Yahw-h Is Salvation: Matt. 1:18-25
#YahwehIsSalvation is the Podcast for December 18, 2016. How doe God save? What does it have to do with you? Kurowski opens the podcast with a chilling reflection from Jewish philosopher Elie Wiesel about where God is. How does God use his power? Humanity is front and center in this reflection on Joseph and the birth of Christ. Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Justice #Advent #Matthew #Matthew1 #ElieWiesel #Auschwitz #HowDoesGodSave #KingdomofGod #JesusBirth #Joseph #Emmanuel #Isaiah #GreatestGeneration #WWII #EdmundBurke #Shoa
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 12/18/2016 The 4th Sunday of Advent.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 1:18-25.
The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh is salvation.” In other words, “God saves.”
In his 1958 book Night, Elie Wiesel, the Jewish philosopher and survivor of the death camps at Auschwitz wrote,
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“Where is God now?”
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
“Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows…”
God saves through the changing of the character of men and women who choose to do the right thing. God saves by turning the hearts of people from sin to holiness. When people do not turn from sin and kill, destroy, and persecute others, then there is a reality where the justice of God will play out.
In our reading from Isaiah for this fourth Sunday of Advent, Ahaz was king of Judah. He had two enemies at his door. One was the kingdom of Israel, for this was the time when Israel and Judah were split into two kingdoms. The other enemy was the king of Damascus, Syria. In the passage for this Sunday from Isaiah, Ahaz is inquiring of the prophet Isaiah, “will the Lord protect Judah?” God’s answer was to have Ahaz ask for a sign from the Lord. Ahaz acted like the Lord God was trying to trick him, so he refused with a sense of false humility. So, the Lord said, I will send you a sign that a virgin is going to give birth and her son will be named “God with us.” Then by the time the child grows, the countries that are threatening you will no longer be a problem. In this instance, God saved the kingdom.
Over the years, I have often talked about our citizenship as those who love the Lord. Our citizenship is in heaven and we live it out here on earth. We live it out by having our hearts changed. When our hearts are turned toward God a lot of good things start to happen. We become peaceful people. We love others as ourselves. We say we are sorry when we mess up. We become people who speak out against injustice. We become willing to die because we know that when we die there will be a judgment. When we face the judgment, those of us who love the Lord and believe in him, we will be saved.
Wiesel’s account of God in the concentration camps from his book Night gives us a glimpse of the true reality. Humans think that power used for self-advantage is the ultimate reality. Humanity will divide itself by any means necessary to gain self-benefit. The philosopher Nietzsche was right about that in the world. We are always seeking dominance as power. When you listen to serial killers, war criminals, despots, and anyone who seeks to dominate, you can hear the desire to have power to validate their reality. This flies in the face of the way that God acts to exert his power.
When the Father in heaven exerts his power, he seeks to bring life into existence. He seeks renewal of individuals and communities. How does the Father in heaven show his saving act toward humanity at Christmas? He sends a baby in a manger to a girl who is betrothed, having not yet consummated her marriage, to give birth in a stable amongst dirt and filth. He allows his Son to be betrayed, convicted unfairly, beaten in custody, then hung on the gallows of his day.
It is people like Wiesel who are given insight into God. The Lord is not about using power to dominate for his own self-satisfaction. The Lord is about using his power in ways that give life and create. The Lord is about using his power in ways that invite us to change our behavior to collaborate with the larger agenda: saving and renewing the world.
Auschwitz, the Crucifix, these are signs of what humans who think they are god or know better than god do when given power. Humans destroy. They will even destroy God himself, if it means that the person calling the shots can gain an advantage. Do you hear, Pontius Pilate? The Cross is THE sign of how the Lord uses power. When one is able to either call angels down to save himself here on earth or die an earthly death to save all humanity, a human would choose to save him or herself. The human who follows God, or who is God, will choose to die to save the world.
When a human becomes the king, or queen, they dine in the best restaurants. They sleep in the most luxurious accommodations. Their power is exemplified by their status. When God comes to earth as a human, he chooses the lowest place, a manure laden stable, to be born, sleep, and live. When the Lord of the Universe comes, he chooses to experience what life is like for everyone so that he can heal it all. When someone who follows Christ becomes powerful they ask a simple question, “How can I renew this to honor the Lord by lifting up his people?”
God saves, but we think he saves by bolts of lightning, which can be true. With the most regularity though, he saves through people cooperating with his will. Take Joseph, for example. He is a man who is bound by betrothal legally to be married to Mary. He finds her with child and knows that he is not the father. He can legally have her stoned to death for the sin of adultery. Yet, he is not a man who sticks to the letter of the law. He is a man who has mercy and believes in life because he believes in the Giver of Life. So, he decides that Mary’s humiliation is better than her death. He decides to divorce her quietly and let her and the child live.
To this man, Joseph, an angel appears. He does not run to a therapist, or deny that there was a vision because of something he ate. He believes what the Angel Gabriel says. He is open to communication from God. From there, Joseph will protect the child like every father should. Joseph takes Mary for his wife. He supports and protects the family through some pretty harrowing stuff, about which we will again revisit this Christmas season in the readings. Joseph knows there is a God, there is a reality in heaven, and our role is to take the risk to do the things that bring renewal to honor that reality. This is how someone who loves God uses the power of that love: they use it for others and for renewal.
I believe it is no mistake that after World War II thousands of men flocked back to the churches. After seeing the plight of God in the death camps of the Nazi’s, army, navy, air force, and marines were moved to honor the One who died for them. After they fought to release the Jews, which I believe was a necessary use of War, these same men worked to advance the nation under the G.I. Bill. They worked to fight against discrimination and poverty. They used earthly power to level the playing field for all of God’s children.
At the start of my life in ministry, I had the delight to serve these men who delivered others from death. Always, they would ask how the money was spent to ensure it was being spent to serve others. Always, they asked what were we doing to advance the Kingdom of God. Always, they wanted us to reach out, take risks, be bold in our work for Jesus Christ, like Joseph served Jesus in his earthly life.
The 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” Yet, when those inspired by Jesus Christ, by the coming of the God-boy born in the manger, work for renewal and preparation for the arrival of the Lord, the world is a better place. Our pioneer is Joseph, who chose openness to God over the Law, mercy over judgment, and fatherhood over righteous indignation. He acted to give us the Son, who became the man, who we discovered saved the world from our sins. When the Lord saves, he sends a human. Are you open to receive his messenger? Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2016.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian