Dec 25 - The Gift
Dec 24 - God's Love Changes Everything
Dec 18 - Lonely?
Dec 18 - Getting Ready
Dec 11 - The Desert Shall Bloom
Dec 4 - A Spirited Shoot
Nov 27 - Comin' Round the Mountain
Nov 20 - Power on parade
Nov 13 - Warnings and Love
Nov 6 - Saints Among Us
Oct 30 - Reformation in Catechesis
Oct 23 - The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Oct 9 - Continuing Thanks
Oct 8 - The Cord of Three
Oct 2 - Tools for God’s Work
Sep 25 - Rich?
Sep 23 - With a Word and a Song
Sep 18 - To Grace How Great a Debtor
Sep 11 - See the Gifts and Use Them Well
Sep 4 - Hear a Hard Word from Jesus
Aug 28 - Who is worthy?
Aug 21 - Just a Cripple?
Aug 14 - Not an Easy life with Christ
Aug 6 - By Faith
Jul 31 - You can't take it with you
Jul 25 - Companions
Jul 24 - Our Father
Jul 18 - Hospitality
Jul 17 - Priorities
Jul 11 - Giving
Jul 10 - Giving and receiving mercy
Jul 3 - Go!
Jun 26 - With urgency!
Jun 19 - Adopted
Jun 12 - A Tale of Two Sinners
Jun 5 - The Laughter of Surprise
May 29 - By Whose Authority?
May 22 - Why are we here?
May 15 - The Spirit Helps Us
May 8 - Free or Bound?
May 1 - Let All the People Praise You
Apr 24 - A New Thing
Apr 17 - A Great Multitude
Apr 10 - Transformed
Apr 3 - Here and There
Mar 27 - The Hour
Mar 26 - Dark yet?
Mar 25 - The Long Defeat?
Mar 25 - Appearances
Mar 24 - Is it I?
Mar 20 - Bridging the Distance
Mar 13 - What is important
Mar 6 - What did he say?
Feb 28 - Pantocrator
Feb 24 - Singing the Catechism: the Creeds
Feb 14 - Available to All
Feb 12 - Home
Feb 7 - Befuddled, and that is OK
Jan 31 - That We May Speak
Jan 24 - The Power of the Word
Jan 17 - Surprised by the Spirit
Jan 10 - Exiles
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2016
Let's step into Joseph's shoes for just a moment.
What do we do with the Advent announcement and the immanent Christmas event?
(1)We could deny that it even exists and say that the dream was just indigestion, nothing more, like Scrooge in Christmas Carol first thinks.
(2)Or we might allow that it is possible that there is Good News somewhere, but it doesn't really apply to us.
(3)Or we could grab hold of it by faith and organize our lives around it, and just see what happens!
Let's look at each of these possibilities in turn.
1.I heard about a most egregious example of that first reaction, denial.
There is a town in the state of Washington that each year erects what they call a “Giving Tree” in their civic center.
It is not called a Christmas tree, nor does it have any overtly religious symbolism.
On it are placed envelopes describing a wish or need from some disadvantaged youth.
Folks come, take an envelope, and fulfill a wish.
It garners about $25,000 of support each year.
This year a curmudgeon filed suit to try to force the removal of the Giiving Tree.
This person is offended about the possibility that a Christian might see a need on the Giving Tree and be moved to do something...and just think, a person of good will not necessarily a Christian might be sucked into this scheme and help someone also.
Imagine the offensiveness of this!
In the civic realm, here is a grump who denies that anythings has happened to change the human situation, and wants to be sure that no one can develop a different opinion.
2.In addition to such active scoffers as this, one might simply be indifferent.
Such persons are not hard to find.
We have several hundred folks who are only names on the parish list but who are not in worship and study today.
There may be Good News, but they don't think that it applies to them.
3.But it is the third reaction that interests us most today.
The truly great thing is that to be neither a scoffer nor indifferent, but rather to be one who grasps the news by faith and sees how it is life changing.
That is what Joseph does.
The learned are quick to scoff that God might be at work through a dream.
But God does not seem to be hesitant about the possibility.
Stories in both Old Testament and New Testament pay attention to dreams, and on occasion they precipitated major changes in persons' lives: Jacob and Joseph in the Old Testament and Peter and Paul in the New Testament come to mind first.
There is an interesting late medieval painting of Joseph in his carpenter's shop.
Everything appears to be absolutely normal.
But behind that very ordinary appearance, great changes are happening.
Joseph has decided to trust this strange word and recognize it as God's word.
We never hear Joseph speak in the gospels, but his actions speak loudly.
He continues to accept Mary as his wife and to prepare for a birth.
Does he understand all that is going on? No.
He has endured the public whispers of those who count up nine months, and the attendant embarrassment.
Later on, Matthew ill tell us that he flees with Mary and the infant to Egypt for refuge from Herod's wrath.
And as the years go by, there is the strange behavior of Jesus as he grows up, as Luke will tell us of the story of his visit to the Temple at age 12.
But despite the strangeness, Joseph continues to trust the word, and to organize his life around it.
In some ways, we are in the same situation as Joseph.
Most of us are not the out-front kind of big talkers, just as Joseph was quiet.
Most of us are just ordinary folks doing our daily round of work and family responsibilities.
But, like Joseph, we are challenged with great news and must decide how we will respond: with scoffing, with indifference, or with faith.
Scoffing is quite fashionable these days, and it is easy to slide into indifference, but what about the life of faith?
For Joseph it meant doing some rather ordinary sorts of things: providing, preparing, protecting, praying, praising, preserving....
For Joseph to have faith meant that he would be busy with those things.
For us to have means means in part that we will also be busy in those same ways.
(1)We will provide for others in a hope-filled way, acknowledging that we have been blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others, as was Abraham.
--offering a gift to someone whom you know cannot reciprocate.
--helping in some way with Family Promise, as many did in this past week here at St. Mark's.
--participating in our version of the Giving Tree with hats and gloves on the tree in Fellowship Hall.
--doing something about the food insecurity of a number of persons in our community with continuing gifts to the food pantry bin in the narthex.
(2)We can protect someone by advocating or speaking for someone who has not the strength or opportunity to speak, such as:
--someone wrestling with decisions about their own health and welfare,
--the unborn who need an advocate,
--the marginalized who hesitate even to speak.
(3)We can continue praying and praising even when we do not feel like it.
--Sunday after Sunday, here together as good examples for one another
--weekday after weekday in Morning Prayer in the chapel, or at home.
--mealtime after mealtime at home and elsewhere
--at rising and at bedtime each day—in times of sadness and times of joy...as well as all of the ordinary times in between.
For an example of that perseverance, we can look to the Psalms, which present every sort of sorrow, loss, and lament to the Lord, along with every joy.
They keep at it even in the dark times, personally or nationally.
This is a powerfully good example for us.
These things of providing, protecting, praying and praising are nothing new; they are all of the things about which we have been thinking and talking for our many years together.
If I were to ask each person coming to Holy Communion today “Are you ready to receive the Lord Jesus today?”, what would each of us say?
We're good Lutherans, so someone will be sure to say that we can do nothing to prove ourselves worthy of the Lord's favor.
And that is quite right.
But we can do lots to demonstrate that God is getting us ready, in all of the ways that we have already described, and so many more.
The most profound readiness is without a spoken word, when we come to the communion rail with empty hands outstretched, bragging about nothing, and wait for the Lord.
Perhaps our prayers while we wait will include
something like this:
“Here I am again, Lord. I don't know what all you have in mind for me.
Guide me so that you can use whatever I do within your will.
Give me what I need the most – your very self as the guarantee of the fullness of life in you.
Make me ready, Lord.”
Let us all live this as our prayer, and say Amen.
Please note: The preceding sermon is provided as a resource for the thought, prayer, and meditation of the members and friends of St. Mark's. It is the residue of a verbal event, and thus it does not have academic footnotes and other details that would be expected in a written document. The writer gladly acknowledges the prior thought and work of many Christians before him.