Matthew 1:18-20, 24
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiahtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. …
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Fa la la la la la la la Lent
We’re almost at Holy Week. We’re nearing the end of the journey through Lent. Covid persists. So what do we do now? We talk about Christmas.
Today we are halfway between two important feasts having to do with Jesus’ birth. Last Friday, we observed the feast of St. Joseph, when an angel informs Joseph that his betrothed will have a son. This coming Thursday, we observe the feast of the Annunciation, when an angel tells Mary she is with child. What do stories of the beginning of Jesus’ life have to do with Lent? How do they inform our understanding of Jesus’ last days? What do Joseph and Mary have to teach us that applies to our lives in this week at the end of March?
I often think of Joseph as the person for whom they crafted the saying: Life is what happens instead of what we plan. He was going to marry Mary. Change of plans. He had to travel to Bethlehem. Change of plans. He needed a hotel room. Change of plans. He had to flee Bethlehem. Change of plans. Again and again, Joseph said yes, even though it meant shame in his community, snickering and gossip, even though it meant taking his family into exile, eluding terrors of a tyrant, even though it meant giving up his plans. It was not the path of least resistance. No one would have blamed him if he had dismissed Mary quietly and gone back to his table-saw.
When I think of Mary, I wonder if she had a choice. I wonder if the angel asked other young girls before the angel got to Mary’s house. Mary said yes, even though it may have scandalized her family and friends, even though Simeon warned that a sword would go through her heart. It was not the path of least resistance. No one would have blamed her if she had told the angel “Thanks but no thanks.”
Yesterday in church, we read from John’s gospel. Jesus seems to know what is coming with his imminent arrest, abandonment, torture and execution. He prays that the events we observe in Holy Week might be avoided. But then he chose the way of the cross and transformed it into a way of life. It was not the path of least resistance.
What do Mary and Joseph have for us in the closing days of Lent? They give us a hint of what is coming in the story of Jesus. They let us know that saying yes to God is not the easy path. As Jesus told his disciples: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). The story of Jesus, from birth to death reflects the cost of discipleship. The story of the Bible, from Genesis to the book of Revelation, reflects the cost of faithfulness.
Have you had any experiences that reflect this dynamic? Has your faith journey been relatively cost-free? Has it cost a lot? What do you think Jesus meant when he told followers to take up their cross? What would that mean in your life this week?
Holy Week offers an annual opportunity to see the way of the cross as the way of life. It’s an opportunity that came with Jesus’ birth and continued until those hours when he stretched out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us all into his saving embrace. Ask God this week in preparation for these holy days to show you how best to travel that way.
Exciting news! Introducing…
RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.
Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.
After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.
My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.
Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.
In a recent episode of the video series Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.
“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.
If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.