Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Advent 4, December 18, 2016, Year A, Matthew 1: 18-25
Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.
I know we say this almost every week, but truly, it is so good to be here with you today.
I mean it.
And this week was a validation of one of the main elements that drew my family to this place.
Your hospitality. Your unwavering commitment to help folks in need.
To feed them.
To clothe them.
To offer them the dignity and respect due all image-bearers of the Creator.
And although we all fail from time to time, what I appreciate is that this place, when it comes down to it, digs deep into our bags of courage and does the work God is inviting us to do.
And, you should know, this hospitality, this attentiveness to people in need, does not go unnoticed.
Often times, one of the bi-products of my work as a priest, is that I bear the reception of folks’ gratitude for what you do.
When we welcome a group of strangers, to gather in this space, to work on issues they have that separate them from the ones they love,
They thank St. Philip’s.
When we open our doors to a young couple in love that desires to not only make this area the place they make their marital vows, but to invite God to bless this union…
They thank St. Philip’s.
When families in our area who struggle to make ends-meet, and the thought of finding one more dollar to spend on making Christmas “normal” for their kids, threatens to brings them to their knees… and they see the invitation… to come to the Christmas Store to help us give them a tiny morsel of dignity during an extremely stressful time in their life…
Often times they thank St. Philip’s.
And when a loved one dies amidst all of this and they need a place to say prayers and honor their life and we say yes, even though we’re tired, even though it’s at the most inconvenient time of the year to completely flip the church to celebrate the resurrection promised us through Christ…
We dig deep,
We come together,
We share the load,
And we open our doors.
And THAT gets the most profound thanks to the community. From friends and family who travel from hours, continents, to be here…
Yesterday, we gathered here in this place to honor the baptismal journey of a long time (pillar) of St. Philip’s, Dan Link.
At the end of a VERY long week.
And as the hundred + folks who assembled in our space moved from the sanctuary into the fellowship hall, they paused a moment and thanked St. Philip’s.
For creating space for them to grieve.
For them to mourn.
For them to celebrate the life of a man who helped to build this place.
And I beamed. I beamed because I had the distinct honor of fielding that gratitude, of walking with the family as plans were made, and of having to ask the parish to make space for this to happen.
And you said, “yes, of course.”
You should know that your Co-Rectors felt nothing short of gratitude for being called to a place who could do what we did all week and then do what we did last night and then come together one more time to give God thanks!
A friend commented to us that he was touched with how many folks helped to orchestrate this offering to the Link family.
The baby pantry/christmas store folks, the reception/kitchen crew, the servers, readers, organist, special music, and clergy, who gave of themselves to make this happen…was no small feet.
And it did not go unnoticed.
We found ourselves repeating this statement,
”Death rarely happens at a convenient time. If the church can’t make space for us to bury our dead, we must have our priorities wrong.”
And although we strive to keep things sane…
People need to eat.
People need to clothe their babies…
And so, we do our thing.
We keep the dance going.
We get nourished so that we can nourish others.
We feed so that others can eat.
We create music so that others can dance.
Richard Rohr, a contemplative catholic mystic of our time, once said about Love,
“It’s all one. What you do to the other, you do to yourself; how you love yourself is how you love your neighbor; how you love God is how you love yourself; how you love yourself is how you love God.”
I think that’s why I feel so drawn to the language of God’s incarnation in the Gospel according to Matthew.
It’s all one. Our love for God, our love for ourselves, our love for others. They’re all connected.
It is incarnate. Embodied in flesh.
Like a child, born of a woman.
Like God choosing a young girl, betrothed to a carpenter, to host this embodiment until birth.
This “other” that grows within her, that is radically other and yet uniquely of her.
It takes my breath away when I contemplate human procreation done through love.
I think it’s safe to say that most of the moms sitting among you get this radically other thing about which Matthew speaks this morning.
Joseph doesn’t quite get it…
but he goes along with it.
But Mary…she definitely gets it.
She understands what small town murmurs could do to a woman in her situation. She knows the penalty & rejection she is likely to face when Joseph finds out she is pregnant.
But God chose a way to break through into the human experience in a completely different way than God had done to date.
And this incarnation of God that happened in the birth of Jesus has absolutely NOTHING to do with Joseph, the man betrothed to the chosen mother of God.
And yet, Joseph accepts the invitation to welcome this baby and raise him as his own.
Theologian, Lauren Winner, writes that any time we welcome someone who is radically other than us we understand what God did by welcoming us.
You see, I think that all of this…
you, me, the stars, the water, the trees, and all the creatures that crawl, swim, walk and fly the earth…God made room for us within that dance of Love to welcome us when we were created.
And we are radically other than Godself, and yet created in God’s image. And God welcomed us, so we have the courage to welcome others.
So, friends, as Advent comes to a close, and the lights are now all lit, and we prepare to make space for God to dwell among us, I pray that as you are emptied through your service to others you notice the “God-filling” that happens at the same time.
I pray that, if you need to rest that you take it, if you need silence, you observe it. If you need the Eucharist, you receive it.
Because the God who came and put on flesh is the same God who says to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden. And I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
It may not feel light at times, but when we can dig deep, take that long cleansing breath, and put on our clothes of hospitality, we will be ministers of the Incarnate God, who welcomes all, and we will know salvation has come.
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Amen.