Listening Anew

Listening Anew


Matthew 1: 18-25 (NRSV)

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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.'

All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel', which means, 'God is with us.'

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


On this Christmas Eve, will your heart not sing as you enter into the beautifully decorated sanctuary of your church home and hear the music of your favorite Christmas Carols filling the air? May you enjoy the wonder as your eyes dance around and delight as they respond to the bright colors of Christmas which you see in the Advent wreath up front, alit with the 4 Advent candles commemorating the messages of peace, hope, love and joy; and perhaps in the garlands that dance across the windows; in the decorated sconces that may adorn the walls; but especially as you hone in on the manger scene that rests somewhere near the altar table to celebrate the Good News of our Savior's birth. May our hearts sing as well as we look around and see the familiar faces of those we see frequently and those who have come 'home' to be with their families to share this holy night and worship the God of all creation. What a gift it is to look at one another and know that despite all that has happened through the year, we can smile, hug one another and give thanks for the joy of the evening and sense: "God is here! All is well."

I remember one special Christmas Eve, when I was serving the Second Congregational Church of New London, and had the chance to participate in a joint choir with the First Congregational Church of New London for a presentation of Joseph Martin's "The Voices of Christmas Cantata." It was an unforgettable experience as we learned the melodies and words that expressed the thoughts of the different characters who created the manger scene so long ago. Each year I pull out the CD to enjoy the melody and words which always stir my heart to a place of wonder and gratitude. For this day, I offer you the words from "Joseph's song" where we hear the wrestling of his soul trying to discern how to be the father to Jesus.

According to the Gospel of Matthew 1: 18-25, Joseph had decided not to enter into the marriage with Mary, but an angel of the Lord appeared to him to give him direction, countering his human choice based on fear.

The story reveals that Joseph's gift to us all is that he chose to listen rather than becoming deaf to the angel's voice and leaving Mary behind. Imagine what would've happened if he had not listened. Mary would've been another single woman raising her child with many consequences we can't imagine. But the truth is also that Joseph would've missed some of the most profound experiences of his life. I wish you could hear the exquisite melody of this hymn.

I am just a carpenter, an ordinary man, wood and nails are all I know, they're all I understand.
How to raise your son, O God, I cannot comprehend.
I can only love him and teach him what I can.
Show me how to mold this child, Lord where do I begin. I cannot teach your son to save his people from their sins.
I can only love him and teach him what I can, by placing wood before him and nails within his hand, nails within his hand.


May God bless us as we walk into this holy night and open our hands, our hearts and minds to learn anew all that was revealed in that precious moment of Jesus' birth and God's invitation to us this night.

Lee A. Ireland

Interim Pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC in Westbrook, Connecticut

December 24, 2014
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