2nd Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2012
Matthew 1:18-25 and Galatians 5: 13-26
I bought my first GPS in Louisville KY when I was on a road trip in the summer of 2006. Even though it was really helpful in getting right to the hotel I’d picked for the night, learning to use it was pretty interesting. It only knows what’s been programmed into it, and you can’t expect that it will tell you anything else. I found myself driving on the bay highway on the Florida panhandle, looking for a motel in the area of Seaside. There was nothing but the Gulf waters on my right side and mounds of sand with the occasional bulldozer parked on it on my left. But my GPS kept telling me that my destination was behind me and that I should make a u-turn to the left and go back. “Turn Left!” it commanded in the most irritating feminine voice. “Turn left and then turn left!” When I didn’t turn at what the GPS seemed to think was a street, it exclaimed, “Recalculating!” And then as I drove further in the wrong direction on the only street around, the routine continued. It turns out that Hurricane Ivan had blown through two years before, recreating the landscape before the developers were able to use the streets they’d so carefully laid out.
The story of Joseph is a little like that, too. Joseph knew that a woman who was not married and pregnant was an adulteress, eligible for stoning according the Law. So when Mary turned out to be pregnant before his wedding to her, he decided to do the right thing for her and send her away without a fuss to protect her reputation and her life. But God had rearranged the landscape. And so the angel appeared in a dream to say, “Recalculating!” hopefully in a much kinder voice. “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because God has done an amazing thing in her, and you will be part of this miracle.” And Joseph followed God’s instructions, beginning a path that would take him and his new wife beyond their wildest imaginings. Joseph recalculated his journey around the care of this miraculous son and his new wife more than once as time went on.
Paul’s instructions to his new community in Galatia reflect a similar situation. He’s asking them to recalculate their thinking about how to live in a culture in which orgies were part of worship and business and legal practices were fierce and cutthroat. In addition, this new church had been told by some new evangelists that they had to practice the Jewish laws of purity if they wanted to be followers of Jesus. They were very confused, and Paul wants them to know the right path as believers in Jesus. So his offers his GPS: the fruit of the Spirit at work in is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let this be your guide, he says, and you will be on the road to righteousness.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my path recalculated more than once. Marriage, babies, new school, new job those can take you to place and deep love you never expected. Divorce, job loss, loss of a home, loss of a spouse, injury or illness can break your heart and set you on a different path than you ever imagined. Some of you find yourself here in a worshipping community by way of an invitation that you suddenly woke up to, and some may find yourself in the midst of a community going in a different direction than church ever was for you. God is pretty good at re-positioning us and the world.
The Hebrews expected their king to come in glory. The Messiah was going to save them from political oppression and bring in God’s kingdom by restoring them to greatness and independence. But that’s not the way it worked at all. God didn’t snap those fingers and send Captain Deus to save the world. God sent a baby; a homeless baby born outside of comfort, threatened from the very beginning of his life with murder and mayhem, because his mission was always misunderstood and misinterpreted. This baby came to catch our hearts, as all babies can. To cut through our pretentions to be good enough and smart enough to be God’s people on our own. The amazing thing is that God wants to save more than our political standing in the world, God wants to transform our hearts. God wants us to know that our failures and sins, and our dithering moral dilemmas have been swept away in God’s love and that coming as one of the most vulnerable among us is a sure sign that whatever path we are on, God knows it and walks it with us. God came to us because nothing we can do on our own will ever get us to God. Recalculate, says Jesus, let me come and teach you that God loves you and can use you to change the world that God loves. Walk with me to see the sadness, the poverty, the hopelessness of the world you live in, and let my light shine through you as you touch lives and hearts with my love.
I pray that this time of preparation will be a time for you to look more deeply at the path you walk and to see where God is at work – bringing you along through the years, and calling you forward into the future. May you see where God has recalculated your journey to bring you more fully into God’s journey, with all the unexpected joys and sorrows that connect us to God’s amazing miracles.
“Now may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” Amen.