A Sermon by Pastor John © Dec. 1998 (revised 8-2-2006)
- Luke 1:26-38
- Matt 1:18-25
- Luke 4:16-22
- Good News! We all love to receive good news.
- There's all kinds of good news. Someone may get the good news that a long awaited promotion has finally come through ... Good news!
Perhaps you've been dreading the return of some medical test. Good news! The results were negative!
Perhaps you are a student in school. Your latest exam results are in: Good news! You made an A!
- I love good news!
There's another kind of good news and this is the season when we tend to think about the origins of that good news.
- The word "Gospel" means Good News and during Advent we meditate on the birth of the Savior, Good News indeed! The teachings, the life, the gift of eternal redemption, these are all part of the Good News and they all begin with the historic advent of the Messiah which we celebrate during the winter season, not knowing the actual date.
- But this isn't just any good news, like one bit of good news among many, no, for the past 2000 years millions of Christians have proclaimed in faith and martyrdom that this is THE Good News! The only Good News that might surpass it will be when the Messiah returns to our troubled planet and ushers in the Millennial Kingdom; which will be the subject matter of a detailed Wednesday night Bible Study I'll be offering beginning Feb 3rd by the way.
- During Advent we pause to think about the Good News. We sing hymns about the birth of Jesus. We meditate on how Mary is blessed among women due to her being the mother of Jesus the Christ. We honor her as the Theotokos, the blessed "Mother of God."
- Good News! A virgin has conceived and brought forth a son! This child is none other than the centuries awaited Messiah, Immanuel, Christ the "Anointed One" of God. Hosts of heavenly angels proclaim their adoration, all glories to the Good News that Shiloh has come at last!
- Good News indeed!
- But wait...
- For many people this is not thought of Good News at all. Perhaps, as a member of the GLBT community, you've never thought of the Gospel as Good News yourself. Perhaps, like so many of others, you've been confronted by people who, in the name of God and the Bible, have told you that God hates you, that you are a "reprobate sinner" destined to damnation and eternal torment at the hands of the loving God! Good News? Hardly! It sounds like the worst possible news!
- To many of us, the Gospel would seemingly be better defined as the "Bad News." You know what? You're not alone in this sense of misgiving and doubt!
- From the very beginning the Gospel has seemed like bad news to many people. King Herod thought it was bad news. He thought it was so bad that he sought to find and murder the young messiah before he could grow to be a threat. While Jesus was spared by fleeing to Egypt, at least hundreds of other innocents were murdered. This had been prophesied like most everything else in Jesus' life, but that doesn't make it any easier to comprehend (See Jer. 31:15). We might say that these innocent babies died in Jesus' place.
- The political rulers of Israel came to think of the Gospel as bad news as well. When Jesus didn't raise up an army to defeat the Romans, which is what they thought the Messiah would do based on their understanding of the Tanakh, they feared lest he bring the wrath of Rome down on their heads. They reasoned that it was better to have Jesus die than for the whole nation to perish due to his teachings. This is found at John 11:45-50. No, this wasn't considered Good News by everyone!
- Contrast the glorious annunciation we heard read earlier, to another key figure in this oft cited event, Joseph.
- Good News Joe! Your fiancĂ©e, whom you thought was so pure and innocent, a virgin, is pregnant even though you've never touched her!
- Good news? Hardly! What could be worse news for a loving espoused man to hear! Here was a righteous person, skilled as a carpenter, betrothed to an equally respectable and religious young woman, and then comes this bit of news: "Good News Joe! Mary's pregnant!"
- When the angel told Mary that she was to become the mother of a most blessed child, we read:
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
- As Christians, we believe that Mary was the one predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures. By faith we accept that verses like Isaiah 7:14 predicted that the Messiah's mother would be a virgin:
"Therefore God will Personally give you all a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and all will call him Immanuel [or: "God with us"]."
- The word in this verse which is translated as "virgin" is "almah."
- Now, we sometimes hear people who find it hard to accept the doctrine of the virgin birth argue that this word, "almah" does not of itself state that the mother was to be a virgin. This point is true.
- "Almah" literally means simply "maiden."
- There are very few verses in Scripture that people find more difficult to believe than these about the virgin birth. It just doesn't happen they say. Perhaps the Bible doesn't really teach that after all ... we sometimes think. But let me ask you, we believe that God created the universes from nothing, ex nihilo, that Moses parted the Red Sea by God's power, that Jesus was risen from the dead by God... why is this one any harder? Surely God can place a tiny fetus within the womb of a virgin! Piece of cake!
- However, the word "almah," which does not directly translate as "virgin" is taken from the root word "'alam" which means something which is "concealed, kept out of sight, protected." This Hebrew word refers quite clearly to a young "protected" maiden probably around the age of twelve to fourteen, i.e. a virgin. If Mary was not a virgin, then she was not an "almah" and if she was not an "almah" then there was no virgin birth for Jesus. And if there was no virgin birth for Jesus?
- Does this matter? It is of vital importance! If Mary became pregnant by Joseph (or anyone else) before her marriage ceremony, then her child, Jesus, would not be an eligible candidate for Messiahship, as Deut. 23:2 clearly says:
A child born out of wedlock shall not enter into the congregation of God; even to the tenth generation shall such a person not enter into the congregation of the Sovereign.
- If Mary was not impregnated as the result of divine intervention, then Jesus is not the Messiah and the Christian religion is built upon a two thousand year old lie! There are several other factors in this which time forbids me to discuss with you tonight. However, in a nut shell, it was a prophetic and scriptural necessity that the Messiah be born of a virgin as a human father would have passed on the congenital "sin of Adam" and such a child, as any other, would not be the sinless "sacrificial lamb" demanded by the Law of Moses. How this birth could be accomplished had long been debated by the Hebrew teachers prior to Jesus' birth.
- While we don't know how old Joseph was at the time of Jesus' conception, Mary was little more than a child, again probably around twelve to fourteen years old and yes, a virgin. There's reason to assume that Joseph was probably around twenty five or thirty, however this is largely conjecture.
- Now, can you imagine this? Here's Joseph, engaged to a very young, naive and inexperienced virgin girl, and before their wedding takes place, he discovers she is pregnant! How did he react? Scripture tells us, beginning with Matthew 1:18:
"This is how the birth of Jesus the Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly."
- Can you image such a reaction? Joseph didn't condemn her for infidelity, he didn't announce to his friends and family that Mary had been "unfaithful" and that the wedding was off. No. He exhibited amazing personal integrity. He would go ahead with the wedding, then divorce her privately without making a big thing of it. In those days, an unwed mother was viewed with contempt by Hebrew society to a degree most of us today can hardly imagine. Again, the opposite of Good News!
- Yet Joseph was a man of spiritual motivation and great compassion. While staying with her under the seeming circumstances was more than he could do, he would handle the situation in the most diplomatic manner possible. By law he could have had her stoned to death, instead, by his intended actions, Joseph may well have been saving Mary's life. What a guy!
- By the way, throughout the betrothal period Joseph would be referred to as Mary's "husband" as we today use the term "fiancĂ©e." Until the couple consummated their union they would not be considered "fully" married and hence any conceived child prior to this would have been considered out of wedlock, no matter who the father was.
- Good News? Not to Joseph. He must have been heart broken!
- So what happened next? We continue with verse 20:
"But after he [Joseph] had considered this, an angel of God appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." [Jesus or Yeshua is the Greek form of Joshua, and means "Jehovah/YHVH saves."]
All this took place to fulfill what God had said through the prophet:
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" [which means, "God with us"].
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of God had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus [Yeshua]."
- Good News? YES! The birth of Jesus was indeed Good News! Even to Joseph, once he understood the facts of the matter.
- In the same way I say to you this evening, The Gospel IS Good News for GLBT people! Good News, once we understand the facts of the matter.
- "Joe, your fiancĂ©e is pregnant!"
In Joseph's mind we can be sure this was bad news. He surely felt rejected, depressed. No doubt feelings of anger rose up, jealousy, betrayal, feelings that God was being unfair. Why had this happened to him!
- Likewise we, despite the way we often like to act, as though the Church's all too common homophobia doesn't bother us, it sometimes does!
- Sometimes, in the quietude of our prayer closet, in the darkness of a lonely room, we all wonder, "why do so many people say that God doesn't love me?" "Why do they say God has rejected me?" "Is their understanding correct?" "Does the Bible condemn me?"
- If that is so, if God does condemn his people for sexual orientations they did not choose, then the Gospel is Bad News indeed, at least for us!
- Like Joseph, we sometimes cry out, "How can this be!" "Why have you created me as I am! This isn't fair God! I didn't ask to be gay, lesbian, transgendered..."
- But like Joseph, we have merely to trust in God's Word, in the assurances of the Spirit. We connect with other GLBT Believers, we hear Troy Perry, Mel White, Jean Hart, and other Spirit filled ministers; we pray to God and yes! We know that we too are saved and loved in the Family of God, no matter what others say! As Reverend Perry says, "The Lord is my Shepherd and He knows I'm gay!"
- In joy we receive the Good News that God loves us too, that that which is born within us is born of the Spirit of the living God. What a blessed assurance! Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
- We receive God's Amazing Grace and from then on everything in our lives runs smoothly and we never doubt again!
- What happened with Joseph? Once he received the Good News that he was to be the step father of the Messiah, how did things work out for him?
- Chapter two of Matthew continues to tell us about the Magi, the wise people or astrologers, who came looking for the newborn Sovereign.
- It seemed that everything was going great! Mary and Joseph's friends and neighbors thought it was Good News! So far as we knew they accepted the story and waited for the birth with anticipation. Mary and Joseph thought it was Good News. Elizabeth and Zacharias, the equally taken aback parents of John who was to become the Baptiser surely thought it Good News...
- But then, King Herod, fearing for his position in society as legal king of the Jews in the Roman province of Syria, began to feel threatened at the potential loss of his authority, if indeed the Hebrew Sovereign had been born.
- "If I accept God's authority in my life what will happen to me? Will God change me?" This was Herod's fear... too... What would become of him if the Messiah had actually come? Would he be dethroned? Loose his position?
- King Herod, you see, had "sold out" to the Romans. While a Jew himself (this point is actually debated), through self interests and greed he had betrayed his own people and had become more Roman that Jewish. If what he had heard from the Magi was true, if the "King of the Jews" had in fact taken birth, then his corrupt little Roman fiefdom was soon to crumble into the hypocrisy of betrayal. Rather than being celebrated, he would be debased. Good News? Not for a moment, not to Herod's way of thinking!
- "Bring me this so-called King of the Jews!" he boldly proclaimed. "I'm Sovereign of the Jews, Caesar says so!" He used every means at his disposal to track down and destroy the young child. In this he fulfilled yet more prophecies, for instance this one from Jeremiah 31:15:
"This is what the Yahveh says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more."
- Herod ordered the systematic murder of every male child in the region who could possibly be the Messiah, i.e. ever male Jewish children under a certain age was killed. God meanwhile warned Joseph in a dream and he took his family and escaped into Africa by night.
- Good News? Not to Herod!
- Good News? Not to Mary and Joseph at this point! They were afraid and on the run. They were not so certain anymore as they left everything they had ever known and loved and fled into the desert for their very lives.
- At this time:
When they had gone, an angel of the Sovereign God appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," the messenger said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
where he stayed until the death of Herod.
- For a while Joseph and Mary had to go into a closet of sorts. They could not freely celebrate nor even acknowledge that they had been blessed with this unorthodox birth.
- In the same way, many of us, having accepted the fact that God has given us a lavender spirit, sometimes feel compelled to retreat into our own "Egypt", our own closets. We feel safe to let this person know we are LGBT, but not that one. We can be out here, but not there - I mean, what would THEY think if they knew! Nor is this without reason! There really are "Herod's" around who feel compelled, for various reasons, to persecute us. Ask Matthew Shepard! Ask any of the thousands of LGBT people in the military who must remain hidden or face expulsion. Ask those who have staffed LGBT hotlines and heard the horror stories that is the daily lot of thousands of LGBT people, perhaps even for some of you here! Santa Cruz is a haven of sorts, but we are not immune to this type of thing either.
- It is not without cause therefore that we sometimes retreat and return to our closets of relative safety. But ultimately, our closets provide only further loss of freedom and more self condemnation. If we would be free we must leave our closets, even if that means fighting for our rights to walk in the sunlight of Christian liberty!
- And then comes that blessed day when we triumphantly return to our homeland, our spiritual Zion. When we decide that we will no longer live inside a closet of any kind. We proudly march in the Pride Parades, wear obviously LGBT tee shirts and buttons, we shout out for all to hear: "We're here, we're queer, and we're going to church!" We affirm: "I accept the divine gift of my sexual orientation and I thank God for it!" Deep within our spirits we determine that never again will we allow any person or situation to push us back into the closet. Ever!
- "We're here, we're queer, and we're going to church!"
- And we grow and we celebrate the Good News! All of our problems are solved. We are liberated lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people and no one will ever force us back into the closet again!
- "We're here, we're queer, and we're going to church!"
- Then there's that job interview. "I'm not going to deny it, I just wont mention it... I don't have to come out to everyone do I?..."
- And we get the job, then, standing by the water cooler, a supervisor refers to one of our co-workers, "Man is that guy a fag!" and we remain silent. Maybe we even laugh with the group, so as not to betray our true selves. After all, its not my job to defend everyone at work! Am I my brother's keeper? I mean, after all...
- We sometimes speak of the time we came Out of the closet as though it were a one-time event. But we must come out everyday in every way.
- Until there is social justice for everyone, there remains no real alternative.
- And in our discussion here, we have yet to reach the crucifixion! That's for another holiday, perhaps for Easter Sunday ...
- Is this Good News?
- But that doesn't mean its easy! And applying the Good News to our own lives is an unending occupation.
- Good News.
- So, what is the Good News?
- John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the World that God gave the holy child Jesus so that none should perish, but that everyone would have eternal life.
- Romans 10:12 and 13 adds to this Good News:
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile -- the same God is Sovereign of all and richly blesses all who call out,
for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Sovereign will be saved."
- Yes! That's Good News indeed!
- So, how does it work? Rom 5:18-21 explains it:
...Just as the result of one person's trespass was condemnation for everyone [that being the fall of Adam], so also the result of one act of righteousness [that being the sacrifice of Jesus] was the justification that brings life for all people.
For just as through the disobedience of the one person [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one person [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.
The law was added so that the trespasses might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
- This IS Good News! Yes indeed!
- Has anyone quoted the ancient Hebrew Law AT you, "Oh, its a sin for men to lie with men as with women..." It says so in Leviticus!"
- Well to this person I say, pork is a sacrilege according to the same Levitical Law, yet most leather bound Bibles - i.e. those which say, "leather", "bonded leather," "top grain leather" or "genuine leather," are made mainly from pig skin! Will your piety lead you to spend the extra money and buy only "genuine Cow Hide" leather Bibles? Will you give up eating pork? Will your righteous indignation cause you to never again shave your beard or even trim its edges? To shun clothing made of mixed fabrics? Will you marry your sister-in-law in the event your brother passes away childless? Will you as vehemently condemn divorce and prohibit remarriage under any circumstances? Will you women maintain absolute silence in the church and never hold authority over men?
- You who judge others! I challenge you to observe these and the other biblical laws yourself first, then I'll entertain your condemnations with more credulity!
- One day we will all stand before God and He alone will judge our hearts. But you know what, I'm not worried about it!
- Why? Because I know that God is both just and loving! Unlike many Christians I could name.
- Of course as most of you know, I've spoken and written extensively about the Bible and homosexuality, so if any of you have any questions about these issues I'll be happy to speak with you after we finish here. But for now, we're discussing the Good News.
- And the Good News is, as the verse I just discussed tells us, the purpose of the Law was to demonstrate our need for God's Grace and Mercy. 'There is none righteous, no not one!' 'We have all gone out of the way!' We all need God's Grace and mercy, both LGBT people AND heterosexuals. And our need is no greater than yours is because the Bible says so!
- My friends, the truth is this, as we read here, starting in Rom. 8:1:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending God's own Child in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so God condemned sin in sinful mortal flesh,
in order that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
- So, is this Good News? Absolutely! We can now satiate our consciousnesses with the Amazing Grace of God and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are free -- we are free from the Law of sin and death because the Bible tells us so!
- Yet no doubt someone said, "Yeah, but I'm just a dirty 'ole sinner saved by grace. God don't care about me and my little problems..."
- Friend, turn in your Bibles with me to Rom 8:35-39:
"What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? [Add to this homophobia if you will]
As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Savior.
- Whose a "dirty ole sinner?" You're a Child of the Sovereign of the Universes my friend and NOTHING, NOTHING can come between you and God.
- As all kids, we might slam the door in God's face from time to time in a temper tantrum, and we all do it! But guess what, when we open that door, God's standing right there with open arms. I love it in the King James Version:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Good News? You better believe it! This is Good News! Even Fred Phelps, Beverly LaHey and Jerry Fawel cannot separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus! Amen!
- I leave you this evening with these comforting words of Truth from I John 3:18-21:
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in God's presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.
- Are you at peace with God this evening?
- You know how people talk about "sin," we usually avoid the word like the plague here at Lavender Road Metropolitan Community Church. Everyone's afraid of it. But what is sin, really? "Sin" just means "to miss the mark" of perfection. Maybe I don't want to call myself a "sinner," but it's obvious that I miss the mark or perfection from time to time. That's all it really means.
- I'd like to ask you all to pause now, for a moment of reflection.
- Are there any blocks between you and God tonight? Any sins? Are there areas in your life where you feel you've "missed the mark?" Are there issues stopping you from opening the door to what God has for you?
- Are you like Joseph? Will you say, "God, I don't understand this at all, but I know I can trust in You. God, I want to accept what you are creating in me and I say "Yes God!" Even as did Mary and as did Joseph.
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