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December 13, 2015
“Advent 3: God’s Grace Revealed: Seeking Faithful Obedience”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
God of grace, God of glory, how we praise You and thank You for sending us Your gift of eternal life. Glory to God in the highest! Amen.
About a month ago Paris, France, and a number of French Parisian suburbs were shot-up and bombed. And the world, including America, surrounded France with love and support – and prayers. Ten days ago a very similar thing happened in a Los Angeles suburb and while support and love went their way, at least from American society the social media was filled with criticism and words even of hatred about how worthless it is to pray for these people.
It was a fascinating cultural flip from our response to France and our reaction to San Bernardino.
As we move another week closer to our celebration of Immanuel, God with us, divinity in humanity, the birth of Jesus the Messiah, I wonder how our prayers change. We’re told to pray without ceasing, but with all the holiday hoopla it can be hard to obey that command. In fact, it’s hard to obey almost any of the biblical commands for justice and love and peace and joy when we’re fighting traffic to get the last of this year’s special toy, or imbibing at the office “holiday party” with a little too much enthusiasm.
As we recognize the nearness of Christmas (just 11 shopping days away), what does it mean to obey God?
I had a doctor appointment last Wednesday, and my doc reminded me that he has told me for several months to join a gym. And then he said, “With January 1 just a few weeks away, maybe this can be one of your New Year’s Resolutions.”
But even as he was talking I remembered that I’ve told him before that I would join a gym; and I also remember my 8th Grade Sunday School teacher, John Winterling, telling me that “delayed obedience is disobedience.” When I find an excuse to delay obeying God, I am merely disobeying God today.
What is it in your life that you “delay obedience” until a more convenient time? Is there an area of faith/life that we tell God, “Maybe tomorrow,” or “I will when <something> happens”?
We are now on our 3rd Sunday in the season which prepares us for Christmas. We have been invited, along with Zechariah the nearly retired priest and his post-menopausal wife Elizabeth, to keep our eyes and our faith open to see what God is already doing all around us. We watched as another couple, Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, a barely pubescent girl, from a backwoods village, willingly listened to and believed God.
Today we watch Joseph and Mary from a different angle – we have been using Luke’s Gospel, today we read from Matthew’s Gospel – and see what they teach us about seeking faithful obedience.
Listen to how Matthew 1:18-25 enters into the Christmas narrative: 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Let me stop there for a second. Pretend this was the first time you ever heard this story. You know it’s about Jesus, because Matthew says so right up front: this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. But — what? Before they came together she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit? How many unplanned teenaged pregnancies have been announced like this before?
So, because Joseph was both law-abiding and decent, he planned to divorce her quietly. Yeah, they weren’t even truly married yet, but in their culture by the time the couple got to this point in their wedding plans, they were as good as married, so “divorce” is the right word. But Joseph wasn’t gonna make a big fuss, he’d just divorce her “quietly”. I don’t know how one does that. The wedding day is planned, the guests are invited, the party is already underway, the DJ is hired, the church is reserved … and somehow he’s gonna make all that disappear without drawing attention to that fact. But let’s give him credit for trying.
Joseph shows us the value of Facing Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY!
Are we able to meet these upsetting, disappointing, expensive surprises with GRACE? I have watched Jack Berry do that time after time. One time, about 10 years ago, our Mariner’s Fellowship group went up to Hwy 16, near Sacheen Lake for a dinner theater production, and Jack missed the driveway entrance to the parking lot and his SUV went into the snow covered ditch. And what did Jack do? He got Jean out of the truck, went into the theater, called AAA, and had a very enjoyable evening. Jack reached Sainthood in my book that evening. And he showed me what it means to Face Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY.
Let’s continue this story, starting now in Matthew 1:20: 20 But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” …
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Joseph heard from Mary already, but now an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him the same thing. He might still say, “No way! I’m outa here!” But he doesn’t. Instead he demonstrates how to Trust God’s Word COURAGEOUSLY! Why do I say “courageously”? Because he and Mary still had all the town talking. The village gossips were still yakking at the supermarket. The men were still speculating at the barber. The school kids were still asking questions on the playground. And they all had their judgmental opinions!
Are we able to trust God with COURAGE? Anyone who has been in this church family for long has seen person after person trust God through scary life circumstances. I’ll bet most of us can think of someone, maybe the person sitting right across from you this morning, who trusted God through financial struggles, through marital difficulties, through health scares. // And, we’ve all not trusted God at all.
Can we put that COURAGEOUS Trust in God’s Word into practice this season?
After the baby Jesus was born, Luke tells us, in the manger in Bethlehem, we come to the next Christmas narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. Look with me starting in Matthew 2:13: 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. …
This story is related to the last in that, once again, Joseph trust’s God’s Word; but this story of trust involves obedient action. Joseph exhibits how he Heeds God’s Warnings IMMEDIATELY!
He might have figured he could buy a gun, or take a Karate class, or just hunker down in a bunker and hide – those are the things I might have done. But Joseph wastes no time in Heeding God’s Warning. This is trusting God’s Word, but it is doing that with active obedience, right now!
The last part of this Christmas narrative, which is actually several months, maybe three years later, is told starting in verse 19. Listen to God’s Word: 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. …
Joseph does the admirable thing – he Follows God’s Word CONSISTENTLY. We are told that after King Herod died an angel of the Lord told Joseph to take his family back home. He left for Egypt IMMEDIATELY; and now he again hears God’s Word and obeys it without any delay leaving from Egypt! But, even better than merely having an IMMEDIATE and COURAGEOUS trust that results in Faithful Obedience, Joseph also listens to God’s Word in Scripture, for Matthew reminds us that the Old Testament prophets allude to the Messiah being from a place like Nazareth (which was the actual home of Joseph and Mary before they went to Bethlehem for the census)!
It is important to Follow God’s Word CONSISTENTLY – not just when it’s convenient, or seems like a good idea, or won’t be too much of a change in my lifestyle, but CONSISTENTLY – day in and day out, Monday through Saturday as well as Sunday.
This, of course, means Faithful Obedience, not “delayed obedience”, not “partial obedience” (I’ll go only so far; I’ll trust God with my check book but not my retirement account!), not disobedience in any fashion! Faithful Obedience!
How well do you obey God when unexpected events bring disappointment or pain?
How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something that is far bigger than you can achieve without His miraculous power?
How well do you obey God when God calls you to act with courage in a dangerous situation?
How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something urgent?
This is why, on this Sunday, we Seek Faithful Obedience above all else. Glory to God in the highest!
Pray with me the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page, and let’s live into this prayer:
“Lord, help me to obey You with grace, trust, courage, urgency, and consistency. Amen.”
Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 15-32.
Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 27-36.