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01-23 - Worship - Calmness

          I want us to begin our time today coming to recognize that in our short lives we have been given an opportunity to come to know a very big picture. Pictures, paintings, and the like draw us and help us to understand how things work together.  God, in his grace as the ultimate artist, has given us an opportunity to see a big picture of peacefulness and calmness, if we are willing to see it.

An artist seeking to present to us the big picture, working with paints, has at his or her disposal a canvas upon which to create.  The artist has paints of differing colors and thicknesses and brushes of differing widths that can be used to apply the paint to the canvas.  The artist engages in a creative process to bring forward the desired image using those canvas, paints, and brushes.  Those watching an artist create may struggle to see the image that artist desires to shape.  In the beginning, the artist’s work may seem a bit chaotic or choppy.  But to the artist, every brush stroke is as important and necessary.  The artist has a goal, an objective, to bring forward something of lasting value to those who would take the time to see it.  If those watching the artist do so for only a moment or two, they never fully appreciate the vision the artist is creating.  They only see fragmented segments of the vision. 

Sometimes, I think we shape our view of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in a similar manner. We take in a bit of Scripture, a touch or two of music, and mix it together with a few moments from a sermon and then we are on our way believing we have the picture in hand.  Then when in our living when we feel an urgent need-to-know God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we have only the fragments we picked up here and there.  We do not have clear picture or the big picture.  When this occurs, we become anxious, unsettled, irritated, jealous, disappointed in others, and fearful.  Though we claim to be people of faith, we become indistinguishable from the world full of people who have no faith, who have no vision of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  We become disappointed in what faith we do have.  I have encountered many people who are disappointed in their faith.  They continually want to know why the fragments of they possess do not give them a proper picture.  Some, in their disappointment, have even chosen to walk away from their faith. 

God wants our faith to have meaning and that our faith has the capacity to see us through life.  God wants us to spend time in his presence so that we can see the bigger picture and have a faith that sustains us.

It is for this reason, that we have spoken the last few weeks about worship of God.  We have explored the goals and consequences of worship. We talked a bit about the elements of worship, the tools that help us see the bigger picture only made possible to see through the lens of worship.  When we consistently gather for worship and engage in it, we will come to see the picture God wants us to see and have the peace and calm he desires for us.  We just need to spend enough time with God, the ultimate artist, to see the picture of peace and calmness that He is revealing to us. Seeing God’s masterpiece of calmness requires time in worship.

I think it is fair to say that calmness is lacking these days.  If you do not believe me, pick the cable news network of your choice, and see if you can find calmness.  I doubt you will.  Instead, you will find angry people yelling at one another or smaller and smaller grievances, political leaders threatening one another, and growing violence in many cities.  In many ways the world has become stormy with everyone doing what was right in his own eyes.  I believe the lack of calmness is a reflection of the lack of worship of God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus, God’s masterpiece of calmness, understood the storminess of this world and the tension between living in this world and not being part of this world.  Jesus repeatedly demonstrated to his disciples the calmness found in God necessary to navigating that storminess and tension. 

Consider the scene painted by our Scripture reading today.  One time, “23 Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping” (Matthew 8:23-24). Let’s pause there just for a moment and consider the overall canvas before we look at any pieces within it. Jesus and his disciples were in one boat travelling across the Sea of Galilee.  A violent wind whipped up churning the waves ever larger.  So large were these waves that wave after wave came over the gunnels of the boat causing the boat to take on water.  The disciples were awake and working hard to manage the ship in the storm sweeping over them.  Meanwhile, Jesus was curled up comfortably sleeping completely unaffected by the winds and waves.  The contrast in this scene could not be starker and it was not accidental.  The account of this scene is found in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Each account drew a sharp contrast between the disciples struggling against the violent storm and Jesus portrayed as though he was sleeping peacefully in green pastures and beside still waters.

At this moment of contrast, the artistry of God’s Word shows Jesus’ disciples in the world and Jesus apart from it.  The artistry of this contrast is found elsewhere in the Gospels.  One time Jesus came to village.  There a woman named Martha opened her home to Jesus and his disciples.  Martha had a sister Mary.  Mary chose to sit at Jesus feet listening to him speak and enjoying the calmness of Jesus’ presence.  Meanwhile, Martha was distracted by all the preparations she felt were necessary for the meal.  Martha in her distractedness, in her labors, and perhaps in a full sweat from cooking became upset with Mary and her calmness.  Martha approached Jesus demanding that Jesus order Mary to join Martha. Martha wanted Jesus to end Mary’s calmness and join Martha in her distractedness.  Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen calmness with him over the distractedness of the world and that Mary’s calmness at the feet of Jesus would not be taken from her.  Jesus made it clear that invitations to move from the calmness of his presence into the storms of the world are to be declined.

As we return to contrast in painting of the storm on the boat from the Gospel of Matthew, we remember that “23 Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him [Jesus], saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’” (Matthew 8:23-25). 

The disciples, experienced upon the Sea of Galilee, saw that their situation was grave.  The waves were overtaking the boat to such an extent that the boat would surely sink, and they would drown.  There was certainly despair in the voices of the disciples as they believed the storm would overtake them but, and we might miss this, there was hopefulness in the voices as well because they said, “Lord, save us!”  This expression, “Lord, save us!” expressed that the disciples believed that even though they were in a severe storm, that Jesus could nevertheless save their lives.  The disciples were anxious, fearful, and feeling trapped in the storm and yet they were inviting Jesus to extend his calmness to them.

Jesus awoke to the cries of hope and disaster from his disciples.  Jesus was able to hear them just fine over the sound of the furious storm.  What was Jesus’ response? “26 Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’” (Matthew 8:26a).  Jesus did not join the disciples in their anxiousness and did not immediately extend his calmness to them.  Instead, Jesus asked them about their little faith.  The phrase “little faith” here was appropriate.  If the disciples had strong faith, they would not have panicked. If the disciples had no faith, they would not have thought to say, “Lord, save us!”  The disciples had a little faith, a faith consisting of a mixture of a hopeful confidence and doubt.  I suspect many of us would describe ourselves as having a faith that at times is confident and at other times is marked by doubt.

In the scene being painted by Matthew, Mark, and Luke we would read that Jesus stood among his fearful disciples and Jesus “rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:26b).  The calmness of Jesus went out from him and quieted the nature and the people around him. The winds were quiet.  The waves were gentle.  The rain had stopped.  The disciples stopped talking about dying and returned to thoughts about living.  The perfect calmness of Jesus was present.

God, the artist, of this scene had painted a magnificent contrast between the storms of life that can drown us and the calmness of Jesus that saves us.  But to see that magnificent painting, we had to wait and be with God long enough for him to complete it.  God had painted this scene once before in the Book of Psalms, Psalm 107.  God inspired the psalmist to write, “23 Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.  24 They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep.  25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves.  26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away.  27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end.  28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.  29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.  30 [And] They were glad when it grew calm” (Psalm 107:23-32).  We all just had to wait for God’s timing to reveal that the bigger picture that peacefulness and calmness of the Psalm would be found in the person of Jesus Christ.

The artistry of God is unmistakable.  In the storms of life, our courage will often melt away.  We will find ourselves at our wits’ end.  We will come to cry out and God will bring us out of our distress and into the calmness of his presence.  But we need to be prepared in faith beforehand.  We need to see the bigger picture.  How are we to do that?

In Psalm 107, God inspired the psalmist to give us the appropriate response to living in the calmness of God.  The psalmist wrote, “30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he [God] guided them to their desired haven.  31 Let them [who called out in faith] give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.  32 Let them [who called out in faith] exalt him [God] in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders” (Psalm 107:30-32).  God was inviting those who expressed faith in him, however, fleeting, or small to be glad for the calmness that he extends and to come together in worship.

Friends, I do not need to tell you that we live in a world that is often fraught with storminess, messiness, chaos, and disappointment.  At times it might even feel like the storms of life are winning and we may drown.  The pictures painted today from the Old Testament psalm and the Gospel accounts of the storm upon the Sea of Galilee are very much the same.  Storms exist but so too does peacefulness and calmness. The peacefulness and calmness of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is extended to us through and in worship. For in worship, we come to understand the bigger picture God is painting with both the bright and dark colors.  It is in worship that see the artistry of God at work in our lives and in the lives of others.  It is in worship that we can express with even a little faith that we need God to still the storms that surround us.  It is in worship that we see Jesus as the savior who will keep us from drowning.  It is in worship that we are repaired from the storms of life. 

I am glad you are here for worship.  I pray that the peacefulness and calmness of Christ has extended over each of us and that we, standing in stark contrast to a stormy world around us, can extend peace and calmness of Christ to others.  Amen and Amen.

01-16 - Worship - It Changes Us

          Worship.  What is worship?  Some church folks, particularly in churches formed after 1980, equate worship with contemporary praise songs.  Often times, in those contemporary churches, the time spent on other than praise music comes under a label of something other than worship.

          For some church folks, particularly among the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic churches, worship tends to be a solemn event occurring in a space considered sacred. In that sacred space, a repetition of ancient sayings is employed, along with songs, homilies, with the pinnacle moment occurring in the sharing in Holy Communion.

          Then, of course, there is us, the Baptists.  In a typical Baptist setting, worship tends to be relatively simple and centers around the sermon.  In most Baptist churches the music consists of traditional hymns, accompanied by a pianist and perhaps an organist.  The primary purpose of music in a Baptist service is to prepare the listener to hear the sermon.

          Worship has become a varied set of practices.  Although they vary by tradition, we should not see one method of worship as more proper than another or the differing activities in the collective as a confused mess.  Regardless of the way we the practically expression of worship we follow, the purpose of worship remains the same.  We worship to meet the goal of placing ourselves before God. 

Our goal is to place ourselves before God that He would hear us in a public way acknowledge Him by our singing, by our praying, and by our silence.  We want to acknowledge that God is amid all that is happening in this world today, in the present moment. 

Our goal of placing ourselves before God that we can be heard and that we can hear Him.  We sing, we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we read and listen to passages from the Bible, and we listen to, and we are even willing to suffer through, sermons, messages, or homilies.  We do these things because we believe that in doing so God will speak to us as the final authority for life and living.  We believe in the written word of God, the Bible, that “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:16-17: MSG).

To be heard by God and to hear God, to know and be known by God, these are our goals in worship. I learned Quaker theologian once wrote, “Goals have consequences.”  Think about that for a moment.  The goals we choose have consequences to our lives as we pursue these goals.  What then are the consequences of placing ourselves before God to hear and be heard by Him?

I think our reading today from the Gospel of Luke might be helpful in opening the door to our understanding of the consequences of hearing God and being heard by God.  Let’s read that passage again.  As we do, I invite you to visualize the scene being unfolded before us.  In the Gospel of Luke, we would read, “11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he [Jesus] was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy [an infectious skin disease] met him [Jesus]. They [lepers] stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’  14 When he [Jesus] saw them [the ten lepers], he [Jesus] said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they [lepers] went, they [lepers] were cleansed [healed].  15 One of them [lepers], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He [The changed man] threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  17 Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he [Jesus] said to him [the changed man], ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:11-19).

          Jesus, as was his habit, was traveling the countryside.  Jesus was heading to Jerusalem for his final time; a time in which he would be arrested, tried, and crucified.  On his way to Jerusalem, he approached a nameless village.  Outside the hospitality of the village were ten homeless men.  They were made homeless by an infectious and incurable skin disease called leprosy.  As Jesus approached, the ten men stood some distance from Jesus and together called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”

          Somehow, these men, isolated from community, came to know something about Jesus and the presence of God within him.  They called out in reverence for the authority of God within Jesus and said to him, “Jesus, Master.”  The collective goal of these men was to place themselves before God.  Having placed themselves before God, the ten offered their humble prayer, “Have pity on us!”  “Have mercy on us!”  This was the worship service of ten lepers.  There was, of course, no music, no offering, and no sermon, but it was worship.  The had the goal to place themselves before God and praying.

          Jesus would later share the simplicity of this scene later through a parable.  In that parable, instead of a leper placing himself before God, Jesus substituted another outcast from community, a tax collector. He contrasted the worship offered by that outcast from the community with the worship offered by a Pharisee, a respected and admired member of the community.  Jesus told their story this way.

          10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  14 “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee], went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 19:10-14).

          The behavior of the lepers and that of the tax collector are remarkably similar.  They both stood at a distance.  They both placed themselves before God.  They both humbly prayed the same prayer, “Have mercy.”  The lepers and the tax collector had the goal of worshipping God.

          Well, what was the result of the worship by the lepers?  What was the consequence of pursuing their goal of placing themselves before God through Jesus Christ? 

Luke wrote that Jesus saw the lepers.  The first consequence of pursuing a goal of worshipping of God is that the worshipper reveals themselves to God and is fully seen by God for who they are.  In the scene with the lepers, Jesus saw the lepers and their humility before him.  In the parable of the tax collector and Pharisee, the tax collector was seen by God and his humility before him.  The Pharisee was seen by God and his arrogance before him.  Having a goal to worship God carries with it the consequence that we will be seen by him either for our humility or our arrogance.  We must then exercise care in our worship that whatever form it takes, be it contemporary style, liturgical style, or even as we Baptist do, to worship in humility. 

          Luke said the first response in the lepers’ moment of worship was that Jesus saw the lepers.  Jesus did not so much see a collection of men with sickness of their body, but Jesus saw a collection of men healthy in their humble worship of God. In seeing these worshippers and listening to their voices of praise and pray, Jesus heard them.  The first consequence of worshipping God is that we open ourselves to God.

          Luke said the second consequence of worshipping God followed quickly thereafter.  The worshippers heard God.  In this case, the voice of God was expressed through the words of Jesus who said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14).  A consequence of the goal of worship is that God speaks to worshippers.  But the consequence of hearing God speak is that the worshipper is expected to follow what God said.  We should note well that Jesus spoke and told this group of humble worshippers to “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14).  Jesus did not say you are healed.  Instead, Jesus told the men to go to the priest.  At that time, the way one must prove themselves cleansed of leprosy was to have a priest confirm that healing.  It was not until the men followed what Jesus said did the healing of their bodies occur.   Luke wrote, “And as they [lepers] went, they [lepers] were cleansed [healed]” (Luke 17:14b).  Said another way, as the worshippers acted in faith and did as God instructed, then the healing took place.

          The lepers entered worship as a way of God hearing them.  God, through Jesus, heard them.  God, through Jesus, spoke to the lepers.  The worshippers were expected to follow God’s word and they did. In following God’s word, the lepers were cleansed or healed.  The consequence of the goal of worship was that the lepers were no longer lepers, they were outwardly changed men.

           But. You know there is always a ‘but.’ But not all the lepers embraced the full goal of worship and not all accepted the consequence of worship which is to be changed within.  Let’s see what happened. 

Luke said, “15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15-16).  One of the ten now former lepers was changed but more than just the restoration of his skin.  When this tenth man saw that his skin had been healed, he allowed God to also change to the core of his being.  This tenth man instead of running from Jesus, returned to Jesus.  Why?  Because the tenth man wanted to worship God for what God had done within him through worship. 

True worship of God, whatever its form, changes the worshipper and creates a desire for greater worship of God.  Not only does worship create a desire for more worship but it creates a desire for a deeper worship, a worship that brings them ever closer to God.  When this tenth man first worshipped, he did so from a distance.  When he returned to worship, the tenth man “threw himself at Jesus’ feet,” to worship him.  Worship of God changes the worshipper and makes the worshipper desire the closest possible relationship with God and one that expressed without any sense of embarrassment.

          Worship is a powerful spiritual experience that changes the worshipper.  The tenth man returned to Jesus to be heard by God and to hear God. This man was not disappointed. Jesus said to him, “19 ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well’ (Luke 17:19).  This tenth man heard God and was told to continue to move forward in faith.

          Worship.  What is worship?  We worship to meet the goal of placing ourselves before God. Our goal is to place ourselves before God that He would hear us as we in a public way acknowledge Him by our singing, by our praying, and by our silence.  We want to acknowledge that God is amid all that is happening in this world today, in the present moment.  Our goal is to place ourselves before God that we could hear Him through His Word. These are the goals of worship, but Goals have consequences.

In our goal of worship, we face the real consequence of being changed.  In being changed, we desire to worship God not just more but more intimately.  Through deeper worship of God will we hear God more clearly than ever and know that our life is to be lived in faith.  The more we hear God, the quieter our soul becomes.  We are not unsettled and anxious.

It was by faith that the leper was healed.  It was by faith the healed man was tasked by Jesus to live by.  We are no different from the leper.  We need to make as a chief goal of our life to worship God, humbly. We need to accept the consequences of worship.  Namely, that we will be seen by God, heard by him, that we will hear him, we will be changed because of hearing God, and that in our continued worship of God he will ask us to live evermore by faith.

I am glad we are here together in worship.  I pray that together we will fully enjoy the consequences of worshipping God.  Amen and Amen. 

01-09 - Worship - It Matters

Today is the second Sunday of the month of January.  You all knew that.  What many may not know is that in many eastern orthodox Christian churches today is the day to celebrate Jesus’ baptism.  In many western churches, today is the day to celebrate the Epiphany, that is the day that celebrates God incarnate, meaning made flesh, in Jesus Christ.  This day is often associated with the day the magi came to visit Jesus and so in some churches today is called Three King’s Day or Little Christmas.

In case you did not know, we, Baptists, like to be different. Other than Easter and Christmas, we tend to avoid acknowledging religious feasts, special days, or much of anything else.  While respecting that Baptist distinctive, I nevertheless believe starting our time today with the visitation of the Magi would be profitable to us.

But in keeping with the Baptist traditions, I would like us to look at the Magi in a slightly different way that may be more relatable to us. Let’s look at a couple of passages about the magi from the Gospel of Matthew.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2).  The magi came from well outside Judea, travelled many miles, for one purpose, worship the child, Jesus.  The Greek word Matthew used for worship was προσκυνέω, proskyneō, which means to kiss the hand in reverence, or to fall on one’s knees and touch the ground with great reverence or kneel in the presence of God.  Matthew would use the word, proskyneō, 13 times in his gospel account of Jesus, 3 times more often than any other gospel writer.

Matthew’s desire was that his readers would come to see that Jesus was and is worthy of worship.  Jesus was worthy to be adored by the magi even as a newborn simply because he was born by God’s command.  And so, the magi endured the difficulty of hundreds of miles of travel so that they could worship Jesus in person.

Not long after the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, the magi were on their way to Bethlehem.  Matthew wrote, “9 After they (the Magi) had heard the king (Herod), they went on their way, and the star they (the Magi) had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they (the Magi) saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they (the Magi) saw the child with his mother Mary, and they (the Magi) bowed down and worshiped him (Jesus)” (Matthew 2:9-11).  The Magi were overwhelmed with joy that after long last they could worship Jesus. Worship was the Magi’s purpose. Worship was their driving force, and engaging in worship brought the Magi joy.

The Magi in many ways represent the first Christian church of Jesus Christ.  A Christian Church is a gathering of people dedicated to the primary purpose of engaging in the worship of God through Jesus Christ.  What do we know about this first congregation, we will call them the First Congregation of the Magi?  The First Congregation of the Magi consisted of only a few members but the commitment level among the members of the First Congregation of the Magi was very high. The members of the congregation volunteered to be part of that church.  No one forced them to get out of bed and journey together.  The members of the First Congregation of the Magi got together because they wanted to do so and each member of the congregation was necessary and an encouragement to the other members.  The First Congregation of the Magi were generous givers.  In fact, they gave more money for the celebration of Jesus coming into this world than any other group.  The congregation was united in and by worship, and in and through worship the members of the First Congregation of the Magi found overwhelming joy. 

That is what I see in the Magi and I find that we are not much different than the First Congregation of the Magi.  We are small.  The commitment level is high.  Our congregation is formed of volunteers.  We give more money than most to support missions and the celebration of Jesus coming into the world.  We come to be united in worship.  But a key question remains open in our comparison with the First Congregation of the Magi.  “Are we joyful as the First Congregation of the Magi was when and because we worship Jesus?”  Matthew was pointing out that when worship is done for the right reasons then joy comes to us.  The relationship between worship, joy, and inner peace was an important theme for Matthew’s story of Jesus.

What else did Matthew have to say about worship and joy?  The next scene of worship, proskyneō, that Matthew described occurs in Chapter 4 of the gospel bearing his name.  Jesus was in the wilderness engaged in spiritual battle with the devil himself. Matthew wrote, “8 Again, the devil took him (Jesus) to a very high mountain and showed him (Jesus) all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 ‘All this I (Satan) will give you (Jesus),’ he said, ‘if you (Jesus) will bow down and worship me (Satan).’  10 Jesus said to him (Satan), ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:9-10).

The interaction between Jesus and Matthew revealed some important things to us about worship and joy.  First, we can worship anyone or anything.  In Jesus’ case, Satan knew Jesus worshipped his father, God.  Satan offered Jesus the world if Jesus would switch the object of his worship from God to Satan.  So, worship can be applied to anyone or anything.  Jesus was free to worship God or Satan.  And so, we are free to worship whatever or whomever we want.

The second thing we learn from the exchange between Jesus and Satan is that while worship is to be offered freely, worship must be reserved to God alone.  Jesus said, “It is written,” meaning in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, we would find the words or thoughts, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10).  Jesus was quoting the words found in Deuteronomy 6:13 which reads, “13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13).  Worship in Deuteronomy is coupled with fear in the sense that worshipping other than God would not yield joy but leave us disquieted even fearful.

We see this interplay between worship something other than God and an absence of joy or inner peace at the very first instance of worship in the Bible.  We see this interplay through the life of Cain.  Cain and his brother Abel worshipped God by each giving an offering. Abel’s offering was well prepared and generous.  Cain’s offering to God was done out of a sense of obligation, not out of a desire to be with God.  Cain’s offering was meager.  God honored Abel’s offering but did not honor Cain’s offering.  The reaction of Cain to his worship of God is telling.  “So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast” (Genesis 4:5b). Cain did not want to worship God and so Cain deprived himself of joy.  Instead of joy, Cain’s emotions became sour.  Cain chose to take his sourness and express it as anger.  God’s Word is telling us that there is no joy and no inner peace when we choose to worship something or someone other than God.  In worshipping other than God there is sourness and anger.

I have a couple of cousins who are atheists and genuinely hate Christians.  I used to receive their daily thoughts on Facebook but eventually had to stop seeing what they posted because their words were vile, angry, self-centered, and judgmental.  Other than an occasional posting about their dogs, they are unable to express any sense of joy or inner peace.  They are sour and angry people.  There was no worship of God in their life.

God does not want us to be sour and angry.  We know this because God did not want Cain to live in a state of unsettledness.  God took the initiative and approached Cain about his lack of inner peace.  “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?’” (Genesis 4:6-7).  God wanted Cain in his presence and to have the joy Abel had.  God wants us to be in his presence and to be joyful about being with him.  He wants that so much for us that God willingly comes to us when we are feeling low, or sour, or angry and God invites us to have a change of heart by coming into his presence.

In Jesus’ encounter with the devil, we come to understand that we are free to worship anything or anyone we want.  We can worship God or Satan or nature or objects.  The list is endless.  But that same encounter between Jesus and the devil shows us that only the worship of God brings joy and peace into our life.  The worship of other than God brings fear, sourness, and anger into our life.

Jesus knew that to worship Satan would not only change him for the worse, doing so would also deprive humanity of coming into the presence of God through the worship of Jesus.  It was God who initiated the redemption of Cain to have a life of joy in the presence of God and to worship him.  It was God who initiated the redemption of all humanity to have a life of joy in the presence of God by sending his Son Jesus to lead the way.  Jesus rejected the worship of Satan and began his public ministry.  As Jesus’ became more known, people began to recognize the presence of God within Jesus, God with us, and the people began to worship God through Jesus.

Matthew shared that there were those people who worshipped Jesus as they sought redemption for themselves or their loved ones from the ravages of disease and even death.

  • A leper came to Jesus and worshipped him and asked Jesus to make him clean (Matthew 8:2).
  • A leader of the synagogue came to Jesus and worshipped him asking that his daughter be restored to life (Matthew 9:18).
  • A Canaanite woman came to Jesus and worshipped him asking that her daughter be healed of a demonic spirit (Matthew 15:25).

Each of these people desired to be in the presence of God and found that worshipping Jesus brought them to the throne of God.  They worshipped believing that do so would restore their joy.  What happened?  The leper worshipped God through Jesus, was healed, and his joy restored.  The father worshipped God through Jesus, his little girl was raised from the dead, and the father’s joy restored.  The mother worshipped God through Jesus, the girl was cleansed of the demonic spirit, and the mother’s joy was restored.  Worship and joy are coupled together.

Matthew highlighted the pairing of worship and joy in the beginning of the story of Jesus with the Magi.  Matthew showed that connection through the gospel and now Matthew would show it again in the final chapter of the gospel.

We know the story well.  Jesus was arrested and crucified upon the cross.  To Jesus disciples everything had gone dark.  The sense of being connected to God had disappeared.  There was fear and agony.  There was no joy.  The disciples not only lived each day in a seemingly endless grief, but they lived each day thinking about living each day in grief.  Then the women disciples of Jesus went to the hard cold tomb where Jesus’ body was placed to give care to his body one final time.

Matthew said that when the women arrived at the tomb, they encountered an angel who told the women Jesus had risen from the dead.  Matthew wrote, “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:8-9). 

The women arrived at Jesus’ tomb saddened and feeling very much outside the presence of God.  Then the received news from an angel, Jesus had risen from the dead.  Their emotions changed from sadness to fear caused by the appearance of an angel and joy that perhaps there was more to the story of Jesus. In the mixture of feelings, the women ran from the tomb to find the other disciples and in their running from the tomb so they encountered the living Jesus himself, God with us. Matthew tells us the women had one universal response to being in Jesus’ presence again, they worshipped him.  The women literally threw themselves at Jesus’ feet and did not want to let go.  The women were engaged in worship of Jesus and in doing so all despair was gone. In worship, all fear of these women was gone.  In worship, all the emotions of these women had been transformed into one remaining emotion, joy.

Now the women, and we, can hold onto our despair, our fears, our sourness, and our anger if we want.  God will not force us to receive joy.  We can even come to a time of worship and keep our hearts closed, our arms folded to our chests, and our minds upon the tasks that we might need to do, or our attention on the latest ding from our smartphones.  We can do that and walk away from this sanctuary as empty as when we came into it.  We can prevent joy from coming into our lives.

Or we can open our hearts, our minds, and our hands to worship God.  Genuine and unashamed worship of God makes us available to God in a way nothing else can do. Worship of God expresses our love of God and our desire for God to fill us with his presence.  Having God’s presence in us displaces or pushes out the lesser spirits we must contend with daily.  The lesser spirits of discouragement, sourness, anger, despair, grief, and fear cannot stand in God’s presence.  Those lesser and dark human spirits must flee in the face of God’s presence.  As those lesser spirits flee, God fills that space with joy.  When we have joy, we have inner peace.

The choice is ours.  The Magi made a choice and worshiped Jesus and were overjoyed. Jesus remained faithful in the worship of God and had joy.  The leper, the distraught father, and panic-stricken mother all seeking joy found it in the worship of Jesus.  The women who went to the tomb made the choice to worship Jesus.  They gain the presence of God and forever lost their fear. Cain held onto his lesser human spirits of anger and sourness and lost his joy forever.

I am glad you are here and that together we came to worship God. I pray that we all will leave this place with joy and seek God’s presence at every opportunity that we may worship him and preserve inner peace in our lives.  Amen and Amen.

01-02 - Remembering Jesus

          We have come into a new year, the year 2022.  In many ways, it does not seem possible that it is the year 2022.  The other day I was thinking back and remembering that 22 years have passed since the time many people thought world as we know it would grind to a halt as the clock changed from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000. Do you remember Y2K?  People were panic stricken about the “Millennium Bug” that would render computer systems inoperative leading to the loss of electrical systems, banking records, communication systems, and so forth and so on. I think we will recall that none of the doomsday predictions came to pass.  The lights stayed on and the crystal ball in New York’s Time Square still dropped at the stroke of midnight.  Do you remember?

          Remembering, the capacity for memory, is one of the greatest assets God gave to human beings.  We can remember information and put it to use to guide our future actions.  The first instance of a human recalling information to guide a future action is found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, in a conversation between the serpent and Eve. “1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’  2 The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:1-2).

          Eve had remembered the words of God that she and the man were free to eat from any tree in the garden except for the one tree that stood in the middle of the garden.  Eve remembered information from the past necessary to guide future decisions. This is why God gave us a capacity to remember information.  God also gave us free will and we can and do use it to override and ignore information we possess to do what we want in the present.  Eve and Adam used their free will and did eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.

          Even though we may not use the capacity to remember information it is nevertheless an essential capacity for our very survival. We know that when we see our loved ones become ill and lose the capacity to remember the basics of life.  Without the capacity to remember, they become helpless and vulnerable.

          We also have the capacity to remember smells, sounds, touch, colors, tastes, and images.  For example, the capacity of sensory memory can alter us to dangers.  Suppose you are driving, and you see flashing lights right behind you and you hear a loud high-pitched sound of a siren.  You react and steer your car to the right, hoping the vehicle with lights and sirens goes right passed you.  Or perhaps you go into a bakery, and you smell that fresh bread, and you remember when you were a child that same smell when your grandmother or mother baked fresh bread.  Your senses bring you forward the memory of an event from the past.

          It is this last capacity of recalling an event that is important to us this day as we gather in this sanctuary.  It is important because this day has at its foundation some powerful emotions to it. We remember most vividly events that carry with them great emotions.  If I asked you what happened on the 14th day of school when you were in the third grade, I do not believe a single person could recall that day. Why?  Because there were no emotions associated with that day.  If I asked, “Do you remember September 11, 2001?” virtually everyone could share details about that day.  Why can we remember that day so well?  Because there were powerful emotions associated with September 11th.  Even as I say the words, September 11th, you are experiencing memories of that day, even though it was now more than 20 years ago.

          Consider then the emotions that formed the memories we heard and read from the Gospel of Mark earlier today about the time Jesus and his disciples gathered for the Passover meal.  This was not the first Passover meal for Jesus or the disciples.  It was not likely the first time Jesus and his disciples shared the Passover together.  But the Passover meal Mark described among Jesus and his disciples would become an unforgettable event and would become a powerful story spoken about by all Christians.

          Consider how that meal began.  Mark said Jesus and the disciples gathered for the Passover meal.  Everything seemed just right, but things were far from right. “18 While they (Jesus and the Twelve) were reclining at the table eating, he (Jesus) said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.’  19 They (The Twelve) were saddened, and one by one they (The Twelve) said to him (Jesus), ‘Surely you don’t mean me?’” (Mark 14:18-19).

          A meal of celebration had shifted to a conversation about betrayal.  Personal betrayal only occurs between people who have an intimate relationship.  A stranger cannot betray us.  Only someone we know and who we trust can betray us. Betrayal carries with it strong emotions of shock, loss and grief, anger, doubting, and fear.  The disciples were saddened at the news that one of them would betray Jesus.  But the concern of each disciple was not to immediately accuse each other of betrayal. The concern of each disciple was for themselves.  Each disciple desired to be assured they were not the one who would betray Jesus.  The sense that this was just another Passover meal was over for the disciples.  The disciples were now very sensitive to anything, and everything said and done by Jesus and each of them.

Mark said that after some calm had been restored to the meal and everyone quietly resumed eating, without warning or further introduction, “22Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body’” (Mark 14:22)

Another wave of powerful emotions swept over Jesus’ disciples. The bread was still bread, but Jesus had transformed the meaning of the bread to be his body.  In the Jewish custom, Jesus had blessed the whole of the bread and then broke it up intending to show the blessing of the whole went along with each piece.  This was a moment of great discipleship in which the Twelve were being invited to consume the passion of Christ.  The Twelve had to reflect upon the depth of Jesus’ love for them, for the compassion Jesus had for those he healed, for the longing Jesus had that people would repent and come to God, and for the humility that Jesus would offer himself to the faithful follower and betrayer alike.  But they were offered not just bread, but the body of Christ.  I believe the Twelve ate in total silence trying to take in the full meaning of the moment.

When the bread had been consumed, Mark said, “23 He (Jesus) took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he (Jesus) gave it to them (disciples), and they all drank from it (the cup).  24 ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. 25 ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’” (Mark 14:23-25).

For a third time at this meal, a flood of emotions swept over the room. Jesus had offered a cup to his disciples telling them that was his blood was to be poured out for many.  To the Jewish mind, blood was the life-force of the body. For these Jewish disciples understood that to pour out the blood was symbolic of a sacrifice for the sins of others. Jesus was telling The Twelve that his blood would be spilled for sinners, including them, and that in pour out his blood Jesus would not drink from the cup again in this world.  Jesus’ disciples must have thought people die when blood is poured out of them.  People who are dead no longer drink.  Jesus’ disciples must have thought, “What on heaven and earth is going on?”  No doubt Jesus’ disciples shocked in silence, sipped from the cup, and were left dazed by Jesus words.

Jesus had left his disciples with a powerful and indelible memories of pending betrayal and an offering of his body and blood.  As painful as these emotions might have been Jesus’ disciples also could not deny that they had received the outrageous generosity of Christ. With deceit and treachery imminent, Jesus chose that very moment to bring his friends into the deepest form of discipleship.  Jesus wanted his disciples, those who would follow him after the betrayal, to be forever reminded of the true essence of Jesus and to imitate him.  This is what Christian discipleship means, coming to be Christ in all ways.

But we would miss the broader point Jesus was making here if we thought Jesus wanted just to strengthen each follower.  Jesus chose this moment when his disciples were gathered to speak of giving his body and blood.  Jesus wanted his disciples to share this moment as a single body.  The bread and the cup were taken together by the disciples.  There was one bread and one cup representing Christ.  That body and blood of Christ became present in the bodies of those gathered and thus the presence of the faithful disciples would become the presence of Jesus in the world.

 The disciples, Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, Nathaniel, Philip, James son of Alphaeus, Jude, and Simon, came to understand that what Jesus did was to be remembered when Christians gathered.  Sharing the bread and cup, what we now call the Lord’s Supper, was and is a reminder that God entered our world in the person of his Son, Jesus, and that the Son acted to redeem all things to himself.  The disciples came to understood that the Lord’s Supper belonged in the context of gathered worship.

Worship is that moment in which we who are many are formed into one people to give thanks to God and to learn how to live in a more Christ-like way. Worship is that moment in which we are reminded of what, whom, we love most.  For whatever or whomever forms our vision of the good life, whatever we love, sets the path for our lives.

The goal of Jesus’ sharing the bread and the cup with his disciples was not to transform the elements of bread and wine into something they were not but rather the goal was the transformation of the participants.  This emotionally laden unforgettable scene would stay with Jesus’ disciples forever.  Celebrating the Lord’s Supper became a universal way Christians acknowledge the significance of Jesus completed work. 

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper allowed the disciples the ability to bring the past into the present.  By remembering Jesus at that meal, Jesus’ disciples could remember and worship Jesus for his generosity, joy, righteousness, trust, peace, hospitality, and love.  Jesus’ disciples could remember that that there was only one bread and one cup that they all shared and making them all one body.  Jesus’ disciples could remember what Jesus did through the Lord’s Supper and later through the cross offered them reconciliation with God but also demanded that they be reconciled to each other.

We, of course, were not present when Jesus shared the bread and the cup.  But Jesus’ disciples wanted us to know about the Lord’s Supper and its importance to our worship of Christ and our discipleship in him.  That is why there are multiple accounts of this event in the gospels and letters of the New Testament.  Jesus’ disciples made sure that we had the ability to enter the story of that meal so that we too could become God’s people transformed into the body of Christ.

In being reminded of the bread and the cup, we are called to be like Christ and follow his mission.  We are gathered to worship Christ not so that we could engage in some act of self-preservation rather we are gathered to make ourselves open in risky welcome.  We are open to inviting and encouraging others to see in Christ the blessings he offers and invites us to share without regard to repayment.  The blessings of joy, righteousness, trust, peace, hospitality, and love are all made possible to us by the outrageous generosity of Christ.

I want to invite you now to be drawn back into the story of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper as we too remember what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus who shares the new creation of God.  I am glad you are here today to help me remember and that together we are the body of Christ who bring his presence into this world.  Let us pray.

12-19 - Wise Men, Did You Know

          Today marks the fourth Sunday of Advent, a time of Christian preparation to celebrate the birth of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.

          As we have spoken about in the last three weeks, one way we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth is to adorn and decorate the sanctuary of the church and our homes with many symbols of Christ’s birth.  We have spoken in prior weeks about the Advent Wreath and its candles, about the nativity scenes of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and last week about the Christmas tree. This week, I would like to highlight that we also prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth by gift giving.

          Gift-giving at Jesus’ birth happened for Jesus with the wise men.  We will talk about that event a little later.  But sharing gifts with one another to mark Jesus’ birth did not become a custom in celebrating Jesus’ birth for a few hundred years.  When early Christians did share gifts, they did so on New Year’s Day.  Then, in 386 AD, Christ’s birth was decreed to be celebrated on December 25.  At that time, some folks kept to gift-giving shifted on New Year’s Day while others began giving earlier in December.  The idea behind the gift-giving was to reflect the gifting done by the magi to Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew even if the gifts were not shared on December 25th, the day chosen as Jesus’ birthday.

Now, not long after the shift to December 25th, Christian rulers, kings and princes as such, came to an important conclusion about gift giving.  These rules concluded that the wise men had given gifts to Jesus, a king.  Therefore, it was only right that gift-giving at Christmas should be from the people to their kings.  So, the tradition became that at Christmas, that kings received gifts from the people.  Apparently, this gift giving to kings and other rulers went on until about the 10th century.  At that time, a story of Good King, Wenceslas, began circulating how he had trudged through the snow at Christmas time to give gifts to the poor.  Not long after Good King Wenceslas’ story became widely known, tradition shifted and gift giving among and between the people became the norm and the date for sharing gifts moved from early December or January 1 to December 24.

Now that is probably more than you wanted to know about gift-giving at Christmas but again coming to know what we do not know is how we grow in life.  To continually grow in knowledge, holiness, and compassion and develop a broad sense of righteousness, being right with God, is the hallmark of the Christian faith journey.  We grow in righteousness when we become willing to explore what we may not know about the mysteries of faith.

So today, we come to the mystery of faith found in the story of the wise men coming to see this baby Jesus.  What did the wise men know about Jesus?  What can we discover from the wise men’s experience that will help us in our faith journey?

The only account of the wise men’s journey and encounter with Jesus is found in the Gospel of Matthew.  The Gospel of Matthew is believed by Biblical scholars to be written for a Jewish audience. Matthew wrote, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”  We want to pause for just a moment and realize to the Jewish audience to say, “Magi from the east,” would have strongly suggested the Magi, wise and learned men, came from what the lands the ancients would have identified as Babylon, some 1,700 hundred miles from Jerusalem.  The Babylonians had conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 586 BC.  Most of the surviving elite of the Jewish nation were then taken into captivity and exiled to Babylon itself.  The Jews would not be allowed to begin returning to Jerusalem for several decades. Given this history, to have Babylonians arrive in Jerusalem could be cause for alarm among the Jews.

We see the arrival of the Babylonians did cause quite a stir.  Matthew wrote, the Magi “Asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

When King Herod (the king of the Jews at the time the Magi arrived) heard this [news of a newborn king of the Jews] he [Herod] was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:2-3).  We wonder, “Wise men what motivated you to endure the hardship and dangers of traveling 1,700 miles from the lands of Babylon to worship a child born king of the Jews?  What had you learned from the Jews while you held them captive that would then cause you nearly 600 years later to desire to worship one born king of the Jews?  Why, indeed, had you come all that way?”

          It is possible the Babylonians had learned this from the Jews from Psalm 89: “1 I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.  I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.  You (God) , ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, ‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’”

At the time of the Magi’s visit to Jerusalem, kings of Israel were not born into kingship, the kings of Israel were appointed to the throne by the Roman Senate.  To say someone was born king of Jews would mean to the Romans that they were not involved in the king selection process and  it would mean to the Jews that the person of the bloodline of David had been born and the enduring kingdom God had promised was about to commence.  The psalmist said of God, “You have established your faithfulness in heaven itself” (Psalm 89:2b) and in Numbers “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17a).  For the learned men from Babylon to see a new star, a new light in the heavens over their western skies, would mean to them God was real and had acted as the Hebrew Scriptures said God would do.

Matthew in providing this account to his Jewish audience was relating information important for them to know that God had kept his promise and even the learned people of Babylon knew it.

The news from the Babylonians to the people of Jerusalem should have been cause for great joy but it was not.  The news of someone born king of the Jews and of a star signifying God had acted was Matthew said news that “disturbed,” the king and his subjects.   Why did Jesus’ birth disturb so many people then?  It disturbed Herod because Herod was already king and wanted to remain king. So, Herod was disturbed at the thought someone greater than he was in the world.  Herod had a reputation for killing those who he imagined were trying to take his throne.  So, we understand Herod.  But why does Jesus’ birth disturb so many people today?  Why have people become accustomed to hearing someone use Jesus’ name as cuss word but then get disturbed with someone who says Jesus is Lord of their life?  Like Herod, people today are disturbed because they like being king or queen of their lives and want to remain that way.  People are disturbed by the thought someone greater than they is in the world. And so, people reject rivals for the throne of their life.  The inherent character of people has not changed in the last 2,000 years.

Herod was disturbed and he would not rest until this rival was killed.  But Herod wanted no one to know of his plans.  So, Herod dealt secretly with the people who could unwittingly help him in his plans.  Luke said in verse 4, “When he [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he [Herod] asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied” (Luke 2:4-6a).  “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared” (Luke 2:7).  Herod, working in secret, was the only one who knew when his rival could have been born and where his rival could be found.  So, Herod, “Sent them [the Magi] to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him” (Luke 2:8).  Herod must have so proud of himself.  Herod had constructed the perfect trap, wise men indeed, Herod must have thought.  “I have outwitted them and now I, Herod, will kill the precious person born king of the Jews. I am greater than God.”  But Luke later cues us in that the Magi became aware of the deceitfulness of Herod.  Luke wrote in verse 12 that the Magi had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod and share information about the child with Herod.  The Magi who had seen the star placed in the sky by the God of Israel had received God’s wisdom that Herod’s desire to worship the child was not to be trusted.  This would have shocked Matthew’s largely Jewish audience that God would speak to the Gentiles, non-Jews.

Luke said, “After they [the Magi] had heard the king [Herod], they [the Magi] went on their way, and the star they [the Magi] had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they [the Magi] saw the star, they [the Magi] were overjoyed” (Luke 2:9-10). The Magi took the information from Herod and headed south from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem.  Sometime after this journey began, the star that had first attracted the Magi’s attention appeared again in the sky.  Seeing the star again, this light in the heavens, was cause for the Magi to be overjoyed.

Why did the star appear and why was the appearance of the star cause for joy?  Herod told the Magi where to find the baby.  Wasn’t that enough?  I believe the Magi were overjoyed by the appearance of the star because that meant they no longer were dependent upon Herod in any way to complete their mission. Instead, the Magi were joyful because they were once again fully dependent upon the God of Israel who had sent this light into the darkness.  The Magi understood Herod was disturbed and his behavior was cunning and manipulative. To be freed of the cleverness of Herod and dependent upon the wisdom of God alone was cause for joy.

The Apostle Paul expressed would later express this type of joy two ways, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8).  Having our lives rooted in Christ means we are no longer subject to the whatever fad or new idea comes along.  We always know who we are.  Paul also said that when we place our dependence on God, then “14 We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). 

We are all dependent upon something.  Some people feel dependent upon their job, others by their wealth, or some by how their friends see them.  But when we are dependent solely upon God then we are free from everything else, including the deceptions and cunning schemes of others.  The Magi had information from Herod, the king of deception and cunning schemes, and they had information from God in the form of a star of pure light and dream warning them of Herod’s intentions.  With the appearance of the star, the Magi had to choose. Listen to Herod or listen to God. The Magi were be joyfully to be able to choose God.

Throughout Hebrew Scriptures God said to the Jews:

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
  • Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:4).
  • Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known (Jeremiah 33:3).
  • Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness (Psalm 37:3).

What Luke provided here was that the Magi, pagans, came to place their trust in God.  That these non-Jews would have trust God must have astonished Matthew’s Jewish readers. Here were the Magi, probably Babylonians, once bitter enemies of Israel, pagans, had been captivated by the light placed in the sky by God and spoken to by God in their dreams.  These pagans were following God’s leading and excited to find the child born king of the Jews and worship him.  What an incredibly exciting moment in the history of Judaism to see non-Jews being called by God to worship him.  Meanwhile, the Jewish political leader, Herod, was plotting to kill the child, and the Jewish religious leaders seemed uninterested in the news that the heir to David’s throne had been born.  What an incredibly disappointing moment in the history of Judaism when some chose indifference and deceit in worshiping God.

This moment of two distinct behaviors occurring at the same time shows us yet again that God was calling people, one at a time, to come into his presence.  He is still calling people into faith one at a time.  I think God is excited for each person who comes to faith regardless of their standing or station in life and he is disappointed for each person who is indifferent to his call or who seeks to destroy his work among the people. 

The Magi, who accepted God’s call, saw the star stop over a specific house in Bethlehem.  Luke said, “11 On coming to the house, they [the Magi] saw the child [Jesus] with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him [Jesus]” (Luke 2:11a).  The desire of the Magi’s heart had been satisfied.  They worshiped Jesus.

Worship, as the Magi experience and as we have been experiencing this hour, is a powerful transforming experience.  Worship in dependence to God, elevates our thinking and opens our minds to hear God, to see our own dignity in him, and the worth of others.  Worship takes individuals of vastly different background and experiences and builds a single body of unity.  There in that house were the Magi, Babylonians, worshipping Jesus, with his mother Mary, a Jewish woman.  Jew and Gentile were brought together by the person of Jesus Christ.  Here in this house, a unique group of people have come together by the person of Jesus Christ.  This is the way life should be. 

For one and all present in that house with Mary and the child, giving worship to Jesus was the true gift of the moment.  Oh yes, the Magi gave tangible gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, all highly valuable materials of the time.  But I think these gifts were more a reflection that having found Jesus and worshipped him, the Magi’s were transformed by that worship and did not want to hold anything back from God.

I am joyful that we explored the account of the Magi told because it reminds me how glad I am that each person here answered the call to come and worship God.  I am glad that each person here came to express a dependence upon God, upon his love and wisdom, and upon his Son, Jesus.  I am glad people from so many different backgrounds are here transformed by worship into a single body expressing as one our love for God, seeing our individual dignity in God, and coming to see the worth of each person here. These are gifts of incredible value that we have all received today.  Yes, the Magi gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that were used and expended.  But the gifts of worshipping together, choosing dependence upon God, and unity of body are the enduring gifts of the Magi.  I am glad you and I are here today to enjoy those gifts together.  Amen and Amen.


12-12 - Shepherds, Did You Know

          Today marks the third Sunday of Advent, a time of Christian preparation to celebrate the birth of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.

          One way we have prepared to celebrate Jesus’ birth is to adorn and decorate the sanctuary of the church with many symbols of Christ’s birth.  We have spoken in prior weeks about the Advent Wreath and its candles and about the nativity scenes of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  This week, I would like to highlight that we also prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth by bringing Christmas trees into the sanctuary.

          Did you know that the use of evergreens and evergreen trees in the celebration of Christmas came originally from the Scandinavian countries?  In those regions, people put evergreens on the outside of their houses and barns to keep the devil away.  Who knew the devil did not like the scent of freshly cut pine?

          People in Germany liked what the Scandinavians were doing and so they began bringing an evergreen tree into the house and placing it at entrance to the home.  Again, the idea was the fresh cut tree would keep the devil out of the house.  Did you know that people in medieval Germany began a tradition of using evergreen trees, fir trees to be precise, in theatrical plays to celebrate the coming of Christ? They referred to these trees as “Paradise Trees” and used them in plays about Adam and Eve.  I could not locate a source that showed how the feast of Adam and Eve connected to Christ’s birth.  But folks adorned the Paradise Trees with apples.  They would later hang wafers on the trees as a reminder of the communion hosts used in Mass.  Sometime later they removed the wafers and hung cookies instead.  Those folks were probably early Baptists.

          In addition to the Paradise Tree, people celebrated with a Christmas Pyramid of sorts.  The pyramid was hung on the wall, in a triangular shape, consisting of evergreens, candles, and a star.  Eventually the Christmas Pyramid and the Paradise Tree were incorporated into one which we know as the Christmas Tree.

          Now that is probably more than you wanted to know about Christmas trees.  But discovering what we do not know is part of our Christmas preparation.  This year we began exploring Jesus’ birth with the question Mary, did you know?  Mary, did you know that in consenting to God’s plan you risked everything people hold dear in this world and gained not just a son, but a Savior and Lord giving you and us eternal life?  Last week, we explored Jesus’ birth by the question, Joseph, did you know?  Joseph, did you know that Jesus would take the provision of bread and juice that you gave to him as his earthly father and change them into powerful symbols of his body and blood, signs of a love so strong that he would die to bring salvation to all who would follow him?  This week we want to ask Shepherds, did you know?  Shepherds did you know what had truly happened that night in Bethlehem?

          There is only one source for shepherds’ first Christmas experience, and it is found in the Gospel of Luke.  The Gospel of Luke was the last of the stories written about Jesus’ birth in which the writer relied upon people who were there at the time.  It is widely believed among Biblical scholars that Mary was the source of Luke’s information for his gospel account of Jesus’ birth.

          In the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Luke recorded that at the time of Jesus’ birth, “There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby [near Bethlehem where Jesus had been born], keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them [the shepherds], and they [the shepherds] were terrified” (Luke 2:8-9). 

The appearance of the angel to the shepherds is the fourth and final appearance of an angel in the birth of Jesus.  An angel appeared to Zechariah while Zechariah was alone in the Temple.  The angel announced that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth would have a child, John, who would go ahead of Jesus to prepare the people to hear Jesus’ message.  An angel appeared to Mary to announce in private she had found favor with God and that God desired Mary to bear the son of God.  An angel appeared to Joseph in the privacy of his dreams to let Joseph know that the child Mary was carrying was from the Holy Spirit.  Now, in the Gospel of Luke, the angel comes to the shepherds to announce Jesus has been born.

How many shepherds received the announcement we are not sure.  We only know the angel’s announcement to the shepherds came at night. Why at night?  I believe it was to make the announcement privately. 

This tells us something about God.  God the creator of all that there is uses a small voice to speak to us.  In the Old Testament, a man named Elijah sought out God to speak with him.  Elijah was in a cave atop a mountain.  “11 The Lord said Elijah, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it [the gentle whisper], he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice [God] said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 9:11-13). God’s voice was but a private whisper to Elijah.

          God uses a small voice, a private voice, when he speaks. He spoke that way to Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Samuel.  God spoke through an angel using a private voice to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds.  We then should expect to use a small voice, a private voice when he speaks to you and me. Part of our Christmas preparation then should be to make place or find a place where we can hear God’s use of his small private voice with us.  We need to hear what God is saying to us in our unique circumstances. 

Think about God’s way of communicating with us this way.  In the first Christmas story of the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote, “ But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child” (Galatians 4:4-7).  Children, especially infants, can give us insight into how God communicates with us. Have you ever seen an infant react when they hear the voice of their mother?  When an infant hears mom, that baby’s face lights up and their spirit soars with joy.  This is how God wants us to react when he speaks to us, full of wonder, awe, and love. So, it is important that we do not allow other loud other voices to keep us from hearing what God wants to say to us in the quiet and private moments.

From our Bible passage today, we find that the angel came to the shepherds at night out in the fields.  While others slept and the world was quiet, the angel came to the shepherds so that they could hear a message from God meant just for them.  The angel said, “10 ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David [Bethlehem] a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10-12). 

The angel’s words formed the most unique birth announcement.  “Born in Bethlehem, today, a baby boy.  He is Savior, the Messiah, and the Lord.”

Did the Shepherds know what the angel meant when told a Savior had been born?  A savior is a person who rescues others from evil, danger, or destruction.  To the Jews of Jesus’ time, God was considered their savior.  “There is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior” (Isaiah 45:21).

Did the Shepherds know what the angel meant when told the Messiah had been born?  The Messiah was the one anointed by God and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to deliver God’s people and establish God’s kingdom.  In Jewish thought, the Messiah would be the king of the Jews, a political leader who would defeat their enemies and bring in a golden era of peace and prosperity.

Did the Shepherds know what the angel meant when told the Lord had been born?  The Lord was God.  To the Jewish people, the name of the Lord was so sacred that they would not even say it aloud but used a substitute word, Adonai, when speaking of the Lord.

The Shepherds must have been overwhelmed.  A baby had been born.  A boy who was the God the Savior, the Messiah who embodied God’s spirit, and my Lord, Adonai. The angel standing before the shepherds was heaven on earth telling these shepherds that this baby boy was heaven on earth sent to save them.

Not only that but a sign as to the truth of this happening had been given to the shepherds. Was that sign of heaven on earth to be a great and powerful wind tearing apart and shattering rocks?  No. Was it then to be an earthquake shaking everything at its foundation?  No. Was it then to be found in a great fire of intense heat and light?  No. The sign was more like a gentle whisper. The sign of heaven on earth was a baby. A baby wrapped in swaddling cloth, strips of cloth much like narrow bandages wrapped around the newborn baby to restrict movement.  Swaddling cloths mark parental love and care and the dependence of the newborn child. This is not exactly the powerful sign of God that the shepherds might have expect but, again, God speaks quietly to people.

The shepherds must have thought, “What on heaven and earth is going on here?  The all-powerful heavenly creator God savior, messiah, and lord, had been born and was wrapped so he could not move and placed in a manger, an animal feeding trough.”

The angel then revealed to the shepherds that he had not come alone.  The angel allowed the shepherds to realize that this baby coming was truly an invasion of heaven onto earth.  Luke wrote, “13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host [an army of angels] appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13-14).  The invasion of heaven on earth with the angel, the army of angels behind him, and this baby meant the invasion was not war-like, it was an invasion of peace to roll back evil.  But the angel said that such peace would be only for those who willingly sought God meaning some will seek God, which meant others will resist God.  Some will find peace, and some will live in turmoil. Some will be saved, and some will be lost.

These shepherds stunned by all that had been told them said to one another, “‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’  16 So they hurried off [to Bethlehem] and [searched until they] found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was [indeed] lying in the manger” (Luke 2:15b-16).  The shepherds, how many of them we do not know, made the journey to Bethlehem.  On the way, they moved quickly and quietly. The shepherds did not share what the angel told them with anyone along the way to Bethlehem.  The shepherds simply moved as quickly as they could to find the sign that the angel’s words were true.

Luke said, “17 When they [the shepherds] had seen him [Jesus in the manger – the sign], they [the shepherds] spread the word concerning what had been told them [by the angel] about this child [Savior, The Messiah, and the LORD], 18 and all who heard it [what the shepherds heard from the angel] were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18). 

The shepherds message amazed those now in and around the baby, whoever those people were. Not only was what the shepherd said amazing, namely the baby boy was Savior, the Messiah, and the Lord but also that the Shepherds had received this word from God.  In the society of that day, shepherds were not well respected. In fact, shepherds were disqualified from giving testimony in legal matters.  Shepherds were very much a whisper of a voice in Jewish society.  This part of the story teaches us that it is not the witness that brings power to the story of God, it is God who empowers the witness to speak the story.  We must be attentive to those God empowers to speak a word of truth even if it someone who is not held in high regard.

Luke said that after the shepherds shared the word of God with those in Bethlehem, “20 The shepherds returned [to living in the fields], glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).  The call placed on the shepherds was not to be afraid but to receive the message from God in great joy.  On the return trip, the shepherds were joyful and could not be kept quiet because they had received and shared the true word of God.

How do we sum up what we have learned from the shepherds?  I think there are three things we can take with us today.

First, God spoke to the shepherds in the quiet of the night.  Did you know that God is still speaks to us today?  If we are quiet, we can hear God.  We need to quiet our surroundings and our hearts enough to hear God because God most often speaks in a whisper.  That whisper might be as just as you and I speak in a whisper. That whisper may be our own voices as we gently read aloud God’s Word from the Bible.  That whisper may be small voice of a child, a friend, or a stranger who says to us in our moments of despair, “God loves you.”  We need to be able to hear God speak.

Second, God spoke to the shepherd who were thought to be unqualified to testify in court. The shepherds did not let what others thought keep them from sharing what the angel had said of Jesus’ birth.  In sharing the shepherds’ initial fear was transformed to an everlasting joy.  Did you know that the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection from the grave were women who also were not qualified to testify in court?  The women did not let what others thought keep them from sharing what the angel said of Jesus’ rebirth in the resurrection.  In sharing the women’s initial fear was transformed to an everlasting joy.  We need to not care so much about what others think of us as we live out our faith.  We should share our faith with joy.

It is the joy of Jesus’ Christ that brings us to our third lesson learned from the shepherds. The shepherds were not qualified to give testimony that is true enough and that status did not change.  But more importantly, because of sin, the shepherds were not qualified to be come into God presence and neither are we.  Sin separated the shepherds from God just as sin separates us from God.  This separation occurs even though God wants us in his presence.  God wants us in his presence not for his benefit, but for our benefit.  Outside of God’s presence there is evil, danger, and destruction of our souls. 

To come into God’s presence, God needed to send a Savior, a rescuer.  To live the life now in God’s presence, God needed to send a Messiah, to share with us God’s Holy Spirit.  To live life forever with God, God needed to send the king of heaven and of earth, the Lord.  We are not qualified to be in God’s presence without the Savior, the Messiah, and the Lord. This is why God sent Jesus to be Savior, Messiah, and Lord.  It is Jesus who qualifies us to be in God’s presence.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior, as the Messiah, and as the Lord of your life?  If you are afraid that you do not know the babe in the manger this way, listen carefully.  God is speaking to you right now in a gentle whisper saying, “Follow my Son, and this will be a sign to you.  He is the one who died for you on the cross for you. His name is Jesus, and he will transform your fear into overwhelming joy.”  May we all be like the shepherds qualified by Jesus to be in God’s presence and able to share with joy the birth, life, death, resurrection, and eventual return of Jesus the Savior, Messiah, and Lord.  Amen and Amen.

12-05 - Joseph, Did You Know

          Today marks the second Sunday of Advent, a time of Christian preparation to celebrate the birth of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.  One thing that is done to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth is to add nativity scenes to the church and for many people adding those scenes to their own homes. The nativity scenes always include three figures representing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  More elaborate scenes will also include shepherds, animals, a stable, the wise men, and an angel or two.  The scenes we have available to us today range in size from as small as a walnut to one erected last Christmas in Spain in which the figure of Joseph stood an amazing 60ft high.

          The earliest nativity scene found thus far dates to some wall paintings in a catacomb in Italy from about the year 380 AD.  But the idea of a nativity scene in a church did not catch on until the year 1223 AD when Saint Francis of Assisi created the first live nativity scene with people and animals.  What motivated Saint Francis to create a live nativity?  Saint Francis organized the nativity scene because he was trying to get the emphasis of the season focused on the birth of Jesus and away from the material things of life.  Apparently, making Jesus the reason for the season was a problem as far back as the 1200’s. For hundreds of years thereafter churches only displayed live nativity scenes.  The idea of ceramic and wooden figures came much later.

          That is probably more than you wanted to know about nativity scenes.  But knowing about the nativity scenes helps us in our preparations in one regard.  All nativity scenes focus our attention on three characters: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Jesus is at the center.  Mary is usually the next most prominent figure often appearing colorfully dressed.  Finally, Joseph is present, usually represented as a figure standing with a subdue look on his face and adorned with dull colored clothing.

          Last week we learned about the story of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary through Mary’s story, first found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and then found in Matthew’s Gospel.  We learned through Mary that God sent Jesus, God’s Son, to Mary that through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection we all could be adopted as God’s children.  In that adoption, God would send the Spirit of His Son to live within our hearts, a Spirit that would teach us to call back to God saying, “Abba, Father,” just as Jesus did.  We learned through Mary’s story that Mary became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, the author of life.  The same Spirit that gives us life.

          This week we will look at the story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, through Joseph’s story and in doing so see what God revealed about himself.  In looking at Joseph, the first thing we would come to understand is that to many wives, Joseph is ideal husband.  Why so?  Because in all of Scripture, Joseph never speaks a word.  Joseph was comfortable letting his wife do the talking.  And so, we only know about Joseph only through his deeds and through Joseph’s dreams and visions.

          The first story of Joseph, or in Hebrew, Yosef, comes from the Gospel of Matthew.  In Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Matthew we would read,  “18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

          Joseph learned some shocking news.  Mary, his bride to be, was not the woman Joseph thought she was.  Joseph and Mary were to be married but before the formal wedding ceremony had taken place, Mary became pregnant.  We wonder, Joseph did you know when Mary became pregnant it was as Matthew said, “through the Holy Spirit?”  Joseph, did Mary tell you this or did you not know?  Whether Joseph knew of the role of the Holy Spirit or did not believe the Holy Spirit was involved in Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph knew he was not the father of the baby developing within Mary.

Joseph must have wondered, “Was Mary pregnant when we became engaged or did Mary become pregnant after we were engaged?”  If Mary became pregnant before the engagement, Joseph must have thought Mary was a deceptive person?  If Mary became pregnant after the engagement, Joseph must have thought Mary was an unfaithful person?  Either deceptive or unfaithful, Mary was not the person Joseph believed her to be and not the person Joseph wanted to be with.  Mary, in Joseph’s eyes, was corrupt.

          Matthew said of Joseph that he was faithful to the law, to the law Moses set down to govern the people of Israel.  Under that law, there was no room for corrupt marriages. Joseph thought his engagement with Mary must end.  This was in Joseph’s mind the just thing to do.  But Joseph was not interested in solely in justice.  Matthew also said of Joseph that Joseph did not want to publicly disgrace Mary.  Joseph’s nature then was to temper justice with compassion.  Even in Joseph’s confusion and disappointment in the news of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph displayed God character of justice, compassion, and mercy.

          God was merciful to the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah.  Even the Ninevites could see that God was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).  David said God is “gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9).  Joseph was trying to be just and merciful toward Mary.

          We see from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth that Joseph did not act impulsively toward Mary.  Joseph pondered in his mind and heart how to be faithful and just under the law and how to be compassionate and merciful to Mary.  As Joseph slept on these matters and opened himself to God for wisdom and counsel.  Matthew’s account of Joseph’s story gives us insight into God’s desire for us.  God does not want us to act impulsively or out of anger. God desires that we would consider what is the right next step to take when confronted with disappoint and hurt. God desires that we would want to temper our rights with forgiveness and compassion.  Most of all, God desires that we would do as Joseph did and seek God’s wisdom. 

          We need God’s wisdom, especially when we are facing emotionally charged decisions.  In the New Testament Book of James, we would read about wisdom.  James wrote, “13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:13-18).  The words from James emphasize “deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom,” that does not come from “envy and selfish ambition,” but “comes from heaven.” These are the characteristics that we see in Joseph.  Joseph was seeking God’s wisdom as he decided what to do next with the news of Mary’s pregnancy.  And not to get too far ahead of ourselves but Joseph’s conduct in this circumstance was likely the way Joseph was in general.  We can surmise this to be true because the James who wrote those words was the young brother of Jesus, a naturally conceived son of Joseph and Mary.

          Joseph in seeking the wisdom from above, received the visitation of an angel of the Lord who said to Joseph, “20b ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b-21).  Joseph had received wisdom from God “that is pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). God’s wisdom put Joseph’s mind to rest, Mary was not deceitful, unfaithful, or corrupt.  Mary was pure, submissive to God, and sincere.  Mary had found favor with God.  The child was conceived by the giver of life, the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph was to accept the child and treat the child as his own.

          In fact, when the time came Joseph was to give the child the name, Yeshua, Jesus.  In Jesus’ day, naming a child was done in a way to connect the child’s name to the root word from which that name was derived.  Jesus, Yeshua, is derived from the Hebrew word, יָשַׁע, yaw-shah', which means to save or to deliver.  In this early Christmas story, God revealed first to Joseph that this child would be a savior.

          Matthew wrote that, “24 When Joseph woke up, he (Joseph) did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he (Joseph) did not consummate their marriage until she (Mary) gave birth to a son. And he (Joseph) gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).  Joseph, through his deeds, followed God’s will not and took Mary to be his wife. In doing so, Joseph revealed that he was just, merciful, peace loving, faithful, and obedient to God’s word. Joseph, through his deeds, was not ashamed of the baby and willingly named the child Yeshua bar Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph, knowing that the Holy Spirit had brought forth a savior. 

Joseph was setting the example God desired for each one of us.  If we desire to be wise and understanding, we too must show it by living a good life with deeds in humility that comes from wisdom from above.  We must be as Joseph, letting go of bitter envy and selfish ambition. Instead, we must seek and follow wisdom that comes from heaven that is pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, able to bear good fruit, impartial and sincere. We must not be ashamed of Jesus but accept him as Joseph did, as savior.  Jesus would later say, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

Joseph was never ashamed of Jesus.  Instead, Joseph served as guardian of Jesus.  Joseph would move his family to Egypt to avoid the plans of king Herod to murder Jesus.  Joseph would move his family back to Israel and again avoiding dangers of its rulers. Joseph would bring his family to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill by deed all acts of righteousness for his own son, Jesus.  Joseph would teach his son, Jesus, the trade of being a carpenter.  Joseph lived his life never ashamed of his savior, always willing to call him Yeshua bar Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph.

When Jesus reached the age of 30, the age when men would be recognized as a rabbi, a teacher, Jesus began his public ministry to reveal that he was not just Joseph’s savior, but the savior of the world.  About the same time, Joseph life in the Scriptures came to close. The time had come for Jesus to speak fully and plainly that his father was God in heaven, sent to bring the good news of salvation to all had ears to hear and eyes to see. For some three years, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, about salvation through the forgiveness of sins, about the hope, joy, faith, and life.

And when the time was right, Jesus prayed to his father in heaven with the power of the Holy Spirit, “Abba, Father, not my will but yours.”  Jesus faced the dilemma as Joseph had faced, who’s will to follow.  Shall I follow my will, or shall I follow God’s will?  Joseph prayed and followed God’s will, taking Mary home to be his wife and bearing the Son of God, the savior.  Jesus prayed and followed God’s will, taking up the cross and be the savior of all.

In a few moments, we will take up the bread and the cup.  Provisions that Joseph would have given to his son Jesus as a sign of love and given to strengthen and nourish Jesus’ body. Joseph, did you know, that Jesu would later take those simple provisions of bread and juice and change them into powerful symbols of his body and blood, signs of love to bring salvation to all who would follow him?  Joseph did you know that the love you shared with Jesus would be multiplied in Jesus hands to a love for the world? 

Let us be as Joseph, dedicated to seeking God’s wisdom, showing ourselves through deeds done in humility, and let us not be ashamed of Jesus, our savior. Let us pray.