Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Love comes to us in Jesus

Luke 2: 1-20

We are used to seeing Jesus look like us white people. Well, maybe Jesus looks like we did 500 years ago, like this Madonna and Child by Fra Bartolomeo. Or maybe Jesus looks like this image of Jesus painted in 1940 by Warner Sallman.

I went through a phase a few years ago, thinking that Jesus should look like an ancient Israeli. So, when I saw this a few years ago, published by Popular Mechanics, I was excited. Some forensic scientists used data from archaeology as well as some details found in scripture to construct this possibility. 

But then I realized the images from Bartolomeo, Sallman, and even the one made by the scientists didn’t look like some of my friends and coworkers, and in my congregation. To correct that imbalance, I want to share with you some images of Jesus and Mary as portrayed in other cultures. 

Why is it so important for us to see the variety of images for Jesus and his mother? Because Jesus came for everyone. He came for white folks, and he came for Asian folks and Native American folks and for African folks, and for South American folks. 

Jesus came for people in all sorts of economic and political circumstances: wealthy and poor and middle class; Republican, Democrat, and Independent; dressed in our finest suit and dressed in blue jeans.

And, just as we like to see Jesus looking like us, so does everyone else. It’s when we can see Jesus looking like us that we can feel the love he gives to us.

Although Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, and probably Greek, Jesus also speaks our words, our languages to us.

If I say to you “ya tsebya lyublyu”, chances are good you have no idea what I am saying. It is “I love you” in Russian. If you speak other languages, it is likely that you know how to say “I love you” in those languages as well. For example: Te quiero, Je t’aime, Ich liebe dich. 

How many of you know what this means? It’s American Sign Language for “I love you”, and it is formed by a combination of the three words into one.

When we see a baby, any baby, or a pregnant mother’s belly, we can scarcely take our eyes off the baby. We want to reach out and love on them, because we are filled with love just at the sight of them, even if we don’t know them.

We need to see God in our own image and hear God speaking to us in our own language in order to know how much God really loves us. This is how God loves us. This is why God chose to come to us as an infant, so we could know the extent of God’s love for us. God will try anything to reach us, anything!

Tonight we focus on God’s birth as the infant Jesus. It won’t be long before we are focusing on the crucifixion and resurrection, other signs of how much God loves us. 

In the meantime, because God has come to us as a human, as the Incarnation, as God-with-skin-on, as God-with-us, as Emmanuel, we can pause to feel the love. And we can take the opportunity to share God’s love with others. 

One closing image. Can you see the love and delight in this mother’s eyes? This is how much Jesus loves and delights in you.


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Joseph, the Father

Matthew 1:18-25

We tend to focus on Mary, Jesus’ mother, at Christmas and other times. Rarely do we pay attention to Joseph, Jesus’ father. Today, we have our chance. Remember that we are reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, not Luke, and the details are different.

 The story begins with the complication that Mary’s news of her pregnancy adds to their relationship. Their conversation must have been intense, as Mary insists the Father of the baby is God’s Holy Spirit.

In ancient times, a betrothal is more than an engagement. It is a legal document that begins their relationship. It means there is to be no hanky-panky for either Mary or Joseph. So, when Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, he assumes that Mary has been unfaithful. This calls for a legal action, divorce. But instead of announcing it publicly and shaming her, he plans to end the engagement quietly.

 As Joseph sleeps that night, Gabriel, one of God’s angels, appears to him. He affirms what Mary has said: that the child is the son of God and he will be called Emmanuel and Jesus. This child will be God’s way of saving God’s people, bringing them back to God. Joseph will be the child’s earthly father.

 These two names are important, so let’s consider them. Hebrew reads right to left, and the vowels are not included in the main text but inserted underneath. Ima means with; nu means us; and el is one of the names for God. Right to left, the Hebrew reads with-us-God. In English, we get God with us. That Emmanuel will come is a promise made to Isaiah. And in this moment, it is a promise about to be fulfilled.

 The other name Gabriel speaks is Jesus. Well, actually, Gabriel says, Yeshua or Yehoshua, which means God (Yeh) saves (Shua). This image shows how the language goes from the Hebrew Yeshua or Yehoshua to Greek to Latin Iesous. Eventually, the I was changed to a J to match Joshua. Gabriel promises that Jesus/ Joshua / Yeshua will come to save us.

Now, back to Joseph. Can you imagine how you would respond if you were told that you were about to be the father of the child who will be God-with-us, who will save God’s people?  It seems overwhelming, that’s for sure.

 Joseph is convinced by the angel, and he and Mary get through the months of her pregnancy together. One day the baby arrives and while Mary rests from the ordeal of childbirth, Joseph enjoys his first moments as a father.

It is a time for him to reflect on what it will be like to raise this child. Joseph is just a simple working man. How can he possibly be a good father? It is a scary enough thought for any of us, facing parenthood. But to be the father of God’s son? Terrifying!

We don’t know much more than this about Joseph, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. Tradition says that he died before Jesus began his ministry, because there is no record of him in Jesus life during his ministry. Tradition also says that he was significantly older than Mary, but there is little foundation for that. For me it is enough that he did whatever he could to be a good husband and father, as long as he could.   

Several years ago, I heard for the first time a song by Michael Card called Joseph’s song. It is also called How could it be. Joseph wonders how he will be the father this child of God needs.

I’ll let the song finish my message.

Here are a couple options on YouTube.