St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Advent IV 2013 Sermon

I, Bonnie, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts.  I write this letter to all the Christians in Montesano, God’s friends…Through Jesus we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus.  You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ!  And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah! [edited The Message Romans 1-Eugene Peterson]
Here is Joseph in our story today.  He had been born into and then chose as an adult, to live his life under the Law of Moses.  Many of us choose to live our lives under the rule of law.  And, when we appear in any kind of court, most of us dress to honor that law.  When the bailiff says, “All rise.”  We stand up to honor the law that the judge represents.  [Barbara Cawthorne Crafton-CREDO advent reflections]
In today’s story, Joseph has a quandary--does he follow the letter of the law or does he bend the law toward compassion?  We are constantly faced, almost daily, with decisions about whether to follow the law or to bend it.  I know I set my cruise control a couple-or three-miles above the speed limit.  I am bending the law rather than be concerned about going one mile under and forcing people to pass me.  That is my rationalization, anyhow.  Of course, a betrothed woman pregnant with another person’s child is a larger matter, perhaps, than how fast I drive down the freeway.
It is about purity laws, fidelity, promises, financial responsibility and continuing Joseph’s family line--it also might be about love.  These are big issues.  How many people have you known in your life who went for paternity tests to determine the parentage of a child?  I’ve known several.  And, once parentage is established, there is often a financial and moral obligation to raise the child. When Joseph chose to bend the law toward compassion, when he chose to accept the responsibility to raise a child not of his own flesh, and to train that child in a trade; he took on the stewardship of the Messiah, Mary’s son.
At that time in history, a child’s opportunities in life were determined by the nature of their birth.  The power, religion and occupation of the father would determine how successful the child would be in life--especially a son.
While in the past, we would look upon this fact with a somewhat smug attitude that here in the USA, that is not true; today we are back in that place again.  As Robert Reich notes, “Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.”  I think of the young man whose punishment at age 16 is not incarceration for killing four people while driving drunk but equine therapy and something that sounds like a resort because he suffers from affluenza.  A poor child in the same situation--especially a child of color--would be looking at incarceration and perhaps switching to an adult facility at age 19.  Jesus’ life would have been much more like the poor child of color than the affluent young man if Joseph had quietly put Mary away.  Not that Joseph and Mary were wealthy, but craftsmen could always find good work--especially with the Romans destroying villages and cities on a regular basis.  It made for a good income for people like Joseph and Jesus--whether they were carpenters or masons, it wouldn’t matter--so long as they had tools of their trade and they could walk, they could find work.
So, what can we take away from Joseph’s act of compassion?  Lance Ousley suggests we should look at Joseph as a steward of the Christ Child--as I stated, the fact he was a father to Jesus, that through him, Jesus had the gift of siblings and a trade with which to support himself.  Lance asks the question, “What is really ours and what really is only entrusted to us and our care?”  Joseph, at the advice of the angel in his dream, chose to bend the law toward compassion. Joseph chose to take this gift God had offered him while recognizing the child was not really his but a loaner-like all our children are on loan from God.  Joseph raised him, supported him, and trained him as if he were his own, his first born son.
As Joseph did we, too, can bend the law toward compassion.  We, too, can look at the gifts God has given us and recognize we must be good stewards of all that we have.  What do we have that can stack the cards in the favor of a child born in poverty rather than against him.  We, too, can speak out when we see justice meted out unequally.
Instead of being like King Ahaz and putting our hope in the Assyrians, we can ask God for a sign--for a message.  Or, maybe we can recognize that Jesus was our sign and look to him for answers to determine how we should live.  Do we live under the law or do we bend our hearts toward compassion?
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”  Is. 7:14 “The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before…What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you.  And, you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance.  So stay.  Sit. Linger.  Tarry.  Ponder.  Wait.  Behold.  Wonder.  There will be time enough for running.  For rushing.  For worrying.  For pushing.  For now, stay.  Wait. Something is on the horizon.” Jan L. Richardson
Heavenly God send your Holy Spirit to help us continue to turn our minds and hearts to your Son, led by your divine love that we strive to share with those around us.  We pray for our love to manifest through acts of service, justice, and compassion.  May we imitate the self-giving ministry of our Savior who revealed to us the way of love through word and deed.  Amen.  [Sojourners Verse and Voice]

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