Christmas Eve meditation: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Closed Doors and “No Room”

Text used – Luke 2:1-20

And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son
and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7


“Can you spare a room?”


“My wife and I just got into town.
Can you spare a room?”


“My wife is pregnant,
and we’ve been traveling for days.
Can you spare a room?”


“We’re here for the census.
We’ll be gone before you know it.
We just need a place to stay
for a couple of days.
Can you spare a room?”


Doors closed –

            some gently,



                        sympathetically …

                                    but still closed;

Doors closed –

            some quickly,



                        uncaringly …

                                    for we are strangers here,

                                    and we don’t belong.


But God came anyway –

full of grace and truth,

            full of promise and potential

                        and all the uncertainty

                        and all the hazards

                        and all the chaos

                        and all the mess

                        and all the blunders

                        and all the blessedness potential can possibly bring …

God came anyway –

full of grace and truth,

            full of the discordantly sweet sound

                        of a laboring mother

                                    crying out in pain and boundless love,

                                    crying out in hurt and hope,

                                    crying out in surrender and sacredness,

                                    bringing life …

            full of the discordantly sweet sound

                        of a squalling baby

                                    new lungs

                                    new breath

                                    new cry

                                    new born.

God came anyway.


And here we are now,

            centuries upon centuries,

            miles upon miles,

            civilizations upon civilizations

            away from that day,

                                  that place,

                                  those “no”s,

                                  those doors,

And still, God comes anyway





                        to find an open space,

                                      an open home,

                                      an open heart,

                                      an open life …


How often do we fling wide the door

and let God in?


So full of “no” in our parenting and “no” in our politics …

So full of “no” in our finances and “no” in our fears …

So full of “no” in our doubts and “no” in our diets …

So full of “no” in our newscasts and “no” in our neighborhoods …

So full of “no”

            at every step,

            at every turn,

            at every possibility,

            at every street corner,

            at every border,

            at every desperate cry for help.






“Can you spare a room?” Joseph begged.


“Can you spare a room?” Jesus asks.



But God come anyway –

full of grace and truth,

            full of promise and potential

                        and all the faith

                        and all the hope

                        and all the reassurance

                        and all the courageousness

                        and all the grace

                        and all the blessedness potential can possibly bring …


God comes

            into the places in our countries and cities

                        where doors close in the faces

                                    of those in need of hope,

                                    of those in need of healing,

                                    of those in need of recovery,

                                    of those in need of a warm bed

                                                                 and a hot meal

                                                                 and a safe space …

            into the places in our neighborhoods and our homes

                        where doors close in the faces

                                    of hurt feelings,

                                    of angry words,

                                    of inflated misunderstandings,

                                    of past wounds that have gone untouched

                                                                                         and untended

                                                                                         and unhealed for far too long …

            into the places in our lives and our hearts

                        where doors close

                                    out of fear,

                                    out of distrust,

                                    out of anger,

                                    out of self-doubt that has led to anxiety

                                                                                          and depression

                                                                                           and self-loathing for far too long …


We can try to close the doors –

            the doors to our homes,

            the doors to our cities,

            the doors to our countries,

            the doors to our hearts,

                        but God comes anyway.

We can try to whisper our “no”s

            in the farthest, deepest corners of our hearts.

We can try to shout our “no”s

            from every rooftop and treetop,

            every billboard and pop-up,

            every frustrated retort and impatient comeback,

            every wordless wail and stifled sob,

                        but God comes anyway.

God comes,

            not forcefully,

                        storming down doors

                        and talking over our “no”s,

            but tenderly,



            as a child who just wants to be held

                                                                 and kept

                                                                 and treasured.

God comes,

            not impatiently,

                        waiting only moments

                        before storming off again,

            but steadily,



            as a child who just wants to be held

                                                                 and seen

                                                                 and adored.

God comes,

            not because God has to,

                        not because God needs us

                        to keep the universe spinning,

            but because we need God –




            as a child needs someone to hold them

                                                           and watch over them

                                                            and love them unconditionally.


And so God came.

And so God comes.

            Every minute.

            Every day.

            Every heartbeat.

            Every need.

God comes anyway.


And amen.

Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Broken Dreams

Text used – Luke 1:26-45

  • Does anyone else remember the Disney movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”[1]?
    • Came out in the early 1990s
    • Film adaptation of true story of Sonora Webster Carver[2]
      • Young girl from Georgia
      • 1923: Answered an ad seeking an “Attractive young woman who can swim and dive; likes horses; desires to travel” → mother convinced her to answer the ad
      • Hired by William “Doc” Carver (organizer of Wild West shows with Buffalo Bill Cody)
      • Swiftly became one of the most famous horse divers in the world → She would stand at the top of a 40 ft. platform, and as a horse ran up a ramp and passed her, she would leap bareback onto it’s back and dive with the horse 40 ft. down into a large tank of water.
        • Traveled the country
        • Eventually became a standing act/star attraction in Atlantic City
          • Performed up to 5 times a day for crowds of thousands!
        • Suffered terrible accident → hit the water with her eyes open and suffered retinal displacement → left her suddenly, completely, and irreversibly blind
    • In horse diving, Sonora found a life and a career that brought her joy and excitement, travel and, above all, one of the things that she loved most: horses. When she had her accident, much of that was stripped away from her for a time. The plan she’d had for her life – the dreams she’d been living as well as any grander dreams that she’d been dreaming – were suddenly in jeopardy.
    • Advent sermon series this year has been all about God being born in the person of Jesus Christ anyway
      • In the face of danger and fear … God came anyway
      • In the face of our own failings … God came anyway
      • In the face of things that hold us back … God came anyway
      • We’ve been talking about how, even in the midst of all the struggles and challenges of life (especially in 2020 – one of the strangest, hardest years that has ever been … at least in many of our lifetimes) … even in the midst of all the struggles and challenges that make us think the whole world has stopped, God came. God comes. God will come to dwell among us, full of grace and truth.
        • Bringing light to our darkness
        • Bringing comfort to our pain
        • Bringing hope to our distress
    • And so we come to the last Sunday before Christmas Eve – before we celebrate the birth of that treasured and beloved Christ Child, Emmanuel, God-With-Us. And even as we prepare for that joy – for the relief that that birth will bring – we know that there are still broken parts of ourselves that make it hard to let that joy permeate all the way into our souls. Like Sonora Webster, our pasts and our hearts harbor broken dreams.
  • So there are a couple of things that we need to address before we dig into this text. The first is fairly light-hearted. The second … is not.
    • FIRST, let’s talk for just a second about the popular contemporary Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?”[3]
      • Written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Green
      • Originally recorded and released in 1991 → instant hit
      • Covered by a lot of big names
        • Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd
        • CeeLo Green
        • Pentatonix (just to name a few)
      • Basis of the song: all questions asking whether Mary was aware of just who and what her “baby boy” would become
      • It’s a beautiful song with a haunting melody that lingers in your ear and in your heart … and it’s a song that is Biblically and theologically … wrong. Our text today is the exact opposite of “Mary, Did You Know?” because it’s the angel Gabriel literally giving Mary the answers to many of the questions posed by that song. With the exception of the opening line – “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?” – the rest of the song really is precisely what Gabriel is telling Mary in our Scripture reading this morning – text: “Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom. … [T]he one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.”[4] → So, friends, as beautiful as the song is … as much as we may love it … yes, clearly Mary did, indeed, know.
    • SECOND thing we need to address with this text is something that can make it a particularly difficult one for a lot people this time of year for reasons that we almost never talk about (to the detriment of society and the Church): the pain and heartache that reading this text can bring for anyone struggling with fertility issues this time of year → For anyone who has lost a child, who has lost a pregnancy, who has struggled and prayed for years to become pregnant with no result, this text that we’re reading this morning presents a double whammy.
      • First we hear about Mary = literally pregnant without even trying: Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”[5]
      • Second we hear more about Elizabeth = miraculously pregnant in her old age → Elizabeth certainly isn’t the first woman in the Bible who spends nearly her whole life wishing for a child only for God to intervene and bring about a pregnancy much later in life.
        • Sarah (Abraham) → birth of Isaac[6]
        • Hannah (Elkanah) → birth of Samuel[7]
        • Today’s text (Gabriel to Mary – addressing her disbelief over her own impending pregnancy): “Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.”[8] → Yes, many of us have found strength and encouragement and power in that last phrase – “nothing is impossible for God” – but I cannot read this text this morning without recognizing and naming the pain, the longing, the frustration, even the anger that it brings to a lot of women and men who dream of nothing more than being in Mary and Elizabeth’s shoes. It’s a pain I know all too well myself.
          • 4 yrs. ago today that 2nd of what would be our 3 miscarriages was confirmed
          • That Christmas Eve = the only Christmas Eve in my entire life that I wasn’t in church → Because even as a pastor, my soul could not endure a night of joy and holy expectation and a baby as I was in the throes of losing my own. And I know I am not alone in knowing the ache of that particular broken dream. So today, as we read this text, we make intentional space for that experience and that pain. [PAUSE]
  • True: this text is often read as a text of joy and devotion to God → Because, frankly, that’s what it is.
    • Just after today’s text = Magnificat – Mary’s hymn of awe and adoration to God: Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”[9] → I don’t think that we can deny the joy and praise in Mary’s words. But before we go there, let’s take a few steps back and think about Mary’s very first reactions a bit more.
      • Initial response = confusion tinged with fear – text: When the angel came to [Mary], he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.[10] → Gr. “confused” = perplexed but with a connotation of distress/being troubled → And we can’t really blame Mary, can we? I mean, not only has an angel suddenly appeared to her, but he has called her “favored one” and declared that the Lord is with her. That’s the kind of thing that would definitely unsettle just about anyone, I think!
        • Get another hint at Mary’s response with Gabriel’s next words: “Don’t be afraid.” → No one says, “Don’t be afraid” to someone who already isn’t afraid, right?
      • Second response (Mary’s question about how her pregnancy could possibly be real) = skepticism tinged with worry → Mary was engaged and unmarried, and at the time, for her to be visibly pregnant before marrying Joseph would have caused a great scandal. It definitely would have brought shame on her family. It could have gotten her killed. And it almost certainly would have ended her engagement to Joseph had God not intervened.
        • Story of Gabriel’s reassuring visit to Joseph in a dream comes from Matthew’s gospel[11] → not information that Luke shares with us and definitely not information that Mary would have had in this particular moment
        • Scholar emphasizes just how touchy this situation would have been: Mary’s assignment from God is an honor yoked with struggle. In her day, an unmarried woman expecting a child was cause for disgrace. Nonetheless, her neighbors’ prospective disdain does not hinder Mary’s willingness to proceed according to God’s entreaty. … Mary comprehends that her life, and not only hers, but the whole world’s, is about to be rearranged.[12]I think it’s important to recognize that when she accepted the call that God was placing before her and took up the mantle of “God’s favored one,” Mary had to let go of whatever dreams she’d initially had for her life. Because truly nothing would be the same after she said “yes” to God.
          • Read “Reflection” from Spill the Beans worship resource[13]

How could Mary sing such a song of praise
when responding to God’s call
meant that she was ostracised by her community,
shunned by her peers,
the subject of gossip and slander?

 How could Mary sing such a song of praise
when responding to God’s call
brought isolation, anxiety and overwhelming responsibility?

 How could Mary sing such a song of praise
when responding to God’s call
brought a swollen belly
and the pain of labour and childbirth?

 How could Mary sing: “My soul magnifies the Lord”
as her body changed
and weariness settled in her bones.

 Could it be that the peace in her heart,
the knowledge of responding to God,
of making God’s will her own
was so momentous
that joy overrode apprehension
and love overcame fear
giving way to the knowledge
of true blessedness.

 Mary, mother of God,
blessed art thou among women.

  • Remember Sonora Webster Carver? → following her accident, Sonora’s words: “After considering the matter from every angle, I decided that the best strategy I could adopt would be to treat my blindness as if it were a minor detail rather than a major catastrophe. The show must go on.”[14]
    • Returned to horse diving less than a year after her injury → continued diving for 11 yrs. until her show was permanently shut down in 1942 shortly after the U.S. entered WWII
    • After the end of her performing career, Webster worked as a Braille typist for the Lighthouse for the Blind and became an activist for those who are visually impaired
    • Friends, sometimes God’s call for us – God’s new dream for us – means letting go of other dreams, maybe even breaking other dreams. It doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with those other dreams. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with God’s dream for us. And it doesn’t mean that we can feel conflicted, challenged, even a little broken as we make one choice over another. But it also doesn’t mean that there isn’t blessing that can come out of that brokenness. And it certainly doesn’t mean that God doesn’t sit with us in the midst of our broken dreams, enfolding us with love and grace, hope and call. Amen.

[1] Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, directed by Steve Miner (Walt Disney Pictures, 1991).



[4] Lk 1:31-33, 35b.

[5] Lk 1:34.

[6] Gen 21.

[7] 1 Sam 1-2.

[8] Lk 1:36-37.

[9] Lk 1:46-55.

[10] Lk 1:28-29.

[11] Mt 1:18-25.

[12] Ashely Cook Cleere. “Fourth Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:26-38 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 96.

[13] “Advent 4: Sunday 18 December 2016 – Reflection” in Spill the Beans: Worship and Learning Resources for All Ages, iss. 21. (Scotland: Sleepless Nights Productions, 2016), 38.

[14] “Unladylike 2020: Unsung Women Who Changed America – Sonora Webster Carver: Daredevil Performer and Advocate for the Blind” from the American Masters series, produced by Thirteen for the Public Broadcasting Service. Premiered July 15, 2020, viewed Dec. 19, 2020.

Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Things That Hold Us Back

Text used – Isaiah 61:1-11

  • I want to introduce you to two women this morning: Cecilia and Virginia.
    • Contemporaries who both lived and worked in the early 20th
    • Both amazing women in their respective fields
    • Both thoroughly disregarded despite their intelligence, ingenuity, determination, and jaw-dropping accomplishments … simply because they were women.
    • Cecilia Payne → astronomer and astrophysicist[1]
      • Born in England in 1900
      • Completed all coursework and requirements of an undergraduate program at the University of Cambridge but was denied a degree → Cambridge wouldn’t start conferring degrees on women for another quarter of a century[2]
      • Received a fellowship to study astronomy at Harvard in 1923 → work there changed the field of astronomy forever
        • Granted the first Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College (since Harvard itself also didn’t confer doctoral degrees on women at that time)
        • Ph.D. thesis: Stellar Atmospheres; A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars → a thesis that has been called “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.”
          • Proved that the classification system already being used for stars did, in fact, correspond to the surface temperature of those stars
          • Determined that stars are composed mostly of hydrogen and helium
          • BUT was initially dissuaded of that conclusion by a male colleague
      • Remained at Harvard as a technical assistant to the director of the Harvard College Observatory
        • Convinced to shift the focus of her work to “photometry” (basically taking pictures of stars) → phase of her work which she later referred to as “sad” and “a waste of time”
        • Named a lecturer in astronomy at Harvard in 1938 … but not listed in the Harvard catalogue until after WWII
        • Finally appointed a full professor at Harvard in 1956 → became chair of the astronomy department
    • Virginia Hall → foreign agent and French resistance organizer during WWII[3]
      • Born in America in 1906[4]
      • Studied abroad in France for most of her formative years → called France her “second country” for the rest of her life
      • Applied for positions in America’s diplomatic corps numerous times but passed up time and again despite her obvious intelligence and capability (spoke 5 languages) because she was a woman
      • Suffered a firearm accident while hunting with friends in Turkey when she was 27 → resulted in amputation of her lower left leg → forever used a wooden prosthetic which she affectionately named “Cuthbert”
      • Eventually recruited by England’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1940 → trained and sent into occupied France (Lyon) → began to establish elaborate and highly successful networks of French resistance fighters
        • Carried out countless operations that chipped away at Nazi morale, disrupted supply lines, and diverted troops → e.g. – single-handedly was responsible for at least 8 German battalions being unable to reach the beaches of Normandy on D-Day
        • Coordinated numerous supply and personnel drops under the cover of darkness → secured safehouses, funds, covers, etc. for other foreign agents from Great Britain and eventually the U.S. as well
        • Broke many resistance fighters out of jail after being caught either by Nazis or by the French police collaborating with the occupying German army
        • Later trained as a radio operator (one of the most dangerous and vulnerable positions during WWII) and spent hour upon hour relaying critical messages to London via morse code
      • Evaded capture by the Germans while under cover for 3 whole years
        • Relentlessly pursued personally by Klaus Barbie, SS and Gestapo functionary known as the “Butcher of Lyon” → still never caught
        • Escaped from France into Spain for a time by trekking across the Pyrenees in the middle of winter (immensely difficult and dangerous climb in summer, let alone winter!), all the while concealing her prosthetic leg from her fellow escapees → spent short time resting up, then headed right back into enemy territory (even though the entire German army at that point had a detailed description of her and was on the lookout for her specifically)
      • Despite all of these amazing accomplishments → continually dismissed, ignored, disparaged, and even undermined by her male colleagues for being a woman
      • Returned to America after WWII → worked for the CIA until her retirement → never given the opportunities, responsibilities, or recognition that her male colleagues received, even to the point of being deliberately stymied in various positions or passed up for well-earned promotions
    • So why am I telling you about these two amazing women this morning? Because they were smart. They were ambitious. They were imaginative. They were beyond capable and infinitely qualified. But because they were women, their careers were held back in undeniable and unjust ways.
      • Last week’s sermon → God came down to dwell among us anyway even in the face of our own failings and mistakes
      • This week → recognizing that some of the struggles that we face in our life – some of the things that end up holding us back – come not from within us but from the outside … but even as we recognize and name that those struggles and hurdles exist, we also recognize and name that, indeed, God did come … has come … will come anyway, overcoming those hurdles with ease and helping us to rise above.
  • Scripture reading this morning = from Isaiah → This is significant because we have to remember that Isaiah was a prophet delivering God’s word to the people of Israel who were being held captive in Babylon or had been held captive in Babylon and had just returned to a Jerusalem unlike any they had expected.
    • 3 different parts of Isaiah = different authors of Isaiah and time period in which words of prophecy were delivered[5]
      • 1st Isaiah (chs. 1-39) = prophecies during captivity
      • 2nd and 3rd Isaiah (chs. 40-55 and chs. 56-66 respectively) = prophecies after the people had returned to what was left of Jerusalem
    • Babylonian Captivity = different from the enslavement that the people of Israel had suffered hundreds of years before at the hands of the Egyptians → In Babylon, the captive people of Israel were allowed to live similar to the way they would have in Jerusalem.
      • Participate in city life
      • Gather with one another
      • Build relationships with their Babylonian neighbors → some even married Babylonian men and women
      • Continue their intellectual and artistic pursuits
      • However, the land they lived on wasn’t their own. The homes they inhabited weren’t their own either. And the religion they were made to observe certainly wasn’t their own. They were free … but not really.
        • Ps 137 captures the anguish and desperate longing of the people of Israel during this time of captivity: Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres up in the trees there because that’s where our captors asked us to sing; our tormentors requested songs of joy: “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said. But how could we possibly sing the LORD’s song on foreign soil? Jerusalem! If I forget you, let my strong hand wither! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy. LORD, remember what the Edomites did on Jerusalem’s dark day: “Rip it down, rip it down! All the way to its foundations!” they yelled. Daughter Babylon, you destroyer, a blessing on the one who pays you back the very deed you did to us! A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock! → We can hear the utter pain of captivity and forced separation in this. We can hear the yearning. We can hear the despair. We can hear the hopelessness.
    • This portion of Isaiah = written after the people had actually been allowed by King Cyrus to return to Jerusalem → return hoping to find the beautiful city from the stories their grandparents told them only to find the Temple destroyed, the walls still very much in ruins, and the city nowhere near the haven they had hoped for
      • They are beaten down
      • They are disappointed
      • They are overwhelmed
      • They are devastated
    • It was to these people – these people feeling this disconnectedness and isolation, these people feeling this pain and this hunger of the heart and soul – that Isaiah spoke God’s words of reassurance and empowerment. → [READ today’s text] → In delivering his message, Isaiah doesn’t shy away from the difficult or the painful. He doesn’t try to tell the people that things aren’t as bad as they know they are. He doesn’t try to whitewash their troubles with empty platitudes. In no way does Isaiah diminish the struggles the people of Israel are enduring or the grief that they are feeling. But still, he gives them hope.
      • HOPE: [God] has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners … to comfort all who mourn[6]
      • HOPE: They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.[7]
      • HOPE: I surely rejoice in the LORD; my heart is joyful because of my God, because he has clothed me with clothes of victory, wrapped me in a robe of righteousness … As the earth puts out its growth, and as a garden grows its seeds, so the LORD God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.[8]
  • Friends, we know that there are people and circumstances in the world around us that hold us back – things that are out of our control, things that often feel utterly and disconsolately insurmountable.
    • Broken relationships
    • Financial barriers
    • Limitations places on us by others because of their own prejudice
      • Prejudice based on race
      • Prejudice based on gender/gender identity
      • Prejudice based on economic status or education level
      • Prejudice based on where we were born
      • Prejudice based on our accent or the language we speak
      • Prejudice based on the way we worship and pray
    • All of these are things that sometimes hold us back – things that we desperately wish to overcome, but despite our best efforts, we cannot find our own way over. Like Cecilia and Virginia, we are discounted, ignored, passed over. Or maybe we’re the ones doing the dismissing and the passing over. Maybe we’re the ones discounting the work and contributions of others because of barriers they face – hurdles that they are mightily struggling to get over, hurdles placed there by others … or even by us.
      • Scholar: Even amid the greenery, candles, and mangers in our sanctuaries, it is often difficult to see God’s transformation “spring[ing] up before all the nations” (v. 11). The real definition of Advent is something Isaiah challenges us to ponder … We do not need to look too far to see the injustice of poverty, abuse, hunger, oppression, and war. Yet our Christmas distractions often speak louder than Isaiah’s call for God’s transformation. … Jesus speaks the words of Isaiah again as a reminder that God’s advent is transformation that will alter our personal lives and the world in which we live.[9]
    • Hear again God’s promise through Isaiah: Instead of shame, their portion will be double; instead of disgrace, they will rejoice over their share. They will possess a double portion in their land; everlasting joy will be theirs. I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and dishonesty. I will faithfully give them their wage, and make with them an enduring covenant. Their offspring will be known among the nations, and their descendants among the peoples. All who see them will recognize that they are a people blessed by the LORD.[10] → To bring us reassurance and hope in the face of the things that hold us back, God came anyway. To bring us strength and courage to rise above those things that hold us back, God came anyway. To remind us that sometimes those around us are being unjustly held back, and it’s our job to make sure they can rise up, God came anyway. Alleluia. Amen.



[3] Sonia Purnell. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. (New York, NY: Viking Publishing), 2019.



[6] Is 61:1b-2.

[7] Is 61:4.

[8] Is 61:10,11.

[9] Donald Booz. “Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 53.

[10] Is 61:7-9.

Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Our Own Failings

Text used – Joel 2:12-13, 28-29

  • My kids have a book that they love to read called The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.[1] (If I could have found it before coming to church this morning, I would have showed it to you … but such is life with kids!) Anyway, it’s a story about Beatrice, a girl who has never in her life ever made a mistake. She doesn’t mismatch her socks. The proportions of her peanut butter and jelly in her sandwich are absolutely even. Her homework is always perfectly done. And for the last 4 years running, her act in the school talent show has been the winning act.
    • So perfect that no one calls her Beatrice → just call her “The Girl Who Never Makes
    • Day of this year’s talent show is a little different
      • Beatrice is nervous
      • She has a couple of near misses
        • ALMOST trips and falls
        • ALMOST drops eggs in her cooking class
    • As she’s getting ready for the talent show, Beatrice grabs everything she needs and heads out the door. At least, she thinks she grabs everything she needs.
    • Gets to the talent show and begins her juggling act → juggling a water balloon, her hamster, and a salt shaker → Except, when she grabbed all of her juggling items on her way out the door, Beatrice didn’t grab the salt shaker. She grabbed the pepper shaker!
      • Pepper flies out as she’s juggling → causes her to sneeze → sneeze startles the hamster who grabs a hold of the water balloon in mid air and pops it → And suddenly Beatrice finds herself on stage soaking wet and holding a hamster and an upside-down pepper shaker. Not only has she made a mistake, but she’s made that mistake in front of everyone. And for a moment, the whole world freezes.
    • Now, I’m pretty sure that if I asked how many of us have never made a mistake, I wouldn’t see any hands raised. We all know we make mistakes, right? We know we have faults. We know we have flaws. We know that we fail. And so often, we get it in our minds and our hearts that those flaws and failings somehow exempt us from the love and work of God.
      • Our flaws are too many
      • Our failings are too great
      • And yet here we are in the season of Advent, a season in which we await the birth of the Savior once again – a Savior who comes into the realness of the human experience, a Savior who comes into the messiness of the human experience, a Savior who comes into the fracturedness and flawedness of the human experience.
  • Scripture reading this morning reminds us that this fracturedness and flawedness aren’t a surprise to God → God has been with humanity since the beginning, all. There is not a mistake that’s been made – in your past, in my past, in human past – that God hasn’t already seen. Since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, people have been making mistakes and turning away from God – both intentionally and unintentionally. That was the whole role of prophets: to deliver God’s word of reproach to the people to remind them to turn back to God in repentance.
    • Book of Joel = words of just such a prophet
      • LAST WEEK: book of Daniel → one of what we call the major prophets
      • THIS WEEK: Joel → one of what we call the minor prophets (those short little books all sandwiched together at the end of the Old Testament)
      • A bit of a hazy book[2]
        • Can’t really pinpoint the timeframe for Joel like we can for many other Biblical texts
        • Relies heavily on the work of one of the previous minor prophets: Obadiah
        • Know that it’s the word of God for the people of the southern kingdom of Judah
        • Speaks more broadly than specific time and place → renowned Old Testament scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier: The book brings with it a message that was a matter of life or death for Judah, but Joel also deliberately directs that message to every age, and thus this prophetic literature is never out of date.[3] → So Joel the prophet was deliberately stretching out his message of reproach and repentance for the people because he knew that it was a message that people in every age would need to hear.
    • And, indeed, it is. – first portion of today’s text is message that we could hear over and over again every single day: Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow; tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.[4] → genuine and realistic call to repentance
      • Realistic in that it recognizes mistakes have been, are being, and will be made → We will turn away from God. We will make choices contrary to what God wishes for us. We will do things that we know we shouldn’t do and neglect to do things we know we should We will mistake the call of the things of this world – fame, fortune, things that glitter and shine, people that flatter and fawn with their own agendas in mind – with the call of God and follow the wrong voice. We will misunderstand God’s call. We will even have moments when we plug our ears a lá a 2 yr. old and outright refuse to listen to God.
      • Genuine in that it makes it clear what God wants from us
        • Genuine regret
        • Genuine repentance
        • A turning and returning to God that is wholehearted and true to the depths of our spirits – text: return to me with all your hearts → Heb. expressed the utterness of this request
          • Heb. “heart” = sort of all-encompassing Heb. word that means heart but also inner being, mind, and will → So we are to return to God with everything in us. Fully. Wholly. Unequivocally.
          • Heb. “return” = Heb. “repent” (same word) → So the language implies that when we make the conscious choice to return to God, we must do so with repentance.
  • 2nd part of our Scripture reading this morning makes it clear that God’s promise of presence and hope and blessing remains even through our mistakes and mishaps
    • Text: After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my spirit on the male and female slaves.[5]
    • One of the most difficult things as a parent is trying to raise your kids to be good people, right?
      • Boys used to have shirts (that they have sadly since grown out of) that said “Boys will be boys” with the 2nd “boys” crossed out and replaced with “good humans” = shirts: “Boys will be good humans” → And that’s the ultimate goal, right? To raise kids that are kind and respectful and confident in who they are. To raise kids that want to try their best and help others and make the world a better place. To raise good humans.
        • Difficulty in walking the line between holding them to task when they’ve made a mistake without beating them over the head with that mistake (figuratively beating them over the head!)
          • Talk through the mistake with them
          • Help them to learn from it
          • Help them to find confidence and reassurance in that learning
          • Watch the evolution of their moral compass as they learn and grow
        • The saying is true, friends: parenting is not for the faint of heart! But as we help our kids navigate through the ups and downs of learning through mistakes, one of the most important things we can do as parents is make sure our kids know they are loved through it all, right? “Yes, you made this mistake. Yes, you should have made a different choice.” Maybe even “Yes, I’m disappointing in that choice that you made … but I love you anyway. No matter what.”
    • This text from Joel is God’s reassurance of that. After those initial verses about repentance, God is reassuring the people (us!) of God’s continues promise and blessing: “I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” “Yes, you made this mistake. Yes, you should have made a different choice. Yes, I’m disappointing in that choice that you made … but I love you anyway. No matter what. I love you so much, that I will come down anyway. I will inhabit all the messiness and flawedness of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. I will be born to imperfect people and grow up among imperfect people. I will teach imperfect people and lead imperfect people. I will heal imperfect people. I will love imperfect people. And I will die for imperfect people to show you just how far my grace extends.” And that is what God did, friends. It happened anyway. God came down to dwell among us anyway, not in spite of our flaws and failings but because of them. God loves us enough to love us through those mistakes, helping us to grow and learn and deepen in our faith.
      • Need a reminder of that? We have one right here → communion table = God’s promise to us that no matter what, God is with us
        • God’s grace extended in something as simple and universal as wine and bread
        • God’s grace extended to us in something as common as a shared meal
        • God’s grace extended to us in blessing and prayer, in ritual and familiarity
        • Most importantly: God’s grace extended to us not just once … but over and over and over again → “Whenever you do this, remember me. Remember my love. Remember my grace. Remember that I came for you anyway.” Amen.

[1] Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), 2011.

[2] Elizabeth Achtemeier. “The Book of Joel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 301-303.

[3] Achtemeier, 302.

[4] Joel 2:12-13.

[5] Joel 2:28-29.