Monday, December 23, 2013

WWJD? What Would Joseph Do?

Matthew 1
Advent 4, 2013
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church

How many of you have tried to read through the bible from Genesis 1 to the end. If you approach this with a legalistic method, each verse read completely with some hope of inspiration you probably got to the genealogies in Numbers and gave up.
It is understandable, the names are foreign and the genealogy is meaningless for the most part.

But to someone at one time, these lists of names meant quite a lot.
The birth story in Matthew is an example of just this thing.

The nativity story in Matthew is written to tell the story of the coming of the Son of God, the descendent of David, the King of the Jews. Not a baby born in a manger. In Matthew there is no manger at all.

The birth of Jesus, the actual birth, is not recorded. What is recorded is the lineage from which this birth came.
We didn’t read that part because the names are difficult to pronounce and mean very little to us. But to the readers of Matthew in the 1st century these names meant everything.

Here at the church we have been having a great time putting up the confirmation pictures from all the various classes. We just found a treasure, a confirmation picture from 1954! We don’t have it up, yet but we will soon add it to our collection.
(If you have confirmation pictures that are not on the wall, get them to me.)
When a new picture comes out of the archives people gather around it. And begin to name the confirmation students. And not only by name, but by family. I showed the 1954 photo to Joyce Irish’s mom and began to hear stories of the children and grandchildren of the 15-16 year olds in that photo. Had we time I would have heard amazing stories of family history: who married whom, who is still alive, who lives is whose home…For those of us who are not native to Chatfield it can be a little strange and irrelevant, but to those of you who have lived here most of your life, it is your story, your history, your families.

So Matthew begins: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the book of the Genesis, is the word in Greek. The beginning. The beginning of Jesus in Matthew is tied to his past, to his ancestors.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
I don’t know why but that portion of scripture seems to ground the story of the birth of Jesus for me. from Abraham to Christ: generations. Jesus didn’t just drop out of the sky. The incarnated God was connected to a family, to a race, to a religion. As old as time, itself.
The Son of God, was a human being.
If we want to know what God would do if God were in the world, all we have to do is look at Jesus. This is how a human being acts as God, Emmanuel, God with us.

There is something else about this genealogy I want to point out which is also very grounding and affirming.
There are auspicious names in the list of ancestors of Jesus: Abraham, Jacob, Jesse, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat. Great men of Israel.  There are also 4 women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba.
These four women represent the strength in the midst of sin and war and exile. They represent women who are not always in charge of their lives but change their own destiny. Tamar, who was left without husband and child and took matters into her own hands when Judah went back on his word. Rahab, who earned who living as a prostitute and through cunning helped the Israelites capture the city of Jericho. Ruth, the woman who followed her mother-in-law back to Israel and pledged honor to the God of Naomi. And also, Bathsheba, who was taken from her husband because King David desired her. Bathsheba became the mother of Solomon who became one of the wisest men in the bible. These four women also represent links to the Gentile nations, Rahab a Canaanite, Ruth a Moabite, Tamar and Bathsheba of unknown ancestry.
These women, through their faithfulness in the midst of uncertainty and even dishonor, become great grandmothers to the child Jesus.

Unlike pure undefiled family trees, this one represents everyone, all of us, who have black sheep and disconnected sheep and even a few goats among the herd.
Jesus is God with us, God among us, God as us. He descended from a broken, misshaped, grafted family that is nonetheless the family of God’s son.

Now, isn’t that a message of grace and hope as we go to our family gathering this season? Isn’t that a message of salvation?

God is one of us.
In Matthew the focus of the story isn’t on Mary, it is on Joseph. It is Joseph’s genealogy which is featured. It is Joseph’s story that is told.
Joseph is us. If we choose to become a person who believes God, who acts on God’s best interests and thinks first of others before ourselves.

Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

I don’t know if Matthew got tired of hearing all the great stuff about Mary or if he just wanted to remind us that we aren’t the holy mother of God. We aren’t the bearer of the Good News, we are the ones like Joseph who hear the message: God is with us, God is among us and have to decide if this has any relevance to us.
We will be the ones who have to decide how we will respond to the message and if we will accept the invitation to become a member of the family of God.

Will we put Jesus away quietly? Or will we embrace all the chaos and unconventional ways of being Jesus will bring to our lives?
Will we stand up to convention and accept a relationship with someone who might bring shame on our family name? Or will we only hang out with the ‘in’ crowd and those who make us feel comfortable.
Will we be willing to make our way to Egypt, back into the land of the captivity of our ancestors, if that is what we have to do to keep the message of Jesus alive? Or will we stay in our comfort zones, not caring about who gets hurt or the others who might be in trouble?
Will we put aside our own needs and desires in order to bring honor to the family of the Christ child? Joseph had no sexual relations with Mary. That is no small thing. That’s why it is in the bible. Are we willing to put aside what we think we deserve or need in our discipleship with Jesus?

Will we live in such a way that the Christ can be born among us? Will we accept the invitation to be part of the family of God?
Will we be like Joseph, someone who, against all wisdom and convention, says “Yes” to God?

Will our names be in the genealogy of the family of God?

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