First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
December 8, 2019
Wisdom Readings: Matthew 1:18-25, African Traditional Religious Kenyan Kipsigis Saying
Advent Series: To Follow that Star!
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
African Traditional Religious, Kenyan Kipsigis Saying
It is not always physical bravery that counts. One must have the courage to face life as it is, to go through sorrows and always sacrifice oneself for the sake of others.
Last week we heard Luke’s story of the angel’s annunciation to Mary she would be pregnant and her baby would be a leader, son of God into the world. We spoke of a world that would set the status quo on its head, fill the hungry and send the rich away empty, a way lifting up the lowly and bringing the powerful down from their thrones. This coming child would be a call to action, a confronting of the powers that be, whether in the halls of government and the empire or in the sanctuaries of the religious elite.
The beginning of the story in Luke begins in the feminine voice, the voice of Mary, somewhat hesitant and yet the voice of beginning in her response to the angel… “Let it be.” I believe we can learn something from this voice. Too often the voice of the feminine is dismissed and discounted in our culture and society, in our churches and religious organizations. In Mary’s time it was rare a feminine voice would be given to the beginning of something God had called into being.
Not unlike today when in places of power, governments, churches, culture and society to voices of our women are seen as more suspect, considered less, and mocked when the voice is one of power and the confronting of the status quo. Especially we white males would do well to listen more intently and set down our privilege when our female counter parts offer wisdom and counsel.
That being said, it is not like there are no males in the world who listen. It can be easy to paint a broad-brush stroke across any set of humanity and deem them a particular way. Today, the story continues… no less a call to action, no less and turning on its head the status quo of the powerful and privileged. This time the story begins in Matthew’s gospel, while different it rings with similarities set alongside Luke’s telling. The author of Matthew brings an angelic annunciation as well, only in Matthew’s telling, the annunciation comes to Joseph. Joseph has heard Mary’s story, however, based on his initial response we might assume he has not been fully convinced of the details.
Though the letter of the law in the Hebrew scriptures indicate it would be possible for him to bring her before the religious authorities and possibly stoned, we are told Joseph has decided he is unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, and plans to dismiss her quietly. In terms of the possibilities of Joseph and Mary’s time, this was a moment of action for Joseph, a willingness to listen to the spirit of the law rather than adhere strictly to the letter… for Joseph this was an act of grace.
And while he slept, he dreamed of what might be if he stayed with Mary. He dreamed of what God might do in and through this new life. He dreamed of one who might turn the status quo of empire and religious elitism on its head. He dreamed of what it might mean to his people to have one so infused with and immersed in God it would be like God is with us. And when he awoke from his dream, he married Mary. Not unlike last week with Mary’s words and this season of Advent a act of rebellion, so too, is this act of Joseph with Mary. His decision to hear Mary, to have his heart open to the Spirit, was an act of rebellion and revolution!
Every year when I read about Joseph, I think of one of my favorite uncles. He too was a carpenter. He was a big and strong man, relatively quiet, had a deep and booming voice when he did speak… in fact he was a bit ominous to me when I was little because of his size, his quiet nature, and that voice when he would speak. But I would learn as a grew older, and we would sit on the shore of a pond fishing, and in our conversations, he had a heart of gold, however… he was a man of convictions, strong of will, unyielding when it came to the love of his family, and strong in his faith.
I often envision Joseph of our scriptures in such a way. Perhaps a bit quiet, unwilling to make a fuss or cause any controversy… unless, it had to do with compassion or his faith… then, we are told in the story, he was willing to put his life and reputation on the line to do what was right.
I look at our history and I think of others who have had the courage to put their reputation and lives on the line to do what is right…
Martin Luther King Jr.,
Rosa Parks, (civil rights still have a long way to go)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (taking a faithful stand is a crucial necessity for the church NOW, in this moment)
Malala Yousafzai (quality education is a right for all persons and the hope for a more sane and peaceful world.)
Dorothy Day (In a time where the poor are targeted and shamed, we need a new compassionate outreach from all levels of govt and faith communities…
Rev. Carlton Pearson, John Shelby Spong (our churches need a fresh more Progressive Christianity grounded in love and hope, not fear and wrath)
Bishop Gene Robinson, (LGBTQIA+ belong in the church in a fully inclusive church… and not just in the church, but leading the church in ordained roles)
Greta Thunburg, (Climate change is a real and present danger to our existence and threatens the hope of our children and children’s children!)
Bryan Stevenson (our criminal justice system is broken and designed to unjustly convict young black males)
… just to name a few.
There can come times in our lives when letting things go on as they have always been present themselves as no longer tenable. There can come times in our lives when it is unacceptable to passively sit by and hope things get better. There can come times in our lives when the only option, if we are to remain free or set ourselves free, is to stand up and say, “No, enough is enough, I will not, we will not, allow this to continue.”
And as we see in the stories, we have shared over the last two weeks, it is not about gender… it is about recognizing injustice, standing toe to toe with the powers that be and saying no! Mary was such a human being, to trust in God, to trust in her own strength, to trust in her own faith, to be authentic in who she was to open her listening heart and say… Let it be.
Joseph was such a human being, grounded in compassion, trusting in God, trusting in his own strength, in his own faith, to be authentic in who he was, to open his listening heart and say… “We will let it be together.”
There come times in our lives when the courage in adversity is about doing the right thing regardless of the consequences, doing anything else will only eat us from the inside out, diminish our hearts, and erode our souls.
Brian McLaren – We Make the Road by Walking… “These stories are stories of the impossible made possible.”
These stories are about the willingness to dare to hope! These stories are about pregnant possibilities empowered by the Spirit of God to change the world. These stories are invitations for us to be agents of hope, active participants with the Spirit of the Divine in dreaming a new world into being!
Mary told us last week… Joseph tells us this week… In the state of their world… in the state of our world… Now is not the time for serenity, now is not the time to wait… Advent… the Christmas Season… the celebration of the birth of Jesus is a call to action.
Now is not the time for quiet…
Now is the time to dream aloud of the courage to make this world a better place for the common good of ALL Persons! Make it so! Make it now! Amen!