(A special two-part devotional)
“God is with us.” Matthew 1:23b NRSV
This passage in Mathew gives us just about all we know of Joseph, the father of Jesus. It is interesting how little we know about Joseph. That is true in part because the Bible has very little to offer us in this area. There are no parables of Joseph. There are no lessons of father to son. There are no adventures. In fact, Joseph never utters a word in scripture. Yet in this short text, he exemplifies for all humanity both our failing and our potential for doing the right thing.
The story begins in verses 18-19 with life falling apart for Joseph. As he is preparing to begin his life and family with Mary, his betrothed, she is found to be pregnant. This is bad news. Shame and scandal loom before him, and Joseph responds as many men might do: he gets ready to bail. “He decided to call off their engagement quietly.” (Matthew 1:19b) And then, in the midst of his personal struggle and inner turmoil, and at a time in life when everything that was going right is falling apart, something changes the way he views his life.
The pivotal moment takes place in a dream. Joseph experiences the divine presence of God in the form of an unnamed angel. When Joseph awakes, he is in a completely different place spiritually and personally. Rather than bailing on Mary and the baby, he is “all in.” What changed him? What moved him from a spirit of disconnect and discord to a place of new commitment and peace? It seems it was the message of Emmanuel. The last words proclaimed in the text before Joseph awakens are, “God is with us.” And as Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Rev. Bau Dang, currently serving Garden Grove UMC, shared his experience of God’s peace in a recent Advent Worship service. As a young man in Vietnam in the 1970s, he was conscripted into the South Vietnamese army. He spoke of nights on the front lines where he lay awake in a make shift bunk inside a bullet-hole-ridden, aluminum hut. All around him the explosion of the Viet Cong howitzer canons rang out. In the midst of that turmoil he said, “I knew a peace within, because I knew God was with me. My faith in God was my peace, in a world that was not at peace.”
On this day before we celebrate the child that has been promised, and on this day when our world and our lives live in conflict and turmoil, we must remember where we find our peace — in knowing that God is with us. Perhaps it is a lesson to return to, that until we know the peace of God in our hearts, we will never know Peace on Earth.
Prayer: Dear God, may I know your peace, that I might offer your peace. Amen.
Rev. John Farley
South District Superintendent
Dean of Cabinet
“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord . . .’” Luke 1:38
Most days I take my lunch to work. I bring the usual sack lunch fare from home, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or maybe leftovers from dinner the night before. But, every other week or so, I go to a fast food restaurant near my office for my mid-day meal. I order the same thing every time. It is the kind of place where the person behind the counter shouts your name when your food is ready to pick up on a plastic tray.
I have noticed that when I go to this particular restaurant, the same lunch crowd is always there. One man is missing his left eye. There is a patch of skin attached to his brow and cheek that covers the empty socket. Another young man sits in a wheelchair at the table reserved for those with handicaps. My guess is that he has cerebral palsy. A woman of indeterminate age with a smoker’s voice can normally be found at the corner table. She often offers to refill beverage cups for the others.
When I entered the restaurant a few weeks ago, the man in the wheelchair bellowed, “Hi, Sue!” with a warm smile on his face. I waved. The staff was shorthanded that noon hour, and I had to wait quite a while to place my order. Eventually, one of the line cooks motioned to me and said in broken English, “Sue! Burrito? No onions, add sour cream and tomatoes, right?” I nodded.
Then my chin dropped with a pang of remorse as I realized I did not know the name of a single person in that place.
That realization hurt. Over the past two years, the people in this restaurant have become my “regular” community. I don’t really look like the other diners or the waitpersons, but they see me as one of them. They remember me and make an effort to include me. I have not returned the favor. How is it that even though my every day prayer is for God to use me in his service, I have failed to be a servant in my everyday life?
It is Christmas Eve, and today we will once again re-tell that miraculous story of the birth of Jesus, starting with Mary learning she will be the mother of the Messiah. When I reflect on Mary’s willingness to enter into a relationship with God, and to respond to God with her entire being, I can’t help but think about my own life. If I am also truly a servant of the Lord, willing to offer God’s grace and peace to everyone, and willing to allow love to run through my entire being and out to others, then I need to move beyond shallow and meaningless encounters and enter into deeper and authentic relationships. If peace on earth is going to begin with me, then learning the names of the people I meet along the way is a very good place to start.
When my meal was finished that day, I approached the man in the wheelchair. “I am sorry. I don’t know your name,” I said. “It’s Jeremy,” he replied. We chatted a bit, and as I waved goodbye, I made a promise to myself to get to know the guests and staff at that restaurant by name. This Christmas, and in the new year, may you be encouraged to get to know others by name, too – at the grocery store, on the bus, and even in your pew – as you anticipate the birth of the One who knows you by your name.
Prayer: Dear God, please give me not only Mary’s willing heart to be your servant, but also the eyes to see opportunities to share your grace and peace with others each day. Amen.