fathers

Because God Smiled

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by Linda Rex

December 18, 2022, 4th Sunday in ADVENT | Love—We’ve come to the fourth Sunday in Advent already, and while contemplating the topic of love, it occurred to me that Joseph is a hidden gem in the Advent story.

Today in our media and literature, it is common to ridicule or demean men, especially fathers or men of faith. Granted, some of us have had fathers who utterly failed at their job of reflecting the nature of God and his love to their children. But I have met men who, though faulty and broken like the rest of us, took seriously their responsibility to serve, care for and honor the people in their lives, especially their wives and children.

Reflecting upon Mary’s story, it must have been so hard for the young woman after the angel told her she was going to become pregnant with a child who would be the Messiah. According to custom, she probably would not have had a single private conversation with Joseph at any time during their engagement. And though their engagement meant she was technically married to Joseph, they had to wait for a year to prove she was not expecting a baby by some other man. For her then, to end up pregnant meant disaster for her relationship with Joseph.

Joseph had every reason to divorce Mary, and was expected to. Thankfully, the custom of stoning unwed mothers was not as faithfully observed as divorce and public shaming was. It says something about Joseph’s heart and character that when he discovered Mary was pregnant, he sought to privately divorce Mary, not wanting to bring her to public shame. Considering the public humiliation of having a pregnant fiancée he himself was going to experience, Joseph also had to deal with all of the family and social consequences of what had occurred.

Then Joseph had a dream. In his dream, an angel told him to wed Mary, that the child she carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit and should be named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins. Most of us don’t remember our dreams when we wake up in the morning. But Joseph was singularly moved by this dream, so much so that he broke all custom and immediately married Mary and brought her home. He honored her and her baby by caring for them and providing for them from then on.

Throughout Mary’s pregnancy, travels to Bethlehem, and subsequent travels to Egypt and Nazareth, Joseph listened to and obeyed the instructions he received from God through angels about taking care of the baby Jesus. Joseph was a father to Jesus, one who was led by the Spirit, so that Jesus could fulfill the mission his heavenly Father had given him while here on earth.

Whatever Joseph did, though, was merely a participation in God’s story. Israel for years had cried out, longing for redemption and deliverance. They would slide into slavery and sin, and then God would rescue them again, only to repeat the process. One of the readings for this Sunday is a beautiful psalm which reminds us that our only hope of being anything other than our broken, sinful selves, is for God to smile on us and to restore us into right relationship with himself. The psalmist says:

“Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth! Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power and come to save us! O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. O LORD God of hosts, how long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and You have made them to drink tears in large measure. You make us an object of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. O God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. … Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we shall not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name. O Lord God of hosts, restore us; cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”

(Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19 NASB)

Do you see the repetition of the request, “O God restore us…cause Your face to shine upon us”? The expression “cause your face to shine upon us” is another way of asking God to smile on us. This song hints at the coming of God’s Son, the Son of Man, who will be instrumental in our salvation—our only hope of being restored and revived. And only because God smiled on us.

Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he would send his own unique Son for our salvation, we truly have great hope, no matter how difficult our struggles. Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he made provision for our forgiveness and our reconciliation with himself, we truly have peace and joy no matter how far we have fallen or how miserably we have failed. And since our heavenly Father was willing to do whatever it took to turn us back to himself, even offering us his own Son to us, we are able to rest and find comfort in his everlasting love.

We are caught up in the midst of God’s story, and like Joseph, are participating in what God is doing to turn us all back to himself. Advent reminds us that even when we are at our worst, God has smiled on us. Christ has come, is coming even now by his Spirit in our everyday lives, and will return again in glory one day. We are reminded to look away from our problems, look away from ourselves, and to look up into the face of our loving Father, to see him smile on us. And right there—we discover, we are saved.

Heavenly Father, thank you for smiling on us and giving us the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Remind us anew to turn away from ourselves and our sorrows and to turn to you. Smile on us again, so that we might experience anew our salvation, through Jesus, your Son. Amen.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ translated means, ‘God with us.’ And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”     Matthew 1:18–25 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitbecause-god-smiled.pdf ]

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Thoughts On Being a Father

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by Linda Rex

Father’s Day is approaching and I’ve been thinking about fathers and manhood, and this thing called being a father to a child. Last night I saw a new car ad where this intrepid father was continually saving his son from imminent disaster. The ultimate save came while his son was gazing awestruck at a cute girl—the car stopped by itself rather than running into the back of another car.

Great car technology—but I’m not sure about the fatherhood part of the ad. To me it somehow seems wrong that the one person in the family whose natural instinct is to teach boys how to take risks and to attempt dangerous things is the one who’s constantly trying to rescue his son from disaster.

I wonder sometimes if many of us have become too “civilized.” We can be so busy protecting ourselves and/or others from every possible danger that we begin to lose our humanity. Our lives become almost artificial—distanced from the beauty and wonder of all that God created for our enjoyment and blessing. We are so jaded and bored and numb that we even find ways to create pain or passion so that we can feel somewhat alive, at least for a moment or two. And our relationships with one another are too often just as inhuman and dead.

That brings me back to fatherhood. True fatherhood draws its nature from God and his Fatherhood and not the other way around. Unlike human fathers, God the Father does not have a consort or female counterpart. He is the Father of the eternally begotten Son of God and always has been. From him and through the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit, eternally. The Father is not the Son and is not the Spirit, yet he is one with the Son and the Spirit.

God is a relational being—he is defined by his relationships. Humans, made in the image of God, were created for relationship—with God and with each other. As humans, we are also defined by our relationships—we are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, etc.

When we read what Jesus Christ taught us about his heavenly Father we are being given an insight into a relationship that existed before our human time began. The Son of God took on human flesh and in that human flesh, his relationship with his Father continued. Here are some things we can learn from him about his father/son relationship:

 Jesus (the Son) and his Father are one (a unity, an essence) (John 10:30)
 Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus, so Jesus does whatever the Father does (John 10:37-38)
 The Father knows the Son intimately and the Son knows the Father intimately, (John 10:15) so whoever knows the Son, knows the Father (John 14:7)
 The Father loves the Son because the Son’s heart is self-sacrificing and loving (John 10:17)
 The Father glorifies Jesus (John 8:54) Jesus glorifies the Father (John 7:18)
 The Father sent his Son Jesus, and did not leave him alone, but was with him, because Jesus always did what pleased his Father (John 8:29, 42)
 Jesus (as God in human flesh) did not act on his own initiative but spoke what the Father taught him to speak (John 8:28)
 Knowing Jesus means knowing the Father—you see One, you see the Other (John 8:19)
 The sustenance of the Son is to do the will of the Father (John 4:34)
 All that the Father has is the Son’s (John 16:15)
 The Father has given Jesus his name (John 17:11-12)

It would be difficult to find a human father/child relationship that reflected such oneness, love and unity. We tend to prize our individuality rather than our oneness and we tend to prize our privacy and separateness rather than our openness and transparency. We want to make a name for ourselves, not being content to just bear our father’s name (perhaps for good reason). We let pride or fear or shame get in the way of our relationships with those we love.

As I learn about the nature of God as Father, I find that he is a Father who takes great risks for the sake of having a close relationship with each one of us. The greatest risk he takes is in giving you and me and every human who has ever lived the freedom to choose to love him or reject him. He wants each of us to choose to love him freely, of our own volition, because we want to.

And he knew that giving us that freedom meant he would have to give his Son to us as a gift—the gift through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Whatever it cost him, the Father gave his all, his best, to us in his great love for us.

He’s adopted us as his children. He’s made a place for us in his life and in his relationship of love as Father, Son and Spirit. He knows us intimately and invites us to know him intimately. He has given us his name—we are made in his image, to reflect him. He has shared his glory with us. He has gone all the way—done everything he possibly could to win our love. Now it’s up to us—what will our response be?

And what about those of us who are fathers? Have you ever thought about what it means to be a father and what it means to take the ultimate risk of loving freely, fully, completely without any assurance of being loved in return? Have you ever poured yourself out so completely for your child(ren) in the face of their rejection that it seems there is nothing left?

All that you do as a father is a participation in the Fatherhood of God. You are not alone—God was a Father first and he has included you in that by allowing you to be a father too. Look to him and lean on him, as a son with a father. Let him lead and guide you, and fill you with his perfect love. He, as your Father, will enable you to be the father he created you to be. Trust him to do it and he will.

Thank you, God, for being our Father—our Daddy-God, who loves us completely, perfectly and joyfully. Thank you for giving us fathers who can participate in your fatherhood and so share your perfect family life with their families through Christ in the Spirit. We trust you to heal, comfort and strengthen all those who are fathers that they may fulfill their calling to lead and parent their children. And we trust you to comfort and heal those who have lost their fathers, or who have been deeply wounded by those who should have protected and cared for them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.