So, this morning I was speaking on a passage about the prophecy of Immanuel (God with us) as originally given to king Ahaz before the Exile, and also looking at the the dream of Joseph (not the one with the nice coat, the one with the famous step-son); and I ended up talking a fair bit about climbing- about fear, the importance of moving, the desire to stay put etc. Hardly any of that was written down, but it was by far the best part of what I said (or at least better than the rest of it). The moral of this tale? The blog is only the bare bones- get yourself to church.
Anyway, here’s what I said- where there’s a two line comment about climbing, you need to insert a really engaging story about overcoming our own fears….
Jesus- the Lord Saves… that’s what Joseph and Mary were told that they should call their son. And at his birth he was also given the name Immanuel- God is with us, harking back to the prophecy that Isaiah gave to king Ahaz many years before.
Joseph is given a clear instruction from God, and he obeys, even though it sounds odd- his fiancée is expecting, and it’s the son of God. Ahaz had been given a clear instruction also, and he disobeyed. He wasn’t being humble, he didn’t want a sign, because if that happened, he might have to listen to God and consider following God.
Following is about movement- its not static. If you’re following someone, you’re at least willing to move. But sometimes, none of your options look that good. For Joseph, there were several, and none looked great: stand aside from Mary, abandoning her- she might well have been stoned. Marry and then quietly divorce her- saving her life, but giving up all hope for their relationship. Marry her and take the shame of bringing up a child that everyone in town would know wasn’t his. At that point Joseph probably didn’t want to make any decision, but he had to. That’s how it is. Joseph had to make a move.
A number of years ago- climbing in Spain… climb back down, let the rope take my weight and be lowered down, or continue up…the one thing I couldn’t do was what I wanted to: stay put. I had to move.
How do we follow God? Its very simple to stand at one side and praise Joseph and condemn Ahaz, but how easy would we find it to follow these sort of clear, but challenging instructions from God.
One method is to start by following God in the small things- if we’re able to direct small areas of our lives so that we’re following God, then in time the larger things will be possible. Another option is completely the opposite- by committing to follow God in a significant area of life, other things change too. Either way, we learn to follow God by first deciding to, and then by following God. We can weigh up the odds or charge in, we can start with small things or with larger, but we have to actually be willing to follow God.
And as with many things, that first move is the hardest- at least in our minds. On that cliff in Spain, it turned out that I’d already climbed the hardest part of the cliff, but I didn’t know that. For Joseph, I think maybe there was no harder move than the morning when he woke after his dream- going to Mary and saying he believed her, and standing alongside her that first day. How might things have turned out for king Ahaz if he’d been willing to follow God instead of his own desires.
Following God sometimes involves waiting, it sometimes involves excitement, it sometimes involves trudging through the rain and all sorts of stuff we’d rather avoid, but just as with any other relationship, we do it not for what we gain, but because its unthinkable not to- we’re invited to know, to follow, to become children of God and be disciples of the one who was called God with us God saves. As we look back on this last year, and ahead, let us be willing to take the next step in following God, as a church and as individuals.