I tend to be someone who believes that people are always giving me their best and always being honest and forth right. By nature, I have always been very trusting or gullible as my brothers would fondly tell me. This has not always bode well for me. My older brothers and sometimes friends took advantage of this all the time when I was growing up. My brothers convinced me that monsters lived in the swamp behind our house waiting to eat little girls at dusk; a friend of mine convinced me that vampires were real and that they only came at night when we slept. And one of my brothers convinced me to switch rooms with him and clean his closet while I was at it. I learned real quick as a child that people are not always genuine and sometimes people are not always to be trusted. It was a hard lesson to learn. But one that I have carried with me and now I always ask questions first.
In our scriptures for this morning, Joseph found himself in a predicament. His betrothed, Mary, was pregnant before they married. This meant that the child was not his and that he and she would be publicly ridiculed and shunned if anyone were to find out that this happened. With God’s intervention though, Joseph was convinced not to break off the engagement but rather to adopt this child as his own and to marry Mary. He had to trust that what he was told by the angels was in fact the truth and that God had special plans for this child that involved him. Joseph lived in a world that had become very jaded by constant conquest and constant judgment from religious leaders, elders, and society. Yet he trusted that God was speaking to him those moments. He chose to risk his own reputation for what was being asked of him. Often times this small episode in the story of the birth of Christ gets overlooked and Joseph and his choices seem to get buried and forgotten.
But this story shows us just how important our decisions are. It shows us how our decision to either follow Christ or to just worry about our own lives makes a huge difference in this world. Albert Einstein is known to have said, “True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness”. To be faithful to God, to be faithful to the Christian life, means that we have to actively choose to trust in God. We have to choose to trust in him enough to walk on the path he has laid before us without all the answers. We have to trust in God knowing that he will not lead us astray or have ulterior motives as is so often the case with humanity. Joseph trusted and he embraced Mary as his wife, he embraced the child that was not his as his eldest son which was a special title in the ancient family. He taught him his trade and raised him: imparting his knowledge, his faith, and his love trusting all along that God was doing something wonderful.
This week of Advent we light the candle of love because the love of God has been promised to us in the form of a savior, who will lift us up above the struggles of this life, a savior who offers us a closer relationship with our Creator, a savior who gives us forgiveness and shows that our God is always faithful to his people. We are called to joyfully trust in the love of God. We can trust that our God cares for our plight, cares for our struggles, and hears our prayers, calling us to love others as he has loved us. One question remains, though. Do we trust in him enough, just as Joseph did, to risk everything, to walk in his light even though we can’t be certain where that path may be taking us?
Because just as Joseph showed so many years ago, true faith, true religion is all about our choices and how we choose to embrace the love of God as a part of our everyday lives. We need to choose God; not just once and that’s it. But we need to choose God over and over again, each and every day. We choose God by living into the kindness that Christ showed in his life, the kindness that he asked of his followers. We choose God by dedicating ourselves to helping those in need. By caring for those who have no one else to love them, we are choosing to trust in God and to follow the paths that he has laid before us.
So go forth this Sunday before Christmas and ask yourselves, “Have I chosen the love of God to be what defines my faith, my life, and my world?” And if not work to make the love of Christ, the love of God, more important than the skepticism of the world around us and offer love first when dealing with one another. Make the love, joy, hope, and peace of the Advent season apart of your day throughout the year and know that by doing so you are choosing God’s message over all else in this world and your hearts will always be ready to welcome the Christ child when he comes once more. So this morning I leave with the words of our scriptures to help start on the path of pondering, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife”. Remember your choices can change the whole world around you, just as Joseph’s choices changed the world around him.
 Albert Einstein, 20th century scientist.
 Matthew 1: 24, RSV.
(based on Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19 and Matthew 1: 18-25)