got faith?

Bartolomé_Esteban_Perez_Murillo_023
Artist: Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (1617-1682)

Synopsis: What if we started a “got faith?” advertising campaign? Would it be as successful as “got milk?” How would we describe what faith looks like or prove its health benefits? Fortunately, we have two wonderful “portraits of faith” to consider: Mary and Joseph.

Scriptures: Matthew 1: 18-25

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Peace be with you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

How many of you remember the “milk – it does the body good” commercials? Milk marketers started this advertising campaign in the 1980s to help reverse falling milk sales. The commercials claimed that drinking milk was necessary for strong bones and teeth and to prevent osteoporosis.

How many of you remember the “got milk?” commercials? These commercials began in the early nineties, and they were much more creative.

The famous commercial of this campaign was the one where a museum worker is taking his lunch break while listening to a classical music station. Suddenly, the music stops, and the DJ says, “Now, let’s make that random call with our $10,000 question. It’s a tough one! Who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel?”

The museum worker looks all around him, and his eyes grow wide. He’s lucky enough to be taking his break in a room loaded with historical artifacts related to that famous duel, including a painting of the two men poised to duel with their names printed on banner-like labels under their depictions. So, all he has to do is read the name of the other guy: Aaron Burr.

Just then, the phone rings, and he picks it up. It’s the DJ looking for the answer to the $10,000 question. The DJ says, “For $10,000 who shot …” the museum worker is so excited, he cuts off the DJ mid-sentence and says, “Aaron Burr.” The DJ responds, “Excuse me?” You see, our museum worker had just taken a rather large bite of a peanut butter sandwich.

The museum worker quickly realizes the problem, reaches for his carton of milk, tips it over above his empty glass, and just a few squirts of milk fly out, surely not enough to remedy the pasty glob. The DJ says, “Your time is almost up.” The museum worker tries one more time, “Aaron Burr.” The DJ says, “I’m sorry … maybe next time.” Click. The screen fades to black, and that famous slogan fades in with its white lowercase letters: “got milk?”

What if we started an advertising campaign called “got faith?” Do you think it would be as successful as “got milk?” Milk has the advantage. It’s concrete: We can see it, smell it, feel it, and taste it. Faith is abstract. What can’t see, smell, feel, or taste faith.

Does faith “do a body good”? Does it give us strong bones and teeth? Does it prevent osteoporosis? Does it have the power to wash down the pasty glob of a peanut butter sandwich and win us $10,000 in a radio contest?

How can we even begin to imagine what faith looks like? Well, luckily, we have two “portraits of faith” from today’s scripture reading.

The first one is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Ladies – try to imagine yourselves in Mary’s shoes. You are a young woman – 12-14 years old. You belong to a respectable Jewish family. In fact, you come from Jewish royalty. You belong to the tribe of Jessie, and you are a direct descendant of King David.

You are betrothed to Joseph, who is also of the tribe of Jessie and a direct descendant of King David. Your father arranged your marriage. You were consulted about this after the fact, but only as a formality. Even if you said, “Him … ewwweh, no way!” You wouldn’t get out of it. All you’d get was a look of extreme displeasure from your father.

Next a public announcement was made, and you were officially “engaged.” During this time, typically at least a year, you still lived in your father’s house, and you were not allowed to lie with your betrothed. Even so, your engagement couldn’t be broken off except through death or divorce. Your father, Joachim (YO-ah-kim), would have received a “mohar” – a dowry – as payment for you. The mohar was typically paid in cash, but sometimes it was paid in service.

Once the engagement period ends, the marriage ceremony will take place where you will be escorted to Joseph’s house to begin living with him. At that time, ownership of you will be passed from your father to your new husband.

Now, imagine that at some point during your engagement period, while you were still living in your father’s house, you are visited by the angel Gabriel. We know from Luke chapter 1 how this conversation went.

The angel says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” You’re obviously very startled by this supernatural greeting. Then the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” You say to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

The Jews lived according to Torah Law, which is found in the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. According to Deuteronomy chapter 22, if a girl is found not to be a virgin when the marriage is consummated, not only can her betrothed divorce her, but she can also be stoned to death for adultery.

Just imagine ladies: You’re barely a teenager, and now you have to explain your pregnancy by telling everyone about a vision you had from the angel Gabriel. Maybe you can imagine them looking at you, shaking their heads, and saying, “Sure Mary, the Holy Spirit made you pregnant.”

How scared might you be? How much might you wish this situation would just go away somehow? How much might you wish it was someone else, not you? But, do you know what Mary said at the end of the angel’s visit? She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Our next portrait of faith is Joseph. Now men, try to imagine yourselves in Joseph’s shoes. You may be a teenager like Mary, or you could be a grown man. Either way, you have proven yourself in Joachim’s (YO-ah-kim’s) eyes to be a worthy husband for his daughter.

Imagine that you have been betrothed to this young woman for a while, and now you are eagerly waiting for the marriage ceremony when she will be brought to your home to begin living with you. Until then, you expect her to remain a virgin.

But then, you find out that she is pregnant. She claims, however, to still be a virgin. She claims that she was visited by an angel and told that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God.

You know your rights under Torah Law but, you’re a compassionate guy. You want to do the right thing. You don’t want to see this young woman disgraced or stoned to death. You’re thinking about divorcing her, but quietly. Perhaps her family can hide her away somewhere for a time until she gives birth to conceal this situation.

But then, just as you’re contemplating this, you have a dream where an angel appears to you and says, “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.”

Marry her anyway? That’s an option you didn’t even consider. Well, you could claim to be the child’s father, but if you did that, your reputation would be tarnished. Maybe you can hear people saying, “Just couldn’t wait for the proper time, could you Joseph?”

What would you do? Would you believe the angel’s words and marry her? Or would it all just seem too far-fetched to be true? Or would the situation just be too messy for you to want to deal with? Would you want to just wash your hands of this situation?

We all know what Joseph did. He changed his mind because he had faith in the angel’s message – that this child was conceived by God for a special purpose. He took Mary as his wife, but he did lay with her until after Jesus was born. He didn’t want there to be any confusion about who this child’s father was.

Because Joseph was a compassionate guy, he probably wasn’t as concerned about his own reputation as he was about Jesus and his descendants. You see, according to Torah law as stated in Deuteronomy chapter 23, a person of illegitimate birth may not enter the Assembly of the Lord, nor may anyone related to him or her through the tenth generation. But how could Joseph claim to be the father if Jesus truly was conceived by the Holy Spirit and God’s own Son?

As you can see, the situation was quite complicated, so it took great faith for Joseph to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus.

Our gospel writer Matthew explains that all of this happened to fulfill a prophecy from Isaiah 7: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” God Himself came down from the Heavens, and entered into the body of a baby, so that he could be with us, learn what it’s like to be human, and lead us back to Him.

Now that we have a couple of good portraits of faith to consider, I’d like to talk about what faith is not. Faith is not blind adherence to religious doctrine. Some Christians claim that you’re not a Christian if you don’t believe in the virgin birth of Jesus – if you don’t believe that the story told in our gospel reading for today is literally true.

I believe that if we insist on viewing this story solely through a literal lens, then we miss the deep spiritual meaning it holds for us. We’ve all been exposed to some great stories, some of which we knew weren’t true, yet they still spoke to our souls.

So, was Jesus really conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, or was this story concocted by our gospel writers to give credibility to Jesus’ messiahship as some bible scholars have claimed? Who knows? Who will ever know? But I do believe that Jesus came into this world exactly as God intended, according to His Will, and with God anything is possible.

I think that’s the main point of this story.

Faith does the soul good because when we have faith, we believe that with God anything is possible. That’s why Mary and Joseph both believed the messages they received from the angels.

The Jewish people believe it is important to “fear” God, not so much in the sense of being afraid of God, but more of being in awe of God – in awe of God’s Power and of the Mystery and Magnificence of His Creation. So, Mary and Joseph’s story of being visited by angels would not have been considered far-fetched by the people of their time. They believed in the unseen.

Beginning with the scientific revolution of the sixteenth century, we arrogantly began to believe only in what we could sense with our human apparatus. If we couldn’t see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, it didn’t exist. These days, scientists are beginning to figure out that the more we try to uncover the mysteries of creation, the deeper the mystery gets.

Robert Jastrow, an American astronomer and planetary physicist, once said, “Science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about the conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by … a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

How many of you believe in angels? You’re not weird because believe or not, recent polls have revealed that three out of four Americans believe in angels.
How many of you believe in miracles? Again, you’re not weird. Three out of four Americans believe in miracles.

That’s good news! We’re not skeptics! We believe that not everything in God’s creation can be sensed with our human apparatus and not everything can be explained with our powers of reasoning. So, when it comes to what can happen, we believe the sky’s the limit. That’s faith.

Faith does the soul good because when we have faith, we find that we have more options available to us than we think. How many people might have thought, given the situation, that Joseph’s choice to take Mary as his wife anyway was crazy? How many of you can recall a situation in your life where God presented you with a solution to a problem that you didn’t even consider? Or maybe a solution that – from the world’s perspective – was nuts?

Personally, I can recall an incident in my life where I felt God was calling me to leave a job because He had bigger plans for me. Leaving that job would ruin my reputation with that employer and jeopardize my financial security. From the perspective of this world, that’s nuts!

Faith does the soul good because when we have faith, we are able to accept whatever happens in our lives gracefully – even when it doesn’t make any sense – even when we can’t even begin to imagine why on Earth God would do this to us – because we trust that God has a purpose, and we submit to His Will.

How many of you, when you were faced with a difficult situation in your life, couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be for your good or for the good of all? But then, when you looked back years later, you realized what a huge blessing it was? You realized how good it was for your soul?

I followed God’s promptings, and I left that job. For about five years, I was bitter about it. But then, when I looked back, I realized that it was the best decision I ever made. It did my soul good. If I hadn’t made that choice, I doubt I would have accomplished as much as I did in life since then.

With God, anything is possible. If we have faith, we have something far better than a $10,000 prize – something infinitely more valuable. We have peace. We have peace because we know that God knows what is good for our souls and for the souls of all humanity, and He can do anything to accomplish it, including coming down to earth to be with us.

When God “calls us up” (so-to-speak) with the arrival of a challenge in our lives for our good or for the good of all, let us have enough of the milk of faith to wash away any pasty globs of fear and doubt that might be clogging up our souls, so that we can respond with the right answer as Mary demonstrated: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

I think that’s the best “got faith?” commercial there is.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to have strong faith like Mary’s and Joseph’s. Through the Power of Your Holy Spirit, wash away all fear and doubt so that when we are faced with difficult situations in life, we can be at peace. Amen.

Resources

Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Christmas Faith: Matthew 1:18-2:23.” Bible.org, bible.org/article/christmas-faith-matthew-118-223

Schauss, Hayyim. “Ancient Jewish Marriage.” MyJewishLearning.com, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ancient-jewish-marriage/

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