Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 4A, 2013: Freedom as big as God

Lectionary: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Last week Deacon Pam talked about the Advent task we all have: recognizing and letting go our expectations of God so that we can be in relationship with the God who is, not the God we create. This is no small task, but it is a very important one. Remember the second Commandment given to Moses: “You shall not make for yourself any idol.”

When we create a concept of God for ourselves, we create an idol. Our Scripture stories tell us of idols that are carved statues or statues cast in gold. Our idols today aren’t like that. Instead, we create idols of our
expectations about God, which are as false as those statues, even though we know that God acts in ways we can’t ask or imagine.

In last week’s lectionary, we heard Mary say “for nothing will be impossible with God,” yet we continue to limit the work of God in ourselves and in the world according to our small expectations of God. We aren’t alone though. This has been the way of human relationship with God all along. Our forebears were expecting another King David who would deliver them from Roman occupation. They wanted freedom, but the freedom they wanted was so small – it was political freedom from a particular enemy, in a particular time in history.

What they got, what we all got, was God’s freedom and it was much bigger than anyone expected. We got Jesus. Jesus is our Savior. It’s a basic truth for us. In fact, it’s THE basic truth. We confess that in Jesus we have been reconciled to God, made one again with the Creator of all that was and is and is to come. That was Jesus’ purpose and he fulfilled it, once for all. There is nothing more we need to or can do to accomplish what has already been accomplished by him.

Over and over again Jesus told us that he was delivering us from the power of sin and death. He told us that that in him we have eternal life in God (because remember he is God). And as St. Paul said a little later in his letter to the Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

Nothing. Not sin. Not death. Not even our idols or our small expectations.

Neither can we be tricked or distracted away from the salvation Jesus gave us. That is the freedom Jesus brought – sin has no power anymore. We are free and this freedom is big as only God can do.

Look at what Matthew tells us in his gospel account of Jesus’ birth – the only gospel, by the way, that tells the story from Joseph’s point of view. Notice that the story of the coming of the Messiah is so big
it took multiple writers offering multiple perspectives to provide the story even some of the dimensionality it contains.

So, Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus’ genealogy showing Joseph to be a descendant of David. By claiming Jesus as his son and naming him, Joseph establishes Jesus as a descendant of David.

This was important because Matthew wrote his gospel to a Jewish audience who knew the words of the prophets and the law of Moses. They knew the many stories of God’s deliverance as told in Scripture. They knew that the promised Messiah of God would come from the line of David and would deliver God’s people from their sins.

But they couldn’t have known how very big this deliverance would be. No one could have.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Mary is pregnant, and Joseph knew it couldn’t be his child. The Jewish audience hearing this story knew that Mary’s betrothal to Joseph was legally binding. Betrothals could only be ended by divorce, that’s why they called Joseph her husband.

Under the circumstances, Joseph would have certainly been justified in seeking a divorce, but he also could have publicly accused Mary of adultery which would have guaranteed her being stoned to death
according to their law.

We can imagine how hurt and disappointed Joseph must have been. Many of us know how it feels to be cheated on by our partner in love. Matthew describes Joseph as a righteous man a man in right relationship with God, and Joseph moves pretty quickly from hurt and disappointment to mercy, deciding to divorce Mary without public accusation so that she will not be stoned to death. She will, however, be destined to a life of shame because the reason for Joseph’s divorce would be evident before long.

I wonder how many people today, given the power Joseph had over the one who hurt him, would make a similar choice? People today seem to go straight from “you hurt me” to “I’ll hurt you worse” or even “I’ll kill you.”

Matthew tells us that just as Joseph had decided to divorce Mary, God spoke to him in a dream, through an angel. Let’s stop here for a moment and ponder this. God spoke to Joseph in a dream. Really? Do we believe that?

Does the God you worship speak to you in your dreams? Are you sure? The reason I ask is, it’s one of the most common ways God has related to God’s people – according to our Scripture. Oh yeah, we believe that.

Unfortunately, the allowable concept of God we have created for our time doesn’t speak to us in dreams much anymore – really at all. We have shrunk God down according to our concepts about God and limited what we will allow God to do in our time, and that’s a sin: the sin of idolatry.

So God spoke to Joseph in his dream and what God said was pretty impossible: ‘Oh yeah, she has a baby, but don’t worry – it’s mine.’

And yet, Joseph knew it was God, and did as God asked him to do, even though, it meant living in dishonor. Gossip was the same then as it is now. Mary was pregnant, they weren’t married yet, and the baby wasn’t Joseph’s. Joseph had been humiliated. Even taking Mary and her baby in wouldn’t quell the gossip, which probably lingered around them their whole lives.

But Joseph knew his purpose. He had heard it from the voice of God in his dream, and he fulfilled it. Joseph obeyed the word of God. He even named his son as God directed. The name, Jesus, "is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehosua, which means 'YHWH is salvation' " (Bergant, 27). As the gospel writer says, this is his name because "…it is he who shall save his people from their sins." (21b). (Source:

The expectation, however, was that the Messiah would save them from their oppressors. As one commentator says, “Jesus would [have been] far more popular if [he’d focused] on relieving the people of Roman oppression instead of delivering them from their sins.” (Source:

I think the same is true today. Our view of God and God’s deliverance remains very small. Thankfully, God is not limited by our consistently small expectations. God is God. Thanks be to God.

Like Joseph, we’re called to hear the voice of God which still speaks our purpose to us: individually and as a community. Like Joseph, we’re called to obey and follow where God leads the way no matter how impossible it seems. Doing so is likely to lead us to bear dishonor, as it did Joseph, but it’s a small sacrifice to make, considering how big is the work we’re called to share: reconciling the whole world to God.

I close with an adaptation of our wreath-lighting prayer. Let us pray:

Loving God, set us free from the constriction of our small imaginations and light our lives with your imagination. Show us the creative power our hope in you unleashes on the world. Teach us trust that you are God and you will lead us only by love and in love, and magnify your love within us. Fill us with your joy which is so big it cannot be contained, but must be shared. Prepare our hearts, on this last Sunday in Advent, to be transformed by you at Christmas that we may always walk shining the light of Christ in our world. Amen.

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