2014-12-21 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Echo the Story #19 of 36: Jesus’ Birth
“Waking Up Our Imaginations”
This Fall we have been moving through a framework called “Echo the Story.” We started way back in the warm days of September and dove into Genesis…creation…God hovering over the chaos and the waters bringing order, life and relationship!
Then (look at the front cover the bulletin) we went through wave after wave of faith and folly.
God creates and recreates humankind for relationship with him…from the symbols on the front cover, you might recollect the people and the stories…Cain & Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob & Esau, Joseph, Moses, King David, the prophets, Daniel…
Wave after wave of faith and folly…it was quite a ride wasn’t it? Did you find yourself at home?
And then in the wake of Babylonian exile, in 550 BCE, God’s people sputter and wane into a time of silence. They try to re-build the temple in Jerusalem but it is a shadow of what it was in the glory years of David and Solomon. And God’s people stop writing their stories…they are tired, disappointed, & broken-hearted.
And for 400 years, God’s people plod along. Some are faithful. Some are prone to wander from religious life and they disengage with God and the community of faith. Some are apathetic and just plain old tired of life and keeping up pretenses.
Does it remind you of any people you know??
And in the midst of this silence and season of fallowness, a new story and new creation emerges. We read of it in the Gospel of Matthew, the writer tells us of “an account of the geneolgy of Jesus” which can also be translated as the “genesis of Jesus.” Matthew is hinting at something here! This isn’t just going to be a boring who’s who of jewish folklore…this is God at work! New creation! A new beginning, a new origin…and yet it’s got a family tree that’s full of mess, family dysfunction and disorderliness.
That’s why we read the geneology as the first reading today…to remind us of all the dirty rotten scoundrels and saints that make up Jesus illustrious ancestry.
Matthew starts with Abraham…father Abraham whose descendants would fill the starry lit skies…but lest we forget that Abraham was a murderer and a liar? Deceiving his enemies (she’s not my wife, she’s my sister!) and when things didn’t work out according to his timeline, taking matters into his own hands (You couldn’t have meant Sarai…so I’ll sleep with Hagar!).
And it’s not just the men who have a scandalous reputation, Matthew includes women in his geneology (which is mind-blowing enough) but he also includes women of questionable repute…Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked her father-in-law to sleep with her, Rahab the prostitute who played an essential role in hiding God’s leaders when they were most vulnerable, Ruth who was an underdog, outsider, who was able to win the heart of Boaz (via a midnight tryst in the grain elevator), and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah) who gets in on the geneology of Jesus because of her adulterous relationship with King David! Wha??????
Which brings us to the 5th woman of questionable, sexual reputation in Jesus’ family tree…[HIS MOTHER!] …a rural teenage girl named Mary.
v. 18 “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way…”
Before we get too far in this story, I want us to recognize the incredulity of the characters in this story…at Church Council meeting this week we were reading through Philip Yancey’s book “The Jesus I never knew.” When he talks of Mary and Joseph, he writes: “I tremble to think of the fate of the world resting on the responses of 2 rural teenagers.”
[2 rural teenagers, please stand?]
v. 18b “When Jesus’ mother had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
Let us now try to enter the world of Joseph…
You’re 17 years old, betrothed to Mary which for 1st century Jews meant you were married. You were legally married, you just don’t live together and thus you haven’t (theoretically) consummated the marriage. It would be about 10-12 months later that the betrothal would lead to an official “living-in-the-same-house” marriage…nevertheless, to get out of this commitment, you would have to pursue legal means, thus divorcing one’s spouse.
17-year old Joseph is a good and righteous Jew. He’s a YHWH-worshipper, an upstanding citizen in his neighbourhood and he’s working hard to get his red-seal carpenter ticket. When Mary tells him that she’s pregnant he’s flabber-gasted.
“You’re what? P-p-p- preg…..with child?”
[have you even been this shocked by new life?]
Imagine the stages of grief and loss…
-denial: It couldn’ be!
-anger: I’m gonna punch out someone! Who was it? Barak? Thomas? Lemuel?
-bargaining: maybe we should…or maybe we could….
But Joseph’s acceptance plan wasn’t necessarily in line w/ YHWH’s…
v. 19 “Husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”
Joseph will take the high road…he’s a good kid with a good family…and after talking to friends and his parents, he’s want to do the right thing. He won’t make a big deal about it…he’ll find a way to dismiss her quietly…imagine the conversation…
“Mary, I love you, but…I just can’t believe that you don’t know who got you pregnant.”
“But I told you Joseph, it was a divine gift from God…I’m telling you the truth, I haven’t slept with anyone, I’m still a virgin, but yes, I’m pregnant. You’ve got to believe me!”
“Mary, I…I just can’t believe it. I’m sorry…I want to believe it’s true but I just can’t.”
Joseph would “dismiss” her as quietly and as harm-less as possible. “Dad has a friend who is a lawyer and he’ll make sure that Mary is taken care of as best as possible….yeah, I know it’s tough for divorced girls to find another mate…but Mary’s a strong girl…she’ll make it…she’ll be ok…”
v. 20 “But 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins.”
v. 24 “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took Mary as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
– – – – – – –
As we continue to grapple with the drama & power of this story, I’d like to invite you to go to sleep alongside Joseph…close your eyes….
Listen to the angel of the Lord, calling your name…echoing God’s heart for you…
“Do not be afraid….Do not be afraid…..Do not be afraid…”
What are the worries in our hearts these days?
What is stirring up anxiety in your life, in your family, in relationships that you’re involved in…in communities that your care for…
Are we in places of exile? Longing to be delivered?
Listen for the voice of God…
“Do not be afraid….Do not be afraid….Do not be afraid…”
And the powerful promises that accompanies the exhortation is “Emmanuel.”
God is with us.
This is the reason we are not afraid…God is with us.
In the midst of our greatest joys of these days…new life that is stirring in wombs or figuratively in the “wombs” of our dreams and hopes…
God is with us….
In the midst of our greatest sorrows in these days…waning life, dashed hopes…finding ourselves in places where it feels like we’ve fallen & can’t get up …disoriented and needing to get our life back on track….
God is with us…
[read the first 2 stanzas of Peterson’s poem “Dream”]
Amiably at home with virtue and evil,
The righteousness of Joseph and wickedness
Of Herod, I’m ever and always a stranger to grace.
I need this annual angel visitation
— sudden drive by dream to reality —
To know the virgin conceives and God is with us.
The dream powers its way through winter weather
And gives me vision to see the Jesus gift.
– – – – – –
Let us wake up with Joseph this morning…imaginations enlarged! …with VISION to see the Jesus gift…empowered to live out the words of hope granted to us….
“Do not be afraid”…. “God is with us.”
What will that mean for the next few steps of the journey for you? For us?
Instead of “quietly dismissing her” and moving away from her,
Joseph moved toward Mary…he took her as his wife, he lived with her, supported her, went through 1st-century prenatal classes with her…all the while hanging on, by faith, to the promise that this “mysteriously conceived child” was a gift from God, a gift he needed to stand with, behind and beside all the way to the end.
(you can imagine his doubts along the way, can’t you?)
As we wake up to the landscape and the realities on the horizon of our lives, what are we in danger of “dismissing quietly?” How might God be urging us to “take heart” and “not be afraid.” How might God be sending us to run towards these people and complex situations rather than run away??
Advent is a season to be born again. We’ve sung it in one of hymns already…
“O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in; be BORN in us today…”
Let us wake up from the dream world of Joseph and be changed as he was changed.
Through the power of God who is with us, in the presence of one who is promised to save us… Jesus…
Let us stand up and stand with those people and those situations that we are tempted to dismiss quietly.
God renew us, and grant us strength to face the joys, sorrows, risks and rewards that lay ahead of us.
We’re not alone!
His name is Emmanuel – –
the God who is with us – –
Who is made out of the same stuff we are
and who is made out of the same stuff God is
and who will not let either of us go
— barbara taylor
I invite you into a moment of silence….so that you might imagine those places and people where you will be sent to this day/this week…asking and praying for God’s re-newing and re-birthing spirit (presence) to provide for you and sustain you.
[ SILENT REFLECTION ]
we yearn for the light of your coming
and the warmth of your embrace;
focus our hearts on the truly important
and keep us centered on that still point, Jesus our Emmanuel,
who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen.
— Bosco Peters