UNITY OF VANCOUVER
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Joseph, An Ordinary Hero
  Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
  December 6, 2020

 All Rights Reserved

 

 


To my dear Unity family,

I want to dedicate today’s talk to all of you who are everyday ordinary heroes. You may not think of yourself as such but you are, as you go about your daily life doing your best in the spot God has placed you. I invite you to reach out by phone, mail or even to send flowers this week to someone you know who is dealing with extra responsibility or an extra heavy workload because of the restrictions placed on us by the Covid-19 pandemic. Send a note of encouragement to someone who is isolated and let them know that they are not forgotten and that we will get through this time. Ask God to guide you and inspire you to inspire others. I also ask you to keep in your prayers all of those who are caring for a loved one in their home, homeschooling children of various ages and especially those who are homeschooling special needs children. Many of these parents are holding down full time jobs in addition to trying to meet the needs of a child or family member who needs 24 hour a day care. Many people are dealing with huge stressors and are at their breaking point. Many children are feeling the isolation of months of separation from their friends and extended family. God needs all of us to be good neighbors and minister to each other.
I love you. I bless you. I appreciate you. In loving service, Bernadette


ADVENT WREATH CANDLE LIGHTING STORY: “You Can Have My Room”

Wally was nine years old and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind, but well-liked by other children in class, all of whom were smaller than he.  He was a very a helpful boy, willing and smiling, the natural protector of any child he felt was being mistreated. At times the boys did have trouble hiding their irritation when the uncoordinated Wally would ask to play ball with them. He would stand by on the sidelines - not sulking but hoping - always hoping to be chosen. As Christmas time approached, plans were made for the annual school pageant. Children were being assigned their parts - angels, shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph. Wally stood by expectantly - then suddenly his joy knew no bounds, for he heard the teacher say, “Wally, I want you to be the innkeeper.” (Not many lines to learn, she reasoned - and his size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.) Little did that teacher dream the lesson that such a tenderhearted boy would teach to all who attended that program! Then came rehearsals - the crooks and manger, beards, crowns, halos, and a stage full of squeaky voices. Most caught up in the magic of the night was Wally. He would stand in the wings, watch the performance with fascination; his teacher had to make sure he did not wander onstage before his cue. Finally, the long-awaited night came, and Wally stood, holding a lantern, by the door of the Inn, watching as the children who portrayed Mary and Joseph came near him.

“What do you want?” Wally asked with a brusque gesture.  “We seek lodging.” “Seek it elsewhere - the inn is filled.”  He said “Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.” Joseph said. “There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern. “Please, good Innkeeper, this is my wife. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.” Now, for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that there was a long pause - the audience became a bit tense. “No! Begone!” the prompter whispered from the wings. “No! Begone!” Wally repeated automatically.

Joseph sadly placed his arms around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder, and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears, and suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

“Don't go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wally's face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room!” A burst of laughter - then silence - then tears flowed freely as the message came through to the listeners. Wally, the boy considered “slow,” had made room for Jesus.  Like Wally, we, too, must “make room” in our hearts for Jesus. He is the reason for the season. He is standing at your heart's door. Just invite Him in. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him...” (Revelation 3:20)   

(Author unknown)



MEDITATION ON PEACE – 2ND SUNDAY IN ADVENT

From that first peaceful night in the manger, to his final days with his disciples, Jesus was a symbol of peace. Light your Advent candle for Peace and speak the words of the Meditation of Peace.

At the very center of my being is a still point of peace. I access this serene and sacred place whenever I attune to the Christ within. As I go about my day, I release any tension, disharmony, or conflict, and remember that all is unfolding exactly as it should. If I feel tempted to react or go into drama, I remind myself: I can choose peace instead of this. Consistently, I choose peace. I come home to my true nature and bask in the serenity of knowing all is well. I am an ambassador of peace in my own life and in the world, and I am grateful.

“Peace I leave with you; peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” -John 14:27

Meditation

Begin your meditation by slowly releasing the breath in your lungs and the cares in your mind.  As you breathe in, you breathe in the healing spirit of God.  You are in the Presence of peace. Peace is all around you and peace is within you.  In the silence, is the deepest peace there is.  Rest there in the peace of God in the silence of prayer.

Now visualize beautiful planet earth, resting in the heavens, surrounded by stars in the velvet darkness of space.  See the blue-green jewel with all the clouds and focus on the continents of Asia and Europe.  See the white light of peace, descend and flow through this region, bringing the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, the spirit of the Christ.

Now see the continent of Australia and the North and South Poles.  See the spirit of the Christ moving there. See the continents of Africa, South America and North America.  All who inhabit these regions are feeling the spirit of peace. See peace throughout our world. Notice where peace begins. It’s coming from you & me right now.

Continue to rest in that sanctuary of peace within.  Simply follow your breath.  Watch it flow in and flow out. Silently affirm:  Breathing in I AM and breathing out PEACE.  Follow the breath breathing in, I AM and breathing out PEACE. Affirm: I am at peace for I am the peace of God made manifest. For this experience of peace on earth, I am grateful, spirit of the Christ, Amen.

“Joseph An Ordinary hero”

 “Joseph got a raw deal.” At least that is how a friend of mine who just happens to be male, sees it. For him, Mary seems to get all the glory and accolades. And Joseph? Well, Joseph gets a raw deal. A discussion I had with him a few years ago was the inspiration for this lesson. Allow me to elaborate on how my friend views Joseph. To him, Joseph is a praiseworthy figure that is simply overlooked in the Christmas story.

For example: He is certainly more trusting and loyal than many men might be under similar circumstances. And of course, we know that the child he raises as his own son turns out pretty well. Can a father get some credit? The bottom line seems to indicate that Joseph is a nice guy, and we all know the old saying “Nice guys finish last.”  That just doesn’t make sense.

Where am I going with this? I don’t want to make this a battle of the genders. That is not what this is about. I merely want to say that I agree with him. The way things are recorded in the Bible Joseph gets overlooked and so in this talk I thought we would give him his moment in the sun. So, let’s begin the basics of the story.

There are four accepted gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Of the four Gospels, Mark and John make virtually no mention of the parents of Jesus. Matthew contains a birth narrative as does the Gospel of Luke, however there is even less about Joseph in Luke’s Gospel than in Matthew. So, the fifteen verses from the Gospel of Matthew are about all we know about Joseph. But I believe it’s enough to allow us to make some assessments of Joseph’s character.

First, we are told that Joseph is a descendant of the royal lineage of King David. This would seem irrelevant since Jewish lineage is traced through the mothers unless the point is that he didn’t inherit the negative traits of David and his son, Solomon, if you get my drift. He didn’t lust after other women or cheat on his spouse. Now I don’t want to spend our time rehashing matters of private human intimacy if you’ve seen any news this week or any week, you’ve already had enough of that!  I just want to say that looking at Joseph, living in the culture of his time through the eyes of a man, is emasculated in the story by accepting a woman as his wife who is already pregnant and then hanging around to raise a child who is not his own. This was very uncommon for the times.

Looking at it from this point of view, Joseph’s emasculation goes even deeper than just the fact that Mary’s child isn’t his own. He is supposed to accept ‘as fact’ that she has been impregnated by God and so she’s still an untouched virgin. Then, Joseph is forced to make his very pregnant wife travel to Bethlehem where he fails to secure a place at the inn for her child’s delivery. This can be interpreted as another sign of his impotency. I can imagine Mary saying, “Joe, do something. Go get us a room at the inn.” and Joseph comes back empty-handed.  Would a woman let it go at that?  Gentlemen put yourself in his place and what do you think would happen to you under similar circumstances?

Then there is the whole matter of the scene that follows the birth itself. Mary and Jesus are center stage in the stable with some cows, a donkey, shepherds and sheep, three wise-men and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and of course an unknown number of angels singing overhead. Poor Joseph almost gets completely pushed out of the picture. I’ve noticed that children often have difficulty-identifying Joseph in nativity scenes. You’ve got all these other figurines of bearded wise-men and shepherds with head pieces and even I sometimes find myself having to take a second or third look to figure out which figurine is Joseph.

The good news is that it does get better. The story tells us that the earliest years of their family life together involve them fleeing as refugees to Egypt where they live in exile only to return later once things have calmed down following the death of Herod. Joseph, the text implies, displays extreme competency leading his family to a new land and making the most out of life in exile. His is definitely a hero to his family. Mary and Jesus would not have survived without him and his ordinary, leadership and loving care. However, upon returning and settling down in Nazareth, both of Jesus’ parents suddenly drop out of the story entirely and Jesus goes off to get baptized by John the Baptist.

Mary becomes a celebrated figure within the evolving Christian Church outside of Palestine. She is literally elevated to glorious and sometimes divine levels of adoration and devotion. Veneration of the Virgin Mary, the Madonna, thrives in Catholicism. Mary is petitioned directly in prayers, “Hail Mary, full of grace.”

To be fair, Joseph does get made a Saint, but he is clearly still playing second fiddle. So, did Joseph get the Biblical recognition he deserved, or did he get a raw deal? The city of St. Joseph, Missouri is named for him, so at least he has that going for him.

But whether Joseph got a raw deal or not isn’t the question I really want to ask you today. The questions I really want to ask you are: “Have you ever felt like a 3rd wheel in your own life or just a bystander to life?  You see wonderful things happening for other people. You see miracles unfolding around you and silently think, “What about me?  When is it going to be my turn?”

The question I want to ask you this morning is “Have any of you ever felt as though things – important things, meaningful things, earth-shattering things – were going on around you, being decided around you or even about you and your life but your role was more witness than participant? Have you ever felt like a bystander to your own life?”

Joseph can be seen in this way. It’s like there’s this wild party taking place – Mary is giving birth, farm animals are causing a ruckus, a bunch of shepherds show up and wise men show up with groovy gifts, a star lights the whole scene, a multitude of angels are blasting away on trumpet and Joseph is just standing in a corner like a wallflower. I can certainly imagine Joseph’s ego shouting: “Hello? What about me? Don’t forget about me? I am betrothed to Mary after all. I’m going to be the father, protector and financial supporter of this child and his mother that you are all getting so excited about. What am I, chopped liver?” But, he doesn’t. I wonder if he just stood there, smiling and wondering quietly to himself, “When are all these people going to leave and so I can have some peace and quiet?”

OK, so maybe this isn’t the most impressive spiritual insight I have ever delivered. But I have often wondered about Joseph’s place in all of this and over the years many men have shared that they felt pushed aside when they got married or when their wives gave birth. In my family, growing up, my dad worked all the time to support us and my mom did everything with us. She came to our concerts, took us to movies, and helped with the PTA. No one was to blame but I know that missing out on so much of our lives was the big sadness of his life. I know this because he told me that it was his biggest regret.  This is something that is changing in our culture and I think that’s a good thing. Men are much more involved in raising their children today than in the past.  But I think we can all relate to feeling left out sometimes, especially as we get older. Rather than being appreciated as “keepers of wisdom and honoring us as sages,” it can feel like we’re being put out to pasture or sitting by just waiting around for the next ice float. My kids tease me with that one!

Things are happening, the world is changing, history is being made that is going to change the course of human events forever… and Joseph is just standing there silently watching it all go down. What I am talking about here isn’t jealousy or a need for attention. Rather, it is about feeling like you have a place in the larger scheme of things. It’s about feeling like you matter. It’s about feeling like you have something to contribute to the world that’s worth a dime. And I can imagine Joseph in that moment of Jesus’ birth feeling this profound ambivalence (or maybe even doubt and despair) about whether he has a place in the larger scheme of things.

But there’s an amazing twist to this when you think about it because one of the central aspects of Jesus’ ministry was demonstrating to all people that they have a place in the larger scheme of things, that they mattered and had value and were all beloved children of God. He would say things about the “last being first”. He praised the “Widow’s Mite”, the “Samaritan’s Compassion”, the basic hospitality of Mary and Martha and called the “Least of these’ my brothers and sisters.” In His ministry and throughout his life, Jesus took all the ordinary heroes, all the Josephs who occupy the margins and forgotten corners of life and pulled them into the center of things.  And now we’ve come around, full circle to the message I sincerely want to give to you today and that is: “Everything you think, feel and do matters because you are a channel of Divine Love and Peace.”

Many of you give of your time, your talent and your treasure selflessly to support and help our church home to be a radiating center of divine light and love and a beacon of hope and peace for those that might otherwise be sidelined in life. Many of you give your energy beyond the walls of our church or beyond the walls of your home to other community volunteer efforts. Let us not allow ourselves to be ‘bystanders to our lives’ and forget that what we do matters. I hope that you gained a new appreciation for Joseph today. He wasn’t just some loser who didn’t know how to make hotel reservations. He wasn’t some guy off on the fringes to be written out of the story. Taking on the responsibility of raising a child, any child is a huge job.

What he did mattered, and he deserves more than a passing glance from history and Christians. Let’s lift him up into his own special spot in the midst of the miracle and wonder that is Christmas. I believe that in doing this, we’ll bring ourselves back to a place where we can be certain that what we do with the moments, days, weeks and years of our own ordinary everyday human lives matters more than we can ever know.  We all touch the lives of others in profound ways and we all have our own very special spot in history.

I’d like to close with the writing “From Amazing Peace by Dr. Maya Angelou.”

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come Peace.

Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

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