Dec. 18 2016 Sermon
Say “Yes” to God
Have you ever done anything, not something that can benefit you right now but something that will benefit the future generations? This past week, I saw on the internet (of course I did) a Greek proverb with a cartoon clip. The proverb says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. Yes, we are all familiar with the image of an old man planting a tree in the knowledge that he will not be able to enjoy the benefit. The cartoon clip is about a father planting a tree with his young son, saying, “Son, one day you will appreciate the truly important things in life”. The second part of this clip is about this young son all grown up putting his daughter on the swing hung from the tree his father planted. He says, “Thanks, Dad”.
Old men plant trees for the love of the future generations. Likewise, we fight for the future of the Earth and our environment because we love, we care. We are okay for now; we won’t experience the end of the world caused by environmental problems in our lifetime. Those of us who fight to undo the damage of pollution do so out of love, because we care about the future generations. It is they who will suffer the consequences if we don’t care what happens to the Earth. Love makes us do incredible things. Think of all the irresponsible young people who start taking responsibility after they become parents. Think of how strong a woman can become when her child is in danger. We hear stories. In the second Terminator movie, we can see an ordinary woman transforming into a warrior to protect her child, who is destined to save the Earth from robots in the future. In the second Alien movie, we can see another ordinary woman fiercely and touchingly fighting with the queen alien to save a little girl. Interestingly, after she beats the queen alien and holds the girls in her arms, the little girl calls her mommy.
Love makes us do incredible things; gives us courage to challenge our limits and get out of our shells. In today’s gospel story, we meet Joseph whose life changed after meeting an angel of God. In Luke’s gospel, it is to Mary that the angel appears and tells her about the baby; but in Matthew’s gospel, it is to her future husband Joseph that the angel appears. I’m thinking the author of Matthew’s gospel might have been sexist, if he thought the angel had to visit the man to explain God’s great plan. Anyway, both stories are about ordinary people making an extraordinary life decision with such courage after meeting God, of course through God’s messenger. The Greek word that we translate as “angel” means “messenger”, which implies that God’s “angel” doesn’t always have to be in a heavenly form; people can be God’s messenger too, which is what we should be to our neighbors.
In Jesus’ time, and in his culture, it was a huge scandal for unmarried girls or women to get pregnant. They were put to death by their own people. They dishonored their family. In Matthew’s gospel, Joseph was faced with a difficult situation, as in Luke’s gospel, Mary was. As God’s people, they both responded to God’s love with love. God had the loving plan to save the human race from sin. God required of two faithful people, a couple, to carry the savior of the world. They would have been shamed, dishonored, and probably excommunicated from their community; oh wait, actually Mary would have been executed. Joseph could have been excommunicated. But they both said “yes”. Joseph said yes. He trusted and loved God, so he received the courage to say “yes”. Love makes us do incredible things.
When we have a relationship with God, we can trust God enough to let ourselves be molded in the image of Christ. It’s like a little child trusting its mother and letting her take care of it and raise it according to her values. Trust is born from love. In the book called Companions in Christ; Particiant’s Book Part 1 by Rueben Job and Marjorie Thompson, it says, “We are destined to be conformed to the image of Christ, who is himself “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15); the divine image in which we were originally created is restored to us in Jesus Christ… It is the work of the Holy Spirit and is called sanctification in Christian theology”. Sanctification is one of the most important doctrine in Methodism. It means by the work of the Holy Spirit, we constantly move towards perfection, knowing that we will never be perfect. We entrust ourselves in God’s hands to do that.
By entrusting ourselves to God, we are also invited to “go off the deep end”; let God take us out of our shells, go beyond our comfort zone and challenge our limits. Love can make us do incredible things. I was an English teacher living a comfortable life when I received God’s call. With this call, God challenged me to get out of my shell, abandon my lazy and comfortable life to do what God intended me to do. So at the beginning grudgingly, I prepared for my theological education and went to the US. It’s human nature to want to stay in our comfort zone and not do anything radical; it’s uncomfortable going through changes. But as a mother could become incredibly strong to protect her children out of love, if we trust and love God, we can receive incredible strength and courage to do incredible things.
Today is the last Sunday of Advent. Christmas is really near now. In this season, we remember that God sent us Jesus out of love for us. Through Jesus, we get closer to God, and from him, we learn how to live as God’s people. As we go through this season and meditate on the love of God that gave birth to Jesus our savior and teacher, let us entrust ourselves to God’s love and let us be challenged and transformed. Let us respond to God’s love for us with our love for God and all God’s people that we are called to love and serve.
This Christmas season, as we meditate on our saviour and teacher being born of a poor couple without a shelter, among farm animals and lowly shepherds, let us remember the homeless and the lowly shepherds of our time. God favored them and uplifted them; so should we. Let us respond to God’ love with our love for God’s people. Being God’s people is an adventure; we don’t know where God will lead us, but if we love and trust God, we will be led out of our shells and do incredible things. Just trust and say “yes” like Joseph did. This year for Kimberley people, that “incredible thing” was to welcome our first refugee family. We did this incredible thing out of love; because we care. Thanks be to God for this little miracle, and may there be more of them for us in the future.