Love, So Much More Than a Feeling

Love, so much more than a feeling.

I’m going to tell you a couple of stories, the going to delve into the passage, and then wrap it all up with a poem from Maya Angelou.

A long time ago, as a self-employed single parent, Christmas was a very financially stressful time. I’m a pretty private person and didn’t share that with too many people… but for whatever reason, I did share it with a friend from the church I was attending. She said, “What do you need?” I told her and she said, “I’ll bring it next week.” And she did. No questions asked, no diminishment of person, simply love enacted…

Love, so much more than a feeling.

Another story. A week or so ago, I copied and posted this message on Facebook: We are now a solid 8 months into this. The holidays are coming. If you are not working/not getting a paycheck/struggling to make ends meet and run out of food or necessities…please don’t let yourself or your kids go to sleep with an empty stomach. If you need a few small gifts to give your kids at Christmas, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to send me a private message. I am more than happy to help. I will drop and go, or order for delivery. No one has to know and I will pretend it never happened. What’s understood never has to be explained. We are happy to share what we can…We are all in this together.

I thought I might get a couple of messages from folks, what I didn’t expect was to get a message from someone in Saskatchewan. The woman said, “Did you mean what you wrote? And would you help someone on Saskatchewan?”

What’s your first reaction? Skepticism? Right. In a week where I had received three phone calls letting me know that the RCMP had a warrant our for my arrest and I’m not sure how many spam emails telling me I’d won something, my first reaction was skepticism. But, I stopped and reminded myself of what I had posted. I also remembered hearing something once about a particular ministry in a church: “We’re willing to be taken advantage of.”

The woman and I chatted on-line some more. I checked out her Facebook profile. In one of my ministry Facebook groups, I asked if there was anyone in ministry in that town, and someone responded. And said, yes, of course we can help her! I offered to send some money, and they declined, saying it’s part of our ministry. But you know what, I think I am going to anyway.

Love, so much more than a feeling.

We have no idea if Joseph felt the kind of romantic love for Mary that we associate with marriage. What we do know is that he demonstrated love in his care for her after overcoming his fears. Listen to the account of Jesus’ birth according to the gospel of Matthew; it’s in chapter 1: 18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[i] took place in this way.

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”

24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[j] and he named him Jesus.

Joseph doesn’t figure all that prominently in our scriptures… in fact, I think the last reference to him is when he and Mary found Jesus in the temple teaching the elders.
But Joseph, who in naming Jesus, named him as his own, is a critical piece in the story of Jesus birth. But let’s back up a bit and have a little scripture lesson.

It can be challenging for a minister to preach on the passages during Advent and Christmas because the story is so familiar to many of us. Familiar not just for those of us who have been part of a faith community… But also familiar through our culture, which despite is secularity still communicates the history of Christian prominence in ritual and celebration.

In Matthew’s gospel, there are no angels announcing Jesus’ birth… no shepherds… No census, no trip to Bethlehem… Just Mary and Joseph… already living there… only wise men… and they show up much later… Most people don’t realize that what we usually see in a typical stable scene is a conflation or combining of two very different stories.

So, what are the essentials of the stories? For me, it that Jesus was born… that Jesus lived… and that Jesus continues to live in the lives of those who follow his teachings.

But… long before he grew up… he was named and claimed by Joseph… Who knows how Joseph may have felt when he discovered Mary was pregnant before they had been sexually intimate? Who knows how he may have felt when an angel of God visited him in a dream and told him that Mary had not dishonoured him? Who knows how challenging it may have been for Joseph to step outside the social conventions of his day that told him he should divorce Mary and instead marry her and take on a child that he know wasn’t his? But he did… and in adopting Jesus as his own, in naming him and claiming him… he has given us a powerful example of how to draw the circle of love wide.

Love, so much more than a feeling.

Maya Angelou (b. 1928)
“Touched by an Angel”

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Are we ready to welcome Jesus? Not just as a cute, helpless baby? But as the man who grew up to challenge the social conventions and practices of his day… just as Joseph did. The man who demonstrated love as so much more than a feeling over and over again his entire life. The man that grew up and asked more of his followers than they expected? The man who was so sure of his purpose in life that he was willing to go to his death? Can we welcome him this Christmas?

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity that was born in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Matthew 1: 18-25
December 6, 2020 – SMUC
Advent 2 – We Believe in Love

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