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A Modern Day Mary & Joseph

Sermon - 12/26/10
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Psalm 148

Praise God! Praise God from the heavens;
  praise God in the heights!

Praise God, all you angels of God;
  praise God, all you host of heaven!

Praise God, you sun and moon;
  praise God, all you shining stars!

Praise God, you highest heavens,
  and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of God,
  for God commanded and they were created.

God established them forever and ever;
  God fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise God from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
  fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling God's command!

Mountains and all hills,
  fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts of the forest and all cattle,
  crawling things and flying birds!

Rulers of the earth and all peoples,
  nobles and all leaders of the earth!

Young men and women alike,
  old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the Sovereign,
  whose name alone is exalted;
whose glory is above earth and heaven.

God has raised up a horn for the people,
  and praise for all the faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to God.
Praise be to God!


This morning when we are full of so many good things –


It’s nice to take a moment to take stock – and not stock in the way most of us did yesterday morning, after the hurricane of presents were opened – a look that can be sometimes exhausting to experience –


But to count the blessings, I guess.  Take stock of the abundant ways all life, newborn life, gives praise to God.


The text for the day is a psalm of praise - not a psalm of thanksgiving. May not seem like a difference. 


There are several categories of Psalms. 


And Psalm 148 is a typical psalm of praise in its structure.  The last five chapters of the collection of Psalms (146-150)  are unique in that all five begin and end in the same way. They all begin and end with the cultic shout "Hallelujah" that calls upon the community to "praise Yahweh," "praise the Lord."


Hallelujah – where in your lives do you call out this moment of praise? 

Praise comes when we feel something, and it moves us into a deeper relationship with the Divine. “Praise” Music makes one 'feel' something, music for that matter makes you feel something and can push you into a deeper relationship with God. It can move you to thought, action and reflection based on the text or theme." PRAISE IS AWE. Honor. Props.  (That’s a little urban slang, to carry on from Dan’s last week when he taught you the new meaning of the word “sick”.) 

This concept of praise is at the heart of these psalms and is therefore worth exploring this Sunday after Christmas. Just as praise music makes one feel something, so does the act of praise that is invited by Psalm 148.

Thanksgiving also comes when we feel something but it is not quite the same as praise. When we experience kindness we feel grateful.  Thanksgiving is gratitude, gladness. And admittedly I feel grateful when I experience the wonder of the world but it is deeper than just gratitude.  To me it’s so close to emptiness or perfection because I have no comment, no judgment, nothing other than wow.  Let it be.  Yes. 


And this psalm invites the whole of creation to join in praising God as the ancients did. The heavens, the angels, the sun and moon, the waters above the heavens, sea monsters, mountains, hills and trees are invited to praise God. THE WHOLE world CAN EXPERIENCE AWE AND BE A PART OF THE WONDER. 


It’s not a large leap into the gospel birth narratives where at the birth of the Christ, all heaven and earth give praise.  In Matthew the star is the first to give praise and prompts the Magi to respond. In Luke the angels declare to the shepherds the good news of Jesus' birth to all creation. 'Glory to God and Peace on earth….'" Christmas is a time for praise--exuberant heartfelt praise that moves us closer to knowing God. How are you lifting your voice in praise to celebrate these blessed events and their on-going impact on your life? How does this story still impact your life?


This morning I want to tell the Christmas story one more time.  One more time to share together in a moment of thanksgiving and praise for the journey of Mary and Joseph.  The symbolic connection they have to all our lives.  The blessing and complete joy of Jesus’ birth.  I’ve always found the ?? word to hold, protect the meaning of Christmas for me.  Safeguard the awe.  Compare and contrast for a moment…

the praise we feel and the praise they might have felt.  The modern conveniences of childbirth compared to Mary’s options. The preparations we made this week – what it took to get us ready - and the preparations Mary and Joseph made…


I appreciate how timeless the nativity story is.  But this Christmas I was taken in by a retelling.  I experienced a praise moment after hearing it.  You may know that each year NPR commissions a new story, a holiday, winter story, and sometimes, yes, it’s a Christmas story.  There are some delightful ones, some adaptations of classics, including this one I’m about to read.  Back in 2005, when Christmas time rolled around, we were only 4 months after Hurricane Katrina.  And Scott Simon, host of NPR’s weekend edition, was moved to tell the Christmas story with a more present context. This story has been around for 5 years now but I think you’ll find this Modern Day Mary & Joseph fit just fine in 2010.

Joseph and Mary hitchhiked to a shelter next to a Wal-Mart in Pass Christian, Mississippi. They'd lost their home in a hurricane and the trailer that FEMA had promised wasn't ready. Joseph was a carpenter and there was lots of work in the area, but he and Mary had no place to live and Mary was pregnant.


She told Joseph that he would be the child's father, but he wasn't the child's father. The spark that began the life of their child, she said, came from--well, it was too embarrassing for Joseph to repeat. It sounded impossible and ridiculous. Friends told him he was being taken for a fool, but Joseph loved Mary.


He knew that the last few months had been hard for her. Joseph decided that whatever fantastic stories Mary told him, he would love the child as his own.


When Joseph and Mary got to Pass Christian, they were told there was no room at the shelter. But a kindly man said they could unroll their blankets on the floor of his garage next door. The garage was cold, he said, but it had a wireless Internet connection.


That night Mary had a baby boy. He seemed healthy, wrinkly and had a nice loud cry. Mary laid their baby down on the back of a hybrid car that was under repair, swaddled in the one denim jacket Joseph was able to take when they fled their house. Mary lay down on the front seat; Joseph rolled down the windows.


A stray gray dog, still grimy from the road and whimpering with loneliness, kept watch over the baby and helped keep him warm with her panting. Joseph also plugged his iPod into a set of speakers so their baby could be lulled to sleep with music.


That night a star appeared in the east--actually quite a few stars, but Bill Gates noticed one in particular and sent Five Wise People, (the group recently expanded from Three Wise Men) to Pass Christian to see Joseph and Mary's child.


Bono,    William Safire,    Monica Ali,    Aung San Suu Kyi    and Henry Lewis Gates--no relation--all wanted to bring the child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But they hadn't been available since the hurricane. So the wise people brought chipotle lime taco chips, chocolate chip cheesecake and asparagus for fiber.


The infant saw them and smiled.


Mary saw the look of delight in her child's face and said to herself, `He's happy to be in this world. He's happy to be with us.' But she saw Joseph sitting off by himself at the far end of the garage.


She knew he was worried about how he was going to make a life for their child. When Joseph came back to the car, his eyes glimmered. `I think I finally understand,' he said, `why we're here, why we've been given the gift of this child. It doesn't matter who the father is, does it?


Every child born cries for our love and deserves our care. Every child who's hungry in Sudan or Louisiana or Indonesia,

every little girl who's abandoned by a roadside in China,

every little boy in Uganda who's dragged into somebody's army while he's still not as tall as the gun they put in his arms,

every teen-ager who never seems to take off their earbuds,

every little boy and girl anywhere who's threatened by a bomb, an epidemic, a bullet or a storm. I must love them as a father loves his child.'


Mary and Joseph sat with their arms around each other and around their baby boy. The dog--they decided to adopt her on the spot--hopped up in the seat beside them and put her head gently onto Joseph's lap. The star that had found them seemed to stay above them for a moment, while their child breathed softly, safely, peacefully in their arms, looking out at a world that seemed suddenly new.



Copyright © 2005 National Public Radio®.


Simple changes.  A new context.  And yet from this perspective the story feels new to me and I again sit in the universal reach of this tiny new family.   A story that can be told over and over again, in every context. 


It’s not about how this story manifested in year one but how it continues to be retold in the lives of every living thing. The story keeps happening.  God is in and through every living being – every frog and flower every mother and father, every family, the sun the moon, you and I, him and her – all are connected with all creation and all have the capacity to offer praise to God.  And all are in need of God and the creative wonder of God at work around US – all in need of the Embrace of God .   

If we could use our open eyes and ears, as they are now, when we look into the world – it’s true there is much work and much prayer left to do – but look closely and you’ll see the  whole world is full of praise, its beauty is strong and we are all children of God.


Every child cries for our love. Every parent will do anything and everything to help the ones they love.  And they are deserving of our understanding our support, the world’s wisdom.  It doesn’t matter who the mother is, because Mary is every mother – even when a child has two mothers.  Joseph is every father  - even the fathers in jail.  Even the mothers on the street.   Every mixed family, messed up family.  The straight A students and the straight C students.


As we move from Advent into Epiphany over the next 12 days – we move from waiting to manifestation. 


We can ask ourselves again how will you lift your voice in praise to celebrate the manifestation of hope in the lives of those around you?  How will you celebrate the blessings all around you? 


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