she was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his. What was he to do? He could throw her out, and make a huge stink and let everyone know about the child conceived out of wedlock. He could get the people to ostracize her. But Joseph was a righteous man, and he decided to dismiss her quietly. A generous and merciful act. But in that dream an angel of the Lord appears to him and everything changes.

I think the poet and author Rainer Rilke captured that moment:

AND the angel, taking due pains,
told the man who clenched his fists:
But can't you see in her robe's every fold
that she is cool as the Lord's morning mists?

But the other, gazing gloomily, just murmured:
What is it has wrought this change in her?
Then cried the angel to him: Carpenter,
can't you see yet that God is acting here?

Because you plane the planks, in your pride
would you really make the Lord God answerable
who unpretentiously from the same wood
makes the leaves burst forth, the young buds swell?

He understood that. And now as he raised
his frightened glance toward the angel
who was gone already . . . slowly the man
drew his heavy cap off. Then in song he praised.

It is a startling dream and it must have shook his soul. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and you will name him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph had set his mind on leaving her. He could have said no to the angel. But Joseph does not, he listens, he takes Mary as his wife. And Jesus is born. Again, all will change because of this child. The words of Isaiah ring in our ears: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

When we hear these readings we look back, we can see God's saving work in Isaiah and in the Gospel of Matthew. God has sought out men and women to be in relationship with their God, the creator, and to guide them toward salvation. In each reading God speaks of salvation through the birth of a child. For our God is the Lord of heaven and earth, of the history of nations and from the greatest in Israel to the least; for Emmanuel, God is with us.

In these last moments of Advent, we await the second coming, we long for it as we again walk our steps to that first encounter in the manger in Bethlehem. This waiting, this hope, this salvation is not something we sit passively by and wait to happen to us. It is about our actions and our relationship with the One in whose image we are made.

We can chose to ignore the God who speaks to us now; to ignore the words of the prophet, to refuse to follow where Jesus has led the way, and chose our own path thinking we know the better way. Or we can follow Joseph's example. The willingness to change our mind when confronted by God’s word and God’s spirit. The courage in the midst of fear to follow God’s way even if one does not know where it may lead. It is as W. H. Auden wrote:

To choose what is difficult all one’s days
As if it were easy, that is faith. Joseph, praise.

May we have the courage of Joseph, to say yes to God, to welcome the birth of Jesus at Christmas with all the anticipation and hope that we have had this season of Advent. In the words of Madeline L’engle

GOD did not wait till the world was ready,
till . . . nations were at peace.
God came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

God did not wait for the perfect time.
God came when the need was deep and great…

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!


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