- December 18, 2016
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for December 18, 2016 (Advent 4, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Romans 1:1-7; Psalm 80; Matthew 1:18-25
Title: By Your Daily Visitation
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Here we are, my friends, in the fourth week of Advent – about to embark once again on our celebration of that wondrous birth in Bethlehem.
In the introduction of his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul describes the Son of God as “descended from David according to the flesh.”
Now, truth be told, no one quite knew how that was actually so. Both Luke’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel trace the genealogy of Jesus from David and through Joseph.
But Joseph was not the father of Jesus, according to the flesh.
The flesh of Jesus came only from Mary. However, Joseph fostered the child Jesus. He raised him as his own. Joseph took care of this remarkable baby.
In case you don’t know, or in case you have forgotten, taking care of a baby is hard work!
I have been forcefully reminded of this fact over the last few months while having baby Joy in our house. It’s been difficult to return to that stage of having to care of an infant – taking care of a baby.
They are incredibly needy. They demand attention, all of the time, making it nearly impossible to accomplish other tasks!
And they are completely defenseless. And even worse than this, they seem to be magnetically pulled toward every form of danger! It’s a miracle that ANY child survives and grows.
And it only happens when an adult cares enough to sacrifice their own desires and needs to care for a child.
This morning, I have a diaper pin to give to each one of you.
Why a diaper pin, you might ask? What does it represent?
It represents the birth in Bethlehem. And it represents the work of caring for a child.
I invite you to carry it with you throughout this week. Or to place it someplace where you are likely to see it each day of the week.
And I invite you to consider this conviction and this claim as you touch or look at the diaper pin this week: there is nothing more important than taking care of a child.
I mean it. To be honest, I did not ask to have another baby in my house, and at times it has been quite frustrating.
But then I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to me yet again and saying, “Nathan, what do you have to do which is more important than protecting the life and the future of this child?”
Matthew’s Gospel says that a messenger came from God – an angel is what we like to say. The messenger came and told Joseph to take care of Mary and her child.
And Joseph did it. He did not ask for this particular child. He did not ask for this complicated and difficult situation. I am sure that he was frustrated at times, but he did it!
And, tell me, what did Joseph have to do which could have been more important than protecting the life and future of that child?
I don’t think that they had diaper pins in those days, but this little pin remains an excellent symbol of what Joseph had to do. He had to care for this child, even though it was not his own.
When we had our puppy a few years back, I remember asking our kids at certain times to watch the puppy, to keep it safe. But I did NOT ask them just to sit there and WATCH the puppy.
I tried to explain to them that one can WATCH the puppy without necessarily maintaining constant visual contact with it. It is possible to be aware of what the puppy is doing, and where the puppy is, even while doing something else entirely.
It’s a kind of split consciousness that is quite familiar to those who have a toddler in their house! Because the mental process is the same!
At all times, at every moment, the responsible one has to know where the toddler is and what the toddler is doing.
And this must take place even while the parent or guardian is busy doing something else entirely, like doing the dishes or the laundry.
You can develop this same kind of split consciousness in all of the simple duties of your everyday life. Doing what needs to be done, while constantly being aware of the presence of God.
We often make the spiritual life much more difficult than it needs to be. People get caught up in complex theological arguments and spiritual practices.
So many of the spiritual heroes in the church’s history have been monastics – people who made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and who then dedicated their lives to prayer and contemplation.
All of these things are good, in and of themselves, but do we have to live separate lives in order to be holy, to be close to God?
What about Joseph and Mary? They did not go off and live apart from society, cloistered behind walls.
They lived a simple, ordinary life, taking care of the child that was given to them.
And that, too, is where we must begin. With Mary and Joseph and Jesus.
Because there is no spiritual life that is not rooted and grounded in the simple tasks of everyday life. This is where the path of following Christ begins. This is the daily visitation of the Lord.
Day by day meeting us, joining us, in the ordinary duties of life, in which we sacrifice to take care of those around us.
Because this is the amazing story that we offer to the world in this special time of year!
God became one of us. Emmanuel, God with us and among us. God as one of us. God living an ordinary human life alongside of us.
Do you want to know how to draw near to this God? How to live and walk in a way that keeps you close to the Lord?
Take care of people. Take care of a child, even if the child does not come from you – according to the flesh.
Change a diaper. Do what you can to enable a good future for a child.
All while maintaining the awareness of God’s presence, that split consciousness which new parents and owners of new puppies have to develop by necessity.
Living ordinary life in the presence of an extraordinary God.
Living a natural life infused with supernatural energies from the Holy Spirit.
It’s quite simple, though not necessarily easy.
Joseph was a righteous man. He took care of Mary and Jesus.
Are you willing to be close to the Lord by following Joseph’s lead? By caring for a child, and for those around you who need your care and attention?
May it be so among us, this week, and every week of our lives. Amen.