Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sermon from Sunday, Dec 8, 2013; Matthew 1:18-25

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 1:18-25
“Life is But a Dream”
Deb 8, 2013

(This sermon is done in character, as Joseph)

Ever since I became engaged to Mary, I’ve had the most wonderful of dreams. Of what the ceremony would be like. The wedding feast. The wedding night. The children we’d have.

These joyful dreams are based on hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope that life will become easier.

It was my auntie who once told me “When you hope, you are hoping with God.”

What she did not tell me, however, is that life can change in an instant. That in a single moment, everything can be turned upside down and nothing is what you expected it to be.

I discovered that Mary is pregnant and we are not yet officially wed.

We are engaged, which legally means we have a binding contract: she is mine and I am hers. This makes her my wife, but for the next year, until our wedding day, Mary is to stay in her father’s home. Any sign of unfaithfulness is considered adultery.

The fact that Mary is pregnant before our wedding day means she has brought great shame onto both her father’s household and onto mine.

Shame is not something we welcome.

Now it feels as if all my dreams have been shattered; all the joy has been ripped away.

Soon Mary will be showing; soon people will point their fingers and talk. Soon the names will begin and the gossip will start.

I know what needs to be done. I am, after all, a righteous man. I desire to be free from guilt and sin. I know the Laws of Moses; I know what is considered morally right and good.

The Law, the Holy Scripture, is very clear. I could take her to court and demand that her family repay the bride price.

Even more extreme, Deuteronomy 22 says that Mary can be brought out in front of her father’s home, or the gates of the city and stoned to death by the men of our village.

Both are humiliating and in my opinion, inhumane. I am a righteous man; but I am also compassionate.

Mary, my betrothed, is distressed. How can my heart not care?

…but what about the Law. The Law is said to be a gift from God, a source of joy.

The Law is what kept us alive when times were rough. The Law maintained our identity when all seemed lost.

The Law tells us that we are not unimportant as the rest of the world says we were. The law reminds us that we matter to God and that God cares for us.

And that gives us joy.

Does being righteous mean to only look in a rule book or can it also mean to wrestle with the complexities of life, listening for the Voice of God during difficult times?

And doesn’t the Law also speak about mercy? Doesn’t is speak about grace? Don’t the 10 Commandments tell us how to love God and love our neighbor?

Aren’t we called to do justice and love kindness?

How does holding Mary up for public humiliation and possible death do any of these things?

I’ve had a difficult decision to make: follow the letter of the law or the supreme demand of love.

To decide if God speaks in static periods; or if God allows for commas and dashes.

So I decided the best option was to divorce her; to send Mary away quietly. I know she has a cousin somewhere in Judea; perhaps she can live out her life with them.

She can leave before she starts to show, therefore removing any shame from my and her father’s household.

Still the choice was not easy. I needed more time to accept my decision.

I don’t know about you, but when faced with a difficulty, I sleep. Some people pray, some seek the counsel of others, I nap.

It clears my head, it settles my soul.

I had the most unusual of dreams. As clear as day, an angel came to me, a heavenly being of bright light.

He said to me not to be afraid to wed Mary. That her child is the work of the Holy Spirit. That he will be called Jesus and will save God’s people from their sins.

I awoke, muttering the words “Emmanuel” over and over again.

“Emmanuel”: God is with us.

That’s what the dream had felt like: that God was with me. It lead me to think of all the ways God has been with us.

How long, long ago, when we were enslaved in Egypt God was with us and set us free.

How when we crossed the wilderness, God was with us and fed us with manna from heaven and water from a rock.

How Isaiah’s prophecy came true and we were taken into exile, but God was with us and encouraged us to plant and build, sing and dance, get married and give birth.

How God was with us when my people returned to the ruins of Jerusalem and were called to rebuild and start anew.

And we did.

“Emmanuel”: God is with us.

I thought of my own history, the women in my family tree who had endured their own scandalous relationships: Tamar and Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.

Each of these women had pregnancies that raised eyebrows. Yet God worked though those events and changed the course of history.

If the letter of the Law had been followed back then, there would not have been a Boaz, there would not have been a King David, there would not have been a King Solomon…therefore there would not have been a…me.

I am a righteous man, a just man. But my dream has revealed that being righteous also means showing compassion, and not being afraid.

Even if that decision means believing the life inside of Mary is greater than the Law that has been handed down for generations.

Life is but a dream, and I realize that our life will not be easy. I know that as Mary starts to show, people will say things. I say let them.

People like to think they know the truth but they don’t; God does- and that’s what matters.

I have decided that no matter what anyone else says, we will get through this and it will be a time of joy.

As the life inside of Mary grows, it will be a testimony to the Sacred’s ability to act in our life. That even the poor, meek, and lowly, like us, matter to God.

When Mary gives birth, I will care for that child like he is my own, because in many ways he is. I will cradle him in my arms, aware that within him earth and heaven have met.

I will teach him what I know: how to build, how to be part of a community, how to live both as a righteous man and a man of compassion.

How to make the right choices even when they are not the easiest thing to do.

How to dream and to believe in a better tomorrow and trust that nothing is impossible with God.

How to not judge people solely on the events in their life, but to see them through the eyes of their maker.

Life can change in an instant. The future we imagine is not always the future we will get.

Circumstances occur that make us wrestle; that challenge what we think and what we’ve been taught.

But with God (and a good night’s sleep), we can make choices that allow us live in the heart of the Law: to act with compassion, to do justice, to love kindness.

We get to humbly walk with the Lord and play our own role in creation.

As long as we believe that God is still speaking, we can find joy in believing that there is a better tomorrow.

This allows us to have joy; joy based in knowing that as long as God is with us, there is always hope for the world.

Amen and amen.

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