Posts Tagged ‘Joseph and Mary’

Real People, Real Problems 12-22-13

This sermon is based on Matthew 1:18-25. This is Matthew’s account of the birth narrative, though it is very brief with very little focus on Jesus’ birth itself. Rather it focuses on Joseph and the tough choices that he needed to make.  You can listen to the sermon here.

http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/real-people-real-problems-12

You can also follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember to do them somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
It is nearly Christmas…we are almost there…just a couple more days. Earlier this week I was having a discussion about the ideal Christmas and what it looks like…particularly in terms of Christmas Eve worship. Now, admittedly, I can’t remember who I was talking with, but they told me that their wish every year is to go to the late service…and then walk outside to find it quiet and calm…with a very light snow falling…the tiny flakes drifting slowly to the ground…and that is just about perfect…and you know what, even with as much as I admittedly dislike snow and winter weather…that does sound like a nice ending to Christmas Eve.
And Christmas Eve itself is a wonderful time…in addition to all the wonderful songs we will sing, we hear the story of Christ’s birth from Luke’s gospel…full of wonderful detail…the trip to Bethlehem…the cozy stable…the angels appearing the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night…all that wonderful stuff…and in the midst of it all, we hear that Mary…the perfect mother, treasured all of it. (pause)
But it isn’t Christmas Eve yet is it? Its Sunday December 22nd…its still Advent…and this is no idealistic manger scene with Mary calmly sitting there treasuring things. (pause) Last Friday served as a good reminder that real life…is a little bumpier.
Friday morning started off in the Dalen household like a lot of days…with epic battles ensuing as we attempt to get the kids ready for another day of school, and get ourselves ready for work.  Parents, I’m sure you’ve been there…you feel our pain…well once we finally got everyone situated and were a few minutes away from heading over to the school for the morning drop off…I stepped outside to start up the truck and scrape the thin sheet of ice that had accumulated on my windows…and the fun…continued.
The instant I started running the scrapper across the windshield…it snapped…I knew it was coming. I’d been expecting it for the past week or so, knowing that it was wearing out…I even had it on the current list of stuff to pick up at the store…but now…in this moment…I’ve got a broken ice scrapper…and a whole lot of window left to scrape…so I did the only thing I could do…I grabbed the broken end of the scrapper, contorted my hand around in a super uncomfortable way…and proceeded to get my windows scrapped off…needless to say, a trip out to the gas station to pick up a new scrapper followed the school drop off.
And it wasn’t just me that was experiencing real life and real problems…Emily called me a little while later…”I hate getting gas!” She’d pulled up to the pump out south of town…1st attempt…didn’t work at…so she tried a second time…and managed to pump exactly 6 cents worth of gas…then she pulled around to the other side of the pump…and got a $1.50…exasperated, she headed off to another gas station where she had to pass a written exam and give a blood sample just to get gas…and as she was leaving the station…she discovered, much to her dismay…that there was a median blocking the direction she needed to go…I know this because she was on the phone with me when it happened.  Real life…real people…real problems.
Granted…these are all relatively small problems…more irritations than actual issues…but hey…that’s real life isn’t it? And its things like this…days like this…on going moments like this that make me remember that the world’s not all sunshine and rainbows…it can be a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are because life will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it…No one…can hit as hard as life…because life…is…messy. Life…is tough…it just is.
Today’s scripture lesson offers us a glimpse into that tough reality…into that real world…with real people…and real problems.  Matthew’s gospel offers a little bit of a grittier look at the birth narrative. Did you notice…that today’s lesson does include the birth of Jesus…but careful…blink and you miss it.
Matthew doesn’t really focus on the birth itself…it’s only mentioned in passing…but rather…Matthew is giving us a glimpse into the reality of the situation. (pause) And that reality focuses on Joseph…and his choices. (pause) Think about this for a moment…but don’t think about the well-known birth narrative…don’t think about the peaceful scene…think about real life…and remember that Joseph and Mary…were two real people…with real problems…and real consequences to face.
Israel 2000 years ago…short life expectancy…hard work…hard life…under Roman oppression…and not only that, but there are all kinds of religious regulations that dictate a lot of behavior.  Joseph, as we hear, is a righteous man…likely very young, probably still in his teens or early twenties…finds out that his young bride to be…is pregnant…and he knows it’s not his…can you image that conversation between the two of them? I sure wouldn’t want to bump into that in the midst of pre-marital counseling…Joseph faces a choice…the rules dictate that he can either expose Mary in public…which would likely end with her stoned to death or spending her life as outcast…or he can dismiss her privately…which involves their divorce process…and still pretty much leaves her un-marriable and dependent on her family for the rest of her life…that’s Joseph’s choice, and its not an easy one.
Social decorum states that he must do one of the two…he certainly can’t marry her…he just can’t…and even though Joseph obviously cares for her…he obviously loves her…but he’s afraid to do anything else…and so Joseph decides to follow the path with the least consequences and dismiss her.  But this is a real problem for him…and obviously it’s a real problem for her, too. She’s unmarried…pregnant…and totally unable to support herself or her child…at this moment, for these two very real young people…life is beating them to their knees…and they don’t know what to do.
But then what happens? (pause) Well…God steps in…we know that God has already been at work…through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary is already pregnant. This process is already in motion…so they better hold on.  And in Joseph’s case…cue up the angel of the Lord in the midst of a dream. Joseph. DO…NOT…BE…AFRAID to take Mary as your wife.
Joseph…I know this is scary…I know this seems like you don’t have any good choices…and I know that if you do this…it will create even more problems for you…you’ll be socially shunned…so will your wife…if you do this…you’ll feel as if you are breaking the laws which you have lived your life by…if you do this…your whole world will be turned upside down…but DO NOT FEAR.
Think about it for a moment…Joseph…and Mary as well…have been asked to give up control…or perhaps it would be better to say the illusion of control…because none of us are really in control of things are we? Those real life problems…those real life issues and irritations serve as reminders that we do not control things…there are powers at work that are beyond our comprehension…some of those powers are working against us in this life…in this reality…like the powers of sin and death…but at the same time…there are powers that are working for the good…even when we don’t realize it…and in this case…in the instance of Joseph and Mary…that power for good…is GOD HIMSELF.
Maybe what’s really going on here…in the midst of this heavenly encounter…of this Godly command…is for Joseph to let go of his fear and trust that God’s is working this stuff out.  We face the same situation in our own lives.
Sometimes we can see very clearly what God is up to in our lives and in our reality…but honestly…not very often…because God’s timing…and God’s work in the world moves at a much different pace than we tend to look for…and so we try to control…and we try to plan…and we try to maintain…but sometimes…often times in fact…we’re really just getting swept along in the river of life….and the messiness of reality.
But in the midst of all that craziness…it is vitally important to remember…and cling to the hope that GOD IS UP TO SOMETHING…and that God IS taking steps in a specific direction. We see that in today’s story.  Mary and Joseph truly had their world turned upside down…but in that massive upheaval…God entered into this messy reality…and He did it with a specific purpose…to overcome those powers of sin and death that work so hard to destroy us in this life…God entered into this reality to take the hits that we cannot withstand.
God was willing to take the hits…God was not afraid…God didn’t place blame…He didn’t make excuses…He came into this life…and took the blame…he took the hits for us so that we don’t have to be afraid anymore…despite the darkness that is still present in this world…we don’t have to be afraid.
So today, think about your life…think about the stuff that’s going on that’s scary…think about those things in your life that God is telling you “DO NOT FEAR.” I can’t tell you what those things are in your life…because it’s your life…it’s your experience…but rest assured that God knows what they are…and maybe…just maybe…God’s got that all figured too.
The glory of the gospel is that when God entered out reality through Jesus Christ…and 33 years later when Jesus took the cross…and then 3 days later rose from the dead…he did it for us…despite the issues that we face in this messy reality…God accepts us, as are…and we don’t have to be afraid of who we are…we don’t have to be afraid of our issues or our fears or doubts or shortcomings. To follow God…and to follow Jesus is to be ourselves fully. The gospel means that we can be excited to truly be WHO WE ARE…not wishing to be someone else…because God has accepted YOU…as you are.
God knows that we are real people with real problems…because God became a real person…and God uses real people…and one day…these problems will be behind us, because we will have reached that glorious day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes…so today…Do Not…Be Afraid. Amen.