Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Compassionate Heart

Matthew 1

"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." (NLT)

Joseph is quite a curious character. We don't actually hear him say anything, and we only hear about his presence and activity around Jesus' birth, but what we do know, describes a humble man, chosen for his understanding of God's love, deeper than the laws set to guide it.

When Joseph first discovers Mary's pregnancy, he makes a shocking decision. To us, it seems like the "Christian" thing to do: forgive her and let her go. But the Jewish law(recorded in Deuteronomy 22) held that if a woman who was pledged to marry is found not to be a virgin, then she is to be stoned…to death…it doesn’t even matter if she’s pregnant or not. This righteous up-standing son of the house of David chose to have compassion on her, and release her from their agreement.

Then after his dream, he does an even more remarkable thing, and he takes her into his own care, as his own wife, the one who will one day mother many of his children, and he commits to watch over this one as his own. 

He is painted as the most obedient of men, calm and direct, but he makes radical choices in light of what society would have expected from him. His heart was prepared to see God’s opportunities to speak love, and the first response was not discipline or retribution, but grace and forgiveness. The second response wasn't a teaching of right and wrong, but a hand reaching out in reconciliation and hope for a brighter tomorrow. Joseph welcomed Christ in the faith that God was at work through a confusing and difficult situation. First God would mend his broken heart, and then God would mend the world.

How might God be calling you to soften your heart towards a brother or sister in need of God’s love, in need of a new beginning, in need of a helping hand, in need of a light in the darkness? How might God break open our hearts to see the world in a radically new way this Christmas? 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Journey of Creativity

Over the past two years, I have been pouring my creative energies into art for our church bulletins and projected screens based on my sermons. It began as a form of art explorations of scripture in Lent of 2013, as I made drawings to accompany my sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. It continued through the church year with drawings for Pentecost and a series on the book of Revelation. This summer I ventured further with using words as the centerpiece, exploring the techniques of lettering. 

This fall our worship committee asked me to compose a series of bulletin covers to fit with our theme: Prepare Him Room. I’d like to share them with you and invite you to journey with us as we prepare our hearts and our lives to receive Jesus and answer the call to follow and walk in his ways. Our first two Sundays of Advent go hand in hand: Prepare him room with Open Eyes and Open Ears. We are following the Narrative Lectionary (Narrative Lectionary FAQs), and therefore our Spirit given text was Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19.

In the wake of last week’s protests and challenging news broadcasts following the events in Ferguson, MO, we were called to look with OPEN EYES. Like Habakkuk, we will not ignore the violence and injustice before our eyes, recognizing the call from God for us all to be transformed. "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

What will you see when you open your eyes this Advent season? How will you rejoice in God’s plan for mercy and deliverance in the face of what you see with your eyes?

This coming week invites us to prepare with OPEN EARS. We will hear how both the young Queen Esther and the young Mary prepared for God’s deliverance and salvation with open ears. Wondering how the king could listen to a young girl as her, Esther listened to her cousin Mordecai’s words: "If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NLT)

Wondering how such a a young girl could carry the presence of God inside her womb, Mary asks the Angel, how can this be? With open ears, she hears these words and believes:“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37 NLT)

As we look at those things we would rather not see, and we listen to the challenging words we would rather not hear, how is God calling us to prepare for new life this Advent and Christmas season?