Well, in case you have nothing else to do the last two days before Christmas, here's one last gasp of Advent: a sermon poem I wrote for the staff and faculty worship service at Santa Clara University on Dec. 12. Enjoy this proclamation of the gospel ala Dr. Seuss, and Merry Christmas.
Rev. Aimee Moiso
December 12, 2012
Santa Clara University
‘Twas the twelfth of December, the year 2012
and all across campus are books to re-shelve,
and papers to file and numbers to tally,
now that our fall quarter has reached its finale.
Our undergrads prob’ly are flat in their beds
with terrors of finals week still in their heads.
And we who remain on the campus will spend
these last days before Christmas prepared for the end.
Yes, it’s coming, you know, and the Mayans did, too,
Twenty-one days in this month, but not twenty-two.
Still, if maybe by chance, Mayan lore’s not your thing
and you’re thinking we’ll probably still be here come spring,
this is also the season of Advent, week two,
which means not an end, but beginning and new,
and waiting and hoping and grand expectation –
of new life and new birth and a whole new creation.
…And stockings and Santa and reindeer and snow,
a star on the tree and a wreath with a bow.
Everything lovely and smelling of pine
or warm gingerbread or the spice of mulled wine.
And on top of all that, we’re supposed to possess
perfect gifts for our family and friends, which express
that they mean more to us than a pearl without price –
but maybe this tie or a book will suffice?
Yes, this is a season of grand expectations,
many of which are resigned obligations
to tradition or duty or just what we do
when this season comes round, ‘cause it’s how we get through.
We also enjoy it: the lights and the food,
the music and parties and holiday mood.
Even though Christmas shopping might fill us with dread,
we do get some joy prepping for what’s ahead.
Expectations are high for this season of cheer –
Both all we must do, and all we hold dear.
Expectations were probably on Joseph’s mind some
as he pondered and prepped for his marriage to come.
I’ll bet he was happy to have found a wife,
and that he was headed toward family life.
But he would have also felt anticipation,
of duty, and honor and grand expectation.
We’re told he was righteous, and no doubt he was,
which meant in his context adherence to laws.
Those who were righteous could rightly expect
to be judged by their actions and what they reflect.
So when Joseph discovers that Mary’s expecting,
the choice that’s before him is fraught with respecting
the law, which of him required casting her out –
not just from the marriage, but the village, no doubt –
and to shame her in public, for she’d caused him harm;
his honor’s in question, which raises alarm.
So the fact that he plans to dismiss her hush-hush
shows this Gospel tells more than we see at first blush.
For the one who is righteous in our Scripture here
is bending the law toward compassion, not fear.
And if that weren’t enough, our righteous male lead
is about to hear angels in dreams, who proceed
to convince him that what is expected is not
to maintain his honor and do what he ought.
Instead, he is told, Mary’s not to be blamed
and her pregnancy is not a cause to be shamed.
Despite “how it looks” or the letter of the law,
Joseph’s wife she should be, and without hem and haw.
For this is the doing of God, not of man
and though it’s unorthodox, this is the plan.
What’s righteous becomes what is faithful and true,
despite expectations of what Joseph should do.
Scholars will tell us what Matthew is doing
when law-filling righteousness he is eschewing
is setting us up for what Jesus will do
when he teaches “You’ve heard…but now I say to you...”
This story of Joseph – who’s righteous, and yet
follows angels instead of the law that’s preset –
it’s told to make clear that what Jesus expects
is compassion, and care, and a love that respects
not just what is law, but that which is good,
and which goes beyond what we do ‘cause we should.
Sometimes what’s right is not what we expect;
instead, it’s about how much love we reflect.
It’s a Christmas-y message, that love should precede
the customs and duties that have been decreed.
It’s a nice little thought in this holiday light
when we’re singing the carols and dinner’s in sight.
But it’s harder in concrete reality check
when doing what’s right means sticking our neck
out of what’s normal or comfortable, or
if it demands that some rules we ignore.
Or, perhaps worst of all is when we must reject
what those around us have come to expect.
Like Joseph, the pressure on us to conform
is plenty to keep us from bucking the norm.
We don’t often get to see angels in dreams
who offer direction about life’s extremes.
And it’s hard to discern what is right and what’s good
when we’re also expected to act as we should.
So what do we do when compassion should win
but the duty we feel to our colleagues and kin
makes it hard to see how doing right could prevail,
not to mention the things doing right would entail?
So here’s where our story of Joseph today
is more than a Christmas morality play.
Our God knows it’s hard to discern what is right
and the courage for action is often too slight.
Listen up, says the angel in Joseph’s strange dreams,
the child to be born will be more than he seems.
He’ll not be just a king who will lead for a spell;
this is God in the flesh, this is Emmanuel.
Life is hard, and our God does not leave us alone
to figure it out in the dark and unknown,
to be stuck in our ruts and our sin, no, for thus:
this is Emmanuel, here and now, God-with-us.
And Emmanuel in this Christ is the one
who can give us the hope and faith in the long run
in our hearts and our minds and our strength and our soul
that because God is with us, we can be made whole.
And it’s not all on us to discern what to do
because we have each other to help get us through,
and our God of compassion with fearless esprit
has become one of us so that we might be free.
In this season, we have a great chance to renew
our hope that there’s more in this life than we knew.
It is hard through the year to know how to do right
how to hold on to love in wee hours of the night.
There’s a lot we expect, and’s expected of us
and we’re stubborn and anxious; we struggle and fuss.
But against all odds God will be with us until
God’s grand expectations on earth are fulfilled.
May God’s love and compassion thus be our refrain
and visions of angels in dreams still remain
because “God is with us!” we claim once again,
and may all God’s people on earth cry, AMEN.