Faith’s Demands

Sunday December 27,2020 The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (Cycle B)

The tie in between today’s readings: Navigating the Unseen

Psalm 105:1-6;8-9, Genesis 15:1-6;21:1-3, Hebrews 11:8;11-12;17-19, Luke 2:22-40

Our Old testament reading, in Genesis 15:1-6, begins with the phrase, “After these things…” What things? To recap, seventy-five-year-old Abram (later Abraham) leaves everything behind to follow God on the promise that the Almighty would make a great nation out of him. So, Abram lives as a stranger in the land of Canaan, meets challenges, copes with famine, and, by God’s power, defeats a mighty army to rescue his nephew, Lot. As we can see, faith will take you out of your comfort zone.

Our reading in Genesis picks up after his stunning victory over the five-king army and the blessing of Melchizedek. God assures Abram of His protection and a great reward. Abram challenges the worth of it all without a child. The Lord promises him as many descendants as stars in the sky. Abram believes and our reading in Hebrews 11:11-12 tells us that his wife Sarah believes too.  So, after the countless date nights that followed, their miracle baby, Isaac, is finally born and, as the Bible says, at the appointed time. She was ninety years old. He was one hundred. Not what they thought when they started. Obviously, faith requires perseverance.

Our New Testament reading in Hebrews 11:17-19 continues the story of Abraham’s life with God’s greatest challenge to him yet: sacrifice Isaac. Didn’t see that one coming! In this great account that foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, our text tells us that Abraham, knowing that all of God’s promises must come through Isaac, reasoned that the Almighty would raise his son back to life after he offered him up. Committed to the task, God stops Abraham’s knife raised hand at the last second in a scene reminiscent of any good action movie. He takes his son off the alter and replaces him with a ram who just so happens to be stuck in a nearby thicket. Nice! Abraham names the place “The Lord Will Provide.” One day, God the Father will offer His own Son on that selfsame mountain. But for now, Abraham travels back home with Isaac, praising the Lord and immensely relieved that the whole incident was not at all like what he had expected when he began. Apparently, faith is full of surprises.

Thousands of years later, our gospel in Luke 2:22-40 takes us to the temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Family is in line to sacrifice a pair of doves as the Law requires for every firstborn male. As they wait, you can imagine Mary’s thoughts as she holds the Messiah close to her chest. “He will free us from the Romans. He will sit on the throne of David. He will be the Prince of Peace and rule justly in Israel, and I will be the Queen Mother.” Joseph could also be having ideas about a place in Jesus’ administration, perhaps, even the Prime Minister. Suddenly, their mutual musings are interrupted by an old man who asks if he could hold the baby. His name is Simeon. The Holy Spirit had led him there to fulfill a promise that he would see the Christ. He speaks openly about Jesus being God’s salvation for the whole world. He stuns Mary and Joseph with his predictions, which are so radically different from the current Jewish teaching about the Messiah that they seem surreal. He goes on to shatter Mary’s perception of the future by telling her that there will be troubles ahead for her son and that she, herself, will have a sword pierce her own soul. Joseph doesn’t even get a mention. The prophetess Anna comes on the scene and backs up Simeon’s testimony. After it’s all over, Joseph and Mary return to Nazareth with the realization that faith needs them to accept unanticipated outcomes.

Challenges, staying power, shifting circumstances, unforeseen results, is this any way to live? Well, yes. There is no growth without struggle. No prize in quitting. You can prepare but never control your situations and, in the end, who knows how things will end up? This is the stuff of being human. We are compelled to walk into future’s fog and strain to make out the gray shapes in the mist. But you don’t have to be one of the many that do it alone. The Almighty wants you to trust Him in navigating the unseen. It is the very nature of the abundant life that Jesus came to give us. Our reading in Psalm 105:1-6;8-9 invites us into a relationship with the God that has proven His unfailing power in history to fulfill His unbreakable promises. He asks for the faith to surrender yourself to His will. Even so, it’s not so easy. Not only are you giving control of your life to the invisible, but the very essence of being out of control evokes fear. Still, as believers, we must walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

As G. K. Chesterton famously observed, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” With the New Year, let us resolve to grow in obedient God pleasing faith that believes in who He is and rests in the assurance of His providence. Let us look to Abraham who became greatly blessed because he persistently trusted in the Lord’s promises. Mary and Joseph are examples for us to look forward to a new world of His kingdom coming. Jesus, who has gone before us, tells us to not be afraid. The Christian life is an adventure. Adventures are challenging and unpredictable affairs. But the God who loves us will be with us. He didn’t make the supreme sacrifice for our salvation to drop us now. So, have faith. Take His hand. The adventure of a lifetime is waiting for you.

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