Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Advent, Joseph, Love, God

Betrayal is the worst, and as far as Joseph knew, Mary had betrayed him. His fiance was pregnant. He had brutal, legal options available to him in this patriarchal society they lived in, yet he chose the least likely one, the one of generosity and love.

As Matthew tells it,
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. Matthew 1
He didn't choose his rights, he chose peace. God chose something greater though. God had not only chosen Mary, he had chosen Joseph as well. Matthew continues the story,
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph encountered a divine messenger. God wanted him to know that Mary was telling the truth. Her conception was a miracle wrought by Him. Furthermore, Joseph was to stick with the original, pre-conception wedding plan.

The story only gets more chaotic from this point though. He proceeds to marry a pregnant gal, voluntarily taking on disgrace. No wonder they never moved back into the neighborhood. They did have to move, which might have been a relief, but the timing was poor. Mary was pretty late in the pregnancy, "great with child," when politics intervened and he had to register for the census in his hometown, Bethlehem, an hour away, by car. Seventy miles is a long trip on foot or donkey. When they finally arrive, he can't find a place to settle down or have a baby. Perhaps his family in town was not happy to have the disgraced couple stay with them.

God, who had spoken to both parents, and told them of great plans of the child, a new king for their nation, wasn't talking to them anymore. They had faith because of what they had experienced of God, they had hope, based on what He had told them, but He was silent. As Luke tells it,
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was now obviously pregnant. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2
The journey, the "lodging," if not guided by God directly, was an empty canvas for Joseph to fill in.  He painted with love. Soon afterwards, as Matthew tells it, another messenger from God tells them to flee to Egypt. Again, Joseph is left to fill in the blanks, for who knows how long, until it was time to return to Israel. When he did, another dream message tells him to move to Galilee, where they settle. Galilee is not a well regarded area. Again, Joseph chooses the way of shame, based on dreams from God. He trusts God. He has great hopes for his son. He loves his family.

Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. Why is love superior? Later on in the early church, John the Beloved writes, twice, in his first letter, "God is love," 1 John 4:8, 16. I've been pondering lately why God is not ever equated to faith or hope. I understand faith to be based on my past experiences. I understand hope to be my approach to the future. But love is for the present. Love is what I am to do NOW.

Like Joseph, I have had dreams and encounters with God. Like Joseph, I have a desire for a better future. Like Joseph, the canvas given to me is not a paint by numbers type. It has large blank spaces. But if I fill it with love, I fill it with God. He may be quiet in my life now. But I can fill this now with love, and be a messenger of His, for someone else. When I a present with love, I am representing God.

In John's final vision, I remember doing Greek translation and getting thrown off at a frequent phrase. God is described as the one who is, the one who was, and the one yet to come. I always thought that last phrase would be the one who "will be", but it's not.
Revelation 1:4 Grace and peace to you from “he who is,” and who was, and who is still to come...Rev. 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God—the one who is, and who was, and who is still to come—the All-Powerful! 
The highlight for me is He is the God, firstly, WHO IS. He is present. He is love. We know the back story. We have glimpses of the future. In between, right now, we have love. The baby Jesus is God's loving gift of himself.

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first.

Since perfect love casts out fear, we know why those angels keep saying at Advent, "FEAR NOT," because love arrived.

Merry Christmas. Fear not. Live in love, even when betrayed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why is the church not attractive to men?

I just finished listening to the 2nd Sunday of Advent message from Pastor Brian Zahnd in St. Joseph Missouri. He was not speaking about the shortage of men in church. But what he spoke on got me thinking about the question of this post, and the hand wringing it inspires in some church leaders. He spoke on Daniel's vision of the goat who would dominate the world, Alexander the Great, and the son of man who would prevail, Jesus, the lamb who was slain but lives, as seen in John's revelation. The contrasts which Zahnd highlighted between Alexander and Jesus were striking, but on in particular stood out to me. During one of Alexander's conquests he crucified 2000 enemies. Jesus, however, announced his kingdom, proclaimed its victory, by letting his enemies crucify him. Alexander's backdrop as a Greek was Homer's Iliad and it's violent hero Achilles. Jesus's backdrop as a Jew was Isaiah's vision of a king who suffered and died and was rejected to save his people. They both died in their early thirties and Alexander's kingdom long ago faded away, but Jesus's kingdom continues to expand.

Alexander's example inspired subsequent despots, men who were successful at warfare, destruction, and victories on the battlefield. Some churches preach a Jesus who looks like Alexander rather than stands in sharp contrast to him. Those churches attract men. Those men become what they worship.

A beat up, outcast, weak Jesus attracts outcasts, the weak, and the broken, men and women. Defeated men and women. Minority men and women. Unsuccessful men and women. Jesus tells a story about this in Luke 14.
12-14 Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.”
15 That triggered a response from one of the guests: “How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom!” 16-17 Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’
 18 “Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’ 20 “And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’
 21 “The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’ 22 “The servant reported back, ‘Master, I did what you commanded—and there’s still room.’ 23-24 “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’” The Message
Jesus is for losers. It's not a message that can bring the crowd of winners, men who think highly of themselves. But it's a great song by Steve Taylor. I'd love to hear this every Sunday morning coming into church to set the right frame of mind for all who enter.

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