MESSAGE “The Favored Woman and the Righteous Man”
Rev. James R. Renfrew, Teaching Elder
In a world filled with so many daily challenges, with shootings, bombings, religious conflict, vicious wars and thousands of refugees, I find great comfort when all of us come together here in Byron on Christmas Eve to enjoy the peace of Jesus Christ. It’s warm, it’s friendly, and it’s really good for your soul. I love these old Christmas stories that Isabelle, Emily and I have shared tonight. I have never missed a Christmas Eve service in my entire life, except for the year I was so sick I couldn’t climb out of bed. We enjoy the music, love all the giving and receiving, and it’s a joy to be in God’s house surrounded by each other’s prayers. I love being here, and being reminded of what’s important in life, the things represented by our Advent candles: love, hope, joy and peace. Sure, there are some wonderful gifts under the tree to unwrap, delicious meals to share, and tasty cookies to enjoy, but spiritual treasures are what matter most. And they are available to you – in abundance – tonight!
This is a safe place to be – good company, good stories, good songs, and beautiful candles. Yet we must not conclude that Christmas is just a temporary refuge from our daily worries and fears. Christmas is not a retreat from the world. In fact, Christmas brings us right into the heart of the difficult human condition. But that’s OK, because that is exactly where we look for Jesus, and where he finds us.
Joseph and Mary – so many things seem to be going wrong as we hear about them. Mary is a frightened teenager about to give birth, and Joseph the father is about to walk away from her. Their country is occupied by foreign soldiers seeking plunder for a distant Roman emperor. An law requires Mary and Joseph to be counted in a census, but they don’t just send in a census form, they have to travel a long distance to Bethlehem to be counted. You’d think Mary would get a waiver due to advanced pregnancy, but, sorry, no. When they arrive in Bethlehem there is no hospitality or decency and a pregnant woman must spend the night in a barn. Soon after the birth, Joseph, Mary and Jesus become refugees, forced to flee murderous King Herod.
It was into such a world that Jesus arrived. What I learn from the stories about Jesus’ birth is that the worst places become the best places to find God. We light candles tonight to remind ourselves that in the presence of Jesus the darkness cannot last for long.
It begins with God thinking, “I’ve been planning to do this for a long, long time, and now is the right time; in Bethlehem, in Judea, but who, in all the world, will understand, who will help? God sends out angels to look.
Joseph is troubled. Mary is pregnant and they aren’t married. He is facing all kinds of ridicule, the kind of ridicule that will follow him for the rest of his life. Yet he is a good man, a righteous man, a man with a heart. Joseph’s righteousness gives God a good place to start. This leaves a simple question for you: what does God find righteous in you, and what is God creating out of your righteousness?
Mary is scared. She’s pregnant and she realizes that Joseph will be leaving her, and she will live the rest of her life in shame. But, no, an angel assures her that she is not powerless or insignificant, because she has found favor with God. This leaves a simple question for you – what does God find favorable about you? And what is God building upon that favor?
Yes, there are angels, shepherds wise men and a star in the story, but it all begins with a favored woman and a righteous man, Mary and Joseph, whose open hearts give God a new place to start. And it continues with all of you! There are so many challenges in the world, but now God has you, each one of you a light in the darkness!