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Dec 02, 2018

Hanging of the Greens -- Changed by Christmas

Passage: Isaiah 40:9-11

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: The Choice Is Yours

Category: Sermon Series


Mary and Joseph were both from a town called Nazareth.  Joseph was a carpenter.  We don’t know exactly how old he was when he first met Mary.  But he was older than she was.  Perhaps he had already been married before and was now a widower, raising several children on his own.  Mary was definitely a young woman.  She had never been married.  Her parents were Anne and Achim, but we don’t know if she had any other siblings.  Mary did have a distant relative, probably an aunt or even great-aunt, who had married into a well-to-do priestly family in Jerusalem.  And we know that Mary had been arranged to be married to Joseph, and that the two of them were preparing for a journey. 

The Roman Empire, whose reach extended over the land in which Mary and Joseph lived, ordered a census to be taken.  This was for tax purposes.  Every so often the Romans would count the people living in the provinces and then tax each province according to its population.  Even though Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth, they had to travel to Bethlehem – some 50 miles away and a long journey on foot or horseback - to be counted there, because this was the ancestral home of Joseph. 

That’s when the trouble started.  First an angel came to Mary with a clear message.  She would bear a child that was to be the savior of the world.  This child would not be conceived by Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit; by God!  And… it would happen now… before the wedding to Joseph was to take place.  Well, word got out of this pregnancy and Joseph wasn’t happy.  There was no way he was going to marry Mary now.  He prepared to call off the wedding.  But that’s the point at which another angel came to Joseph, in a dream.  (Yes it would have made sense if the angels shared their messages to Mary and Joseph at the same time, but this is the way God chose the events to unfold).  This angel encouraged Joseph to keep the wedding with Mary.  For the child was going to be special – part of God’s plan for the world – and Joseph would be needed to be a father for him; to protect him and help raise him. 

That, of course, is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah begins.  And we know that Joseph decided to stay with Mary and that a few months later, when Mary was in the last trimester of her pregnancy, the couple made that journey to Bethlehem and that while there, Jesus was born. 

Today we begin the season of Advent.  The word Advent means “arrival” and refers to the arrival of Christ at Christmas.  Advent is a season in the church year that encompasses the 4 Sundays before Christmas and it is a chance for us to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ who is to come.  Our theme during Advent this year is “Changed by CHRISTmas,” with the word “Christ” in “Christmas” written in large print.  This is to remind us that everyone who encounters Christ in the story of his birth is changed by meeting him.  And it is a reminder that we, too, are given the opportunity to be changed by his coming too.  Mary and Joseph clearly were changed by Christ, and we are offered the chance to be change by him as they were.

Consider this: even before Mary and Joseph made that journey to Bethlehem; even before they laid eyes on the newborn Jesus, they were changed by him.  Changed by the idea of him.  Each of them had a lot of soul searching to do after the angels visited them.  For Joseph the question was: Should I divorce Mary or not?  Should I trust in the angel who came to me in a dream or not?  Similarly, for Mary, there were many questions: Why me?  What does this mean?  How can this be?  Can I even begin to think about doing this?  The plans they had for the future were changed by the news the angels brought them.  Whatever life they had imagined for themselves before they heard of God’s plans were going to be completely different thereafter.   There was nothing “traditional” about the family they would be building, or the role each of them was to play in it.  Which means that they had no experience to fall back on.

And yet… God put trust in them.  It didn’t matter to God that they had no prior experience doing what they were asked to undertake.  God was looking for their willingness to undertake a journey and a willingness to allow that journey to change them.  And… to their credit, they trusted God.  They didn’t try to take control of the story God was telling the world through them.  They didn’t try to micro-manage the steps on the journey to Bethlehem, or the outcome when they got there.  They still had doubts and reservations.  But they didn’t allow this to paralyze them into inaction.  Their doubts didn’t overcome their faith in God to lead them and guide them on that journey.   

This month, as we make our own journey to the manger of Christmas eve, we are invited to do some of our own soul-searching, as Mary and Joseph did.  Like them, we are invited to look within ourselves; reflect on how God is calling us to be changed by the birth of Christ this year.  That’s what these next 3 weeks are about.  Advent is about how the journey is just as important as the destination.  Because what we do on the journey to Bethlehem determines what kind of life we will find when we arrive. 

In order to take their journey to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph gave up some measure of control; control of their plans for their future.  And they allowed God to guide and direct and provide for them.  So in that same spirit, and as this first week of Advent begins, I invite you to consider the questions:

  • Where in your life do you tend to like to be in control?

What things in your life do you enjoy managing? 

  • What would it mean for you to let go of some of that control?

What do you risk in doing so?

What do you stand to gain by doing so?

  • How can the example of Mary and Joseph serve as encouragement and inspiration for you?