We Can Choose a Better Way
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner
Grace and peace to you from God our creator, and from Jesus our Savior. Amen.
We are continuing our Advent series called From Generation to Generation today. One of the initiatives of our Imagine annual theme for the year is to “celebrate the faith God has given to all generations.” It’s a reminder that none of us sustains faith in God on our own. Whether you were born into a family who raised you in faith, or your faith became more important later in life, odds are that there have been people of different ages and stages of life to show you what it means to trust the way of God. And more than likely, whether you are aware of it or not, people of other generations have looked to you and your faith to develop their own relationship with the Living God as well.
I will always be grateful for three older men in my church growing up who checked in with me on Sunday mornings. Ellory was the mayor. Elder and Stan were both retired missionaries who had lived more of their lives in Africa than the United States. To a kid, they were like a vision of holiness and the embodiment of wisdom. They would often catch me in the hallway on the way into church and ask me about what I was interested in and how I was doing, especially after my parents divorced. They would encourage me in my faith and ask me how they could pray for me. The way they spoke to me exuded grace and a depth of faith I could only hope to have someday.
I love that about the church community; from generation to generation we are in this together. Each person, young or old, holds a piece of our collective story of faith. We come from all kinds of different places and experiences and by grace we come together to share values, traditions, and deeply meaningful experiences of God that shape our lives and faith between the generations.
Here’s the thing though, sharing faith is not a one-way street. At our best, we are a community where young learn from old, and old learn from young. Where traditions are passed down, and space is made for new traditions of faith to grow. We are a community who trusts that we are not just reliving and telling an old, old story, but that we are also looking with hope and anticipation for God to write a story with our lives that we do not yet know.
That seems to be what happened to Joseph in the gospel we read this morning. He thought he knew what his life was going to be. He did all the right things. Matthew writes that he was a “righteous man”, which meant that he was obedient to Jewish Law and custom. He had learned well from his elders. Given the path he was on, he and Mary would build their life together and live a lot like their families’ and neighbors’ did. The goal in Joseph’s day wasn’t to stand out or make your own way. Conforming to societal norms was the best way to go.
But then God showed up in the most miraculous and inconvenient way in the middle of Joseph’s seemingly perfect plan. God chose to write a new story into their lives that they weren’t expecting or prepared for. Joseph’s first thought is to do the most righteous, even gracious thing. When he heard Mary was pregnant and the baby wasn’t his wasn’t his, he figured he would dismiss Mary quietly. He’d slip away as if nothing ever happened to him. Mary would still have the responsibility of the baby, but at least he’d be able to save face. And she might find support if she moved away. As cold as this sounds, it seemed the best possible outcome for both of them. But God had other plans.
The God who would come as Emmanuel, God with us, is a God of relationship. The story God was writing into Joseph and Mary’s lives was a story of God coming to draw not only them into deeper relationship, but drawing God into deeper relationship with all of us. And because God is so invested in relationship, God does not force this future on Joseph. He would have to choose this way in order for God to write this new story into human history. Joseph did say yes to a new way, a better way, a deeply relational way forward with God and with Mary, so that future generations may know the love of God.
So, what happens when life doesn’t go as you expect or when God interrupts your carefully planned life and introduces something you couldn’t see coming? Are you open to God writing a new story into your life? Are you willing to learn from our ancestors of faith about trusting God to lead you where you did not expect to go, even if that new way could be uncomfortable, unpredictable, but also lifegiving for you and for others?
I realize this isn’t easy. We work hard to cultivate the lives we have. Changing direction isn’t always welcome. And when it comes to changing what we thing or what we think is possible – our brains are hardwired to double down on our convictions, especially when they are challenged. Ever had a conversation with a spouse or friend that led to conflict and all of a sudden you can’t talk to one another for a while because you’re both dug into your own perspectives? At some point you stop trying to listen to the other side.
Social scientist Ozan Varol says that “Humans operate on different frequencies. If someone disagrees with you, it’s not because they’re wrong, and you’re right. It’s because they believe something that you don’t believe. The challenge is to figure out what that thing is and adjust your frequency.” In other words, try to see it from the other side.
Faith calls us to dial into new frequencies to catch the story God is writing for our lives. What we know is that God is always for us, not against us, that God will go to the ends of the earth for us, and will do whatever it takes to call us into deeper relationship, even come into our world to be one of us. God will write stories into our lives that seek to make us and world connected, forgiving, just, and trustworthy, and generous. When you consider this, perhaps its less uncomfortable to say yes to God’s interruptions; to choose the better way. And by saying yes to relationship with God, we can also trust that God will use us to build a better world for generations to come. Amen.