BREAKTHROUGH

MATTHEW 1:18-23

Christmas Pageants and special Christmas services are traditions this time of year. And as happens even when we plan every detail it is inevitable that sometimes things won’t go according to plan. This is demonstrated gloriously on the website Facts and Trends in the story, “ 10 hilarious church Christmas fails you have to see.”.

In our first video a group of children perform what might be considered Pearland’s official Christmas song, the 12 days of Christmas. For those of you who don’t get the connection the 12 days of Christmas is the official Pearland Christmas song because the last day of Christmas the singer’s true love gives the singer a partridge in a pair tree. And as some of you know Pearland was named after the Pear Trees that used to be here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=15&v=rfxlmC3Rojg&feature=emb_logo

As you can see the seventh day of Christmas has some control issues which stems from trying to corralling those seven swans a swimming.

In our second video two little girls show just how much they love baby Jesus.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=11&v=M2PP1Ey3NEk&feature=emb_logo

It is easy to be jealous of baby Jesus. He is such a doll……

In our final video we see some audience members find themselves in a hairy situation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=22&v=nFd3e3m4Eao&feature=emb_logo

It seems like Christmas fell on hump day that year.

Actually I checked the video was posted on December 9, 2010, which was a Thursday not a Wednesday or hump day.   Unfortunately we can’t get everything we want for Christmas……

Perhaps you have your own amusing stories of Christmas mishaps. If so I would like to hear some after the service. But in our text today we see that approximately nine months before the first Christmas things are not going according to plan. The problem is that Mary is pregnant but not by Joseph. The problem is that it seems she has committed adultery. The consequences of Mary’s unplanned pregnancy wouldn’t just be social shaming. In Mary’s society Mary would face the shame of being stoned to death. The Virgin conception, the incarnation of God, one of the greatest miracles of the Bible, throws Mary and Joseph’s life into chaos. For Mary to survive, for Jesus to be born, for their marriage to survive, Mary and Joseph need a miracle to help them deal with the miracle. Mary and Joseph need a breakthrough.

Joseph and Mary got their breakthrough. They got their divine intervention.  And in our lives how many times have we wished and prayed for a miracle? How many times have we wished and prayed for divine intervention?  How many times have we asked for a breakthrough? Perhaps we don’t need or expect an angel of the Lord to appear to us but there are times in our lives where we all need a sign. We all have a deep desire for God to break the silence of our lives to show us that He is there and lead us through the wilderness. But I think our text today shows us that even when we get our breakthrough that doesn’t mean we will live happily ever after.  To receive our breakthrough we must be brave enough to live in the world that comes after the breakthrough. In Mary and Joseph’s breakthrough I see good news for us.

 

 

The Good News: When we are unashamed of messy miracles we shall be brave enough to step into our breakthrough. How do we accept the messiness of miracles in our lives?

  1. We must put shame to shame
  2. We must accept that miracles are messy

First we see that to live in our breakthrough we must put shame to shame.  Our text today tells us that Joseph sought to divorce Mary quietly so she would not be put to disgrace. The word here evokes parading someone around to mock, humiliate, or publicly shame them.  In the ancient world this was often used when a conquering army While we may judge Joseph for still divorcing Mary quietly, if we are honest with ourselves, we must be honest and say that Joseph is being kinder to Mary than many of us are when people offend us, disappoint us, or just generally get on our bad side. While we hate it when we are publicly shamed, we have all found that public shaming is a useful tool to get others to conform to our will and our wishes.  Perhaps we have never actually stoned someone but most of have said, “I can’t believe you did that” or “you always do such and such” , “ how dare you.”

Brene Brown is a popular speaker on vulnerability and shame, and a professor of social work at the University of Houston.  In her TED talk, “Listening to Shame,” Brown talks about the role shame has on our lives and how to achieve the breakthrough of understanding. Her video on vulnerability has twelve million views on youtube. Her video on shame has about four million views, which makes sense since a video on shame doesn’t sound as appealing as a video on vulnerability.  Though Brown researches vulnerability and shame for a living she wasn’t ready for the amount of exposure that came when her video on vulnerability went viral with twelve million views. In her video on shame Brown describes being in a sporting goods store buying equipment for her kids. Suddenly from 100 feet away she hears some yell, “Vulnerability TED, Vulnerability TED!” In recounting this experience to the TED talk audience Brown says this, “ I’m a fifth generation Texan. Our family modo is lock and load. I am not a natural vulnerability researcher.”  Brown goes on to describe what happened with this would be fan. After trying to avoid her admirer for a while she finally faces the stranger. The fan declares, “ You’re the shame researcher that had the breakdown!” Brown recounts her reaction, “At this point parents are pulling their children close to look away. I am so worn out at this point in my life. I look at her and I actually say, “it was a freaking spiritual awakening.” The woman replies, “ we watched your TED talk in my book club. Then we read your book.  and we renamed ourselves the breakdown babes. Our tag line is, “we are falling apart and it feels fantastic.”

While Brown is a shame researcher she became famous for talking about courage and vulnerability. But Brown’s life brought her back to shame. To quote Brown, “ in surviving this last year I was reminded of a cardinal rule. Not a research rule but a moral imperative from my upbringing, “you gotta dance with the one who brung ya”. “ And I did not learn about vulnerability, and courage, and creativity and innovation, from studying vulnerability. I learned about these things by studying shame.”

One of her key observations about shame is the difference between guilt and shame. To quote Brown, “guilt is a focus on behavior, shame is a focus on self. Guilt says I have done bad, shame says I am bad.” Brown argues that shame is highly correlative with abusive and addictive behavior while guilt is highly correlated with treating others well. Guilt says, “I’m sorry I made a mistake.” Shame says, “I’m sorry I am a mistake.”  To quote Brown, “The ability to hold something we have done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It is uncomfortable but it is adaptive.”

I believe Brown’s description of shame is a modern way of saying ancient Biblical truth. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” To put in Brown’s terms guilt leads to repentance and shame leads to death. I think that was demonstrate in the Garden of Eden when after disobeying God and eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge and good and evil, Adam and Eve realized they were naked and they hid themselves from God. The church has been known for shaming people into changing their behavior. But Christ didn’t come as a helpless child to shame us he came as a helpless child to save us. God doesn’t want us to feel bad about who we are he wants us to feel bad about what we have done.  Our own pain is very real to us. But God wants us to try to imagine the pain we have done to others. God wants us to try to imagine how we have grieved his Holy Spirit. And God wants us to know that he has a solution to shame. Joseph was unwilling to embarrass Mary publicly, no matter how he felt about what he thought was her adultery. But God was more than willing to humiliate sin, death and the Devil. Paul in the letter to the Colossians uses the same word for shame that Matthew uses in this text to describe Christ’s victory on the cross. To quote Paul, “ When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it way, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:14-15). Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead so that we could be free of the law of sin and death to walk in the Spirit of abundant life. Jesus died and was raised so we could stop feeling bad about ourselves and start feeling bad about the hurt we have done to others.

Once we put shame to shame we will be ready to accept the truth that miracles are messy. As our text today shows us miracles can be pretty messy.  Mary and Joseph’s life was turned upside down when God brought His Son into this world to save this world. Elsewhere in the Bible we see that miracles can be messy. In the book of Exodus God’s people prayed for four hundred years to be delivered from slavery in Egypt. When God finally sent Moses to deliver them out of Egypt with signs and wonders, they find themselves free from slavery but in a wilderness that doesn’t have all the comforts of home. So they complain, saying they were better off when they didn’t have any freedom but their stomachs were full. By complaining they prolonged their time in the wilderness. In the Gospel of John when a man who was born blind from birth is healed by Jesus he goes and tells of the miracle to the religious leaders who are spiritually blind. Unwilling to accept this miracle they cast this man out of the community he has been a part of all his life (John 9). Sure the man was once blind and now he can see. But what his eyes show him is an uncertain future.

 

The Rest of this sermon was changed significantly since I first wrote it. The changes are reflected in the recording and the power point notes. 

Powerpoint notes december 22