Benediction Online

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Living a Significant Life

Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph tends to disappear into the background of the Christmas story. We hear a lot about Mary, but little about the man who accepted Jesus as his son and brought him up. It must have been a very unpleasant shock to learn that Mary was pregnant. It’s not easy today to discover that your fiancé is carrying someone else’s child. Back then it would have been even harder. You simply did not marry a woman who was not a virgin.

Joseph was a good Jewish man. It was not simply a matter of personal scruples but of the law. Under the law, women found to have engaged in premarital intercourse could be executed. For him to expose Mary would have been to disgrace her to the point where she could have lost her life, but to allow it to seem that the child was his was to expose both of them to disgrace. He wanted to do the right thing by her and so Joseph decided to break off the engagement quietly.

But then he had the dream.

The dream that change the course of his life forever. An angel told him not to be afraid because the child was the Holy Spirit’s. And Joseph believed it. That took some faith.

Believing it in the dream took faith, but to wake up and to act on it took even greater faith. He exposed himself to ridicule and to a loss of face which was as devastating in that culture as bankruptcy can be in this. All because God spoke to him through a dream.

How does God speak to you? Does she come to you through your dreams? Or do you hear his quiet promptings in times of meditation or prayer? Or do God’s insights come to you through reading or through other people? Or are you aware of the presence of Spirit as we gather together in worship at the Eucharist?

The United Church of Christ recently had a publicity campaign with the slogan, “God is Still Speaking”. God is still speaking. And God wants to be speaking to you. But she is always courteous and does not push her way in where she’s not wanted. Do you want to hear God’s voice?

I wonder what would have happened if Joseph had woken up and decided that that was just a dream and that he had better get up and see to quietly breaking off his betrothal with Mary. I wonder if God would have sent him an angel in broad daylight or whether God would have stepped quietly back to allow Joseph to do what he wanted. Freewill is an amazing privilege – God never forces us to do anything. If Joseph had refused to marry Mary we would have a very different Christmas story, but the Messiah would still have been born, God would still have incarnated. Our God can always bring resurrection but when we get on board with God’s Plan A things generally work out better for everyone concerned.

There is a basic tension between what our little ego selves want to do and what the Spirit of God wants us to do. The little ego imagines what’s good for number one and it imagines that there isn’t enough to go round. So it’s always trying to prove how important we are. I imagine that Joseph’s little ego wanted to tell Mary what he thought of her for getting herself into this situation and bringing dishonor on the family. I imagine that he wanted to put as much distance between himself and this situation as possible and tell all his friends that she had deceived him. I imagine that his little ego was looking for all the ways he could blame this situation on someone else – Mary , God, the angel, the Romans, anyone.

As it was, Joseph was a man of faith who was willing to be obedient to the call of Spirit. Instead of listening to the panicking, angry voice of his little ego, he listened to Spirit. According to Matthew’s story, Joseph protected the child from Herod and found them all a home in Nazareth but we hear nothing else about him. Later in Chapter 13 we hear Jesus described as a carpenter or the son of a carpenter, depending on the translation so we can assume that that was Joseph’s trade. But there’s nothing else.

Nothing except that he had the faith to follow the Spirit and accept Mary as his wife, even when his little ego was screaming don’t have anything to do with her. Nothing except that he protected the child Jesus so that he could grow into the God-man whose ministry was vital for the unfolding of Gods plan.

I often talk to people who are disappointed with their lives. One of the exciting things about living in this country at this time is that we have so many opportunities. People aspire to great things. And so, at the end of their lives, many people are disappointed that they did not complete everything they wished. They may have a raised a happy family but they can’t see that because they didn’t get a college degree. They may have surmounted enormous difficulties to become a healthy, happy person but they look back and remember that they didn’t get a job in the State Department. Like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life they feel insignificant, as though their lives have meant nothing.

Joseph seems insignificant, but how might our Christmas story be different if he had made different choices.

What can be more important than having the faith to follow Spirit and the courage to protect the spiritual life, the Christ life, growing inside us so that it can grow and flourish and become a blessing to the world?

When we, like Joseph, are willing to take the risk to follow the Spirit of God rather than our ego-based desires and demands, our lives are never insignificant. It’s not too late to have a significant life.


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