Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent 4 - A

A SIGN

Introduction

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have looked for a sign. Some little signal from God to let me know that everything was going to be all right... I have prayed, I have hoped, I have bargained... I have even decided that the sign was there....

Sometimes I make it a 50/50 split with God. “Ok, God, if I drive around the corner and there is a tree still with leaves on it, I am going to take that as a sign that you want me to do this...”

Part of me knows full well that I am talking to myself – that a sign from God would not be leaves left on a tree randomly by the side of the road just when I wanted there to be leaves. I am talking to myself and justifying my decision.

But O for a sign. Some divine answer written across the sky in giant gold letters saying – THIS IS WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO! - I think there are times we all wish the answer was a little clearer, a little more obvious, a little more black and white.

Times when we knew what was the right thing to do.

We have been preparing for Christmas throughout the weeks of Advent by talking about ancient prophesies and bits of wisdom that people were hoping for with the Messiah. We even got nine months out and talked about what Mary was hoping this birth would be.

Well – lets move a little closer now to the due date. Lets advance to the point where Mary is showing, obviously, that she is pregnant – and let’s take a moment to consider this all from a different angle – that of the fiance. I am pretty sure Joseph was looking for a sign. He wanted God to tell him what to do...

Because let’s face it. This was a tough situation. He had not slept with Mary, she was claiming no one ever did, the family and crowds were talking, Mary’s life was on the line, maybe his too... at the very least their reputation was on the line...

The easiest thing and best thing for him would be to cast her out, let her take her own chances, forget about this and move on. After all, it was probably an arranged marriage, it was not really about love yet. He probably hardly knew this girl.

What is the right thing to do for his family? For his reputation? For his carpentry business? Or for that matter, how did he feel about all this?
This is part of the Christmas story too...

With the Kids

- cards and feelings – getting in touch with who we are and what we feel about the season...

Wrestling with the Texts

Have you ever seen a family coping with some stressful situation that seems beyond your own ability? Like a child getting cancer, or a child being born blind, or the death of a ten year old in a tragic car crash...

Almost every time I meet these people my first response is always to say, wow... they are coping with things with such grace, they are being so strong, look at how much love that family has for each other even when things are tough...

I see it every day in other relationships as well. Students looking out for each other, adults struggling with their aging parents, sickness and death taking one spouse... and for the most part what I see is that we are way stronger than we think.

Still....

The other side is true as well. Perhaps, sadly, even more true. We see marriages end, we see kids estranged from parents, we see abused runaways on the street. We see mental illness lead to drug addiction and prison. Just as often as I see people being strong, I see people being broken.

And I know there is a there but for the grace of God moment in all of this.
I have been broken. I have given up. I know what it feels like.

...

Ok, so I want you to see this as very human, I want you to understand that we are made of strong stuff but that any one of us could find ourselves broken by the weight of the world.
Now, look again at Joseph. He is not rich, he does not live in a city where there are hundreds of prospects, he does not come from a high society family, and yet, miracle of miracles, he gets engaged, to a young, seemingly happy and bright women. Her parents have the dowry, it is perfect.

Then she becomes pregnant.

Pregnant because she sleeps around? Pregnant because a Roman soldier raped her? There really is no good possibility here. Think about how a rape victim is treated today. Think about what society thinks of High School students who get pregnant. Think about the rumours when a wife gets pregnant after a man has a vasectomy.

Imagine how bad it was 2000 years ago? There were no women's rights, there were no divorce laws. This was a society where if a man says out loud three times that he is divorced, then he is. A woman is property. A woman exists to serve the man and bear him offspring. Which, by the way, in the thinking of the day do not even contain DNA of the woman – just little versions of the man growing up to carry on the name.

By law Mary must be put to death. By custom Joseph needed to move on and forget about this marriage. By the thoughts going on in the average persons head he needs to get angry and leave her. Why should he raise another mans son? Why should he be with an immoral and untrustworthy woman. Who, by the way, is probably a lair or insane ... saying she has never had sex...

But... we are told... and angel appears to Joseph. He has a vision. This child is going to grow up to change the world.

One night, one vision, one moment in time.... and Joseph marries his young bride and raises this child from another father as his son.

What we often gloss over in these stories is that so many amazing things had to happen for this to work out, including picking just the right step father for Jesus. A man who would believe the ramblings of a crazy young girl and show love and compassion despite all wisdom and tradition telling him not to. A man who would listen to the voice of the angel in his vision and see the possibility that perhaps Mary was telling the truth.

Conclusion

An angel talking to you at night is a pretty convincing sign from God. You could take the story to be telling us that. But I actually do not think that is true.

Scrooge saw a ghost talking to him and managed to convince himself, for a minute or two, that it was only some bad food he ate the night before playing havoc with his thinking.

And we have all done that. Dismissed the sign as being a coincidence. Dismissed the vision as being a dream. Seen someone smile at us and thought to ourselves they really cannot be smiling at us. Had someone tell us they thought we could do it, and known in our heart that we could not.

Joseph could have woken up and forgot about the night before. He could have dismissed it as a dream of wishful thinking. He could have said that God is not real anyway or else why would I be in this situation. He could have done a million things to convince himself to put her away quietly, he even could have put her to death himself. It was within the law.

But he didn’t.

What Joseph did was look in his heart and realize that this person needed the love of God more than anyone in that moment, and he had it within himself to give it.

There are signs around us all day. God is speaking to you right now. And most of us have the ability to hear, if we just accept that life is never black and white and we move into the mystery of Christmas. God did the unexpected and it changed the world. Joseph did the unexpected and it changed the world.


So go out and do the unexpected. It just might change the world.