Luke 1:36-38

December 21, 2014 by Ken Dale

The gospel lessons in the lectionary this month really focus on Luke?s stories leading up to Christmas.?? ?In our Advent theme of Here Is Your God – today?s sub-theme is God in the House.? To avoid focusing on a building, if you would, allow me: God in the family.? As we draw very near to the celebration of the birth in that ?holy family? it is intriguing to look closely at what is going on.? We considered Mary?s situation last Sunday.? In Bible study this past Wednesday our text was from Matthew?s first chapter , which does focus on Joseph.? He is the one to whom Mary is betrothed.? In that time betrothed was just like marriage – it was legal and official like being married.? The interesting thing is in this relationship, out of which comes the Messiah, we have an intersection of the known and the unknown.? We know nothing about Mary.? But Joseph is important in that he provides the genealogical connection with the lineage of David.?? There is a long list of men?s ?begats? in the opening of Matthew?s gospel.? It is striking that this important connection is in Joseph – yet according to the story, Joseph is not the father of Jesus.

Looking at the story from the eyes of the 21st century it may be tempting to see quite a soap opera.? If we take a close look at this family we see that Immanuel, God with us, comes in the midst of a family crisis.? Mary?s pregnancy is a source of major shame, disgrace, and value or the loss thereof, for her as we considered last week.? Joseph did not want to cause her that shame or disgrace.? As I said last week – at best that disgrace would be banishment and at worst public stoning.? The father of the illegitimate child would be executed if he ever came forward and the reason for the execution was because he would have been guilty of stealing Joseph?s property and violating Joseph?s rights.? If Joseph did take the public route it would have been at Mary?s great expense but it would also guarantee Joseph?s honor and save his name.

Matthew notes what a just man Joseph is.? Moved with compassion, and I cannot help but think love for Mary, Joseph decides to divorce her quietly.? He could write a letter of divorce, sign it in front of two witnesses and send it to Mary?s father – and be done.? But that would be it for Mary as well – no one would take her – she would be the responsibility of her family and if they couldn?t afford to take care of her she would end up on the street, begging for both her child and herself.

This is what Joseph took to bed with him at night.? As we know one night he has a dream where someone tells him ?do not fear to make Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.???? How would we deal with that if we were in Joseph?s shoes?? Let us not forget that terrible situation Mary is in.? Family crisis!? Incredible disruption in this family.? Consider Joseph?s love for Mary and how his compassion for her actually overrides his righteousness as an individual of faith.? In this story consider the risk involved, the trust they place in such strange happenings, and the faith out of which they live – all in a time of crisis!

This is the way God chooses to enter the world – through a family in crisis.? Or perhaps another way to see it is that God?s choices create this family crisis.? God?s act of love toward this world is most disruptive, even as it seeks to create or recreate that world.? Last Sunday we considered the cracks in things as being where the light shines through – that God can creatively act in those places of brokenness.? Can we broaden that understanding?

There is a grass roots movement – maybe it?s growing beyond that – that seeks to address and change deep-seated racism in our country.? I cannot help but think of God at work in the life and followers of Martin Luther King Jr way back when – and it was a faith based movement.? I remember how shocked I was watching the morning news some weeks ago when a young black man was stopped by a police officer.? He got out of his car and the officer told him he wanted his license and registration.? When the young man leaned back into his vehicle to get it the officer shouted at him.? The young man turned around and was shot by the officer.? Obviously the officer thought the black man was reaching for a gun when in fact he was just reaching for what the officer asked for.? It all happened so quickly.? The young black man fell to the ground asking ?why did you shoot me??? Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have caused an uprising and protests against this inequality.? Racism is such a terrible thing.? I heard of one program where someone was speaking of a comedy routine done by Richard Pryor 30 years ago about the difference in the conversation between a white person pulled over by the police and a black person pulled over by police.? The routine was 30 years ago but it sounded so relevant for today.

Last night as I was putting finishing touches on this sermon I watched the late news and saw the story of two white New York City police officers who shot execution style as they sat in their cruiser.? The shooter, who was a black man, then took his own life.? Racism – all of this -? is such a difficult issue.

It?s difficult to talk about racism here because we are mostly white.? But as people of faith are we not called to respond as we can – at least beginning by talking about that racial injustice.? Sharon Fennema and some others issued an open letter this past week that comes out of their concern, faith,? hope and experience and calls people of faith to embody God?s disruptive love in the world with voice and action.? The love of God coming into the world that we celebrate at Christmas comes to address the sin and strife in which we live.

I have long been guilty of sneaking a Christmas carol in the fourth Sunday of Advent – and while some would say it?s not actually a Christmas carol – the point of it all is captured in the third verse we will sing in It Came Upon the Midnight Clear?

??? Yet in the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long,

Beneath the angel-strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong;

And we, through bitter wars, hear not the love-song which they bring

O hush the noise and end the strife, to hear the angels sing.

I wonder if we might prayerfully open our ears – and our hearts and minds to that song of the angels that addresses ?two thousand years of wrong???

I close with the words of a powerful prayer that I recently received in a Christmas card:

Provident God, aware of our own brokenness,

we ask the gift of courage to identify how and where

we are in need of conversion in order to live in

solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain.

Grant us the desire, and the humility,

to listen with special care to those whose experiences

and attitudes are different from our own.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege.

Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply

so others may have their just share of Earth?s resources.

Deliver us from the silence that gives

consent to abuse, war and evil.

Grant us the desire, and the courage, to risk

speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver us from the violence of irreverence,

exploitation and control.

Grant us the desire, and the strength to act

responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice,

acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes,

actions and words which perpetuate violence,

we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.? Amen

(Prayer from Sisters of Providence – with thanks to Suzanne Hedrick)