Abide In Us

Matthew 1:18-25
Romans 1:1-17

I've always been nervous before preaching-- it gives me energy. But when I first came to Grace six months ago (wow, it's been six months!), I noticed the Sunday morning nervousness was amped up. My first Sunday Lynda or Marianna, maybe both, asked how I was doing, and I replied, "Terrified." That feeling persisted for several weeks and months; then I decided to seek out a spiritual director. The first thing he asked was, "How is your prayer life?"

Whoops.

I was expecting advice... hands on tips... not to discuss my prayer life. How does prayer enter in to my sermon preparation? I had to be honest. I said, "Pretty much non-existent." So he challenged me to try some new prayer practices. One I was interested in for many years, but never tried, was praying with beads. I had heard that it was very appealing to perfectionist personalities. So I bought some and an accompanying prayer book. Praying through the beads has been wonderful. Here's how it works:



There are 33 circular beads around the circle, symbolizing Jesus' 33 years on earth. Beginning with the cross, you pray one prayer, then a different one at the invitatory bead. There are four large beads around the circle, which form the shape of a cross. They are called cruciform beads; they have their own prayer. Then in between the cruciform beads are seven smaller beads called weeks. They have their own prayer too. There are four total prayers prayed every day.

The prayer book I use has the prayers tied to the lectionary, so the themes of the prayers are linked to the themes of the sermon. Two of the prayers I prayed this week, last week and this morning, directly spoke to me for this sermon. Last week: "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream" (Psalm 126:1). This morning: "Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself."

All during the week I am praying: When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. And then I remember the Gospel text: Joseph heard an angel of the Lord while dreaming. I thought: What are we dreaming of this Advent? What are God's dreams for us?

Matthew tells us that Joseph was a "righteous man," the same language used to describe Noah (Genesis 6:9). He was engaged to Mary, but discovered she was pregnant. He had several options: he could annul the engagement, divorce her, or if he had been a fundamentalist, could have her stoned on suspicion of adultery. But he decided to quietly breaks things off. But an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream... When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream... and told him not to divorce Mary. He did as he was told. He was obedient. The Romans text reminds us that we received grace to "bring about obedience" (verse 5).

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph could find no room at the inn, so Jesus was born in a barn. Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. We hear Jesus speak about mansions prepared for us in the next life, but this prayer is focused on us in this life: are we preparing ourselves for his coming? Are we making our hearts a mansion to welcome him?

There is a wonderful Advent/Christmas service in many Latin communities called Las Posadas. Pilgrims walk from house to house, reenacting the Holy Family's visit to Bethlehem for Jesus' birth. It is a conversation between those outside of the house, seeking shelter, and those inside. Here's one version of the 400 year old liturgy:

The Pilgrims…
In the name of the heavens, I request lodging from you,
Because she cannot walk, My beloved wife.

The Innkeepers…
This is not an inn, Go on ahead
I can’t open up for you, In case you’re a crook.

The Pilgrims…
Don’t be cruel, Give us charity
That the gods of the heavens, Will give it to you.

The Innkeepers…
You can go now and, Don’t bother us
Because if I get upset, I’m going to beat you.
 
The Pilgrims…
We come tired, From Nazareth
I am a carpenter, Whose name is Joseph.
The Innkeepers…
Your name doesn’t concern me, I’m going to sleep
Because I already told you, That we don’t have to open up.
 
The Pilgrims…
I’ve asked you for lodging, Dear innkeeper
Because the mother is going to be, The queen of the heavens.
 
The Innkeepers
Then if she is a queen, Who requests it
How is it that at nighttime, She’s traveling so alone?
 
The Pilgrims…
My wife is Mary, Queen of the heavens
And mother who’s going to make, The divine oath.
 
The Innkeepers
You are Joseph, Your wife is Mary
Come in travelers!, I didn’t know it.
 
The Pilgrims…
May God pay gentlemen, For our charity
And may the heavens overwhelm you, With Happiness!
 
Everyone…
Happy (or blessed) is the house, That shelters today, The pure virgin, The beautiful Mary.
Enter holy pilgrims, Receive this haven, That although it’s a poor dwelling

The dwelling…
I offer to you from the heart.

The house is lighted, the doors flung open, and everyone is welcomed inside for a celebration. Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. Here's the question to ask of ourselves: Are our hearts a mansion made ready to welcome Christ? Then I found this:

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” 
- Meister Eckert (1260-1328)

Earlier in the service we sang O Little Town of Bethlehem, which ends with these words: "O come to us, abide in us, our Lord Emmanuel!" May Christ at his coming find you a righteous person. May Christ at his coming find your heart a mansion with lights on and doors flung open. May you welcome Christ this Christmas season and always! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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