Friday, December 6, 2013

Wednesday's Sermon: Invisible and Unexpected Gifts

Matthew 1:18-23
Joseph discovered Mary pregnant and wanted to call off their engagement.  Maybe the specifics of this are hard for us to understand these days. But I do think that there are times when someone does something that we just can’t accept.  We can’t accept what they have done and we then have to make a decision…do we end the relationship all together, or do we figure out a way to accept, live with and grow from our experience of disappointment, or humiliation, or hurt?
The thing is, people will always disappoint us.   I was talking with someone this week who was sharing with me about their daughter who has become a born-again Christian and how difficult it is to be in relationship with someone who is constantly telling him that he is going to hell.  Still, he chooses the relationship, though it appears the daughter may stop after awhile.  We hear of stories of people who discover they have a child who is gay or lesbian and they have a hard time handling it.  What are some of the things you have a hard time handling?  Personally, I have a really hard time handling lying.  And yet, everyone exaggerates on occasion, or stretches the truth or tells a white lie.  What lie is too big?  What lie is too much?
I’m reminded of Fiddler on the Roof.  Reb Tevye is faced with the challenge of choosing between deeply held values and his relationships with his daughters.  His first daughter wants to marry a man within the tradition, but one whom she has picked out for herself, challenging the tradition of the use of the yenta.  The second daughter decides who she will marry and her fianc√© does not even ask for Tevye’s permission.  This, too, he accepts.  For the first two of his children he chooses his daughters, letting go, though it is ever so painful for him, of needing them to follow, agree and support his beliefs and values.  But for the third one he cannot do the same.  When the third daughter elopes with a man who is not Jewish, he cuts her off.  The challenge to his beliefs and values pushes him too far.  And in the face of his choice between those beliefs and values and even his daughter, he chooses his values.
For us, too, we may come to a point where we feel pushed too far.  What values do we hold that go beyond the possibility of reconciliation, healing, and even the possibility of loving the other?
We all have these.  We all have “conditions” on our love, on our commitment to our relationships.  And yet, that is not the way of God, it is not the way of Christ.  We are called to choose love again and again, despite our hurts, despite our anger, despite our disappointments.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for actions, but it does mean that we still have to choose to do what is most loving, for everyone involved, in the face of our values, our decisions, and our experiences.
I think about Joseph in today’s story.  He had strong values.  We are told he was a “righteous” man.  Because of those values he almost chose to dismiss Mary from their engagement.  We know that his judgment, his thinking about leaving Mary was based on a misunderstanding, but I’m not sure it matters too much.  He had values, and it appeared that she did not meet those values.  He had a tough decision to make in the light of that.
But he was also a man who was open to listening, hearing and responding to the Spirit.  And the Spirit had a different word for him.  An angel came to him in a dream and told him that he did not understand the situation, and that he was called to do something different than would usually be done.   He was called to put aside his usual understandings, his usual vision, the obvious vision, and to take a different path.  As a result he chose a path that did not leave Mary destitute, did not leave him without a wife, allowed him to father Jesus, opened a path for him that without the listening and following he would never have known.
We are constantly invited into gifts that are not what we expect, not what we could imagine for ourselves or for others.   And as always, the goal, the gift, the challenge, is to keep our eyes open for God’s coming among us through those gifts.  That is especially true during Advent when we are called to wait and to watch.  Wait and watch.  Wait for God’s coming.  Watch where God will come to you today.  Where is God today?  Where is God showing up in your life today?  In whom do you see God’s face this evening as you look around?  What gifts surround you, even in the challenges, even in the struggles, that God is giving you?
A friend sent me a song this week that I want to play for you.  I don’t usually like rap music, and I apologize that it is, in part, a rap song, but I invite you to listen to the words.

When we open our hearts with gratitude, we open our eyes to see.  Let us give thanks this day and everyday for God’s coming to be with us.  Amen.