(Homily delivered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waldorf, MD – December 22, 2019)
In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Advent and Christmas.
It is a very busy time. What if we made a list of all the activities we cram into this season.
• Work and all of the year-end tasks
• Sending Christmas cards
• Shopping for presents
• Wrapping the presents
• Cooking and baking
• Holiday parties
• Special connections
• Worrying about money, will they like it, what if it snows and travel is hard… the list of worries can be long
This list we are making could undoubtedly be much longer. There are so many demands on us in normal, everyday life without piling on the extras for Christmas. It can make Advent and Christmas very hard and it is for sure, something that can get in the way of the real reason and meaning of the season.
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Let’s travel back in time to over 2,000 years ago.
There was this young couple, Mary and Joseph. It is said that Mary was likely 13 or 14 years old and Joseph was maybe 17 or 18.
Think about yourself at that age.
Think about yourself at that age and, if you’re Mary, you get this visit from the Archangel Gabriel. As if that isn’t enough of a shock and reach, you find out you’re having a baby and it is the Son of God.
You have to tell someone, right? You know you are not going to be able to keep this a secret. And, you know society and you begin to think about the gossip and talk behind your back.
What will your family think?
What will friends and neighbors say?
I suspect that Mary had a volcano of emotions before she came to terms with this.
And she had to tell her fiancé, Joseph.
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This is where we enter the story today.
Joseph knows about Mary. It would seem that he was not aware of the words from Isaiah about a young woman bearing a child who will be Emmanuel. He has decided to end the engagement with her. He didn’t want to be mean about it or anything and so his decision is to “dismiss her quietly.”
And, what happens after he comes to this decision? He has a dream. And the angel of the Lord comes to him in this dream.
We will get back to this in a minute, but I cannot help but wonder about Joseph at this particular point in the story.
Tough situation, right? I mean the woman you are going to marry comes to with this story about the angel. And then she tells you she’s pregnant. And then she tells you it is of the Holy Spirit. And then she tells you it’s a boy.
There is not a single part of her story that is normal thinking. And so Joseph wrestles with this and he finally figures out what he is going to do. He likely feels pretty good about it finding a way to get out of this but not wanting to embarrass Mary publicly. I would guess that when he laid down to go to sleep, he was thinking that he might sleep well for the first time since this situation presented itself to him.
And then, he has his dream… and his encounter with an angel.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the 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.”
What just happened?
I mean Joseph had just got this all settled. He felt good about it, well as best he could under the circumstances. He felt like he was doing the right thing. And then this angel had to come and stir the pot of his emotions and thinking.
I doubt Joseph got up from sleep and simply said, “Well, thanks for that clarification there, angel, oh friend of mine. That really set me on the right path.”
In fact, I suspect he needed time to give it some thought.
I suspect that he may have wrote it off as a weird dream.
I suspect that he changed his mind 20 times or more before he really did ‘as the angel of the Lord commanded him.’
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The story of Mary and Joseph is one of my favorites. I have many favorites from the Bible for all kinds of different reasons. But this one, it really makes me stop and think. It really makes me put everything else aside each Christmas and immerse myself into the circumstances and encounters these two teenagers have with God.
The impossible is asked of them. I am sure that there were things in the course of this time in their lives that they didn’t get right.
While there is no real account of their thoughts, their emotions, their doubts, or their discussions with each other, it is safe to say that there are significant parts of this story that are untold. They were common people in an uncommon story. And, when you think about this in the context of these two teens and insert yourself into the story instead of Mary and Joseph, there is a burning question that you need to ask yourself.
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Remember our list of things that get in the way during this most holy season. The buying of presents, our jobs, shopping, etc.; you remember that list that takes us away from being present with the Spirit during this time. That list and all the other distractions of our lives keeps us from this question that Mary and Joseph embraced.
You see, God asked a lot of these two teens.
And God is asking something from you and something from me. God is asking something from all of us.
It may not be something so amazing and blessed as a virgin birth. But it is no less important.
God is asking something of each of us. Find time in these last two days of Advent and the season of Christmas to be with God and adopt the spirit of these young people, Mary and Joseph:
and wrestle with it,
and be scared even,
and be human with it.
And then to say okay.
Mary and Joseph let love lead them.
They moved other things out of the way. They put their emotions and reactions aside and they let love lead them.
Will you let love lead you when God calls?
Will you be like Mary and Joseph and even though you may have doubt or fear, say yes.
Be brave enough to learn and try something new. Don’t be afraid to start where you’re at. The beginning will look different than the result. You may very well be bad at the thing you try, until it’s not new anymore. Be brave and start now!
Because friends, God loves you right where you are and God will love you through the journey.
Joseph made up his mind.
In the end, he said yes to God.
He embraced the situation and figured it out with Mary.
He said yes.
Mary and Joseph said yes and let love lead them.
Now… it’s our turn.