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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Found

Found by God in Christ and loved, our joy is to find others and share this with them, bring them to Jesus so they, too, might know this love and grace.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday after Epiphany, year A
   Texts: John 1:29-42; Isaiah 49:1-7

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

What would it take for you to share your faith with someone else?

What might convince you to take that risk?

Andrew and John, disciples of John the Baptist, start to follow Jesus in the Gospel today. But almost immediately Andrew finds his big brother Simon, and eagerly tells him, “We have found the Messiah!” Simon Peter doesn’t become Simon Peter without being brought to Jesus by his brother.

Mary and I were blessed to be at dinner with friends last week who shared about their faith practices, which were different from ours, and the joy and life they bring them. It was a blessing and a privilege. But what might Andrew the fisherman think about our culture where more often than not we’re reluctant to open up about what we believe, about what gives us life and joy?

Andrew’s joy in finding God’s anointed one couldn’t be kept inside; he had to share it. What would be like for us to have such uncontainable joy?

In Isaiah, God dreams that God’s light and healing would reach the end of the earth.

In a beautiful turn, God says, “It is too light a thing” for the Messiah just to restore Israel. All nations need God’s light. We see this in Christ, who came for the whole world, not just his people.

But these words are also given us in our anointing. Made God’s Christ in baptism, we are sent with the same mission Christ began. And if God has anything to say to us it might be, “It’s too light a thing that you might know my healing salvation just for yourselves, or for your congregation. I give you as a light to the nations.”

There is a joyful sharing of faith in this place. We live our hope together here. We meet the Triune God in Word and Sacrament, in song and prayer. We serve Christ together in this place, in our neighborhood, and in each other’s name wherever we live and move and work. This is a grace for us, and in this community the Spirit gives us life.

Andrew and John must have loved being together in Jesus’ presence, listening to him, talking to him. They’d followed the Baptizer hoping for God’s coming, and now in Jesus they knew that coming. But Andrew, at some point early on, left Jesus’ presence for a bit to find his brother. The author of First John says that his joy can only be complete when he shares the Good News.

What if our joy will not be complete if we keep what we know and find in this place to ourselves? If we never reach out to someone we know and say, “We have found God’s hope and life”?

This is the pattern we see in John’s Gospel repeatedly.

Jesus finds people, who go out and bring friends or relatives or neighbors to Jesus. John the Baptist points out the Lamb of God to his own disciples, who follow Jesus. Andrew brings Simon Peter. After this story, Jesus finds Philip, who finds his friend Nathanael. The Samaritan woman at the well meets Jesus and then gets her neighbors and brings them to see. Andrew and Philip bring Greek seekers to meet Christ for themselves.

This is how God’s light gets to the ends of the earth. When those who rejoice in the light, who are blessed to see by it, who find hope in the darkness and fear of this world in God’s love, say to another, “I’ve found something. Come with me and see.”

In John’s Gospel those who bring others don’t try to convince them of anything. They simply tell what they’ve found, and say, “Come with me and I’ll show you.”

How different that feels from what passes for evangelism in the churches today.

We’re in a time of deep confusion about evangelism across the Church.

The focus of so many articles and books and workshops is either fear or marketing. Mainline churches are frightened about their numbers dropping. There’s a pretty constant stream of gloom and doom writing about how the church isn’t going to survive.

The answer from many is marketing. Sell your congregation, your programs, your facilities. Make a splash in a busy world where people’s attention is divided and glossy, professional entertainment is the norm. Are you doing the right things in worship? Are you finding ways to attract the kinds of people you need?

Isn’t it striking how different that is from Andrew? He found the joy and hope of God’s coming, and needed to share that personally with his brother. The Samaritan woman met the Messiah and couldn’t wait to tell her neighbors.

Evangelism is never about building churches, or adding members. It’s never about worrying about survival, as if that’s Christ’s goal for us. Jesus never said that the ELCA needed to grow, or that Mount Olive should have a certain number of people. He simply came as the love of God in the flesh, invited people to follow, and those people started inviting other people to come and see Jesus themselves. And God’s light spread around the world.

It’s telling that John uses the word “found” a lot.

Andrew and John find Jesus. Andrew finds Simon. Jesus finds Philip. Philip finds Nathanael. Telling the Good News about what God is doing begins with first finding that Good News for oneself. Once we’ve found it, we find others we know and love and share it with them.

It’s how it often happens here. People tell others they know and love what they’ve found, about meeting God here, about the life and worship and service we do together, and invite them to come with them and see. Not to build up our numbers. But because the joy of being filled with God’s grace and knowing a community of faith in which you’ve met the Spirit of God is too explosive to keep inside.

None of us need to care about how many people belong to any denominations or any congregations. That’s never the point. Up or down, it’s not ours to worry about. The only question before us is, have we found God’s love and light for the world? If so, what will it take for us to tell someone who doesn’t know it what we’ve found?

It’s too light a thing, it’s too small, God says, to keep the joy of God’s love for the world for ourselves.

And if our forebears in faith have anything to say, it’s that our joy is incomplete if it’s kept to ourselves. It’s completed when it’s shared. When we set aside our fears, our reluctance, and share what we have found in Christ with someone else. Then we start finding real joy.

When we break our cultural rules that say keep faith private, and instead gently, lovingly, open up to another about what we’ve found in God. Then we start finding real joy.

This isn’t about being intrusive, or knocking on doors, or pushing our beliefs on others. It’s not about convincing others, or being right. It’s about being ready to share with those we likely already know and love what we have found in God, what brings life and joy to us and to the world.

So that God’s light of healing might reach the ends of the earth. And our joy might be complete.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I Have Given You

Pay attention to what is happening in these baptisms today: in these words and actions we find ourselves, our call, and our life in Christ for the sake of the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Baptism of Our Lord, year A
   Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

You might want to pay close attention to what’s happening with Jesus at his baptism, and what Isaiah says about it.

Since Pentecost, the Church has claimed we share the same call and promise and purpose as Jesus. We should watch Jesus closely, then, because what’s happening affects us.

But if you’re paying attention to Jesus, it might be easier to pay really close attention to what’s happening to Julia and Margaret this morning. To what we pray for them. To what we claim for them. We always see the water, the washing in God’s name. But as it was with Jesus, there is so much more to see, so much happening through that water and that washing that changes us.

From the beginning of this liturgy, when we blessed the waters of baptism and gave thanks for God’s gift, until the end when we are sent in peace to serve God, this day centers us so we find ourselves, we find our call, we find the life in Christ we are meant to be for the world.

If we do pay attention to this, what is happening and being said is stunning.

I have given you as a covenant to the people, God says.

Jesus claims this for himself as he begins his ministry. And we know it’s true: Jesus is the physical sign of God’s promise of eternal love and grace, God’s promise to the world in the flesh.

But here God says it’s true of us as well. Look at what we say about these girls. Their parents will promise to raise them in the faith so that they may proclaim Christ through their words and their deeds, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace. We will welcome them into a mission we say we all share, to bear God’s creative and redeeming Word to all the world.
We bear God’s promise, God’s redeeming Word, to the world.

How have we forgotten this? We are God’s covenant, God’s enfleshed promise to the world. In us God’s Word is borne into a world of pain and sorrow, and we are, each one of us, tangible signs that God has not abandoned this world.

I have given you to the world for this, God says in our baptism. Are you paying attention?

I have given you as a light to the nations, God says.

Jesus claims this for himself, too. “I am the light of the world,” he says in John. (ch. 8) “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” And we know it’s true: Christ brings light into our hearts and minds, and through the Spirit helps us see even in the deep darkness of this world.

But Christ says it’s true of us, too. As we heard Friday on Epiphany, Jesus said the same thing about us: “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5)

And look at what we say to these girls. They will each receive a candle, and Jesus’ next words after “you are the light of the world” will be said to them: “Let your light so shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We are God’s light, shining in the darkness, so others can see and know God.

How have we forgotten this? We are God’s light in a world filled with darkness and fear and hatred. Each of us already is light, we don’t have to create it. And when people see us, when we shine, even in our own little, timid, or as Isaiah puts it, “dimly burning” ways, they find hope and light and God. Let your light so shine, Jesus says.

I have given you to the world for this, God says in our baptism. Are you paying attention?

The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism and he is named the beloved Son of God.

And we know it’s true: Christ Jesus is God-with-us, the Son of God who shows us the heart of God’s love for us and for the world. In Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection, we know God’s love in ways we never could before.

But the Apostle Paul says it’s true of us, too. He tells us and the Galatians (ch. 3) that in the waters of baptism we have been clothed in Christ and in Christ Jesus we are all children of God.

And look at what we ask for these girls. After they are washed, hands will be laid on their heads, and we will pray for the Holy Spirit to come on them, using the same words the prophet declares about the Messiah: we will pray for the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the Spirit of joy in God’s presence, to come upon them.

We are given the Spirit’s wisdom, understanding, joy, counsel, so many gifts in our baptism, that we might, like Christ, bring God’s grace to the world.

How have we forgotten this? Time and again we’ve heard this, at every baptism, at every confirmation, at the Easter Vigil, at Pentecost. We are God’s Spirit-filled, beloved children, in whom God is well pleased. In that Spirit, like Christ Jesus, we are sent from our baptism into our mission in the world.

I have given you to the world for this, God says in our baptism. Are you paying attention?

What does this mean for us? It means we already are what God needs for the life of this world.

Pay attention to all that we are saying and doing when we baptize, to all that is said about and done to Jesus at his baptism and after, because that is our truth, too. These stunning truths belong to us in God’s grace, and God needs us for the life of the world as it sits in darkness and fear.

What will it look like for us to be God’s covenant in the world, tangible signs of God’s promise?

What will it look like for us to be God’s light in the world, shining into the darkness?

What will it look like for us to be filled with the Spirit and called beloved children, and sent with God’s power and life into the world?

That’s why we’re paying attention today. So we can begin to pray and discern together what God means this to look like in our lives.

I have given you as a covenant, as a light, as my Spirit-filled beloved children to the people of the world.

This is God’s baptismal promise to us, as much as it was to Jesus, as much as it is to Margaret and Julia today.

So let’s live that way. Be who we are. Trust who God says we are. In us people will know God’s promise in the flesh. In us people will see God’s light in the darkness. In us people will be touched by the work of the Spirit.

We’ve heard this for a long time. We might just have forgotten to notice these important things that have happened to us.

Now we see.

Now, with the grace of God, we go as God’s blessing into the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, January 6, 2017

See, and Be Radiant

God’s people have often lived in deep darkness, in the time of Herod, so our hope is their promise: God’s light still shines, and now in and through us.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Epiphany of Our Lord
   Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“In the time of King Herod.” That’s all Matthew needs to say.

His telling of the visit of eastern strangers to the Christ child begins with something everyone would understand: it happened “in the time of King Herod”. A tyrannical, paranoid despot who saw threats everywhere, and ruled by violence and fear. A king who killed his wife and several sons to eliminate perceived threats.

This story happened in the time of King Herod. Oh, Matthew’s readers say. So, this isn’t likely a happy story.

It seems to end well. The magi are warned in dream to take another road home, to avoid the unpredictable, violent king. Soon after, Joseph is warned in a dream, too, and he and Mary flee to Egypt with this two year old child. Magi are safe. Child is safe.

But this is the time of King Herod. Vulnerable, weak, powerless people are never safe when Herod is in charge. And the little town of Bethlehem weeps at the death of children, their mothers and fathers inconsolable.

Darkness shall cover the earth, Isaiah says, and thick darkness the peoples. It’s reality. There will be times of kings like Herod.

So as we face a time of darkness for so many who are vulnerable, weak, powerless in our country, as we look ahead grimly, having already seen signs of what is to come in these past weeks, we know at least this much. We are not the only ones to live in the time of King Herod.

Scripture’s story is that darkness always threatens.

Nothing Isaiah says here is new. Our ancestors in faith lived under unjust governments, threatened by people who abused power and worshipped violence. The story of the Hebrew people leads to the story of the early Church, and none had lengthy times where they didn’t have to look over their shoulder or account for what the powerful were up to.

Our own nation is defined by this truth. Today’s threats to immigrants and people of other faiths, disdain for those who speak truth about what is happening, organized attempts to disenfranchise, outright and open attacks of hate on people who are different, are deeply embedded in our history. Ask the Cherokee nation whether King Herod can be trusted. The president whose face stares out from our twenty dollar bill authorized the removal of nearly 46,000 Native Americans from their homes. 17,000 Cherokee were forced to march from the east coast to west of the Mississippi, and at least 4,000, probably more, died on that Trail of Tears. Ask our African-American sisters and brothers, who for most of our nation’s history have had to be leery of what King Herod might be up to, from slavery to lynching to redlining to Jim Crow to disenfranchisement.

Read any good history and it appears that darkness covering this nation is more the norm than the exception. Some of us have been privileged enough that we weren’t taught about much of what has been done to Bethlehem’s children in our own country. We have been privileged enough to believe that even if it happened, such times are past. We can no longer assume that or expect that.

Darkness will cover the earth, Isaiah warns, and thick darkness the peoples. Expect this, our Scriptures tell us.

Yet Isaiah declares: Arise, shine, for your light has come.

We gather tonight to celebrate God entering this gross darkness in person, and bringing light through this Christ to enlighten all peoples and end the darkness. This is our hope.

But remember how this light shines. It shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, John tells us. But it shines in darkness still.

We can only understand the light of Christ if we remember that though Jesus escaped Herod, the children of his village did not. We can only understand the light of Christ if we remember that this light doesn’t magically end all darkness. King Herod lived at least a few more years after this, and Christ Jesus didn’t end his life.

Lift up your eyes and look around, Isaiah says. God’s light shines, even in the darkness. But it shines in darkness, and often doesn’t look powerful enough to do much. This child escaped King Herod only to run into the power of Rome and a Roman cross. This child fled Israel for Egypt only to be turned over by his own people for death.

Yet we declare that this Christ, this light, still shines. Even in persistent darkness.

That paradox is our hope. Otherwise we declare tonight there is light from God in the darkness of the world, and either have to leave and pretend that we don’t see the darkness rising around us, or leave and wonder if we just celebrated a lie.

This is what we seek on Epiphany: an understanding of how God’s light actually is good news, in spite of the darkness, in spite of its weakness.

This has always been the Christian struggle. God chooses the way of the weak to come to us, Paul says, shaming the way of power. God’s true power is revealed in that very cross, in that vulnerable refugee family fleeing Herod. God’s light is seen not as a day of sunshine but as a lone candle shining in a vast room of darkness.

But that’s how it’s going to finally bring about full daylight. That one light is enough to see by. When you’re walking on a path in the dark with a candle or a flashlight, how much can’t you see? 90%? 95%? But you can see the two steps in front of you, and can take those steps. And if someone joins you with their candle, there’s a little more light, and more wisdom about which steps to take.

And if you are joined by more and more and more, eventually the darkness has no chance.

This is the way God is bringing light into the darkness of this world. And from the beginning of his life, this is the only way Jesus operates, under constant threat of the Herods, but being light. And when Jesus is finally caught and killed, God stuns death by breaking free of its hold. The light cannot be extinguished by darkness, not even by death.

And now here is our truth: we are also that light.

Isaiah says “See and be radiant.”

See God’s light in the darkness. And be radiant. Shine yourself.

You are the light of the world, Jesus told us. It is who we are. So we leave here and when we see the darkness, we don’t pretend the darkness isn’t real, and we don’t despair that there is no light from God.

We leave here as light. Maybe tiny, weak, trembling, but that’s the way God’s light works. We might shine just enough to illuminate the next step.

But even a tiny candle can be seen from a long distance in the dark. We may only see the next step ahead, but for a long way someone else can see us. And like those strangers from the east, they now have a light to follow in the darkness.

What a grace, that each of us is a light someone else might see, and be drawn to. Might come and say, “We have seen this light from a distance, and have come.” To find God. To find hope. To find light.

And imagine what others could see when we join all our little lights together.

Arise, shine, for your light has come. See, and be radiant.

It’s all there already in Isaiah. Darkness, gross darkness, shall cover the earth and peoples. But God’s light has come. Let us look and see and find hope.

And now we are God’s light. Let us radiate who we are and join all others who bear God’s light in the darkness.

We may not see the end of darkness in our days. But we witness that it cannot overcome God’s light, its days are numbered. It’s a slow, often frightening, often confusing way. But it was good enough for the Son of God, who apparently thought we were up to this.

So let’s assume it’s good enough for us, too, that we can do this. Be the light of the world we are.

Lift up your eyes and look around. It’s already happening.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Saturday, December 24, 2016

By Heart

The only way we could know God’s heart, God’s love, is by meeting God in the flesh; this is still the only way the world will know, as we enflesh God’s love in the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
   Texts: Luke 2:1-20; John 1:4, 14, 18; Isaiah 9:2-7

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.” (John 1:18)

We have come to this manger tonight, and to this baby, as we always do, through Luke’s eyes. But John tells us what this baby, this manger, means.

God the only Son, who is close to God the Father’s heart, makes God known to us. Like so many, we have longed for God’s coming, for God’s hope, for God’s light, especially in our world that careens ever more wildly toward darkness. But none of us has ever seen God. None of us can know God. Anything we imagine about God is a reflection of our own heart and mind, not of God’s true heart and mind.

Unless God comes to us. Unless God’s true heart is revealed to us, in the flesh. Then we could know.

This is the great wonder of this moment in Bethlehem. Not the familiar elements, animals and straw, angels and shepherds, tired young couple. No, the wonder is that in this baby we are told we see God. This baby, this Son of God, who is close to the Father’s heart, came to make the heart of God known to us.

This baby came that we might know God by heart.

When we are people walking in darkness, it’s hard to understand this.

There is a beauty and sentiment that appeals to us on Christmas, that moves us in music and word, through the light of candles, the smell of pine. Much of this, in the moment, brings peace.

But beyond this moment tonight, it’s a hard world, with frightening things. We will awake with the same problems the world faced before, the same concerns about our lives, about our neighbors’ lives, the same fears. All that makes tonight special can seem just decoration, fluff, in the light of day.

The darkness in which the world walks is real. If God is bringing light into that darkness through this baby, we need to look much more closely at what John says, not simply having a momentary basking tonight in Luke’s manger scene.

If this baby is truly God-with-us, how is that real for tomorrow, not just tonight?

If this birth is God coming to be with us so that we can know God by heart, how is that real right now, in our lives?

The truth is in the baby, but it began centuries before, almost from the moment of creation.

God’s great dilemma with humanity is that love, which is the reason for God’s creating the universe, cannot be taught. So these people on this planet God loved, when they did not live and act in love toward anything – God, the creation, each other – we became a challenge for God.

Given the call to nurture and care for this creation, we disrupted the harmony of nature instead. Given hearts to love each other, we sought our own good above all, to the destruction of our neighbor. Given spirits to reach into the loving life of the Trinity, we placed ourselves as gods.

How could God break through to us? Love was what we were designed for, but love can’t be taught. The Ten Commandments are beautiful teachings on love and how to live in love with God, nature, and each other. We made them an enemy, we treated God’s law as punishment. We wouldn’t listen to the heart behind the teaching.

The Spirit of God was always moving in creation, and through that, throughout human history, God was moving and drawing us to love. But eventually this truth stood out: the only way we could know God’s love is if we met God in the flesh.

Love can only be received, met through the love of another, their grace, their compassion, their embrace. If this world was going to be shaped and moved by love as God intended, God would need to come in person.

We needed to learn God’s love by heart.

When we learn something by heart, it’s embedded in us. We act and operate without thinking, it is second nature. This is how deeply God wanted us to know God’s love. So that we had it by heart. So that it was the fuel for our spirit, the shape of our mind, the purpose of our hearts.

This is why there is a baby in a manger we need to see as God. When God contemplated coming among us, showing us God’s true heart, the answer was obvious to God. God would be born among us as a child, dependent upon human beings for everything. Because for God, the heart of love is vulnerability. Love at its heart is willing to be wounded in order to love, willing to risk all to be open to the other, to God, to the world. Love doesn’t build walls or weapons arsenals. Love doesn’t protect itself.

This is what we know about God by heart. Vulnerability is the way of God’s love, of God’s life, of God’s peace. There’s no need for an artist to draw the shadow of the cross over the manger for us to learn this, either. At the cross we see God’s utter vulnerability, yes. God’s willingness to let us kill rather than to overpower us with might. But we need only see this baby in a manger to see this truth about God’s love already.

God comes to us utterly vulnerable, dependent on us just to live. “Take up your cross,” Jesus said. He could just as easily have said, “Get into your manger.” The love is the same.

And we learned it from this baby.

We can’t teach this love, either. Now we know why God has called us Christ.

If the witness of this baby, who grew to be Christ Jesus, died, rose, and ascended, was the end of God’s plan, the world would be back in the same mess. For the years after this birth, stretching now to 2,000, God would be back to trying to teach us how to love each other, the creation, and God. If it didn’t work before, it’s not likely to now.

The only way to know God’s heart is to meet God in the flesh. That’s where we come in. God’s heart will not be known through doctrine or teaching, through us telling people things. But if we are, as Scripture tells us, God’s enfleshed Christ in the world, well then. Now God’s plan, begun at this manger, can continue to work God’s love in the world.

We cannot tell someone “be not afraid,” and hope it will stick. But we can stand with them as God’s vulnerable love and ease their fear.

We cannot preach to someone “God loves you,” and hope they believe. But we can stand with them as God’s embracing love and show them in person.

We cannot talk about light shining in the darkness and hope people will see it. But we can be God’s light in our lives and our love and it will shine in the deepest night.

The only way we could know God’s heart, God’s love, was by meeting God in the flesh.

That’s how any of us came to faith. We came to faith through the love of God enfleshed in another, begun in this baby whom we worship tonight. When vulnerable love opened to us, embraced us, brought us undeserved forgiveness, unexpected hope, unfamiliar welcome. When one of those who are Christ was love to us, then we knew.

It’s still how we learn God by heart. It’s how the people in darkness still see a great light. When we climb into our own manger, open our lives and hearts to love as we have been loved, when we risk all to be grace, to be love.

Now we know God by heart. Now we can love others that they might also know God by heart.

And so the light shines. And the darkness cannot overcome it.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, December 18, 2016

God Is With Us

When the Triune God enters the world to bring healing and life, it’s inconvenient, it’s unexpected, it looks foolishly weak, it stirs up our lives. But it is still God with us, and it is our life.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fourth Sunday of Advent, cycle A
   Texts: Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:10-16

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Be careful what you wish for, in case you get it.

That’s our Advent warning. We’ve been praying each week that God would come, that God would stir up things (power, hearts, our wills), that in Christ God would heal our world.

But what if God answers our prayers? Are we ready for that? A friend quoted to me one of her teachers, who said, “God coming near is of course what everybody wants, and what nobody wants.”

That’s ridiculous. Of course we all want God with us. But look what happens when God comes near. When the Triune God enters the world to bring healing and life, it’s inconvenient, it’s unexpected, it looks foolishly weak. So if we’re not ready for how God answers our prayers for coming, should we pray them?

The coming of God into the world is always inconvenient, it changes things.

We imagine God as the Great Fixer, who could cut through all red tape and make things right. Whether or not we admit it, part of that hope is then we don’t have to do anything to make a difference, we’re off the hook.

Unfortunately, God’s plan is very different. God looks at the pain and suffering in this world and says, “I need to be with them.” But not as the Great Wizard who instantly forces all things into different shapes and realities. (If God were such a god, our lives would also be radically changed; we forget that. We’re stuck with change either way.)

But God’s way of being with us is coming to us as one of us, in this baby Joseph is trying to understand today, this baby who is the Christ. But the plan continues with filling each of God’s children with the Spirit of God, so each is Christ, anointed, God’s presence in the world. As far back as Abraham and Sarah, this part is always God’s way.

We know this. But we need to remember it when we pray that God come and stir up things. The first thing God always stirs up is our lives.

Whatever Joseph might have been praying, God’s coming tore his life apart.

Did he want the Christ, the Messiah, to come? Probably, though it’s hard to know if the everyday working person in Israel had a lot of time to hope for Messiah.

Whatever he wanted, though, was lost once Mary got pregnant. Hope for a settled life with this woman to whom he was betrothed. Hope for a firstborn of his own, maybe a son to teach his livelihood. All this is shattered with Mary’s announcement that she’s pregnant, and her claim that God is the other parent.

Gentle Jesus sweet and mild in the manger is a lovely image for a Christmas card. But Joseph’s life was utterly changed by God’s coming. So was Mary’s, of course, but today our Gospel focuses on Joseph. This baby was inconvenient, unexpected, weak, dependent upon Joseph’s skill and energy and effort. This baby might have been God’s plan, but without Joseph and Mary it was going nowhere.

We could say the same about our own lives.

Whether or not we like it, like Joseph, we are faced with the reality of God’s coming being exceedingly inconvenient, unexpected, weak, and dependent upon us.

We’d rather God didn’t involve us. The problems we face just in our own lives, let alone the horrors that the world endures, are daunting beyond our ability to grasp. We wake up in the night and realize our worry again. We read the papers or watch the news and fret, get angry, feel despair.

But when we say, “Come to us, God, be with us,” God says, “I am. I’m in you. You have my Spirit.” And then we realize our lives are part of God’s answer. We realize God is stirring things up in the world, beginning with our hearts and lives.

That doesn’t always feel like good news.

If Joseph could have seen the whole story of this baby, from birth to life to teaching to healing to the cross to the resurrection and ascension, maybe he’d have a perspective of hope and expectation.

But like us, all he could see was what changed that day. That moment. Before he could get around the idea that God was changing his life, he had to believe that it was God, and not some other man. The angel dream helped.

But no angel or dream could change the truth that his life was now on a different path, a harder path, one he probably didn’t want, certainly didn’t expect. That’s often where we are when we hear God calling to us.

But here is why we pray in Advent, why we hope, why we say, “Come to us, O God.”

Because we know we want God to be with us. Yes, God’s often inconvenient, and unexpected, and we are weak and dependent. We don’t often know how we can help or if we want to.

But we know the Spirit of God in our hearts, and we know the love of God in our lives. We know the grace of being forgiven and restored. We know the comfort of being guided on our path, and having our eyes opened to ways we can be God’s Christ. We know the joy of God’s community of faith, where we meet God in each other.

And we’ve seen God’s plan actually working. Unlike Joseph, we can see how important he was. We can see countless followers of Christ Jesus the same way, living as Christ over the centuries. We can see God brought healing and life through them.

We don’t always see the inconvenience it caused them, or the suffering, or the fear that they weren’t enough. But we know they felt it, since we do, too.

But like us, they knew God was with them. So they lived, as we do, in hope.

God is with us. That’s the promise. That’s the truth. That’s the sign.

We are the coming of Christ in this world for our time, along with billions more. That might mean changed habits, challenging moments, fearful days. We might, like Joseph, wish for a simpler, calmer life, where God just fixed things and we just lived as we wanted to.

But we don’t always get what we think we want. The grace is we always get what we really want.

We get God, who comes. We get the joy of living in God’s love with each other and with the world, filled with God’s Spirit, never being alone. The hope of God’s healing coming to the world.

Compared to that, what’s a little inconvenience, a little stirring up, a little change? Or even big ones? God has heard our prayer, and is come. In us, in Christ throughout the world, God will heal all things.

That is a prayer worth praying.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen
 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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