December 18, 2016

4th Sunday of Advent
‘TO JOIN IN GOD’S STORY OF SALVATION’

BIBLE READINGS
Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-25

REFLECTION

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed last Sunday’s KUCA (Sunday School) Christmas Play. And the children enjoyed it too. I know at least one child who was so excited that he told one of the teachers in his school that he was going to come to church on Sunday to play.

And, it’s great to see how all the children in our KUCA group had parts to play. The teachers always made sure that none was left out. We had angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph... road signs.... night stars.... and a lonely sad single old lady.

We had four underage wise men; the fourth one even drank wine (in the story) and offered it to another underage traveller. We even had an adult Jesus who put himself on the cross, put his own crown of thorns, and put them away once he was done with them. I mean, it’s great to see that all had roles to play, some biblical, others.... not so much.

Likewise, God’s plan for the world is like a story and each one of us has a part to play. We may think that our roles are small and not important, but the story won’t be the same without them.

And, God never forces us to do our part. We all have the choice either to accept our part or not.

When the angel appeared to Joseph, he too had the choice either to accept what the angels said or not. At the time, he was engaged to Mary and according to the book of Deuteronomy (22:23-27), a woman who was engaged to a man should be punished if she had a sexual relationship with another man. If she was forced to have sex with the other man, than the man should be punished, not the woman. But, if the sexual relationship was consensual, both the woman and the man must be punished. And the punishment was death by stoning. Infidelity, in Joseph’s time, was indeed a serious offence punishable by death.

So, Joseph had choices before him. He could have dismissed the angel’s proclamation and accused Mary of being unfaithful, dragged her to be publicly trialed, humiliated, and punished accordingly. Or, he could cancel the engagement quietly and leave Mary without attracting any public attention. This way, he could free Mary from her obligation as his fiancée and help her avoid the death penalty. 

He did neither of these. Instead, he took Mary as his wife, just like what the angel said. In other words, he adopted the boy whom she would give birth to. In other words, Joseph accepted the part that God had trusted to him.

Later in the Gospels, during Jesus’ adult life and ministry, we hear very little about Joseph. Unlike Mary, who was present right until Jesus’ death, Joseph fell into the background. The only time we hear about him was when he was mentioned as Jesus’ carpenter father (Matthew 13.55).

Some speculate that he may have passed away not long before or after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We may never know. Whatever happened to Joseph, Jesus wouldn’t have become the man he was without him. Joseph may have played a smaller role than Mary in Jesus’ life, but his role was not insignificant.

In the world of helicopter there is one small pin, the size of a hand, that holds the main rotor of the helicopter. This pin is called the Jesus pin. If this pin fails, the main rotor will detach itself from the helicopter body and it will mean a disaster.

Rumor has it that the American soldiers coined the term during the Vietnam War. The war was the first one in history that used helicopters extensively. It is believed that the soldiers called it the Jesus pin because, they said, if the pin failed mid-flight, the only thing the crew could do was to pray to Jesus.

Nowadays, the term is used in other areas to describe a single item whose failure could cause the failure of the whole system.[1]

Likewise, Joseph’s role may be small, but everything depended on it. Our part in God’s story may also be small, but it’s never unimportant.

And, God is not picky when He invites people to be parts of His story. God’s story includes everyone. It included the smelly, dirty, poor shepherds, looking after the sheep under their charge in a field in Bethlehem. It included an young ordinary Jewish woman who took a courageous step to be the mother of a special baby. It included a brave man who chose to save his young fiancée and the baby she carried.

It also included a man who grew up as a strict Jew and became one of the fiercest enemies of the church. This man’s name was Paul and his story was no less intriguing than Joseph’s. He was a Pharisee, a strict follower of Jewish rules and law and a fierce persecutor of the church. Yet, he encountered the risen Jesus and was confronted with two options: continued on with his life or dramatically change the course of his life and followed the man whom he despised.[2]

He chose the later. Like Joseph, he accepted the part in the story that God was creating.

We can see his transformation in the opening part of his letter to the Romans. There, he declared that he now considered himself as the servant (slave in Greek) of the one whose followers he tried to erase from the face of the earth previously.

But, he was not a self-proclaimed Apostle, an Ambassador for Christ, like many of his opponents had accused him to be. No. God called him to be an Apostle and he accepted the call. He was the least likely person to respond to the Gospel, yet God beckoned him to be a part of His story. And, God beckoned the people in the metropolitan pagan city of Rome to be parts of the same story.

Indeed, entering into the story that God is writing through Jesus is like being resurrected into a new life with him. The resurrected Christ invited Paul and the people in Rome to join in the story that he was and is still writing.

Friends, during this Advent season, we too have parts to play in God’s story in Jesus. Where are we in the story? What parts do we play in the story of God bringing salvation to the rest of the world through Jesus? There is no role more or less important that the other. What makes the difference is our decision whether to accept that role or not.

Today, we are going to commission some of our young people who will go the National Christian Youth Conference in Sydney in January next year. There, I believe, you will be challenged to reflect on and choose the parts that God had prepared for you. My hope, is that you will accept those calls, just like Joseph and Paul and countless of others before you, to join in the grand story that God is creating for all of us.

Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Jesus Nut, an article in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_nut)

[2] See Galatians 1:11-17