A lesson: Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
What was she doing? No one knows. But at some time of some day, while she was doing who-knows-what… an angel appeared to her. Was he shining like the sun? Was his voice like thunder? We have no idea. But, he told her that of all the women ever born, she was the one chosen by God to bear the Messiah into the world.
The Gospels never tell us why Mary is the chosen one. No incredible stories of virtue or righteousness. No tales of a heroic childhood faith.
What we do have is a story about a woman who said “yes” to God. A woman who stood by her son through the hard days of his ministry, and then stood by him at the cross. What we have is a story of a woman who went to her son’s tomb and found it empty.
God met Mary not in a church or temple, but in the midst of what started out to be a normal day. God met Mary, not as a perfect person, but as a real person who God loved dearly, and who God chose. God met Mary not with a demand, but with a holy possibility.
In this sense, the Incarnation is pregnant with possibility for all of us, at any moment, and in any place. God may come shining like the sun or with a voice as soft as distant thunder at any moment, and invite us into something we never could have dreamt for ourselves.
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer)
A lesson: Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
We don’t know a lot about Joseph. People wonder if he was much older than Mary. People wonder if he had been widowed previously and had children from that previous marriage. People wonder if he died early on in Jesus’ life, like sometime in his adolescence or early adulthood.
When it comes to Joseph, there are lots of questions that we just don’t have the answers to.
But, there’s one thing that we are sure of: he was a good man.
He could have, according to Old Testament law, have had Mary stoned when he learned that she was pregant. He could have just picked up and left. He could have dragged her reputation through the gutter.
And, quite frankly, no one would have blamed him one bit.
He was such a good man though that he first tried to have her quietly dismissed. He was certainly hurt and angry, but he wasn’t going to take those feelings out on her.
He was also a good man, in that when God told him in a dream that Mary’s child was in fact God’s child, he stuck with her – and God. He willingly chose to become Jesus’ adopted father, and he kept Jesus and his family safe when the government was trying to hunt down Jesus to kill him.
This we know: Joseph is the good and righteous husband of Mary and the attentive and protective father of Our Lord. I don’t know about you, but he makes me wonder if I could ever be as good, as faithful, and as steadfast.
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer)
A lesson – 2 Samuel 11:1-4a
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ So David sent messengers to fetch her, and she came to him
The fact that Matthew included Bathsheba in his version of Jesus’ genealogy, almost defies logic. He was under no obligation at all to include her as the mother of Solomon, for there are only four other names of
mothers in the whole genealogy. He could have glossed over the whole Bathsheba affair and no one would have criticized him for the omission.
In fact, they might have even breathed easier.
But, Matthew includes Bathsheba not by accident, but on purpose. For he is not trying to gloss over the complexities and awkwardness of human failing. I’d say “not even when telling the story of Jesus,” but in reality it’s “especially when telling the story of Jesus.”
King David saw a beautiful woman bathing on a nearby rooftop, and he had the palace guard go and fetch her. She was married, but that didn’t matter to him. When she became pregnant with their child he then arranged for her husband to be killed.
Matthew sees no reason to Photoshop this blemish out. No reason to silence the truth. It happened.
And, human failings continue to happen. Every day. By good people. By great people. By people of no consequence whatsoever. By us.
Jesus comes into the world because we need him to come. We need the grace and mercy that he brings. And in the manger and in the cross we need the holy reminder that God loves us, no matter what.
O God, thank you for the gift you give us in Bethlehem and on Calvary; the gift of your love and the promise of your grace even when we don’t deserve it. As we are day by day forgiven by you, help us to have the courage to forgive others, that your kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
A lesson – Samuel 16: 5b-13
And [Samuel] sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Jesse was the grandson of Ruth and the father of David. When the prophet and kingmaker Samuel came to town to find and anoint a new king – since Saul didn’t work out – he came to the house of Jesse, a Bethlehemite. Jesse gathered all his sons together to greet the great Samuel.
Well… not all of his sons. He left his youngest son in the field, tending the sheep.
I mean, who would need him? Jesse had his seven oldest sons present. Who would want the youngest? It was better to keep him where he was.
All seven of those sons passed by Samuel, and Samuel didn’t discern God calling any of them to be king. Samuel asked Jesse, “Are all of your sons here?” When Jesse indicated that the runt of the litter was in the fields hanging out with the sheep, Samuel immediately told him to summon him.
When David finally reached the gathering, God immediately told Samuel to anoint him to be king.
Jesse didn’t obviously see much in him. But, God did.
Jesse, I think, embodies that tendency, that rests in all of us, to be impressed with the biggest, the shiniest, the most educated, the most… You get the point. The choice of David here reminds us that God can do great things with the least likely of people, in the least likely of times, and in the least likely of ways.
O God, keep us open to your ways, and your possibilities. Let us see you at work wherever you are, even in those people and places that we most often overlook. For you are the one who does wonders. Amen.
A lesson – Ruth 1:14-18
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
Ruth is one of the five women who Matthew includes in his version of the genealogy of Jesus. The book which bears her name tells the tale of her in-laws, Elimelech and Naomi fleeing Israel in the midst of a famine, and heading to Moab. While there the two sons of Elimelech and Naomi married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Then in a series of unfortunate events, Elimelech and their two sons die. Naomi decides to return home to Israel, and she releases her two daughters-in-law of any commitment to her, and tells them to find other husbands in Moab. Orpah reluctantly listens to Naomi, but Ruth will hear nothing of it. Ruth, in a stunning act of familial love towards Naomi leaves her home and journeys to Israel with her.
While in Israel, Ruth catches the eye of a handsome farmer, Boaz, and ends up marrying him. They become the parents of Obeb, who becomes the father of Jesse, who becomes the father of David.
One thing that commentators mention over and over again is the fact that Ruth is a Moabite – a people who were held in great contempt and suspicion by the Israelites. That she becomes the great-grandmother of David, King of Israel, is stunning. I think that the most important thing about Ruth though is her display of love and fidelity. She is the very icon of faithfulness and sacrifice on behalf of her mother-in-law. She could have stayed at home in Moab, and been quite comfortable. Instead, she chose the harder road.
That she becomes a root on the genealogical tree from which the Messiah comes, I think, is quite beautiful.
O God, whose faithfulness knows no end, give us the wisdom and grace to follow the example of the loving fidelity of your servant Ruth, this day and every day. Amen.
A lesson – Genesis 18:11-15
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
Three mysterious figures came to the Oaks at Mamre to see Abraham and his wife (and half sister…) Sarah. These figures bore in themselves the Presence of God, and when they came to Mamre, Abraham and Sarah quickly set about providing them hospitality. Now Abraham was on the cusp of being 100 years old, and Sarah wasn’t much younger, and so the message that the three visitors brought with them was a bit awkward: they were going to have a child.
Ha! Can you imagine!
And, what did Sarah say? …She said, “ha!”
And her visitors heard her laugh.
Abraham and Sarah, and their son Isaac (whose name means “laughter”) are poster children for some of the great truths about God:
1. Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing.
2. God often works through the most unlikely of people, and the most unlikely of circumstances. We are never too old, too young, too rich, too poor, too uneducated, too inexperienced, too naive, too unworthy for God to enter our lives and in the process change the world.
3. And, sometimes the prospect of that is so audacious, that you might just laugh, for there is nothing too wonderful for the Lord.
O God, you are welcome in my home, my life, my heart. Come upon me, and use me for your will, and to your glory. Amen.
A lesson – Genesis 2:4-7
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
Luke’s Gospel ends Jesus’ genealogy with “Adam, son of God.” Adam, the primordial man, is created in God’s Image, but from the dust of the earth. Like a potter who draws a creation out of clay, so are we drawn out by the hand of God. And, unlike every other creature who God created, it is only into Adam’s lungs that God breathes God’s own breath. The Breath of Life. St. Paul makes much about Jesus being the “new Adam,” the new start of a New Life with God.
But, Adam is as much a reminder of our high and lofty start as he is a reminder of how quickly we fall. Adam shows our divine birthright, but he also demonstrates the very reason for Jesus coming into the world. He is the first to breath God’s breathe, and he is the first to disobey God. As such, he reminds us of the choices we face each day; choices which help us achieve all that God intends us to be, or choices which turn our backs to God.
O God, who wondrously formed us in your Holy Image, and infuse us each day with your Holy Breathe; help us daily to die to sin and receive by faith your grace which is so lavishly abundant; through Jesus Christ our Lord, whom we await this Advent. Amen.