Tuesday, December 24, 2013

4th Sunday of Advent Sermon

O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Let us not forget poor Joseph! The prayer I just read is for his feast day on March 19.

At the next service, we will have our Christmas pageant & when it comes to the Christmas Pageant, we think of Mary & Jesus, the animals in the stable, the angels singing overhead, the shepherds who will come leaving their sheep, the magi bringing gifts and then there is Joseph. Joseph is always there but he does seem at times to be a side character, not as important as the others. I think of a Nativity Icon, that captures all the different stories of Christmas and there Joseph sits in the corner of the icon, with his head resting in his hands wondering what has happened…

But it is Gospel of Matthew who reminds us of the importance of Joseph, b/c Matthew tells us that Jesus is named by the angel to Joseph in a dream.

Dreams play important roles in the lives of so many characters in the bible. For Joseph, when he 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, maybe even stone her to death. 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

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. And 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” and “he will refuse the evil and choose the good.”

Joseph sets an example for us: The willingness to change one’s 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. In the words of W. H. Auden:
To choose what is difficult all one’s days
As if it were easy, that is faith.
Joseph, praise.
That type of transformation is also true in Dickens’ famous Christmas Carol.
One Christmas a church staged Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The role of Ebenezer Scrooge was played by a parishioner who was a gentleman of un-Scrooge-like generosity. But he managed his part with gusto, growling his way through the opening scenes, ringing out every "Bah! Humbug!" with miserly ill will. He shivered with fright and dreadful self-recognition as he encountered each of the three Christmas ghosts.

At the end of the play, the transformed and jubilant Scrooge throws open his bedroom window and bellows festively to the startled city street below, "Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas!" Scrooge then spies a street urchin passing by: "Hey you, boy, you there!" the joyful Scrooge shouts, "Come up here, boy, I've got something wonderful for you to do!" and sends the boy off to purchase the giant turkey in the poulterer's window as a surprise for the Cratchits.

That's when something unexpected happened one evening.

Now, in this staging, the audience did not see the urchin. No actor appeared on stage as the boy - the audience imagined the boy Scrooge was calling to. But at this particular performance, when the transformed Scrooge beckoned from the window to the unseen boy, a real six-year-old boy sitting in the audience with his family, rose from his seat and walked onto the stage ready to do "something wonderful.”

The boy in the audience thought Scrooge was calling him.

The actor playing Scrooge was caught off guard. There was now an unscripted child standing center stage. What to do? The audience held its breath. Then the person of faith beneath the veneer of Scrooge came to the fore. Bounding down from his window perch, Scrooge strode across the stage and cheerily embraced the waiting boy.

"Yes, indeed," he exclaimed, his voice full of blessing. "You are the one, the very one I had in mind." Then he gently led the boy back to his seat in the audience, returned to the stage and resumed the play. When the curtain calls were held, it was, of course, this boy, the one who had felt himself personally summoned from his seat, who received, along with old Ebenezer, the audience's loudest and warmest applause. [Thomas Long.]
In the Christmas story of Matthew - a husband feeling betrayed by his fiancĂ©e's unexpected pregnancy - we see the Spirit of God at work, transforming heartache and misery into birth and blessing. That same Spirit calls us to be about the work of bringing Emmanuel to birth in our own houses and stables, to our own Bethlehems and Nazareths, to our own counting houses and London towns. Christmas calls from us "something wonderful": the grace of God that enables us to experience the same transformation as the selfish old Scrooge undergoes in the Dickens' story and Joseph underwent in the Gospel of Matthew’s story.

May this Advent season be the beginning of our faithful response to God's call to bring the wonder, hope and peace of his Son's birth into every season and place. And May we have the courage and faith and willingness to be transformed like 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. Amen.

No comments: