Sunday, December 18, 2016

Year A Advent 4 2016 "Called to be Saints"

Year A Advent 4
St David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA 18 Dec 2016
“Called To Be Saints”

Today’s Scripture focuses on one of the quiet heroes of the Bible. We know little about him, other than his name and occupation. And a miracle in and of itself, he did the right thing without even being asked. Can you tell I have two kids when I see doing what you are supposed to do as a miracle?.

A story is told of a preacher who was visiting a small town in the South to preach a revival. (Remember those?) One of the evenings he spoke on being True. “Be true, even when no one is looking!” he proclaimed. After the service he was walking around the little town square and was feeling homesick. As he was heading back to the hotel, he spied the phone booth (Remember those?) and thought he should call home. He pulled out all his pocket change (Remember pocket change?) and got the operator to help make the long-distance call. (Remember when you had to get help?) The operator gave the amount for the call, and the preacher inserted it. He had a good talk with the wife, and said goodnight. When he hung up the phone, all his change came out. All the money he had put in to make the phone call came right out, and he was surprised. About to pocket it, he thought better, and called the operator. She was actually surprised as well. “I didn’t think you would do that!” she said. He asked what she meant, and she went on, “You see, Pastor, I started my shift right after service tonight and I recognized your voice. You said to be True, even when no one was looking. I guess you meant it.” She told him to just re-insert the money in the phone, and thanked him for being True.

We never know who is watching do we?

And today’s Gospel, while telling the Christmas story, focuses on one man and his choices. Today we speak of Joseph, the unheralded hero of Christmas.

This week I watched a documentary on Leonard Nimoy, the man who played Spock on Star Trek. Several of his Jewish friends said that the one word to describe him was “Mensch.” That term, from the German, normally means just Man. But in the Yiddish, it takes on a certain connotation. The best translation I can think of is a “Stand Up Guy.” Nimoy, aka Spock, was one such guy according to all his friends, and so was Joseph. He was a  Mensch, a Stand-Up Guy. Joseph was the type of guy who did the right thing, before being asked, just because it is the right thing to do.

I do not think it is accidental that God chose a man like Joseph to be the earthly father of his only-begotten Son.

We know that Joseph was a carpenter from the city all the way up in the North of Israel/Palestine called Nazareth. He was of the house and lineage of King David, of which the prophesied Messiah was to come. The problem was that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, way to the South, about 10 miles south of Jerusalem.

He probably had no thoughts that a son of his would be seen to be the Messiah, but a certain census took him and his betrothed south to be registered.

Now his betrothed, the girl he was engaged to be married to, Mary, in all likelihood was a young teen. He would have been older, perhaps significantly older. I always grew up thinking of Joseph being younger and nearer her age, but he would have been established with a business that could support a family.

Now today’s Gospel tells us, Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
From this we know that Mary and Joseph had not been together as husband and wife, and that  Jesus was Mary’s first born from Luke 2 (v. 7). Joseph was not the father of the baby.

Now, in that day and time, he could have done a number of things. He could have demanded much from her family, perhaps even her stoning. But, this was not the type of man Joseph was. He did the right thing even when it hurt. And it probably hurt a lot. Not many of us like to think we have been cheated on. If this were an arranged marriage, he may not have known her much or at all. He may have just known her as a girl running around Nazareth with her friends. Another thing, according to our Catholic brothers and sisters, Joseph may have been a widower. She may be a second wife to this man. Catholic scholars note that Jesus had brothers and sisters, this is told in several of the Gospels. But that because she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph and Mary never had relations. When I first heard this I was surprised, but it does answer a few things. When Jesus was crucified, and asked his “beloved disciple” to take care of his mom, I always wondered why his brothers and sisters did not take on that role. If his mom was their step-mom, that would help this make more sense. Or, as I have traditionally thought, Jesus was the firstborn, with siblings coming after. We don’t know, we cannot from the information we have been given. I have no problem with her being a first wife, or her being a second wife, and there is adequate supporting details to back up both views.

We know that Joseph died before Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps Jesus delayed his ministry till he was 30 so that he could make enough money to care for his mother after he left to begin his work? We just cannot know. It is fascinating to think about. But despite all we do not know, we do know this:
Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

You see, Joseph was a Stand-Up Guy. He chose to be loving to this girl who had humiliated him. All the neighbors’ tongues would have been wagging. “We always thought she was a good girl.” Joseph would have known, he lived in the same society. He, however, did not want to disgrace her any more, and was going to call off the wedding quietly. I have been booked to be the minister at weddings that were called off. It is heartbreaking. And it is rarely quietly done. But you see, Joseph was a righteous man. He was thinking more about her than he was of himself and his reputation. That was the type of man he was. What I love is that all this took place before the angel ever showed up. He decided to do the right thing before it was asked of him. It helps me see why God chose a man like this.

Then, Joseph had a dream. DO NOT FIND THIS ACCIDENTAL! Remember Joseph in Genesis, and how God spoke to him in dreams and the interpretation of others’ dreams? Do you see this parallel between Joseph of Genesis and the Joseph of the Gospels? It is hard to miss.
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”

He was told that despite the social stigma, to follow through with the marriage, and to take Mary as his wife, and in so doing, raise the baby as his son. Later And even more, he was given names for the baby: Jesus, which means God-saves, or more specifically, Yahweh-saves. And Emmanuel, God-with-us. Both are beautiful. Jesus is the Greek form of the name Yeshua, or what we transliterate as Joshua.

And what did he do?

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

He did what he was told to do.

And may it be the same for us. You see, we are called to be saints. Not just believers, because you and I both know we can say we believe a  lot of things and it may have no earthly difference in our lives. But like Joseph, we are to be righteous, a stand-up guy or gal, a mensch.

We are to do the right thing, even when it costs us in time, money or reputation. Like Joseph.

We heard in Romans 1 today about this one we follow, whose birth we just explored, Jesus Christ:

Jesus Christ ... promised beforehand through [the] prophets in the holy scriptures... [who] was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ… who are called to be saints.

The Scriptures today remind us of a humble man, a workman from a backwater town. He never expected to be on the world stage, and on this side of heaven, he never knew the impact of his choices and life. He was just living his life, and doing the right thing as best he knew. And maybe that is what God wants of all of us, to follow in humility the life of faith. To “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” according to the prophet Micah. Or as Paul said, we have “received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith.”

We have been journeying for four weeks now, wearing the purple of contrite hearts. We have recognized that we have Hope, Peace, and Joy along the way, and today we have both the outcome and the attitude that enables it all. Love. Today we have Love. It is for Love, that Joseph decided to treat with Mary’s shame quietly, and then to follow through with the marriage, in Love of her and in the Love of God. And we, who are called likewise, to Love God enough to do the proper thing whenever and wherever we can.

And  in our humble, daily offering, we prepare a place for the Christ child to enter in. In our collect today we prayed: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.

I graduated from high school when we could still sing about Jesus. I was in the a cappella choir my senior year, and we got all kinds of opportunities, including singing for President Reagan in the White House at Christmas 30 years ago this year. But of all my memories from that group, my favorite was singing a song taken from a text from the early Modern era. It was called The Best of Rooms, by the poet and Anglican priest Robert Merrick. He wrote this in 1620.
       Christ, He requires still, wheresoe’er he comes,
To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms:
Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part
Of all the house: the best of all’s the heart.

Humble Joseph, who sought a room for his bride to give birth, opened his heart to God. He was a saint, who never thought he would be remembered and revered. He just lived his life in such a way to give glory to God. We, too, are called to be Saints.  May Christ enter in this Christmas, and every day throughout the year. We are called to be Saints. May we be so worthy. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock