December 14: UCW Candlelight Communion Service

Scripture:     Isaiah 40:1-5

1 Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Scripture:  Micah 5:2-5 

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me   one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Reflection:  Joseph’s Dilemma 

It’s amazing, frightening, really, how quickly life can turn around.  Joseph’s life had been turned upside down in an instant, with just three words.  Until two weeks ago he had been the happiest man in Nazareth.  He was engaged to Mary-a beautiful vibrant kind woman.  Both of the families seemed pleased with the match.  On top of that, his carpentry business was flourishing.  Until two weeks, ago, he had been humming songs of praise as he worked on various pieces of furniture.  As he hummed, he day-dreamed and prayed for a day  in the future, maybe in a dozen years or so, God willing, when he would begin to teach his son the skills of his trade.

And then two weeks ago, Mary spoke those words that changed his prayer in to lament and his daydream into a nightmare.  “I am pregnant,” she told him.  Joseph knew that Mary’s child wasn’t his.  But he didn’t know who the father was.  When he asked Mary, she wouldn’t tell him.  All she said was that he wouldn’t believe it if she told him.  She asked him to trust her.  She asked him to trust that God would make everything work out.

Scripture: Isaiah 7:13-16

13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Reflection

How do you trust when trust has been broken? That was just one of the questions that kept Joseph awake at night. Every night for the past two weeks sleep had eluded him.  As soon as he closed his eyes, the questions and the conflicting emotions swirled in his mind.  He tossed and turned throughout the night as he considered his options.

Scripture:  Galatians 4:4-5

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

Reflection

Because Mary was carrying someone else’s child, Joseph was obligated by the law to dismiss her as his betrothed.  At first he felt so betrayed and angry that he wanted to do more than dismiss her.  He wanted to get even.  If he knew who the father was, Joseph would see that the no-good scoundrel got what was coming to him.  He considered telling his next door neighbour, the town gossip, that Mary had cheated on him.  He could imagine his neighbour, at sunrise standing at the well in the town centre whispering in the ears of all the women as they came for water.  By mid-morning, Mary’s reputation would be in tatters.  By mid-morning Mary, and maybe even her guilty lover, would be dragged to the gates of the town for sentencing.  What if someone decided that Mary should be punished according to the law of Moses?  What if someone threw a stone and hit her as the law demanded?  What if others followed suit?  By noon, Mary could be lying in a broken and bloody heap-dust to dust, ashes to ashes. 

No, as upset as he was, Joseph couldn’t let that happen to Mary. His churning stomach helped him realize that he loved her deeply.

Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Reflection

But what could he do? Even though his heart was breaking, he couldn’t bear to see Mary hurt.  Maybe he would just break the engagement quietly.  He didn’t have to tell; anyone the reason.  Yeah, that’s what he could do.  Her wouldn’t humiliate her or expose her to a public stoning. He would do what he could to protect her.  He tried not to think about what would happen when Mary’s belly started to swell.  But in the dead of night he kept seeing her standing alone, using her bare hands to try to deflect the rocks being hurtled at her.  Joseph kept tossing and turning all night long.  The next morning he was so tired his eyes stung as if he had been in a sandstorm.  In the middle of the day, he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer, so he sat on his bench in the shade of a tree and immediately fell asleep and began to dream.

In his dream, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and spoke.  He couldn’t really see the angel.  It was bathed in a beautiful light.  But he heard every word when the angel spoke in a voice of calm and gentle authority:

“Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  The child being knit together in Mary’s womb is God’s child.  This child is God’s gift to you and Mary and the whole world.  Joseph, God needs you to love this child as your own son.  This child needs your love and devotion.  He needs the example of your obedience and faithfulness.  He needs you to name him Jesus – God saves.  He needs you to claim him as part of your family, for you come from a long line of faithful descendants who have known God’s steadfast love in difficult circumstances.  Your family, like every family, has known tragedy and brokenness and sin.  Your family, like every family, needs to know the forgiving, healing love of God.  Joseph, Mary’s child will help you to know God’s love in a way you have never known before.  Joseph, you need this child in your life.  Joseph, Mary needs you.  Her baby needs you.  God needs you.  Don’t be afraid.  God will give you the strength and wisdom to do the right thing.”

Joseph woke with a start and he knew what he would do.  He went back to work, but not on the shelves he had been making for a customer.  Instead he chose some fine olive wood and began cutting narrow strips that he would fashion into a cradle – a cradle for his son, Jesus.  As he worked he began to hum.

Scripture: Luke 2:7

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

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