“What a Story”
December 18, 2016 – Year A – Advent 4
I have always been puzzled how it is that the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John contain such different accounts of Jesus’ birth. You would think that something this important to our faith would have a consistent story. But oh no, no such luck. If you ask the average church attending person to tell you the Christmas story, they would likely give you the account that most story tellers and movie script writers have used throughout the ages. It is a little of Matthew’s account and a little of Luke’s account and a whole lot of imagination thrown in.
I believe we have done one another a dis-service in not telling you that there are 2 distinctly different stories or might I even be so bold as to call them tales. They are important to our faith – it is true. But – and this is a big but – the story of a tiny, harmless baby entering the world as an orphan refugee makes for a great opening to a story you want to hear more about. And so, the scene is set. Your need for realism and practicality are put on hold. You are ready to enter into the story.
The fascinating story for today highlights the awe of the Holy Spirit at work. The writer of Matthew suggests that through God’s Spirit, truth was brought to humanity. The truth of life being whispered into fullness of being, creativeness being teased into stale boredom, and breathe being drawn into dry bones – all took shape. The truth of God’s spirit at work is revealed in hearts once cold with indifference now warmed with delight. The truth of God’s spirit at work is revealed in – dare I say it – a baby!
The Holy Spirit stirs in dreams. We are told that Joseph had an astounding dream – angels addressing him – angels reminding Joseph of his lineage as a descendant of David. When the Holy Spirit is at work there is no holding back.
The story of Joseph draws forth questions from our souls. We wonder “why was I created?” “What is the purpose of my being here?” “Where will I go at the end of this life?” And by asking those questions, we ponder “what is my life really all about?” These are the questions that are the beginning of knowing why we need Jesus the Christ.
It is those very real soul questions that lead us to change our very being. A woman was in my office this past week telling me about her former very expensive drug addiction. The day her life turned around was when she had spent the last dollar in her pocket, had pawned everything she could, and was shaking from withdrawal after having used cocaine the night before. She realized that whenever she turned to chemicals to achieve a sense of happiness, she went off to be alone. She isolated herself from others. She had lost everything including her partner and children. She realized she needed help. She described her former, isolated life as sinful.
What a powerful image of what sin looks like in our lives. Sin is the choice to minister to ourselves, rather than allowing Christ to minister to us. Sadly, often we push aside that spiritual help by removing ourselves from community. We pull away and become ever more isolated. Some people choose to care for themselves through using drugs or alcohol, while others use more socially accepted means such as shopping, TV watching, or going it alone. This Advent season is a time when the scripture passages challenge us to look deeply at ourselves and ask ourselves whether we have tried to save ourselves in isolating ways or have we drawn close to God as revealed in Jesus?
Such a question forces us to look into the mirror of our soul and see if Jesus is there filling the empty spaces. We turn again to the story of Joseph. It tells of a profound trust in God’s Spirit. It is interesting to realize that God does not appear to Joseph when he is wide awake and at prayer. There is no assurance of a burning bush or parting clouds on a mountaintop. There is only a dream. Can we trust dreams? Many of us tend to quickly dismiss our dreams since we only recall them a few moments after we awake. But for Joseph a dream was enough.. …. A dream was enough …. Is a dream enough for you?
In the tale of Joseph, a dream was all that was needed. He had been asking many questions. “What should I do about Mary?” he pondered. “What does the law demand?” “What does my heart tell me?” The dream answered these big questions.
Trusting God’s Spirit to guide and provide all that was needed, Joseph carried on. Do we have such faith, that we too will open ourselves to God’s Spirit, to guide and provide? That is the gift of Immanuel – which means “Jesus is God-with-us”.
This upcoming Saturday evening we will gather as a worshipping community. Perhaps your family will be joining you. We will sing favorite Christmas carols. We will hear the choir sing beautiful anthems, and we will hear the timeless story of the birth of Jesus, as told in the Gospel Luke. We will feel good and warm and peaceful. The lights will be dimmed and we will close the service by singing Silent Night by candlelight. It is an important day in the church year. It is the reason we call ourselves Christian, after all. We celebrate Christ’s birth because his ministry has touched us in a profound way. Our lives have been changed and there is meaning to all we do, say, and are. The deep questions about life, death, and eternity all are answered by Christ and the love he expressed throughout his life.
We are invited to enter into the Christmas story as we dream dreams of hope and peace and God’s delight for our lives. We are filled with the Christmas message as God’s Spirit guides us away from isolation and into community. We live the Christmas event each day as we love extravagantly, care compassionately, and open our hearts with unending joy.
I draw this message to a close with an affirmation of rebirth and to always listen for angel words, by Ann Weems.
It is not over,
There are always newer skies
God can throw stars.
When we begin to think
that we can predict the Advent of God,
that we can box the Christ
in a stable in Bethlehem,
that’s just the time that God will be born
in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe.
Those who wait for God
watch with their hearts and not their eyes,
for angel words. Amen.