December 22, 2019, Peaceful Joy, by Reverend David Tatgenhorst
Matthew 1: 18-25 (The Message) “The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”). Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.”
Let’s take a moment to breathe. Breathe in the joy. Breathe out busy-ness, hurry and worry. The day of the birth of joy is very near.
Peaceful Joy: Make the Nations Prove
Are we joyful yet? We had a beautiful Blue Christmas service on Thursday night. It was a little sad, but I could feel the joy too, underneath. I really recommend it. It is quite a lovely service. It’s a step on the way to joy – to notice how and why joy eludes us. Are you joyful yet? What makes it hard? To me, it’s feeling like I haven’t done all that I need to do. I want to get everything right and make Christmas right for my family and the church, and keep doing the good work with POWER and everything else. And of course, it just can’t all be done. And everything that really needs to get done, gets done. And there is joy.
It feels like having a plan, planning ahead, I could get more done and there would be more room for joy, but really in the end, as we’ve been saying, we just have to make room for the joy, make time for the joy. I have a couple suggestions today. But first I want to tell you about the one thing I did to plan ahead this year. It’s a gift for Cathy – and me really. Don’t tell her. I got her – and me – one of these ancestry kits, so we can check out DNA and confirm that our ancestors came from Scotland and Germany, and all the other places we suspect. That should be interesting, don’t you think? I hope it will provide some joyful insights.
The reason I tell you about this *somewhat strange) gift is that as I was reading our scripture reading this week, I started to think, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if Jesus could take a DNA test?” Think about that for a second. There are all kinds of assertions in scripture about Jesus’ heritage, and through the years, questions about those assertions. I’m not sure a DNA test would help much in answering those questions, but you can see one of them right in this passage.
God’s angel spoke to Jesus’ father in a dream and addressed him this way, “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married.” Now why does the angel address him that way? Because in Matthew, Jesus is descended from David through Joseph. (Luke presents the genealogy as going through Mary, because Luke thought it through better.) In Matthew, the lineage goes through Joseph, son of David, giving people the right to say Jesus is descended from the King. I love this especially because, being an adoptive father myself, one commentator I read mentioned this passage shows Joseph officially adopting Jesus and that answers any questions. Don’t bother with the DNA kit. (Unless you want to see God’s DNA there. This is fun to think about.)
You see, Joseph is part of the plan, as an adoptive father. My plan for the season might be running a little behind this season, and yours might be running behind, but God’s plan was right on time. God had a purpose for Joseph, a plan for his life, and Joseph was right there. Joseph didn’t say to the angel, “I was kind of hoping to name the kid Joe, jr.” No, Joseph, the passage says, woke up and did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream. He married Mary, did not consummate the marriage until the child was born, and named the baby, Jesus.
And God has a purpose for our lives as well, a purpose that involves joy. Joy is our goal and the basis of our being. This is a big claim, I know, but think about it. Remember I’m not equating joy with happiness. Obviously, joy is deeper and bigger than just being happy. I’ve been reading a book called The Book of Joy. It’s a book about a week get together by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. And they make these claims about joy being the purpose of our lives.
The book quotes a saying about living toward joy, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” These two great holy leaders are models of that. They both have been through a great amount of pain – the Dalai Lama through being forced into exile from, Tibet, the country he leads and loves, and Desmond Tutu through the extraordinary trial of apartheid and the struggle to restore justice and fairness in South Africa. They both are highly respected leaders, yet Rev. Tutu insists he is not a saint, and the Dalai Lama only claims to be a simple monk.
They both meditate for 4 to 5 hours a day. You might think they would be kind of serious, dour people. But when they came together for the week, they proved to both have a kind of impish personality, teasing and playing with each other. They really had a good time, and out of it came this book, the book of Joy. It’s quite delightful to learn about their quest to live joyful lives.
They say that there are 3 factors that have the greatest influence over moving toward joy.
1. is the ability to reframe our situation more positively. They suggest that it is possible to understand any sadness or challenge as an experience that leads us to more compassion and from there to a deeper joy.
2. Secondly they cite the ability to experience gratitude. We spent all of November thinking about how we give thanks for our lives of wonder. So that practice is related to this month’s work on moving toward joy. When we quietly notice the gifts of God’s grace, the gifts of God’s love, and claim those rather than complaining about the difficulties or problems of our lives, we may find that peaceful joy that is at the core of our being.
3. And the third practice that the two spiritual men cite as helping us to move toward joy is the choice to kind and generous. Archbishop Tutu in this regard says that the goal is not to create joy just for ourselves, but to be a reservoir of joy for others, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you. He says that bringing peace to the world is about having inner peace and sharing that with others.
These two leaders are from very different religious traditions – one from Buddhism, a non-theist religion, and one from Christianity. Yet they found a great commonality and a oneness in their striving for joy, and their understanding of peaceful joy as the goal and purpose of life.
Part of my inspiration for this sermon was from Bishop Dwayne Royster the interim director of POWER. He has been challenging us in the work that we are doing with POWER not to let it just be busy work. He asks us not to hold an event just to show that we are doing something, not to have a demonstration or a service just to look busy, and always to know the purpose for what we are doing. I thought about how easy it is sometimes to just try to do the next thing, to get through the day, to plan for this holiday and get through it. If we know that our purpose is joy and our DNA is joy, we bring that joy to everything we do. We live with compassion and connection in every moment. That’s what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama are trying to teach.
As we come close to the celebration of birth of the Child, I invite us to reflect on the purpose and ground of our own lives. All of our DNA has God’s joy in it. We are all descended from God’s creative power and joy. Just like Jesus, the Child of God, we are all part of God’s purpose, and we are all part of God’s joy.
Responsive Hymn: 2096 Rise, Up Shepherd and Follow