Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sermon for 12/22/2013 The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Ministry is not a burden.

Sermon for 12/15/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Matthew 1:18–25
18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."  22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
             23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
            and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."  24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,  25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

In general, we all know who Joseph is. He’s someone we’ve been looking at in nativity scenes and hearing about since we were children.

But while Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is pretty familiar to all of us, we really don’t think about him all that much, until it’s time for “the talk”. You know, the awkward talk concerning “marital relations” that some of us have with our children, not as they’re becoming adults, but starting when they are quite young. This is “the talk” we have,when trying to explain how God is Jesus’ daddy, but so is Joseph, but not really. And, because children are smarter than us adults, they keep asking why, or how this could happen, and no age appropriate answer is really good enough to explain how Joseph fits into this whole scheme. Eventually, the only way to move forward is by asking the world’s greatest subject changer, “What is it you wanted Santa to bring you this year?”

As we muddle through these talks, after a time, I think children just learn to accept that Joseph is a part of this whole thing. Then they become teens, and the questioning stops because they know everything. Then teens become adults, who aren’t really thinking about Joseph until nativity sets and children and challenging questions start popping up…so goes the circle of life.

What we miss out on, as we give Joseph just a cursory thought from time to time, is how difficult finding out about Mary’s pregnancy, and the decision making process that followed, must have been on him. Maybe we miss out on this, because it’s sort of glossed over in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew just tells us today that Joseph is a righteous man, and that he’s going to do the honorable thing by ending things with Mary quietly.

But, even after he does the “righteous thing”, what does life look like for Joseph after this quiet ending. Maybe, if all goes right, there’s another betrothal and family with someone else, but even if all goes wonderfully in his life, the pain of what appeared to be Mary’s betrayal, would not simply be water under the bridge for Joseph, or any person. 

As we think about this whole story of Joseph, it comes to our attention that it’s not all stables and mangers and nostalgia. There is hurt, pain, and disillusionment involved. Yet, as we take time to think about Joseph’s troubling situation, we are also shown the way that God works, and the transforming grace of this Savior, Jesus, who will be born in Bethlehem. 

You see, to the extent of his abilities, Joseph was going to do the right thing, by not dragging Mary through the mud and publically humiliating her over this situation. But even this righteousness, would still bring division, and separation, and it would all be caused by God giving the world a savior. So, God doesn’t simply allow Joseph to let Mary go quietly.

Instead, God sends an angel, a messenger to Joseph, and says, “Do not be afraid”. First, the angel disarms Joseph of his fear, and then tells him the work that God is doing through the birth of this baby. Through this angel, God gives Joseph a new way to be righteous, a way that doesn’t just end unpleasant situations quietly, but instead is a way that brings people together in the unending love of God.

As we really think about all these events today, this birth of a Savior, seems to place a great burden on Joseph, and also, of course, upon Mary. Life has been disrupted, there’s some tough conversations to have, and God doesn’t even have the courtesy to bring about this miraculous birth in the time of epidurals.  By our own human understanding, it’s not surprising that we’ve made this story of Jesus’ birth so cute and nostalgic, because otherwise we can really only feel sorry for Joseph and Mary, sorry that God gave them such a hard task, a heavy burden so that the world’s savior could be born.

But our own human understanding is so warped that we miss the true nature of the gift God is giving. God is not giving Joseph a burden to righteously undertake. Instead, even though it’s not exactly according to plan God is giving Joseph a spouse to trust and a child to love.

God’s gift of grace to us today, is exactly the same. We have been given each other to trust in, and God’s Son, Jesus, to love together. This isn’t the gift that gives us convenience or ease, but it is the gift that gives us relationship, love, and joy the things that give us life, restore our life, and indeed create new life.

This week, we again have families from Family Promise Metrowest staying with us. These families are not a burden, or an inconvenience, in order to fulfill some sort of Godly penance of good works, they are a gift to us. They are people who God has given us to love.

Now, there’s a part of me that would like to say how much time I’ve spent with the various families when we host FPM, and how everyone’s lives are changed, and how if everyone just gave more of themselves in so many different ways, we could end homelessness. But the reality is, is that I’ve barely done anything, this ministry is the work of many others. And I say this, because I don’t bring up FPM to guilt more people into serving in this ministry.

But I didn’t do a whole lot, apart from being a good sinner, to bring about the birth of Jesus, yet I rejoice in what God has done through Joseph.

So instead, I bring up FPM, and the role CtK is fulfills in its work and mission, because my heart is touched and hope is kindled in me by the dedication of those who do volunteer, those who help purchase supplies, the willing spirit that has been given to this congregation to share in this ministry, and the stories of those who are through this help able to secure a footing in this world. Stories of people that are able to spend Christmas this year in an apartment or house, where last year they spent it in a church. Stories of people who spend Christmas this year living in a church, instead of in a car.

The truth is, God hasn’t called us to be a part of this ministry, and all the ministries we undertake so that through us, all the problems of the world can be solved. God has called us to be a part of this ministry in order to give us the gift of love, the gift of Emmanuel, God with us, that was given in Bethlehem, so long ago. God has called us to be a part of this ministry to experience the salvation that comes when love is shared, not when the world is exactly ordered, but right now in the midst of things that should take away our joy and our hope.

This morning, as we share and rejoice in the ministries God has given us, think back to Joseph. We remember that it was Joseph who figured it all out on his own, but rather, it was the work of God, who came to him and by that angel, transformed his mind. We remember as well, that once Joseph agreed to marry Mary, the next line isn’t, “they had the baby Jesus, and they lived happily ever after”. Being the earthly father of Jesus didn’t make Joseph a perfect parent, or a perfect spouse.

But, we remember, that by giving him that angel, God gave Joseph, Jesus Christ, a son who would love him, and each of us so much, that he would even die for us. We remember that God worked through Joseph’s own human limitations to give us a savior who has come to give us the way of love, the way of life eternal. May we prepare for the coming of this Savior, inconvenient as it may be at time, through our trust, care, and hope in each other, and in all of the creation that God has given us to love.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,