Sunday, December 19, 2010

How God chose to do it


"Emmanuel," he shall be called, "God is with us, God with us."
I am always intrigued,  when we peel back the layers of Christmas wrapping and garland and get to the details of the story beneath, at the WAY that God chose to come into the world, to go from being God Almighty to becoming God WITH us.
We’ll talk in a few days about the absurdity of the birth event itself – the pronouncement to… random shepherds out in a field.  The labor and delivery in… an animals’ stable, and other such surprising details of God’s big personal debut.
But back up into Advent some more, where we sit today and wait for God's coming, and I am amazed all over again at God’s decisions.

"He will come to save the people from his sins," the angel tells Joseph. The angel tells Joseph, who is stuck in a real predicament, legally contracted to marry this girl who turns out to be knocked up.  Virgin birth for some is a sign of purity or divinity, and it certainly speaks volumes of a God who brings life out of impossibility. But like it or not, whatever it may actually be, all appearances indicate there has been some shady business afoot.  And poor Joseph, this isn’t even his child, so what does it say to him about his wife to be? And what does it say to the whole village about this girl he’s been pledged to?  He is within his rights to have her stoned for adultery, but decides to be kind and quietly divorce her instead.  So, when God comes to save people from their sins, it is as the bastard child of a loose woman and her humiliated fiancĂ©. 
This is the first decision of God’s coming that I question.

The second decision I question is the use of Mary and Joseph to begin with.  It seems like God is taking some awfully big risks all around.  Mary. Really? Why not someone tried and tested? A priest’s wife or a wise queen, a spiritual leader of some sort? Instead God picks Mary, a young unmarried girl in a nowhere town, and just kind of springs this messiah mama thing on her.  Thank goodness she said yes, or what then?

And Joseph - this commonplace carpenter, by the way - he’s getting ready to do the only thing he can think of that is both proper and compassionate, that doesn’t hurt Mary too terribly but follows some semblance of propriety and God’s law. Of course, God lets him puzzle out his plan first, and just when he is resolved to divorce Mary, God has another angel tell him in a dream that it will be ok and he should just go ahead and marry her and carry on as usual, because this is God’s baby. And You, Joseph, are to name him Jesus, which means, God saves, because he is coming to save all the people.
And so Joseph also signs on. 

But to what?  God doesn’t spell things out very clearly beyond that – after all, they do end up delivering in a pile of hay in a smelly barn outside an overcrowded inn in a busy town far from home.  Not exactly great planning.  And don’t even get me started on what happens after he’s born, it just seems like the whole thing gets patchworked together with this disorderly assortment of ordinary people bumbling through it all in shortsighted ways.

The thing that it leaves me with is incredulity. Amazement. A little awe.  God has got some guts. Coming to earth in this way. Just who does he think he is? Like he owns the place? No dignity, no dignitaries.  No etiquette or solid arrangements in place.  Starts out as a scandal, born like he’s homeless and then becomes a refugee, all before he walks or speaks his first word…  I guess what I am saying is that God just comes right on in any old way he pleases, doesn’t use the front door or the guest bathroom; barges in the back way with mud on his boots like he’s one of us.

And I think of Joseph and Mary, because when they’re such average, ordinary folk as this, it’s easy to go there, and I wonder, what I would do in their shoes?
And it partially frightens me because I have no idea what I would do. Would I say yes?  Would you?  Perhaps.  Maybe we would.  But it’s clear that the only "yes" one could give in a situation like this is a yes to the moment, to the overall concept, without any idea of what it meant in actuality. 
What would the next day be like? Or the day after that? What kind of long-term plans would it require or personality traits would it expect of me? What am I actually committing to?
So any "yes" that we could give would be a kind of brave but scared little yes, a nervous little yes that says, ok, God, you want to do it this way, I guess count me in.

And maybe that’s another thing I question about how God did this whole “coming into earth” thing.  I really like to know ahead of time what I am getting into, and it doesn’t seem like any of these folks had a clue.  They were pulled into this thing that just kind of unfolded as they went along.  Why didn’t God lay it out a little further in advance for them, give them some more heads up?  God seems to be placing an awful lot up for grabs.

God made some unusual choices in how God decided to become "God with us."   So, all this begs the question, What kind of God would come this way?
“You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression,” goes the saying, so why this way?  You could do this any way you want, any way in the entire cosmos, and this is the way you choose?

What kind of God would come this way?
Well… a God who would come this way would be:
A God who has nothing to prove.  
One who doesn’t care one whit about appearances or public image. 
Not too worried about getting dirty, either. 
A God who likes to pull in the unexpected characters and out of the way locations.  
Gets a kick out of surprise and irony.  
Challenges the status quo.  
Is not easily intimidated.  
And who likes a little celebration and fanfare, but in the quirky, marginal way, not really center stage. 

This would be a God who comes for us all. Not for the wealthy or the well-connected or the powerful or pretty. Not for the righteous and the rule-keepers and the good girls and the brave boys.  
For us all.  And to prove it, decided that when it was his turn, he was going to come poor and disconnected, in a scandalous way to some very ordinary people.

He is in the line of King David, but not really, he’s adopted in by the love and naming of his adoptive father Joseph.  God comes to earth as an adopted kid.  And does it one haphazard step at a time, just like all the rest of us.

“This is the beginning,” the gospel of Matthew 1:1 declares, “the genesis of the good news about Jesus Christ…” And after a long genealogy that begins with new life out of Abraham’s old age and Sarah’s barren womb and ends with Jesus adopted in by Joseph, it goes on, where our text picks up, “Now the beginning, the birth, the genesis of Jesus the Messiah happens this way…”

This is the beginning. Again.  God is doing a new thing.  The Holy Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation hovers over Mary, and over Joseph, and over this whole situation, and the God who made it all now comes into it all by this same Spirit.  The new-thing Spirit, the hope-from-chaos Spirit, The life-out-of-barren-and-virgin-wombs Spirit.  God is doing something completely new, unexpected, unpredictable. And this is just the beginning.

Today’s Advent word is love.  We use that word today to pray for love and yearn for love and celebrate all the ways we experience love. And we take those places love is warped or waning and we point them out to God and wait for God’s response. 

But Love is who God is, and the reason God comes to begin with.
And it is "yes" to God’s love that Joseph says, maybe without even knowing that’s what he is doing. Yes. I will be part of your wild plot, your crazy conspiracy of love.  Yes I will choose to take her as my wife even though she’s pregnant. I will endure the looks and conjecture, the whispered rumors and reputation ruining, and say yes to be part of this thing you’re doing here.

And we say yes to God's love all the time without realizing that’s what we’re really doing.  “I will participate in God’s plot of love,” we say, when we uphold another’s humanity, when we listen to someone, really listen, when we give something up for someone else.  “I will be part of your love, God” we answer, when we share, or forgive, or confess, or embrace, when our ordinary lives bump into others’ ordinary lives, and we hang on and dig in for their sake.  We say yes like a peasant girl and a carpenter and some awestruck shepherds on a hillside outside town.

The amazing story of God’s Advent, God’s coming, is seen in retrospect.  It makes sense after the fact, when you get to pull back from the details and see the whole thing for what it is.

But in the moment it’s a single dream about an angel, it’s a conversation, some tears, a decision.  In the moment it’s paying taxes and packing donkeys and a dreary uncomfortable journey and painful contractions and nowhere to sleep.  In the moment it is just a moment, an ordinary moment made extraordinary because it is part of this story of Love, of God loving the world so much that God joined it with us, through us, through our ordinary moments and our yeses to God’s weird requests and to the person, or the invitation, standing before us.

Love her, be his daddy, is God’s message to Joseph. Say yes to that. Move forward into this life that I am laying out before you.
Don’t be afraid to do it. 
Say yes, and put one foot in front of the other, and see where it leads.

Christmas is by no means triumphant or sparkly. It’s messy and strange and uncomfortable, and anyone who makes it anything else is deceiving themselves.  Peel back the shiny paper and see it for what it is –
why, it’s just like the rest of life!  
Awkward and tiring and scary, a little exciting, a little confusing.  
That’s how God came in.  
Put himself completely in the hands of conflicted people, struggling to do the right thing and wondering even what that is.  Trusting these ordinary folks to trust him.  To take care of him like one of their own. To love him.
To say yes to God’s love. To loving God.

It may not be how you or I would plan it. 
It’s certainly not how anyone expected it to be.  
But it’s exactly how God chose to do it.  
This is the beginning of the story of Jesus Christ. 
The new beginning.   
Shall we say yes and see where it all takes us?

5 comments:

  1. Beautiful sermon, Kara! Welcome to RevGalBlogPals. I've just introduced you at our Meet n'Greet. If you need help adding our button to your sidebar, please send me an email!

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  2. Very nice sermon Kara. I found you thru RevGalPals and am happy to have done so.
    I was glad to be pushed to think about Christmas from the Joseph angle and I really like what you've done with it.
    Thanks.

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  3. What a great message of hope Kara! I'm looking forward to reading more, and welcome to RevGalBlogPals. Have a blessed season!

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  4. I read this out loud to David crying a little the whole time. I especially love how Christmas isn't sparky and shiny, and how love in action is very ordinary.

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