St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. Good morning! Welcome!


Trust - God’s love, like any love, involves real trust. And in relationships, trust requires mutuality. Sometimes it may require a part of myself that I don’t necessarily want others to see. This same vulnerability, intimacy, and mutuality should characterize our love for and trust in God. -Br. Robert L'Esperance

Awaken -Jesus calls us to live into the fullness of our humanity, to embrace what we, in our brokenness, experience as physical, psychic, or spiritual limitations. Jesus urges that, rather than seeking to be cured of our limitations, we ask God to heal us in them, and waken us to the spiritual gifts hidden in them. -Br. Jonathan Maury

Paul’s message to the Church of Rome way back when was, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. A couple weeks ago, I quoted our presiding bishop who has been guiding us to embrace who we are in our identity as Episcopalians. He said, “We therefore assert and we believe that “the Episcopal Church welcomes you” – all of you, not as merely a church slogan, but as a reflection of what we believe Jesus teaches us and at the core of the movement he began in the first century. The Episcopal Church welcomes all. All of us! We acknowledge our responsibility in stewardship of creation and all that God has given into our hands. We do so because God is the Creator. We are all God’s children, created equally in God’s image. And if we are God’s children we are all brothers and sisters.” The Episcopal Church Welcomes You is not just a slogan, it’s who we seek to be and the witness we seek to make, following the way of Jesus.

One focus on today’s Advent readings is that they have a way of building up our hopes and expectations, with promises of war turning into peace; gentleness, not violence, becoming "the norm" even in nature itself; and all of us coming home at last to the God of healing, wholeness, and reconciliation. We've been looking forward, not backward, in this season of anticipation, and today's reading brings us to the long-awaited moment of God's dramatic "new thing," God's fresh, new act in the drama of salvation. Perhaps we hear the story of Jesus' birth in the Gospel of Luke from Mary's perspective, but here, in the Gospel of Matthew, we get Joseph's point of view. [The gospel lesson offers the line in the story, “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man…” lets us know that this story is being offered from the Joseph’s confused perspective.] Eugene Boring has written that "Joseph is already facing the 'you-have-heard-it-was-said-but-I-say-to-you' tension that will be displayed in the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-48)--the tension between the prevailing understanding of God's commandments and the new thing that God is doing in Jesus." Like believers in every age who have struggled with what to do when what we've been taught to do conflicts with what our hearts know is right and good, Joseph has to wrestle with the question, "What is true righteousness?"

When we are afraid or discouraged and feel we can never measure up to the demands of the gospel, we might ponder with Joseph the meaning of the name of Jesus, "he will save," and remember that it's God who is acting here, not we ourselves. It's not up to us, and yet we are called, invited, to participate in this most wonderful thing that is happening, with God's mercies, new each morning. I’ll say it again. It's not up to us, and yet we are called, invited, to participate in this most wonderful thing that is happening, with God's mercies, new each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

In our own efforts to be "righteous," we are promised that God is with us, helping us every step of the way, just as God helped Joseph. (Still, Joseph had to open his heart and mind to what God was doing.) In fact, that's why "Emmanuel" bookends the entire Gospel of Matthew: it begins with a baby who is "God with us," and ends with that child, grown, promising that he will always be with us: "In many ways," [Bartlett writes], "the whole purpose of Matthew's Gospel is to show how Jesus is 'Emmanuel', God with us, and at the end of the story [28:20] Jesus will promise to be Emmanuel for the rest of human history as well." That sure knowledge, we pray, will sustain us in every day. [Kate Matthews] That sure knowledge will sustain us every day… even in the darkness of the confusion that is present in anytime of darkness- of the soul or simple lack of daylight. How was it that Joseph remained a righteous man and yet supported that which was a socially awkward situation to say the least? I believe it was in part, his identity as a faithful man, of simple hospitality and welcome that is at the forefront of righteousness, even in the confusing dark times.

It is dark for a long, long time each day this time of year. It is restful perhaps but it is demanding in a whole other way. Being in the dark is a powerful opportunity to find and be found by God. The very beginning of last year I came across a interesting book about experiencing the dark as a spiritual practice. Perhaps some of the words will speak to your heart as you journey into this last week of walking deeper into the darkness before we receive the birth of love and the increasing light. Barbara Brown Taylor invites us to reach deep into the experience of darkness to find a better balance of what it is to be faithful to God.

She writes, “The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light. Here is some good news you can use: even when light fades and darkness falls— as it does every single day, in every single life— God does not turn the world over to some other deity. Even when you cannot see where you are going and no one answers when you call, this is not sufficient proof that you are alone. There is a divine presence that transcends all your ideas about it, along with all your language for calling it to your aid, which is not above using darkness as the wrecking ball that brings all your false gods down— but whether you decide to trust the witness of those who have gone before you, or you decide to do whatever it takes to become a witness yourself, here is the testimony of faith: darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day. [Taylor, Barbara Brown (2014-04-08). Learning to Walk in the Dark. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.]

Perhaps, like Joseph, living deeply into this time of darkness will bring us closer to God. We might find it in our hearts to open our arms in welcome to any stranger who comes to teach us more about the coming of God’s love born into the world. By living into the deep darkness of winter, we can more truly follow our presiding bishop’s suggestion about being a welcoming community when he says, “We acknowledge our responsibility in stewardship of creation and all that God has given into our hands. We do so because God is the Creator. We are all God’s children, created equally in God’s image. And if we are God’s children we are all brothers and sisters.”

I heard it said several times this past week that when Jesus came into the world all those many years ago the world was not ready. People were wandering around in a stupor of darkness, and fear. I wonder as we journey through this time in our own recurrent darkness, are we ready now? Are we ready for the Christmas that is to come? Are we ready for the LOVE that is to be born into the world? Well, ummmmmm pssssst! I know its dark but… ready or not….! LOVE is on the way!!!

Let us pray. Shepherd of Israel, may Jesus, Emmanuel and son of Mary, be more than just a dream in our hearts. With the apostles, prophets, and saints, save us, restore us, and lead us in the way of grace and peace, that we may bear your promise into the world. Amen. Amen.