Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Merry Joseph Christmas to All!

Sunday I preached the hardest sermon I've ever been given. One of our dear congregation members, Kathy LaRoe, passed away on Wednesday after a strong fight against cancer, and I gave thanks for her gifts during the sermon illustration. I also ended up sharing a portion of my journey of loss after my hand injury, which kept me from finishing my masters in flute performance and playing in orchestras. As you enter this emotion filled season of our lives, may this sermon bring you the hope and healing that it brought us this week. We started with Matthew 1: 18-25, the Birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
This week I saw a commercial or story rather, about an airline playing Santa for the guests of one of their flights. At the gate they had a virtual Santa on a big screen television, and you could come forward, scan your boarding pass and then tell Santa what you wanted for Christmas. Some people were practical, asking for things like t-shirts and underwear, but some of the children were asking for what they really wanted like an android tablet or a cell phone. One set of parents looked at each other after their son asked for a tablet and said, we'd love a big screen television. Now, they thought this was all just a joke or for fun, so they let their dreams be big. Little did they know that someone on the other end of their flight was taking notes so that they could go hunt down all of these items and wrap them up before their plane landed. As these folks were waiting for their bags at the terminal, the first things to come out were big packages with their names on them. The guy who asked for underwear got Underarmour, the best under garments available, and the people who asked for tablets and cell phones actually got them, and the couple that asked for the television got this massive box with a tv inside. I didn't know which impressed me more, that the airline would actually follow through and do this or watching that family actually see a dream come true. Made me wonder, what would I ask a virtual Santa for if I could have anything I wanted. When we are little, we have big dreams and we go for them not worrying about whether they'll work out, but sometimes as we get older, our dreams for our lives get more practical. We learn what is possible and what is impossible.

In Matthew's version of the nativity, we see a practical carpenter, who has a practical solution to an all too common problem, his wife to be had been found pregnant and since he knew he wasn't the father, rather than raise another man's child as his first born son, to inherit everything, He resolved to release her discretely from their marriage commitments.

But then he had a dream where he was visited by a messenger of God. Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife! she hasn't been unfaithful! it's actually quite the opposite! she has been faithful to God and been blessed with a child by the Holy Spirit. This child will be God which you, Emmannuel, the messiah! the one you've been waiting for. 
Well, if his life wasn't complicated before, now it was about to get more complicated. Would he loose business from the rumors that were sure to circulate about them?
Are we really the ones for the job, for raising a savior?
Joseph's dream was not just a vision for his life, but it was a vision for Mary's life too! Carrying and raising this child would not be easy! And it would be even harder on her own. So he married her and chose to follow this new dream for their lives and for the people of Israel. They would protect and raise the child and wait eagerly to see how he would save their people.

I'm amazed at how easily it seems that Joseph followed his dream and obeyed God with such a radical idea. Who would have thought that a crazy dream like this would come true! Maybe it's because back then they trusted their dreams. The Joseph of the Old Testament trusted his dreams, even though they were crazy and got him in a lot of trouble. I wonder, if Joseph hadn't told his brothers that one day they would bow down to him, would they have ever thrown him in a pit and sold him to the traders which eventually got him on the journey to becoming a steward in Egypt which saved the country from starving during the coming years of drought, making him able to feed his family and father when in fact the brothers did come to him and fall at his feet?

For both of these Josephs, the unbelievable part of their stories isn't that they received dreams from God, it's that they had faith that these dreams could come true. 

As I was pondering this earlier this week I was realizing that my prayers have become too practical. I'd been praying for what I knew was possible, instead of what I knew to be impossible. I wondered why this might be, and as I thought back through my life, I wondered if it had to do with my flute dream. Many of you know that I grew up dreaming of becoming a professional flutist, meaning I would teach and play in an orchestra. During my graduate studies, as I was literally beginning to live the dream, I had an injury which was minor, but kept me from practicing for more than 15 minutes at a time then and still bothers my hands from time to time. Playing through the pain wasn't an option, and so I went down a different path, one which I love and am thankful for, and might have taken in the end, but different. That flute dream was one that I felt was from God about my future, and when I lost that future, I lost that dream, and I think I lost an ability to trust my dreams too. 

Maybe a similar occasion has happened for you, we have one dream and vision for our lives, or even for the lives of the people around us, and then something happens, that changes our future forever, we loose that dream and something within us dies. But how do we receive a new dream? And how do we have the faith that it will come true?

Only by the grace of God. Yes, only by the grace of God. 
Only by the grace of God can we offer our brokenness and loss to God for the receipt of a new dream? Can we dream of God working through the loss of one dream for something that could change our lives for the better, could transform our world for the good? 

Can we listen for the angels this Christmas to come with a dream for us, and will we have the faith to believe that it could be true, and will we make the choice to follow and search after that dream?

I know of a little mouse that had a dream for this church. She came about ten years ago, and saw visions of big meals and lots of people laughing and discovering love within these walls and throughout the community. Visions of spaghetti dinners, and soup suppers, and even Lenten soup meals with lots of crackers. Seder dinners with unleavened bread, and lots of meals with her homemade bread. She saw children getting meals throughout the summer and carrying backpacks full of food home to feed their families during the school year. And when her husband dreamed of a thanksgiving dinner that could feed the whole town, she had a vision to make it all possible and find a place for everyone who wanted to serve. 

Like Joseph, her dreams were not just about her life, they were about yours and mine, and this community and this world, and her faith to follow this dream created an opportunity for the hungry to be fed, the lonely to be loved, and the lost to be found. Her willingness to follow her dreams opened a way for God to enter into her life and the lives of the people around her. And we thank god for Kathy's willingness to believe in the unseen and watch for Gods unbelievable power to move.

Maybe some of you have a dream for your life that you are wondering about. Maybe like me, you are still grieving the loss of dreams that we had for our lives and even the loss of a dear friend. 

My Christmas wish for all of us, is that we would come to the manger with the hope of Joseph, trusting in Gods dream for our lives. For God's dreams never fit in a tidy little box, they are messy and sometimes frightening, and for Jesus they would seem to end with his death on a gruesome and embarrassing cross. But we know that because of his sacrifice, death does not hold the final word. The death of one life is the beginning of another. The loss of one dream offers the opportunity for a new life to begin. 

So I'd like to wish you a Joseph Christmas. Not a Mary Christmas, but a Joseph Christmas. May you dream of God's hope for your life and this world, and may you have the faith to follow those dreams and share Gods transforming love with the world!