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Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent 4: Characters of Christmas: Joseph

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which Your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility: so that on the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious Majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who is alive and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Matthew 1:18-25

The Devotional booklet that many of us are using over the Advent season had the following comments on Tuesday of this past week:

The Advent season sounds the alarm with a wake up call to prepare ourselves for the return of Christ. No more hitting the snooze button! The message of Advent insists that the first step in getting ready for our Savior is to wake up and stay awake. (SAX)
We are actually quite good at staying awake. On average, we sleep fewer hours than people did a century ago. Caffeine, work, entertainment and just plain overall busy-ness keep us awake. But it is not simply a matter of staying awake; rather, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, we are called to be awake to God and God’s work of salvation in our midst.

We can stay awake by keeping busy and being distracted, but are we awake to God? Are we spiritually alive? Brené Brown has observed that we are “the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.” We may be awake, but have we numbed ourselves to being fully alive? Christ comes to rouse us and share with us the abundant life that only God can give.

Are we alive to the presence of God, the voice of God….that is in our midst? Or are we too busy to notice Him?

I speak for myself, but I have an idea that I'm not alone when I say that much of the busy-ness in my life is self-inflicted.....some of it I can justify (eg my blogging which I hope brings my preaching to others in a way that God can use.....my JohnWesleyProject.com which I hope brings a refreshed understanding of Wesleyan Methodism to those who use my material). But then there's the time filled with reading other people's blogs, some of which bring me cutting edge stuff in theology and Bible interpretation.....saving me a fortune in terms of buying books......then also occasionally looking at FaceBook, just to relax and see what's going on in other people's lives......and then of course the series we watch at night to just relax before falling asleep exhausted.......and all this is of course over and above my "work" as the senior minister here at AMC, just as many of you fit all these things in over and above your work.
And in the midst of all this, of course, one has to find time for coffee!!!

And as I reflect on our Characters of Christmas series, I wonder if Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth and today, Joseph, would have been as sensitive to the voice of God, if they allowed as many things to distract them as we allow to distract us. You see, the truth is we allow technology (which includes the telephone) to distract us, we allow TV to distract us, we allow e-mail and what’s app to distract us, we allow the latest series in the video shop to distract us, and FB and Twitter.....and so on.

And so when our devotion reminded me on Tuesday that:.... We may be awake, but have we numbed ourselves to being fully alive? ........I read the story of Joseph and asked myself: What do these verses teach me about being alive, and in particular, about being alive to God.

God wants us to be alive to, to be sensitive to, many things:

Be alive to the culture (cultures) that God has chosen to immerse you in
We have heard much about culture this week in South Africa as the Mandela family try and justify who is now the head of the Mandela family…is it his eldest daughter who is already married into another family…is it his oldest grandson…? We all live in a culture or a mixture of cultures. In the culture of Joseph’s day, Mary, by falling pregnant before her marriage, brought shame on both families and she had to be shamed….and Joseph rightly wrestled with the cultural way of dealing with a pregnant fiancé.

Be alive to the Law of God and the Word of God
Joseph was fully aware of what the Law allowed…..instant divorce just by writing a note…..public humiliation of the guilty party (Mary)….and stoning to death. On one occasion in His ministry a woman was brought to Him who had been caught in the act of adultery and they were about to stone her….and I’m sure He must have thought: “I’m so glad they didn’t stone my mother”

Be alive to the common humanity which we all share…ubuntu
Joseph doesn’t forget that Mary is a human being, just like him and in the midst of the scandal she brought upon their families, he is KIND to her, he doesn’t have to be…he chooses to be kind and gentle to this human being who has let him down.

Be alive to the Living God who speaks in the midst of culture, through His word, through our common humanity....TODAY
He does this in many different ways....Dreams...Angels....Children

I said earlier that we allow things/people to distract us and I sensed the LORD using the story of Joseph to say to me: Allow Me to distract you....yes, still have your set time with Me.....but just as you let the vibration of your cell phone distract you..........give Me permission to distract you.....in your dreams like Joseph, in your ministry like Zechariah, even in your dealing with other human beings, like Elizabeth, allow Me to distract you.

I think I’m trying to say there’s a difference between turning to God and being distracted by God. When we turn to God, we in a sense say: “Right, God, what do you say….let me see what your word says….let me pray now for some wisdom”…our daily quiet time is turning to God,…..and all of this is good and right, except that we come to a place where we say…. “Amen”…ie “now I’m finished with enquiring of God, see you tomorrow in my quiet time again.” We almost treat God the way some people treat children: They must be seen but not heard….they must speak only when spoken to….they are not allowed to distract or interrupt us.

What does it mean for you and for me to allow God to distract us…to interrupt us…to speak to us even if we’re not speaking to Him.

That seems to be a common thread running through each of our Characters of Christmas, it wasn't when they went to God that He chose to speak to them and with them, it was when they allowed themselves to be distracted by God. And I think this ability comes from being fully alive to God, in the midst of all the other things we are alive to...technology, coffee, cell phones, children's noises, dreams,…being alive, sensitive, to the fact that God might be in the midst of this conversation, in the midst of this situation, in the midst of this mess, in the midst of that dream I had last night….. and when we are alive to God in that way we will see and hear and sense and KNOW God’s presence in our midst.

I mean, look at Joseph: his fiancé is pregnant and he knows one thing for certain…he is not the father. God has not spoken to the entire nation of Israel for 400 years, but she says He has spoken to her now and asked if He can make her pregnant!!!!! And he is aware of his culture (this is a shame and she must be shamed)…and he is aware of the Law of God (this is a sin and she must be stoned)….and he is aware of his own downright decency and humanity (I will just divorce her quietly)….AND…..he has a relationship with his God that allows his God to distract him…to interrupt him. He has a dream, a dream, in which he sees an angel who tells him it’s OK, Mary is telling the truth. Please note…he doesn’t see an angel, like Mary did two weeks ago, and Zechariah three weeks ago, NO…he dreams and in his dream he sees an angel.

And……he is alive to God amidst all the other things he is alive to, he lets God distract him from his culture, from the law, from his common sense and in so doing he hears and sees and senses God in his midst.


Let us learn from Joseph to beware of being so alive to the distractions of this life, which are many, that we are no longer alive to our God who is constantly, and I think playfully, trying to distract us all the time, in order to assure us of his presence.

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