Isaiah 7:10-16; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
December 23, 2001
Paul writes to the Church in Rome and prays for them, "I pray that God and Jesus will be kind to you and bless you with peace."
I think that prayer is still echoing down through the church and has come to you and me this morning. May we experience the kindness of GOD and the blessing of peace.
In Isaiah's time GOD wanted to bless the people and asked them to name their proof. What would they take as a sign that GOD was caring for them?
Well, they either couldn't or wouldn't decide.
What would you say you would take as proof that GOD was with us? Would it be a certain amount of money in your bank account or our church account? Would it be getting our choice of a Christmas menu instead of having the same thing year after year or our choice of hymns at church? Would it be finding Osama bin Laden's dead body or finding someone who had not been to church for years starting to come back? Would it be having 20 different Bible studies and Prayer groups going at the same time or the Republicans or Democrats finally in charge of everything?
Perhaps we wouldn't do any better than the ancient Israelites in trying to figure out what would constitute proof that GOD is with us.
Finally, we are told, GOD said, "Enough. If you can't figure it out I'll tell you about a sign that I am present."
Can't you just hear their breath being held as the ancient Israelites wait for what GOD will tell them? What will it be? The toppling of a political dynasty? An earthquake? Fire on the mountain? Manna from heaven or water from a rock?
GOD finally says, "A child will be born to a young woman."
Now, can't you hear the muttering! That's no sign. It happens every day. What's the big deal about that?
Isn't it amazing that GOD would use such a usual sign to let us know that GOD is present with us!
Well, it was dismissed in their time, "GOD must have gone around the bend."
The same thing was true for Joseph. Mary, Joseph's betrothed, was pregnant before Joseph had intercourse with her. Could GOD be present in such an event? Even with the angels in his dreams I don't think Joseph ever really believed that story about the angel announcing to Mary that she was to be pregnant without intercourse. How in the world does a Holy Spirit do such a thing?
But Joseph did follow through with the idea that the baby would be a sign that GOD's kindness and presence was real and available. If Joseph, like Hosea before him, could love someone who broke the sexual boundaries and love a child not his own, then could not love be possible in other places too?
Could not the Jews and the Romans (and by extension all Gentiles) be present with one another in love? Could not the rich and the poor be present with one another in love? Could not the healthy and the lepers be present with one another in love?
Joseph's response keeps echoing down through the years and raises questions about our own ability to love where we thought we couldn't. Who have we been willing to walk away from? The poor who should do better for themselves? Those who terrorize and should be terrorized in return? Those caught in addictive habits whether of eating too much or too little or drugs or alcohol? Those who don't think or feel like we do?
You see, Joseph had to realize in making the decision that he did, to stick with Mary and the baby to be named Jesus, that if he didn't he was going to legitimize all the usual divisions of society between those deemed "good" by the majority and those called "bad."
That realization echoes down to us this morning as we consider ourselves in Joseph's position and ready to walk away from kindness. If we walk away we will give a ready excuse to other individuals and whole societies to also walk away from kindness.
Please note here that I am not talking about abusive relationships, whether those be physical or psychological abuse. Those relationships need to end. But where kindness can be shown, even if it is a struggle to do so, it needs to be shown.
I'm sure it was difficult for Joseph to lose his grounding in what was "right" and what was "wrong" as he wrestled with what was "kind".
I'm sure it is difficult for you and for me and for us as a church to move beyond the rules of "right" and "wrong" to wrestle with what is "kind".
Joseph finally decided that living a sign that GOD is with us was the more important than "right" or "wrong." Moving beyond moralism to the presence of GOD is always difficult, but always worth it.
Tomorrow night we will have another Christmas Eve service. The challenge for us will be to not have it simply be filled with sweet music and glowing candles. The challenge will be for us to come alive with the presence of GOD which saves us from our divisions and moves us along the path of salvation and reconciliation with GOD and one another.
For this morning, though listen again to Paul. "As a human Jesus was from the family of David. As GOD Jesus was raised from death. Jesus was kind to me and chose me to be an apostle to tell about this wonderful connection. So it is I pray for you that Jesus will also be kind to you that you might see the connection between the human and the divine in every person and through that connection find peace."
Let us pray:
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.