Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Dream Worth Living and Working For (The Fourth Sunday of Advent, 22 December 2013)

RCL Advent 4A
22 December 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus text:  Matthew 1.18-25

         I am writing this letter to tell you about what happened to you on Sunday, the 22nd of December 2013.  One day, when you are older, I hope that you will read it, not just once but two or three times.  In this way you and I, even though we will be separated by time and space, will get to know each other a little better.  When you read it, you will know what I, the priest who baptized you, wanted you to understand about this very important day.

         That Sunday was the Sunday before Christmas, what the Christian community calls the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the season when we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus.  It was also special because your family wanted you to become part of a family that is larger than you can imagine.  This family, the Christian family, is spread out over all the world.  You have millions of sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, who speak every imaginable language, who live in deserts and jungles, prairies and mountains, on islands and continents.  Wherever you go in your life, you will always find someone who is a member of this family, the family of Jesus and his friends.

         On the day you were baptized, we read the story that a writer named Matthew wrote about the birth of Jesus and, more importantly, about Jesus’ foster-father, a carpenter named Joseph.  It’s this story that I want to tell you a little more about.

         Now Joseph was a hard-working carpenter from a small town in the northern part of the country we now call Israel.  As far as we know, Joseph was not a rich man even though he came from a family that had been very important at one time in the history of Israel.  By the time that Jesus was born, Joseph was living in Nazareth, some distance away from his family’s hometown of Bethlehem near Jerusalem.  His relatives were scattered all over the country.

         Life was not easy for Joseph.  Like most of the people of Israel, Joseph had to work very hard just to have enough to eat and to have a place to live.  Things were made worse by the fact that his country was not free.  Some years earlier, the country had been divided up among a few powerful families who did not care about the poor and the hungry.  If these greedy people weren’t enough to deal with, Joseph and the people of Israel had to deal with the Romans, a powerful empire that wanted to control the whole world.  If the Romans wanted to take your food or your house or your clothing or even a member of your family, then there was little you could do to stop them.

         Even though things seemed rather hard for Joseph, some good things happened.  For example, Joseph had a good job as a carpenter.  Many things in those days were made out of wood, so a carpenter was an important member of the community.  He also decided to marry a young woman by the name of Mary.  This meant that he could start a family and begin to build a future.  You see, in those days, having a wife and children were very important, because children meant there would be someone to take care of their parents when they grew old.

         Just as things seemed to be looking up for Joseph, he learned that Mary was pregnant and was going to have a baby.  Now, this was bad news for Joseph because he knew was not the baby’s father.  It was hard enough in those days to raise one’s own children; why would anyone want to raise someone else’s?  So Joseph decided to call the wedding off.  But God had other plans for Joseph, for Mary and for the baby.

         When Joseph went to sleep one night, God sent Joseph an angel, one of God’s messengers, in a dream to Joseph.  In this dream the angel told Joseph that God wanted him to accept Mary and the baby.  ‘You know how bad things are, Joseph,’ said the angel, ‘but I’ve got good news for you.  God did not plan for poor people to be put down by the rich.  God did not plan that strong people would push weaker people around.  God’s plan is that we live together, learn from one another and share all the good things of the earth.  So here’s the deal:  the baby that Mary’s going to have is part of God’s plan.  This child is going to show all people, throughout the world and for all time, what God expects of every human being.  But this child is going to need a dad and you’re the one God has chosen.  Are you up to the job?’

         Well, when Joseph woke up, he decided that he was up to the job.  I imagine that he thought to himself, ‘I like God’s plan better than the plans the Romans have for us.  I like the idea that God’s plan is that we live together, learn from one another and share all the good things of the earth.  If this child is part of that plan, then I’m in.  God can count on me.’  So Joseph married Mary and raised the baby whose name was Jesus.

         When Jesus grew up, he shared God’s plan with all sorts of people, rich and poor, men and women, young and old, people from Israel and people from elsewhere.  Over time lots of people came to believe that God’s plan, the plan that the angel shared with Joseph, was a far better plan than any other plan they’d heard of.  They decided that God’s dream was a dream worth sharing with others.  More importantly, they thought that it was a dream worth working for.  As a sign that they wanted to share this dream and work hard to make it come true, the followers of Jesus poured water over the heads of those who wanted to join up and work for God’s plan.  Washing with water was chosen because it’s one of the ways we wake up from sleep after a long night.  We wash our faces and our bodies to prepare ourselves for another day and to clear our heads as we continue our work to make God’s dream possible.

         So on that Sunday before Christmas in 2013, you were brought to Saint Faith’s Church.  We read some stories from the Bible together, we prayed, we made promises and then I poured water over your head as a sign that we wanted you to join us in sharing God’s dream and in working to help it come true.  No one expected you to make the dream come true all at once; we’ve been working on this for a very long time and there’s still a lot of work still to be done.  We just wanted you to do your part and we promised to support you and each other in doing this.

         Emilia, Esme and Nathaniel, making dreams come true is hard work.  It doesn’t happen over night.  To make God’s dream come true, a dream of a world in which everyone is loved, a world in which everyone has enough to eat, a world in which everyone’s specialness is honoured and helped to grow, we have to work together and that’s what the church is for.  The church, the family of God, the friends of Jesus, is a community of people who believe that God’s dream is not only a good one, but a dream that it’s worth giving a whole lifetime to making possible.  Now that you are baptized, you are a member of God’s family, one of the friends of Jesus.  When you join with other Christians --- that’s our family name --- you are learning what it means to be the person God wishes you to be and how you can help others become the persons God wants them to be.

         We also have friends who share our dream who are not Christians.  Some have different stories about God’s dream, but all of us, Christians and those who are not Christians, have the same hope:  one day we and all God’s children will be free and the world will be filled with the glory of God.

         I’ve been working on this for sixty years and I am still learning, still finding new ways of discovering God’s love for me and for the whole world.  I wish I could tell you a whole lot more, but I do have to stop now.  I hope that when you read this someday in the future, you will be know a little bit about what I mean.  I hope that you will have been caught up in God’s dream and that you see that it can come true.  It’s a beautiful dream; it’s the only dream that I think worth talking about, working and living for.  And now that dream is yours to share.

Your friend now and for all time,


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