December 19, 2013

Love Calls Us All to Have Faith (Advent 4)

The story of the birth of Jesus is a love story. It is not the usual mushy, sentimental romantic kind of love story we think of when we think of a man and woman in love. It is a divine love story that describes a kind of love that is harder, more challenging and requires serious risk and commitment. God is reaching out to Joseph and Mary in love. God is going to love them enough to trust them with Himself in human form. This challenges Joseph and Mary to respond to Gods' love reaching out to them in faith. It challenges all of us to also respond in faith to the love of God we see in the birth of Jesus.

1. Love called Joseph to have faith
Joseph was in a very difficult situation. He was legally engaged to marry Mary. They were in that special time before marriage when families used to check each other out and the couple decides if this is really the right thing to do. I saw an example of this in 2007 when serving the Dinka Anglican Fellowship in Calgary. The two Dinka weddings we celebrated were the outcome of years of checking out families back in the Southern Sudan.
  • Hebrew families would watch the couple very closely to ensure they had no opportunities to have a sexual relationship.
  • Pregnancy outside of marriage was considered a big disgrace. In fact the penalty was death by stoning. So Joseph was thinking about sending Mary away somewhere safe where she could have the baby.
  •  The visit of the angel upsets this plan and challenges Joseph to have faith that this was part of a divine plan. Joseph was challenged to place the future of his family completely in the hands of God. Nobody would believe he was not the father.

Most people in our time do not believe that the Holy Spirit, not Joseph was the father of Jesus. At Christmas we share in the faith of Joseph that God could trust humans with the birth of His son.
2. Love of God calls us to the obedience of faith
The Apostle Paul experienced the love of God in Jesus reaching out to him personally with forgiveness.
  • Jesus did not confront Paul with reason, authority, or power to gain his obedience.
Jesus confronted Paul with something far more powerful. Jesus confronted Paul with forgiving love. Paul could not resist the love of God reaching out to him personally. He could only respond by believing in Jesus as his Lord and master with a faith that went beyond affirming a truth to obedience.

3. The birth of Jesus calls us all to this depth of faith
 It would have been much safer and easier to have Jesus born into the family of a king or a priest. The child would have been protected while he grew up and have some earthly status. But there would be less love in that. God would not be taking such a huge risk. We might not have learned how great the love of God is.
  • The good news of Christmas is that God did show us His great love by reaching out and trusting this particular family with His child. Bethlehem and Nazareth are both obscure places. Joseph was a poor and obscure carpenter. There was no status, wealth or power in this family.
  • God chose to make Himself and the baby Jesus completely dependent on the love and the obedient faith of Joseph and Mary. Their faith was tested against the fears and doubts of their families. They went through rejection and danger.
 4. Behind the cute story of the donkey there is another story.
It is the story of the love of a man and woman for God and for each other. Mary did not have to go with Joseph to Bethlehem. She was a woman. Men did all the business at that time. Why was she there? Nobody who is nine months pregnant would ride a donkey for 90 miles unless they had a life threatening reason. Mary had a life threatening reason.  She was there because there was a good chance that I she stayed behind she could be killed by the relatives. They would have been very upset and felt disgraced by her situation. Mary and Joseph had the depth of faith to put their lives completely in the hands of God. This is why God chose her to bear her son.

At the first Christmas the love of God reached out to all people.
·         Those who saw this love responded.

·         We are also called to respond to the love of Jesus reaching out to us this Christmas.

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