Advent 4A, the scripture appointed can be found here
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.
I have a mentor and friend who begins each of her sermons with these words, taken from the letter of Paul to the Romans. And, when I say these words today, I think of her and I think of the love she has had for every congregation in which she has served. And, I also think of how this opening prayer, sets the tone for the remainder of the sermon.
Because this is a greeting, yes, but much more than a simple “hello”. First of all, it is a declaration that the preacher stands in the pulpit not for herself, but for God. Secondly, it is an affirmation, that we ourselves are all children of God. And, finally, that the grace and peace that are conveyed by the preacher did not originate with the preacher, but are a gift from God, and God’s son Jesus.
And, in this, the preacher is the means and not the end. And, each of us, is the means and not the end. The grace and peace do not originate with us, nor do they end with us. We are the body by which grace and peace are conveyed, but they are not ours to own. They are ours to convey. We are the means for God’s grace and peace in this world. And, in this I find the hope that all too often seems hard to come by.
We are to be the ones the world needs. We are to be as God intends us to be. We. The small become large when we are united in our acceptance of God’s calling.
And, just in case you didn’t notice. You did, in fact, accept this calling.
Think back, you agreed didn’t you? Because this greeting, when used as a prayer, begs the response “Amen”. So be it! Your amen becomes an assent to the truth that has preceded. Amen. So be it. So be the grace and the peace and so be the God who calls us children.
So, again let me say, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.
So, yes, we are children of God…and as children of God, Paul reminds us that our heritage and our calling is that of the saint.
Yes, each of you is called to be a Saint. And, while we may not use the language of sainthood to describe our day to day actions…consider that put most simply, a saint is one who serves God.
And as Martin Luther writes,
"to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend....What is it to serve God and to do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to our neighbor. For it is our own neighbor who needs our service; God in heaven needs it not."
Called, to sainthood, called to service, called to live. in love and in truth, as beloved.
And, this sets the stage for the Gospel we hear today.
Do good to her, in love. The Gospel for today, begins with the assertion that Joseph had decided to set Mary, his betrothed, aside quietly and without fuss—so as not to shame her or, worse, subject her to the possibility of death by stoning.
I like to imagine, that his heart was good and that he himself looked upon the need of his betrothed, Mary, and upon seeing her was able to act with benevolence.
I like to imagine, that even this, seemed to him insufficient and that there was love there already. And, thus when God offered a way, a way that wasn’t easier, that was, in fact, a harder way—that Joseph seized upon this possibility and said yes.
Said yes in no less of a dramatic way, to the harder, yet kinder, yet better, way that was set before him. Said yes, even in the face of fear—because the awe was greater than the fear, and the hope more powerful than the doubt, and the light brighter than the dark.
Grace to you, and peace.
And, in saying yes, Joseph puts an end to the shame that would have shadowed Mary, her child, and her own family. Because, his yes, is one which accepts the shame as his and his alone. Yes, she is with child, but it is his child and he accepts the responsibility of raising this child who in the custom of the time would be the presumed heir to Joseph’s honor as well as his property.
Joseph’s love isn’t a fair weather kind of love, but a love that takes on the burden of another’s shame and diffuses that shame into something better and life giving. “You have heard it said, but I say to you…”
He confronts rumor with a better truth. And that better truth is the grace and hope of the world.
You may say…but here is love.
The law says…but love has a different answer.
And, isn’t that the way of Christ?
To look beyond the law and what is said, and into the heart of what is both needful and good. To break the cycle of shame and humiliation, and assert the humanity and dignity of every person.
Grace to you, and peace.
Joseph sets his heart and his life on the way, and in so doing, assists in opening the way for Christ’s way in the world.
And, as I consider Joseph and what lies ahead for this little family—the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, I cannot help but see, in my mind’s eye, every image I’ve ever seen of men fleeing danger. Of men, holding tightly the bodies of children, as the world crumbles around them.
I imagine you have seen those images too.
One such image, was on the cover of the New York Times this week. In the photo a man, woman, and child flee in the city of Aleppo. The man is holding the swaddled infant in one arm and holds an iv bag of fluid in the other. Men and women fleeing danger, the refugee and the undocumented—called to be saints.
“Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt ...”
Grace to you, and peace.
I wonder what we would do, if we would be brave enough. And, I think we would. We would be brave.
Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic and theologian (c 1260-1328) wrote, “If I were alone in the desert and feeling afraid, I would want a child to be with me. For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.”
Sit with this for a moment. “If I were alone in the desert and feeling afraid, I would want a child to be with me. For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.”
Because, isn’t that the truth, we will be strong because someone else needs our strength?
And in this, I see that it wasn’t the angel’s enjoinder “be not afraid”, that emboldened Joseph to walk the path set before him, but rather his own child’s need.
And, in this, we won’t be afraid. We won’t be afraid because the children will need us. And when we are not cowering in fear we will find ourselves standing up to the terror that threatens and preparing the place of love and hope that God intends. That God intends for all of God’s beloved children.
Grace to you and peace…