The Mightiest Word, Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22, 2013


Robin McGonigle

University Congregational Church

Dec. 22, 2013

“The Mightiest Word”

Matt. 1:18-25

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.”

Because these words are familiar, we sometimes miss the radical behavior of the people in the story.

  • Joseph is able in 2 short verses is able to get over Mary’s apparent betrayal and then commits his life to her and her child.
  • Jesus is promised to “save his people from their sins” – quite a burden for a child not yet born.  This child is going to show the world what God is really like and bring Divine presence to each person he meets.
  • Joseph and Mary, although now legal, refrain from sexual relations during the long months leading up to Jesus’ birth.

If I had been around then as an angel of the Lord, I might not have been so bold in the promises department.  “Joseph, I’m here with a message that you’re supposed to keep your promises to Mary.  But I’m certain that God would understand if you didn’t.”  If I had the news to deliver, I might try to make a joke out of it.  “Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”  “You’ll never guess!  An angel of the Lord!”

If I had been around then, and a friend of Joseph, I might have advised him that a woman who gets pregnant with another’s baby isn’t necessarily the best pick for marriage.  At least postpone it, I might advise.

But these folks act out of some unbelievable trust and faith.  They are willing and ready to take the high road and make the best of a startlingly complicated situation.

On this 4th Sunday of Advent, we celebrate God’s love.  Love – perhaps that speaks to the question of how these people of old were able to act and react as they did… from Gabriel to Elizabeth and Zachariah, from Mary to Joseph, from the inn keeper to the shepherds.  Perhaps deep inside of each of them was a spark of love that grew and grew until it became more than a word.

The following is a portion of the poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” written by Elizabeth Alexander


Skip to next paragraph Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light.

“What if the mightiest word is love?” asks the poet.  And so I ask you, what is the mightiest word in your life?  When I prepare for a funeral – especially if it is for a person I don’t know – one thing I ask the family is to do is name a word or phrase that describes the person.  I get many responses like: compassionate, family, oenery… and one family actually said that the word best describing their loved one was… BEER!

What is the mightiest word in your life?  Perhaps it is a good word:

  • Service to others
  • Generous
  • Worker
  • Leader
  • Healer
  • Peaceful
  • Patient
  • Laughter

Perhaps it is a word that you aren’t proud of, but have to admit:

  • Shopping
  • Fear
  • Busyness
  • Pain
  • Money

On this 4th Advent Sunday of Love, let’s really evaluate that word.  It is a strong word – to love someone is as powerful as any other emotion.  It is also a soft word – to love someone is deeply personal.  It is a fragile word – to love is to be vulnerable.

Is love the mightiest word in your life?  Is it the word that describes your work, your activity, your family, your hobbies, and your purpose in life?  Is love your mightiest word?

Now I’m not speaking of the smultzy, gooey, sweet kind of love.  I’m talking the love of Jesus – the bold, deliberate, willing-to-risk-anything, radical kind of love that has you serving the homeless on one night and visiting a grieving family another.  The birth of God’s love into the world is a radical event.  The world is turned upside down.  Existing authority is challenged.  Kings are so terrified that their rage leads to mass killings.  Systemic oppression is confronted.

-This is love that looks doubt and pain in the eye un-flinchingly.

-This is a love that rocks the socks off of strangers and leaves them shaking their heads.

-This is the reckless, giving away of self and possessions for the sake of another.

-This is love that is not afraid to speak truth.

– This is love that questions the status quo and asks for priority to be given to the poor, the children, the elderly, the outcast, the prisoner, and the sick.

– This is love that does not allow for hatred to be spewed from TV personalities or commentators.

Is love your mightiest word?  If I were pressed to think about what the opposite of love is, I might say that it is to use things and people – to take someone or something and manipulate it for selfish purpose.

But when I think about love and Jesus, I realize that there are at least two elements to describe his radical way of living and loving; first, it was a testament of God’s love.  That’s what “Emmanuel” means: God is with us.  Everything Jesus did reflected God’s love.  His life was not his own or for his glory – it was always for the purpose of demonstrating how God loves.  When love is your mightiest word, you reflect God’s most perfect love.

Secondly, Jesus’ love was unconditional.  It couldn’t be rescinded or qualified.  It was pure and all-encompassing.  You couldn’t lose it.  No matter what.  In our world, that kind of love is rare.  We know people whose parents have turned their backs on them.  We know siblings who don’t speak to one another.  We know friendships which have been disrupted.  Marriages break up.  Love isn’t permanent in our experience.  But when love is your mightiest word, it is unconditional and forever.

When we love, we speak the language of God.

“We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?”