Text: Matthew 18-25
I’ve been serving as the “unofficial chaplain” to the wrestling team at Old Dominion University for the past month and a half….the head coach contacted me because he discovered that faith is important to a lot of his athletes, and he wondered if I could help out with that. So each week I do a bible study and bring communion to about 8 guys on the team – bringing church to them. This past week, we discussed the issue of having the right to die of your own choice. We discussed the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year old from Oregon who chose to end her own life in the face of terminal brain cancer. For some of you in the pews, it’s the same story we discussed a couple of weeks back during our Theology Thursday gatherings.
Should a person have the right to end their own life, especially when faced with intense suffering and pain? The wrestlers had a very unique perspective. It’s one thing to lose or fail or suffer in the face of impossible odds….but the worst thing you can do ever is give up; quit. The guys’ major problem with Brittany’s decision was that she quit. “You always keep fighting” one guy said. Giving up, putting, whatever you want to call it….for these wrestlers it’s simply not an option.
What’s interesting about the sport of wrestling is that In the face of difficult circumstances and odds, wrestlers will willingly enter into suffering, trial, and pain….often without questioning why. It becomes a way of life. I don’t think that’s so common in our world today…and so I asked them why they were so willing to live life this way. And after a lot of discussion and ideas, we came up with this: For these guys, life means something….it means so much that you just simply don’t quit. You don’t give up. You don’t resign yourself to that; you don’t disregard life like that. You only get one life, and it means something. You just don’t throw it away. Our lives are not disposable.
Today’s story from Matthew’s gospel is his version of the Christmas story – only 7 verses long. The version that is the source of Christmas programs with their cute animals and costumes, and of the nativity sets we have in our homes – that comes from Luke’s gospel. Matthew’s Christmas story is one of crisis; Joseph is faced with a difficult choice: do I divorce my wife or not? Do I dispose of her or not? I think the choice is difficult for Joseph because he’s caught between two worlds. One, according to the law of the day, he was well within his right to divorce Mary. In fact, he could have done so publicly and with little regard for her life or dignity. Yet on the other hand, the story tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, and unwilling to expose her to disgrace. And in that system, the best decision he could muster was to “dismiss her quietly.” The best he could do is dispose of her without causing a scene. But is that really a “good choice?”
And for human beings today, caught between trying to not destroy the other person yet living in a world that accepts disposing of and replacing people so easily, maybe Joseph’s response is the best we can muster too. However, life is not disposable. Maybe that’s a really obvious statement. But think about the world we live in today: everything is disposable – diapers, silverware and dishes, coffee cups and drinking containers, mops and paper towels. It’s more convenient and efficient – saves time. If we don’t like our current “thing,” we replace it. Take Cellphones for example. Current cellphone not making you happy or working for ya? Trade up and get a new one….and dispose of the old one.
But apply a disposable, replaceable mentality to people – it sounds ridiculous right? But think about it….because it happens. People are fired from their jobs because there’s a more efficient way to make more money for the corporation. Kids who have played together for years on a sports team are broken up, some of them told they can’t play with their friends anymore….go find something else to do. You can unfriend or unfollow people on social media. Someone hold different beliefs, or just simply is annoying? Tell me to take a hike, cut them off and let them know why in the process. Heck, you just go find people who agree with ya. Divorce is as simple as heading downtown and filling out the paperwork. Death becomes a decision you make.
Now I’m not here to say businesses don’t have the right to make money or sports teams don’t have the right to win games at all costs. I’m not saying there aren’t cases where you need to end relationships, especially when abuse enters the picture. And I’m certainly not saying that those who end their lives because the pain and anguish are simply too much; that for some, mental illness and the stigma we still have as a society around it doesn’t lead people to such a despairing choice…..that such people are “quitters.” I’m just saying, In a world where people & relationships become disposable things, whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of that….no matter how nice or civil the process or how you try to rationalize the decision in your head….it sucks. Plain and simple. And if this is the system, this the way thing are, and we’re stuck with that, then human beings….we’re definitely in need of an intervention. We desperately need to be saved.
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins…..they shall call him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’”
The announcement of this savior……Jesus saves Joseph. This not yet born Jesus saves Joseph from a system that forces him to resolve to dispose of Mary and instead frees him to take Mary as his wife, and as hard as that choice might be, as much as he might be criticized and suffer for not disposing of Mary at all…..it’s better than disposing of her. It’s a better choice because Mary’s life matters and carries meaning….she bears the savior of the world inside her, the One who is God with us; God saving us. Such an act – the gift of God’s presence and salvation that gives meaning to our lives…..is an act of love.
This 4th Sunday in Advent we light the candle of love. And we are reminded as Christmas comes that the Christmas story is about a God who loves the world so much that in Jesus he comes to be with us so that we might be saved from a world and the lie that all life is meaningless and disposable. God’s love offers us a new reality, a new way of living, a choice……that shapes our communities, our relationships, our view of others; our view of ourselves. In the midst of the next few days – which can be chaotic for many with traveling, and last-minute shopping and planning; hard for those who struggle with darkness and loneliness and loss….perhaps this promise of a savior, of God coming to be with us, reminds us that this time of year and our lives do have meaning – life is a gift, never to be disposed of. Amen.