I’m a big sports fan, and enjoy watching some of the well-produced documentaries that tell us stories of some of sports greatest athletes and their achievements. These stories are often so compelling because of the obstacles that many athletes had to overcome to do great things in the end. In almost every case, there was some special person the athlete met along the way that made a big difference, and changed the course of the athlete’s future, a person who we would not know anything about, apart from this story – the unsung hero.
As the anticipation builds toward the final Sunday in Advent, and to the coming Lord’s nativity, we get to meet a true unsung hero of Jesus’s childhood. We know him as Joseph of Nazareth, but we really know so little about the man who was called to be the earthly father of Jesus. We cannot put together a documentary about Joseph’s role in Jesus life, but what we do know of Joseph from scripture gives us a good idea.
Joseph was a humble man, living in Nazareth, a rather remote and nondescript place at the time. He was a skilled tradesman and laborer, trained in carpentry, something he likely passed on to Jesus, as well as his other children. He was engaged to marry a young woman of the village named Mary and I’m sure was banking on living a simple provincial life without anything more than ordinary drama.
Mary, however, ends up pregnant, and Joseph cannot be the father. We forget that in those days, it would have been a vile offense for a man to be dishonored in this way by a woman to whom he was betrothed. It would have been easy and customary for Joseph to have disclaimed Mary and her baby, and the punishment for Mary’s apparent indiscretion would have been ostracism, and perhaps even death.
Scripture does not tell us this, but I’m sure Joseph was hurt by this unexpected news. Yet, Joseph’s love for Mary would not allow him to turn her out to suffer the unjust consequences of public humiliation. His faith inspired him instead to stand up to the customs of patriarchy, remain faithful to Mary and to foster their special child and protect them from those who would do harm to them.
This took a great deal of courage, but Joseph, inspired by God, chose love over custom, chose grace over laws, chose life over death, and is remembered for being the humble steward of a miracle. Joseph is a true unsung hero of the faith and an example of steadfastness under adversity, and a witness to the power that love has to change the course of history.
Who are the unsung heroes in your life?
For the complete sermon - CLICK HERE
Devotions for the week of December 18, 2016
Prepare the royal highway; the King of kings is near!
Let ev'ry hill and valley a level road appear!
Then greet the King of glory, foretold in sacred story:
This is one of my favorite hymns to sing during Advent. It is so hopeful, and full of imagery of Isaiah’s prophecy which promises the appearance of a Holy Way for God’s people, one which is paved through and protected from all the wildernesses we have in the world. The people on this Holy Way rejoice, because their King, their promised Messiah has come near.
God's people, see Him coming: your own eternal King!
Palm branches lay before Him! Spread garments, shout and sing!
His promise will not fail you! No more shall doubt assail you!
While an Advent hymn, this is also appropriate for Palm Sunday. As the King of Kings passes along the Holy Way, God’s people look to Jesus with love, praising and honoring the one who leads us beyond all doubts, faithful to God’s promises to overcome all fear, all weakness, all dangers.
Then fling the gates wide open to greet your Lord and King,
that ours and ev'ry nation their tribute here may bring.
All lands will bow before Him; with singing now adore Him
All things that once separated God from God’s people have now been overcome. And God’s love now flows along the Holy Way for all people to drink. God’s promises are effective and are announced along the Holy Way which leads to all points in the world. There is no end to God’s prevalent mercies.
His is no earthly kingdom; it comes from heav'n above.
His rule is peace and freedom and justice, truth and love.
So let your praise be sounding for mercy so abounding:
The blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven have come to earth. All the systems and attitudes that oppress God’s people, that keep them in prison have been replaced by a new rule where the law of love governs our lives and it is love in the flesh of God’s son that inaugurates everlasting peace for all. The Holy Way is the way of truth and justice, because it is paved with God’s unfailing love for us.
Hosanna to the Lord, for He fulfills His Word!
For the text of Sunday's sermon, click here
Devotions for the week of December 11, 2016
The younger of my two sons was an energetic child. He was wiry and slippery, adventurous and fearless. He could not sit still, especially not in church, so most often my wife would have to remove him after a while so he would not be a disruptive nuisance to others in worship. Out of sight, out of mind, and out of church for most of his young life. What could anyone expect from a three or four-year-old child anyway?
There was one service we attended and my son was with us in the service with my wife holding him on her lap all the way up to the sermon – when the unthinkable happened. He broke free and ran right up to the front of the church as the pastor was beginning to preach. He ran up to the front and plopped himself on the floor right in front of the pastor and looked and listened. My wife and I resisted the urge to run up to get him, thinking that more attention would be paid to us trying to wrestle him back to where we were sitting. So, we let well enough alone, but were still glued on him with watchful eyes.
The pastor began to preach, but admitted to having trouble that week getting to his sermon, and dealing with some personal matters that distracted him. He was struggling to preach and couldn’t find the words to proclaim the gospel that day. After watching this for a few minutes, my son began to call out “Pastor, Pastor!” The pastor tried to ignore him and come up with something to say but the boy was persistent “Pastor, Pastor”, he continued shout – “Love your neighbor as yourself!”
The pastor looked down at my son, and then reached down to pick him up. “Preach, little brother”, he said with my son on his shoulder. “Preach the Gospel!”. The pastor, moved by the spontaneous call of this little boy, then preached a sermon on love. He found the words from an unlikely source – a little child who led him that day, who gave inspiration where there was emptiness, who saw green shoots coming from a dead tree.
Isaiah knew that the people’s future would be in the hands of an unlikely leader. His words are full of rich and hopeful images about a new future springing up from a dead past. It’s a future that promises peace and an end to predatory injustices – wolves and lions, lamb and cattle living together without the need to dominate, without the need to fear. This incredible turnaround will come from a most unlikely source – a little child – the root of Jesse reborn to lead the people. Come thou long expected Jesus. “Preach to us, little brother”!
For the full text of this week's sermon - CLICK HERE
Devotions for Week of December 4, 2016
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About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.