I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas. I love Christmas. For many of us, Christmas is a time of great happiness and connection with family and those closest to us. I’m sure for many of you, it’s a very busy time, but it’s a very, happy busyness. The birth of Jesus was the birth of good news and the birth of good news began with great joy and excitement. That’s why we celebrate Christmas with such joy and excitement. Wise men from the East far away had come all the way to find and look for baby Jesus. They bowed down in homage and presented find gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And they were filled with joy. Last week, Reverend Kim reflected on how the mystery of this good news was unlocked by faith when Joseph had faith in God’s voice to wed the pregnant Mary. But now that good news almost right away faced the threat of being destroyed. Today’s passage is quite disturbing. There’s tremendous danger, violence and uncertainty. The birth of good news was a threat to the most powerful man in the region and so we see from today that good news does not exist in some fairy tale world. The survival of good news is in question.
Our lives are somewhat like that too. Just like the Christmas season, we can experience moments of great joy and even euphoria. We experience moments where we feel great hope and where anything seems possible. But also often, we quickly find that the reality of life is so different. The hope and joy that we felt becomes in danger of dying. What we see from today’s passage is that the good news survived. Jesus remained safe and alive, but his survival came at a tremendous cost. They had to become refugees living as foreigners in Egypt, and his survival resulted in many babies being murdered. I was very torn by this part. They eventually had to settle in some rural backwater town just to keep Jesus safe. So there was a great disturbing cost to keep the good news alive, but it did remain alive.
Jesus would grow to become that sacrificed lamb that we sang about and Jesus remained alive because of the actions and decisions made by Joseph. Now, Joseph, he’s an interesting figure. So only the gospels of Matthew and Luke have birth narratives of Jesus, Mark and John don’t. But Matthew and Luke, they’re very different from each other. In Luke, Joseph plays virtually no role. You don’t even see the guy. All of the action centers around Mary. Mary is the one who gives us long soliloquy about how God comes to restore the weak and the powerless. But here in Matthew, there’s no peep from her. She’s in the background while Joseph is at the center of the action.
But the funny thing is Joseph, in Matthew, he speaks no words. From the text, we have no sense of his inner thoughts, but what we see are his actions. In his actions, what I see is his faithfulness. Joseph was faithful, loyal, steadfast, and constant in his care and protection of Jesus. I wonder what made Joseph so faithful? I mean, think about it. This guy was dealt a really bad hand. He hadn’t signed up for any of this. Jesus was technically not even his own biological son. If anything, he should have felt fear, frustration and discouragement. Maybe he did feel those things, but nonetheless, we see in his actions that he was faithful right to the end. After today’s passage, we don’t hear from Joseph ever again, but what remains in the permanent record in God’s Word is his faithfulness to Jesus. The faithfulness that kept him safe.
I believe that his faithfulness came as a response to his experience of encountering God. When he was struggling with Mary’s pregnancy while they were engaged, he experienced something. And the scripture says that an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to tell him not to leave Mary. Somehow, in that moment of struggle and trying to figure out what to do, he experienced the presence of God. He experienced God’s reassurance. He experienced God’s faithfulness. In a moment where the situation seemed like bad news, God made it good news. God had made a way when there seemed to be no way. I believe that this experience of God’s faithfulness remained with him. This memory of God’s faithfulness would anchor him when troubled times came after the birth of Jesus. The memory gave him eyes to see God’s protecting hand and ears to hear God’s voice leading them to safety.
Seeing and recognizing God’s faithfulness in our lives is one of the greatest keys to a life of faith. Faith is seeing God’s faithfulness. Seeing God’s faithfulness in protecting hand will carry us through troubled times in our own lives. But seeing that is very difficult in our day and age. In modern life, we tend to only see things that happen on a daily basis, and we see only what’s directly in front of us. And more than that, we’ve come to believe that what is given, what we see, is all there is to reality. It makes it very difficult to see beyond what is in front of us. Most of the time, we’ve even stopped wondering what lies beyond what we see, because all of our thoughts and our energies are consumed by what is given in front of us. When what is given is all we can see, it becomes very hard to see God’s faithfulness at work in our lives. The spiritual life is about going beyond what we see. It is paying attention to what is going on underneath and inside of us. Underneath is where the real raw materials of life exist. Underneath, deep in the realm of our soul, is where we store all of our disappointments, our yearnings, our pain, our fears, and our desires. That is where our most real selves reside. We don’t go there often. We’re too busy or too distracted. We’re too scared.
But somehow if we get down in touch with the place where all our most real feelings and memories reside, at that real level, we can maybe just maybe start to catch a glimpse of something beyond us, to catch a glimpse of God’s faithfulness. I tried to help cultivate some of this spirituality with our college interns over the past summer, what a year 2019 has been. And I’m looking forward to our retreat together too. So one day I had each intern write out their life story in preparation for the ESM retreat on stories of faith. You guys remember that? To think back on key events in their lives and how those events shaped their lives. I didn’t know what to expect, but as they wrote, and as we shared in thinking back on the events of their lives, some of them really dug deep and began to identify deep pain points that they had only vaguely been aware of. See, these were the raw materials of their lives coming out. Their real selves. It was a deeply moving experience with quite a few tears shed. From this very real place, some of them could catch a glimpse of God’s presence and faithfulness in their lives.
I really hope that all of you have, or someday will, catch a glimpse of God’s faithfulness in your life. It can make all the difference. I mean, it’s difficult to catch that glimpse of God’s faithfulness in the midst of everyday life. But when we do, let us hold onto the memory of that moment.
Faithfulness in the Past for Today
Christian living is about remembering the moments of God’s faithfulness in our lives. It’s not like an Instagram life where one moment is here and gone the next. Christian living is where we hold onto the moments of God’s faithfulness. When we sense God’s faithfulness in our lives, we don’t just let it fade away. We hold onto that memory and keep coming back to it. And that is what worship is about. This is why we have a ritual every week. We keep coming back to our memory of God’s faithfulness to us in our lives, from that memory comes praise and thanksgiving. But it’s not just about remembering the past. Memory of those moments gives us faith for today, and it also gives us hope for tomorrow. Memory of these moments opens our eyes to see more of God’s faithfulness in our lives today. And it gives us faith to face trouble and difficult times.
Joseph’s life was difficult and fraught with danger and uncertainty. During each particular moment, I’m sure he had no idea of what lay ahead, nor was even aware of the bigger picture significance of what he was doing. He was just responding faithfully in that situation. But through it all, somehow he was able to see God’s faithfulness and God’s protection carrying them through. And that gave him the strength to be faithful and carry on. You know what, even though Joseph wasn’t aware of the significance of his actions, through his faithfulness God’s will was fulfilled. Unbeknownst to him. He was just living on the daily level, responding, but God’s hand was moving all along underneath. We ourselves, we usually don’t know what God’s will is. We live just day to day and we don’t see how our decisions or actions affect the future or the bigger picture. But we learn here that simply trusting in God’s faithfulness and living with that trust will lead to God’s will being fulfilled.
Looking Back and Looking Ahead
As you know, today is the last Sunday of 2019 and the last Sunday of the decade. So many things have happened in all of our lives over the last year, and over the last decade In the midst of all that has happened, do you see traces of God’s faithfulness in your life? I know that 2019 was a big year for me, so many things happened. One of the big highlights was getting ordained. I reflected a lot on my life during the process leading up to my ordination. And as I reflected, I really began to see that thread of God’s faithfulness in all of the events that led me to where I am today, events that at the time I had no idea had any significance or meaning.
When you look back and you can see God’s faithfulness, it touches you to the core when you can recount how God has been faithful in your life, it moves you, often to tears, as it did for me. I mean, I look back over the decade and back to the beginning of 2010, and I had no idea that I would be here right now, doing what I’m doing. Back then, I was just trying to convince Deb to marry me and make a living as a lawyer, just doing my thing, you know. I would never have seen myself standing in the pulpit today at St Timothy. When I look back now, I see God’s faithfulness flowing through my life and it just leads me to give thanks and praise to God. We are entering 2020, a new year, a new decade. We don’t know what will come in the year and decade ahead. There will be joyful moments and moments of great challenge and difficulty. You all have your own hopes, concerns, and thoughts as you look ahead. My prayer for all of us is that we can learn to see God’s faithfulness in our lives and place our trust in God’s faithfulness. May God’s faithfulness shine through your life in the year and decade to come. Amen.