Saturday, December 28, 2013

With Us: The Fragility of Faith (Matthew 1:18-25)

“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”
(Bernard Beckett)

     I think that the “human spirit” that author Bernard Beckett speaks about can be replaced with the word “faith”.  Faith is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism . . . the belief that problems can be solved . . . differences resolved.  It is a type of confidence . . . but, it is fragile.  It is so fragile.

     Ask Joseph.

     Joseph, the carpenter, pledged to be married to Mary, has his world shattered upon learning that his future bride was pregnant . . . apparently pregnant by someone other than Joseph, the groom in waiting.  Dashed are all the dreams held by those who contemplate the beauty of marriage . . . who embrace the promise of the future . . . who see domestic bliss as the pattern of the rest of their lives.  Crushed . . . just like that . . . and, shattered . . . in anguish and shame, Joseph swore to do the proper thing; he would divorce her quietly and out of the limelight, and he would drift off into obscurity.

     And, would anyone think any less of Joseph?  Adultery at the time this takes place was not a crime that anyone would want to be accused of, nor found guilty of . . . the punishment was a vicious, violent death by stoning.  Surprisingly, it is still a punishment practiced in some cultures.  Years ago I watched a movie, based upon a true story that happened in Afghanistan not too long ago, in which a woman was accused of adultery and sentenced to die by stoning.  She was dragged out of her home, taken to a place where a hole had been dug, forced to stand in the hole as they buried her to her neck, and then proceeded to circle around her . . . and, then the stones began to fly.  It was a painful, violent death . . . the woman could do nothing to protect herself from the barrage of stone flung at her head.  Could anyone blame Joseph for wanting to quietly divorce Mary?

      Faith is fragile . . . and, I think that we all know that from our own experiences.  In over thirty years as a pastor I have witnessed and heard the stories of how fragile faith truly is.  I have seen the shattered dreams . . . I have witnessed the darkness of doubt . . . I have seen the tears, felt the pain, and seen the fear.  An unexpected death in the family . . . a child who runs away . . . a friend who loses everything to addiction . . . a spouse who quits . . . a job suddenly lost . . . an accident . . . an illness . . . depression . . . old age stealing the life of loved ones. Faith is fragile and we all know it.  We have seen how fragile faith is . . . and, we have experienced it in our own lives. 

     Faith seems to get lost when it becomes broken.  Joseph does what many of us would probably do . . . we become angry, we become sad, we cry . . . and, we try do whatever we can to right the sinking ship.  In Joseph’s case, he attempts to do what he thinks is best for everyone involved . . . he is going to set everyone free and allow everyone to fend for him or herself.  He is going to give up . . . he is going to quit; and, can any of us—put in the same situation—blame him?  Wouldn’t we do the same?

     But, God is not having any of it.  God is not buying into Joseph’s plan.  No, God has a completely different message and track for Joseph . . . he is to stick by Mary, marry her, and follow the course set before the two of them . . . they are to have a son, a son that they will name “Jesus”—because, says God, “. . . he will save his people from their sins.”

     Now, I do not know about any of you, but if I had been Joseph . . . well, I think hearing such an announcement would have floored me . . . floored me for a second time.  First time, the fiancé is pregnant; second time, God telling me to scrap my plans and do it God’s way.  I would have thought to myself, what is God trying to do to me?  Every time I think I get something fixed, God messes up my plans, my hopes, and my dreams.  Again, the faith comes crashing down with a simple dream and message from God.  Yes, faith is fragile.

     What are we to do when our faith is shattered and lying on the floor?  What are we to do when everything that we held tightly to--to get us through the day—is broken and useless?  What are we to do when all that we know and understand suddenly doesn’t make any sense?  What are we to do when crash and burn on the journey of life, and there is still a long, long way to go before we are finished?  Well, we are to remember and believe.

     That is what Joseph was basically being told . . . remember and believe.  Yes, God told him what he was supposed to do . . . marry Mary . . . have a son . . . and, name him Jesus.  But, he was also told to remember . . . remember what the prophet had said . . . “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with Us’.”  Yeah, it happened to be Joseph’s virgin that God chose to fulfill the prophecy . . . did Joseph remember?  Through it all God promises that God would be with them all . . . Immanuel—God with us.  Joseph did as he was told to do . . . and, from there, as we know, the story escalates to be more than any of the key characters ever dreamed it to be.  But, through it all, they remembered and they believed because they rested upon the assurance that God would always be with them.

     So it is, as we enter the final days of our Advent journey . . . we affirm the fragile state of faith.  Despite our best held hopes and dreams for the goal we are about to reach . . . the birth of a Savior . . . we know that the story is far from finished.  We know that we are still a long way away from realizing the promise being fulfilled . . . of witnessing God’s Kingdom.  The journey of Advent takes us to the manger, but it points us beyond . . . our faith is tested . . . 

     But, like Joseph, it is in the fragility of our faith . . . in the brokenness of our faith . . . that we discover our faith by remembering and believing that God is always with us.  That is the truth about Christmas . . . that God is always with us.  Hang on, the journey is about to get challenging and exciting . . . Immanuel . . . God is with us!  Amen!

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