Not so fast! 4th Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2019

Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife (Mt. 1:20)

Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Reflection: Joseph is confronted with a pressing and perplexing situation that frightens him and calls for a rapid decision. Mary, his fiancée is pregnant and not by him. He enters into a period of anguishing discernment, relying on his spiritual and social resources to make the best possible decision for himself, Mary and her parents, and his community. Joseph is a righteous man (1:18) and seeks in the end to please and give the most glory to God with his actions. 

As a righteous man, we can assuredly imagine that Joseph slows down to diligently searches Scripture for guidance. He searches the law. He searches his heart. He searches for wise counsel. He speaks with people that will be affected by his decision. He prays. He meditates. He fasts. He searches his motives and values. He considers his future and his options as he seeks to arrive at a decision that most glorifies God. He may have even made a list of the pros and cons of staying with Mary. Mary, meanwhile, anxiously, powerlessly, and prayerfully awaits his decision. 

Joseph, the gospel of Matthew says, concludes that it is ultimately in both his and Mary’s best interest to separate. After all, in Joseph’s way of thinking, Mary would avoid public disgrace through a quiet separation; or would she? It would be impossible for a young unmarried Mary to hide a rapidly enlarging abdomen on the way to full term with child. It would be impossible for Mary to offer satisfactory answers to the spoken and unspoken questions of nosy people, or to avoid harsh and harmful present and future social judgement and consequences. Although separating himself from Mary seems like a noble resolution to Joseph’s dilemma, the truth is that such a decision would be devastating for a single young mother of a fatherless son in a patriarchal society. 

Our decisions, if we are honest, are normally biased in our favor. Seldom are we comfortable or even willing to make decisions that go against or subordinates our own self-interest. When we make decisions, the operative goal is to have things turn out the best possible way for ourselves. 

Joseph’s hasty decision to separate from Mary, while seemingly benefitting to himself, would not bring honor and glory to God. God intervenes and sends an angel to Joseph to redirect Joseph’s decision to separate from Mary. The angel appears to Joseph in a dream and sheds light on what is really happening, stopping and diverting Joseph from his intended course of action. Joseph is first admonished to stop being afraid. He is then directed to take Mary as his wife and raise the child she carries as his own. Joseph wakes up from his sleep and did as the angel commanded him; he took Mary as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. 

As Christ-followers, we seek to bring the most glory to God in all we do. That means that our difficult decisions are deliberately entered into with a dependence on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Our discernment and decision-making are filtered through a deep love for God and for the people being affected by our decision. While we discern, we pray that the Holy Spirit will avert us from a self-centeredness that will side-track us from what God is pointing us to do. In time, the Holy Spirit will lead us to make decisions that please us, sometimes our decisions will not bring us pleasure. Some of our decisions will enrich us, some will not. Some of our decisions will bring us comfort, some will bring us suffering. The personal outcome of our decisions made with the end of glorifying God do not really matter because we do not belong to ourselves, we belong to God and our chief purpose in life is to glorify God with our lives and enjoy God forever.

Are you struggling with a pressing and aguishing decision this Advent season? Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Pray for a deeper love for God and the people that are affected by your decision. Ask the Holy Spirit to avert you from self-centeredness. Wait for God to point you to what you need to do. Perhaps someone in your life will be like an angel of the Lord to you that comes to you in your darkest hours and sheds new light on your situation – who is that person for you? In time, you’ll know God is leading you when you experience joy, enthusiasm, deeper faith, greater hope and trust, greater love, confidence, and courage even if you decide against your own self-interest. 

A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition (Contemporary Version) 

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.

The Wait is Over! Third Sunday of Advent December 15, 2019

Are you the one?


When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Matthew 11:2-6 


John the Baptist is in prison. His life is difficult and weighed down with anxiety. He had predicted and expected a fire-breathing Messiah that would separate the wheat (the repentant) from the chaff (unrepented). John envisioned a Messiah that would gather the repentant (wheat) unto himself and burn the unrepentant (chaff) with an unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:12).  

When John hears of Jesus’ works of healing, mercy, and preaching to the poor, he questions whether Jesus is the awaited Messiah because Jesus’ works do not fit John’s expectations of what the long-awaited Messiah would or should be doing. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

Jesus sends the disciples back to John with a response indicating that Jesus’ works correspond and echo Isaiah’s vision of a Messiah that would come to give light to those in gloom and darkness, give fresh joy to the meek, lift up the neediest of people, and wipe away their tears and disgrace (Is. 29:18-19; 25:8). 

Jesus’ response to John’s question, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense [emphasis mine] at me,” implies that John has taken offense at Jesus. The Greek word Matthew uses 12 times in the gospel for the word offense is skandalivzw or scandalize.  John becomes scandalized because Jesus was not fulfilling Messiah’s mission as John understood it or wanted it to be. John’s misunderstanding challenges his faith and brings him to miss out on the blessing and joy of Jesus’ ministry. Instead of receiving a blessing and joy, John questions Jesus and his works of evangelism and mercy with the poor and the vulnerable. For John, the expected Messiah is a hardliner, not a healer, a harsh judge, not a heart warmer. For John, the Messiah has some serious and urgent spiritual and social sifting to do if the world was going to become clearly ordered. That urgent mission, in John’s view, is being left unattended because Jesus – if he was the Messiah – was occupied, fellowshipping with the outcasts and the vulnerable. Jesus’ response, while not meeting John’s immediate expectations of Messiah, was meant to assure John and strengthen his spirit with the knowledge that Jesus was indeed the Messiah he and the world waited for.  

Matthew does not follow up with a report about the effect Jesus’ response had on John’s faith. Matthew does, however, write that Jesus honors John and says that no one born of women was greater than John the Baptist (Mt. 11:11). We can trust that John did find spiritual consolation, assurance, and strength from Jesus’ message affirming that the wait for Messiah was over. 

Sometimes our faith is shaken when our expectations of Jesus Christ are unmet, especially when we want Christ to show up in a quick and powerful way at times when our lives are troubled. Maybe you find yourself in a place of questioning your faith this Christmas. We’ve all been there from time to time in our pilgrimage of discipleship. My prayer for you in this Advent season of faith-building is that you will encounter Christ in a new way that reveals the depth of his expansive love for you and others. I pray that Jesus Christ, God with us, would give light to the areas of gloom and darkness in your life, give you fresh joy, lift you up, and wipe away your tears and disgrace (Is. 29:18-19; 25:8). Above all, I pray that the Holy Spirit will assure you that Jesus is the one you have been waiting for; there is no other.

Prayer from James 5:7-10 

God, we are impatient. We pray for the grace of understanding and patience with your mysterious ways. Draw near to us, stand by us, and strengthen our hearts. Save us from grumbling against you and others. Help us to draw strength in our times of troubles from the prophets who suffered for speaking in your name and from your holy passion. Amen.

Help Wanted! 1st Sunday of Advent December 1, 2019

One will be left … to join Christ in doing God’s
will on earth as it is in heaven.

Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Reflection: I am in Cambridge, UK for a training on reflective supervision sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry as I write this reflection for the first Sunday of this beautiful season of Advent. We celebrate and remember every Advent season that into a world filled with despair and darkness, Jesus Christ, God’s gift of salvation, came to save us and enjoin us to his mission of doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven (Mt. 6:10). 

The story Jesus tells in the gospel of Matthew is one of many stories Jesus told about the end of times and his second coming to establish God’s kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace. In the story, people are going about their daily activities. They are eating, drinking, marrying, working, and sleeping when all of a sudden and without warning, their routines are interrupted by Christ’s coming. In Matthew’s vision of the second coming, Jesus does not remove the faithful from the earth, he leaves them to do God’s will, just like Noah was left by God after the flood to do God’s will. In Matthew’s vision, Christ leaves the faithful ones on earth to do the will of God on earth like it is in heaven. This added responsibility is not a burden, it is an honor and privilege to be handed more missional responsibility by Christ because ‘those who are faithful with a few things will be put in charge of many things and share in Christ’s joy!’ (Mt. 25:21). Our response is not to reject Christ’s invitation to added missional responsibility, but to receive Christ’s call and discharge the mission with confidence and joy. The mission we are called to is not burdensome, it is made light because we are yoked with Christ (Mt.11:29).

To do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven means that we join Christ to alleviate suffering caused by hunger, violence, injustice, abuse of power, joblessness, eradicable diseases, and bottomless grief. Stories about the second coming of Christ do not have to be embarrassing or frightening. They are compelling and hopeful. They call us to be watchful for the way Christ’s out of love for the world, interrupts the routines of our lives, calls out to us, and invites us to join him in seeking God’s righteous kingdom where nations live in peace, and where people are taught the ways of God and walk in the paths of God.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.