Sermon – December 22, 2013 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Good Man

Well, I tried my best this week to make a hero out of Joseph. I didn’t get a lot of help. I looked in our hymnal for a song or hymn commemorating Joseph couldn’t find any. He does get a little love on March 19th, the commemoration of Joseph, but I don’t recall ever celebrating that day. No, I practically tied the fellow to her chair to beat his heroics out of them but he would have none of it.

Joseph was simply a good man. We all know a good man when we see one. Or a good woman. They are people who are steadfast, and that I mean, that their integrity is consistent. A good man puts other people first. A good man is willing to sacrifice his own interests, even put himself at risk, for the sake of another. You could add your own criteria to this list of a good man or woman. We all know them we know the spouse that stays by her husband in his precipitous decline. We know the parents who gives up all for a child. We know the one who takes her shirt off her back to share with another. We know the person who will risk their own prerogatives, their reputation, so that another would be recognized, elevated, or protected. You know this man. You know this person. Imagine for a minute who that might be.

Joseph was a good man. You can tell by his choices. Joseph has several things he could have done in these circumstances. He could have made a scene in order to elevate himself and shame Mary. He could have even extracted some sort of penalty against her by publicly casting out, assuring that she would be ostracized. Joseph had every right to walk away from this pregnant teenager to whom he was engaged but not yet married. The first choice that Joseph made, to dismiss her quietly, gives us a glimpse into his character. He had no interest in humiliating Mary. Matthew describes him as a righteous man. He made a decision that reflected the heart of the law, mercy. It was a righteous choice. But then Joseph is faced with another decision. An angel bearing incredible news, says “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife with a 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.” And Joseph believed that he chose to remain with Mary. Also, I think that Joseph was nuts about the girl. I think he loved her.

While Joseph is a good man, he is just a man. He is another example of how God takes big chances with little people. While he is a model of righteousness and obedience, is also just a man. And Joseph, like Mary, said yes. And Joseph, like Mary, was equipped for his choice by his faith. Joseph simply did what God asked of him.

God takes big chances with little people, people like you and me. Puts the signs out. Prepares us to see them. Asks us to do the common things that sustain the kingdom. Every day we face choices that require of us reflection on integrity, ethics, mercy and justice. Every day our preconceived notions may be challenged. Every day our prerogatives are put under scrutiny. Every day we are asked to choose. On our best days, we are informed by our faith. We weigh our options on the scales that our convictions provide, and on those good days, we make good choices. On our good days we do the things that God asks of us.

There are plenty of good people in the world I see a bunch before me now. And while good people are good for the neighborhood, for the country, for the world, I don’t believe that God’s intention is to have good people just for the sake of it. No, I think people informed and motivated by faith, humble enough to continue to listen to the voice of the Spirit, and strong enough to act, are meant for a purpose beyond themselves. And that is to be alert to the notion that the decision one makes, the mercy one shows, the humility one practices, the hope one bears helps to make the way for Christ to be born again and this time. Helps to bring to bear the very thing we have been waiting for. Like Joseph, we are simply invited to do what God asks of us.. . . . . .that we will proclaim again in our time and place the promise of Immanuel, God with us.

When Mary said yes, when Joseph said yes, God radically intervenes in human history, in an unprecedented way. Through Christ’s birth of Mary, God asserts the divine prerogative. His purpose explodes in the midst of humanity. “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This is how God acts.. . God has given us the means of our salvation, one who is born to live and breathe, to heal and to teach, to love and to mourn, to struggle, to submit, to suffer and to die. Then, in defiance of the material truth of death, he rises again to complete the promise of his holy name.

God pours his very being into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, not so that he may wax eloquently in memorable verse for the ages, but that he would live and die for the sake of those whom God calls his beloved. This is not one who is first among equals. This is one who is first, and who has no equals. We cannot understand God’s purpose and promise, we cannot understand the passion of Jesus Christ by his words alone. We need him to act.

And he acts through his people. Prophets, kings, Mary, Joseph, you and me.

When God acts, faith is borne and people change and circumstances turn. And when we receive that word in faith, we are changed and Christ is ever active in our lives. God is with us.

And we so need this news. We need a God who comes as promised.

I know that many of us the journey to Christmas this year has been difficult in a personal way as we mourn the loss of those whom we knew and loved, as we may have watched a dream fade, jobs fail to materialize or a friend turn their back. We need a God who acts in healing.

It has been a difficult year as we continue to struggle with wars and conflict that tap our national resources and trouble our common purposes. We need a God who leads us in the way of peace. It has been difficult as we seek an elusive unity in the wake of a bitterly divided electorate. We need a God who leads us in the way of reconciliation. Difficult in a global sense as chronic problems of war and hunger, disease and environmental degradation elude, again, a common solution. We need a God who acts with compassion in the world. Difficult, trying to live our lives with integrity and hope, trying to do the right thing, trying to gain back the ground we lost when we failed to do the right thing. We need a God who acts in our lives with forgiveness.

Thankfully, this has also been a journey of new transitions, new hope, new possibilities, new relationships, and we need a God celebrates us and fills us with thanksgiving.

However it has gone for us, we are reminded today in this moment, through these words of scripture, at this table, in this fellowship, as we take these last steps to Christmas Eve, that all along the journey we have been led, upheld, guided, forgiven, strengthened and blessed by the one whose birth we celebrate, by the one who acts in love our lives. The headlines speak of chaos and confusion and war, but our banner proclaims, Emmanuel, God is with us. In our moments of joy and times of trouble, God is with us. Listen again for that voice, that Emmanuel has come, listen because these are words of love. They are what we have been waiting for.

God does act. Acts through us. Needs no heros. Songs about us. Just needs people to says yes, as Joseph did. Mary bore the Christ Child and Joseph was commissioned to walk with her and raise the boy. That was what God asked of him. That was his yes, and an in small part because of him, the world turned. His choices stood him in Mary’s shadow and he stands there still. Mary’s purpose was other than his. And I think it’s okay for him. Nobody writes songs about Joseph. Today I’m going to imagine that the song of Mary, her Magnificat, feels Joseph with pride in the assurance that God is keeping his deepest promises through his young bride to be, and reminding him and all of us that God will act through the yes of good men and women.