Rev Nicole C Trotter
St Luke Pres, Advent 4. 2019
Our Stated Clerk of our Presbytery, Bob Conover emailed a Christmas Blessing yesterday to the Presbytery.
Certainly, sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger, is at the heart and center of the Great Nativity Play. Of course, we can see that clearly with some 2000 years of history, tradition, and faith behind us. But the original cast in the Play, didn't have such hindsight to rely upon. Indeed, the Play begins before the baby even arrives on the scene. It was the darkest time of the year and we might say the cast was in the "dark." There are several actors in the Play and none of them really know, nor can they really know, what is going on. Nevertheless, we know at least two things about them: 1) they were willing to live in some state of confusion and stay open to what was unfolding, and 2) they paid attention and were guided by things that others often fail to notice: dreams, angels, and stars.
That’s just the first part of the lettering when I read that, I knew I had my sermon. I was immediately in. If anyone is drawing a metaphor to a play, an actor or a stage, I’m in. Wayne says I’m a frustrated actor and like most things Wayne says, he’s probably right.
In this morning’s scripture, we meet Joseph and we know so little about him.
He gets very little mention at all.
Here’s what we do know according to scripture;
A carpenter, a just man, belonging to Nazareth, of Davidic descent, son of Heli, or Jacob, depending on which gospel you reference, husband of Mary and father of Jesus.
That’s basic information, important to scripture and the fulfilling of the prophecy, but as an actor, I want to now more, I want to enter into the story, I want to empathize and imagine.
I want to know things like….How much did he love mary, was it an arranged marriage or did they meet at temple, or a bar. Did they have family gatherings, and giggle behind closed doors, did they light candles and vow to love one another for all eternity. Inquiring minds want to know.
We don’t know. So we ask questions and wonder….
Wasn’t he angry? Why did he decide not to press charges which would have been his right? If he had it most likely would have led to her death….But instead, he decides to dismiss her quietly….maybe because he loved her, maybe because he was so broken by the news he just wanted it all to go away….maybe he was embarrassed. We aren’t told.
We do know he was flesh and blood, like us. Not just a symbol in a creche, or a greeting card. Not just a stand in or an understudy for God….Joseph was human, with all the feelings and reactions and decisions any one of us have to face in adversity, in times of trial, in times of betrayal, in times of conflict.
In some ways Joseph could be referred as just any Joe Schmo. a good guy, a stand up guy who just wants to do the right thing…
And if you simply look at him that way, he’s any one of us, You or me; just a guy, trying to live his life and do the right thing in the eyes of the world and God.
And……. at the same time….he’s nothing like us at all…..
But just when Joseph had resolved to (dismiss her quietly , an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus.
Now, I have dreams, and sometimes I receive messages, but at last count, I’ve yet to wake up having been visited by an angel with a message that I would be mother or father to a son who would be the messiah. I mean Morgan’s pretty great, and his grandmother might compare him to the Messiah, but…
In our 21st century perceptions, it’s almost impossible to wrap our heads around being visited by angels and called upon by God in dreams to do the seemingly impossible.
Dreams and angels are not things that most of us go around discussing, unless you come to our Thursday morning meditation group.
For many of us, this is the part of the script where our experience and the experience of Joseph and Mary part ways. This is where, if we’re cast in this play, we begin to turn these human beings into icons, becoming symbolic figures in a creche, and we resolve to accept it even if we can’t really imagine it.
And yet, what do we know about dreams…
We know dreams reveal to us what is longing to become. Whether it’s things we’ve repressed which want to to come to light, or things we long for that want to be born. Dreams can be a gift. Especially if they reveal to us anything that brings us closer to becoming or revealing that which has been asleep in us.
Except this isn’t just any dream. An angel of God’s appears in the dream. Maybe this is where you throw down the playbill and leave the theater because the script just became ridiculous. Maybe angels have been so overly sentimentalized through cute greeting cards and sappy books that this is where you quit the play.
But angels were not overly sentimentalized in those days. An angel or messenger of God…of the lord shows up 65 times in the Hebrew bible (or old testament) and by the time we get to the Gospels, we only hear of them 5x in Matthew, twice in Luke and only once in John. (Bible Gateway)
There’s been endless debate since about the 4th century as to what to make of angels.
In 2008, according to a Gallup poll Some 55 percent of Americans think they've been protected by guardian angels at some point in their lives
Which means that probably half of you believe you have one and the other half think of them as fairy tale.
Frederick Buechner wrote many books, but my favorite is one titled Telling the Truth; the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairytale. And the chapter I return to time and time again is Fairytale. Not because I’m a dreamer, although I’m certainly that, but because I believe we’ve forgotten that that’s just where God wants us. Not because I long for things imagined instead of realistic, but because I believe that’s exactly where God is calling us to be. The world provides plenty of what we can see taste and touch and God lives in all of it, in the flesh and blood experiences of it, but we’ve dismissed our imaginations as something we grow out of, rather than into. Our ability to dream and search the sky for stars brought us to the moon.
Conover continues in his letter-
The Great Nativity Play is all about the in-breaking of God into the world, into our collective and individual lives. We church-people say we want to see that happen; we say we want that to happen in our lives. The original cast provides us a pretty good script to serve as our map.
Dreams may be what happen when we sleep. They may also be our deepest hopes. Read your Bible stories. Hopes are holy messages. They are holy maps.
Angels are messengers. We may not always see or hear winged-beings so beautifully displayed in Renaissance paintings, but divinely inspired messages are all around us.
Stars are always best seen when it is the darkest ... and when we are looking up. The looking up part is really key.
Our challenge is to live with enough confusion to keep us open and to pay attention, to be aware, to notice. When we do, Holy Things are sure to break-in and break-open. Central Casting for the Great Nativity Play is still calling for new actors.
This morning, I invite you to audition for the role of Joseph. A human being as human as any joe schmo in the congregation, who has had his world turned upside down with some pretty awful news. Maybe you feel betrayed, angry, confused, hurt or heartbroken.
And you make a decision from that place of hurt or fear. You make a decision.
And then God shows up, in a dream, or as a voice, or as a nudging feeling you can’t get rid of, to say, no. The decision you’ve made just won’t cut it. And now you’re on an entirely different path. This is the path that leads to the north of a baby, this is the path that leads to new life. And it’s not easy. It’s rarely easy at all. It’s a path filled with questions and doubt, fear and frustration, but it’s also filled with wondering and excitement and imagination which takes us to places we thought we could have only dreamed of…And we trust. We trust in the name Emmanuel. We trust in the promise that we are never alone.
And if we’re Joseph, we trust our new role. One that protects and nurtures, holds and feeds, provides for and watches the most vulnerable grow into being something and someone that never really belonged to us, but is us. And when we nurture and love and feed that which is born in the things of dreams and angels and stars we will embrace our greatest gift; that of love made flesh.
If love be the music of life, play on. Merry Christmas.