Making the Faithful Decision

The Christmas season is full of making choices and decisions. How many choices did you make this morning? Think for a moment about that. The decision to hit the snooze alarm, or to turn it off and get out of the bed. The decision to have coffee, or tea. To have breakfast and shower, or shower then have breakfast. To go to work, or not to go to work. Or, if retired, to go to any one of the many things you have signed up to do, or to take the day off. Spend a little time with family, with our spouse or a friend. Make a phone call. Go to the store. All little decisions that we make every day, simple little decisions. And we make them usually without too much of a second thought.

But the decision we hear about today, Joseph having to make a decision to marry or remain engaged to Mary who he now knew was with child, is one of those major decisions in life. Imagine for a moment what it might have been like for Joseph in his time where things were probably a little more strict than today. Certainly the faith that Joseph was raised in said this was not something he should do, to go forward with marriage to someone with child who was obviously not his child. That is an awful decision, I imagine, for anyone to be left with, especially in that day and time, and especially for Joseph for we know what's to come for Joseph.

But Joseph decides, since he's a righteous man, that he won't embarrass her, that he's just going to quietly break off the engagement. Joseph made his decision. And then, whether he actually slept on it or immediately had a vision or a dream of an angel speaking to him is unclear, but in some way God spoke to Joseph through an angel and told Joseph not to be afraid. "It's okay, she's with child through the Holy Spirit. You are to not break it off with her" - so to speak, in today's terms - "but you are to marry her and to raise the child and name him Jesus."

Joseph, of course, since he hadn't taken any action yet, makes the right and faithful decision. He listens to that angel of God, and the rest is Christian history. That is what we celebrate this Christmas. Not only Mary's celebration and expectation of having a child...and not any child, but the Holy Child of God (we celebrated her joy last week)...but we celebrate Joseph's faithful decision to do what God has asked.

Now, what about those difficult decisions in our lives? Certainly in the Christmas season and at every time of the year, we have big decisions to make. Some of you might have a big decision you're sitting on now. And I hope that an angel of the Lord will appear to you and just give you the answer so that it makes life easy. But as most of us know, that's typically not been our human experience. Some of us have witnessed the presence of the holy, and certainly sensed that God has dropped in our lap the answer to our prayers. And that does happen. But it doesn't happen every time. I wish I could say, "Just come to my office, I have a secret phone under my desk (like the red phone in Washington during the Cold War), and you can pick up the phone and speak with the Authority." Well, I can't do that, but I can pray with you and I can work with you to help you find out what is the faithful decision for you. And I will do that.

But it still comes back to, even if we know what the faithful answer is to the question, making the choice to move forward in that faithful decision. We still have the choice in the balance to say yes or to say no. Now, Joseph said yes. And I expect for many of us in our lives, we have had opportunities and we have said yes. And we've probably had in our lives other times...and I said it many times before going into ministry...when we've said, "Maybe," or "Later." The 'later' came sooner than I expected in answering the call to parish ministry, to become a pastor. I tried everything else first, but God had the last laugh on that one. But I did make the faithful decision. And it's amazing, even in my journey into ministry, that each time I thought I was finding another way to faithfully answer the question, God was training me and planning things along the way that helped give me a sense of who I am and a better understanding of who you all are, and who we all are as people...regular, ordinary working people. I know that experience.

So even in the small decisions that I had to make when I was saying, "Maybe," to God, those decisions were still faithful decisions. And I imagine many of you may be sitting there wondering, "Well, have my decisions been faithful decisions?" God has a way of bringing things around full circle for us. So if an opportunity goes by when we say, "Maybe," or take a pass on that one, opportunities often return. Sometimes at unexpected moments, and other times you can see it coming and you can't avoid it anyway. It's a great sense of irony, in my mind, that our God, in wonder and astonishment, often gives us second, and third, and fourth chances to make those faithful decisions, and then showers us with love and grace in the end. That is an amazing thing for us to behold. It is an amazing thing for us to celebrate, a Savior Child who is coming to bring us that kind of grace and love, to bring us a sense of direction, to leave with us the Holy Spirit so that even if we don't have God's angel speaking to us, as Joseph experienced, the Holy Spirit is moving inside of each of us and inside this family of faith. So even if we don't hear the little voice within ourselves, other voices around us will call out to us so the faithful decisions are constantly put in front of us.

Now, you may be wondering, "Okay, Pastor Steve, what big faithful decision are you going to lay out in front of us right now?" I'm not going to lay out a big faithful decision in front of you. I don't have one. There was no secret agenda for this morning's message. But some of you may be facing big, real and serious decisions. And I want to assure you, and assure all of us, that God is in the midst of that trying to reach out to us to help us to know what the faithful choice would be and to shower us with grace even if we have to take a pass this time.

So be at peace. This is a season of peace and love and hope and joy. And each of us can center ourselves in that and accept it for what it is, God's gift to us.

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve