Today is the fifth day of Christmas and the frenzy of Christmas has settled. No more pageant, no more incense, no more thinking ahead to the big dinner, or last minute presents to wrap. The stimulation, of all the people and paper and stuff being everywhere, has paused. For many of us, we have been so busy “doing” Christmas that we may not have had the time to experience it or to reflect on what it means. And then in the liturgical year we are given the space of these twelve days to actually do that. And that is one of our opportunities this morning.
The Christmas season is one filled with memories, mostly good memories though occasionally sad ones too. We remember favorite carols and favorite holiday foods. Perhaps we remember favorite gifts through the years and certainly favorite people with whom we have shared Christmases past. This reflection is a way to experience and re-experience the love that Christmas brings. And human love and human kindness is a reflection of God’s love. We hold these experiences in our hearts year after year as a part of our understanding of God’s all-encompassing love. The season is filled with remembrances of love, how we are loved and how we have loved.
Let’s take a few moments this morning to reflect on the origin of that love and how we can grow in our understanding of the depth of God’s love for us.
When I went to the Holy Land last summer to take a course called “The Footsteps of Jesus,” I went, being a priest, with some background in the topic. I already knew a good amount about the New Testament, and a moderately decent amount about the historical evidence for the New Testament. I knew about some of the archaeological discoveries of inscriptions, bone boxes, and particular sites that corroborate what we hear in Scripture. And I knew about how good the manuscript evidence is for these texts as opposed to so many other ancient documents, in other words, that far more than we can with ancient books by people like Plato or Euripides, we can be sure the New Testament still says what was written down by the original authors, that nobody changed the text to suit an agenda.
And just to be silly about it, I of course knew that Capernaum and Nazareth and all those places were real towns in a real country. I had enough background, in short, to understand that Christianity depends on history. What Christianity offers is not a set of values or a spiritual philosophy or a special kind of attitude; Christianity offers the news of what God did in a real time and place – followed up by the additional news that because God did what he did then and there, many things have changed forever here and now.
In the seasons of Advent and Christmas, the Blessed Virgin Mary gets plenty of good press, but Joseph more often than not is overlooked and treated as a minor character. But today's reading from Matthew reminds us that Joseph was someone with an important role to play in God's plan.
At the beginning of this Gospel, Joseph is about to get married. Many marriages in those days were arranged by parents, and the system had three steps. First the engagement period, beginning in childhood. Then betrothal, which took place when the children had come of age -- about 13 or so -- as a kind of ratification of the contract made by the parents. At this point either the girl or the boy could opt out of the agreement. But if they chose to go ahead, they were then betrothed, that is, in the eyes of the law, legally bound together. Betrothal was serious enough that it could only be undone by divorce. After one year of betrothal, the third step took place -- the marriage itself.
In today's Gospel we see that Joseph and Mary were at step two -- they were betrothed, that is, legally linked, but not yet living together. The arrangements for the wedding were doubtless underway: the rabbi was ready, the guests invited, the party planned. Like most husbands to be, I imagine Joseph was nervous but happy.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
This morning’s lessons are full of great and powerful images. Many of the phrases from today have appeared in works of art of all types such as poetry, paintings, and cantatas, throughout time. Let’s listen to a few of these images again.
From the Old Testament: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together.” And the psalm: “He shall come down like the rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth.” The epistle: “May God grant you to live in harmony with one another, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And then from the gospel we hear from the eccentric John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And these are just a few of the gems we have heard this morning. I want allow those images and that poetry to spin in the air a bit today, but before I do that I have a quick side bar.
I have a close friend who is a textile artist. She is well known professionally for her weavings, rugs, wall hangings and tapestries. For close friends she also makes scarves and stoles and even socks! She has a fine eye for creating beautiful things from wool and linen. Her reputation is built on large pieces of bright, vibrant colors whose subject matter is often taken from nature.
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning! That’s more than a friendly greeting because it is the morning of the first day of the season of Advent: the first day of a new liturgical year. We don’t get any fresher than this, folks! In Advent, all Christians are morning people -- at least by grace if not also by nature. But the night is indeed far gone, the day is near. It is now the moment of Advent. It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
St. Paul is not alone in his choice of sleep as a metaphor; it’s one that we’re quite familiar with in our own figures of speech. When we are not fully present in a conversation, we’ll apologize for our lapse of attention with sorry, I was totally asleep; what was that again? Then there’s its cousin going through the motions, which you might say when confiding to a friend that you’ve been disengaged from your tasks for awhile, living on autopilot.