A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

15 12 2011

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered 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 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.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect illustrations for our “Peacemaker’s Advent” series.

Upon learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph had a plan.  he respected the law but also had great mercy on Mary.  He would just divorce her quietly.  No public spectacle.  Follow the law but do as little harm as possible to Mary.  He had it all worked out.  It was actually a good and honorable plan.  And then God gave him a different plan…one fraught with risk and probable public humiliation.  Through a series of dreams, God would show Joseph a better way.

I started my peacemaking ministry to churches as an arrogant young lawyer out to teach all the simple-minded laymen in the church a thing or two about conflict resolution.  Having spent hundreds of hours in mediations and other conflict resolution forums, I felt confident that I had a good and honorable plan for dealing with conflict among God’s people.  Just a few huge disappointments later, God had my attention.  We would not be doing peacemaking the world’s way…we would be doing it His way.

Oh how I would like to be able to report to you that, like Joseph and Mary, I immediately stepped in line and started to get it all right.  I did not.  Frankly, I still do not.  But I am learning more and more that peacemaking among God’s people is not a process that lends itself to nice, clean formulas and protocols…rather, it is a dance…with God…and I am not leading!

Mary and Joseph are wonderful illustrations for us.  They demonstrate what it looks like to let go of our own very good plans in order to pursue the clear will of God, even when that will doesn’t make a great deal of sense to us or to the people around us.  As peacemakers among God’s people, there is no more important skill for us to develop than letting go and letting God do what only He can do.    It is a trust thing.  Merry Christmas, fellow peacemakers.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Angels

1 12 2011

I’ve never done an Advent Series before on this blog.  This will be fun!  Watch for “A Peacemaker’s Advent” right here every Thursday from now until Christmas.

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Luke 1:13a

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

I have never seen an angel, but apparently, it is a frightening thing.  We know this because, every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, the first words it says are, “Do not be afraid…”.

Now, I am no angel.  But, as a peacemaker, I do know what it feels like for people to be frightened of me.  It is actually a fairly common response, especially in church conflicts.  When I am called in by a congregation or Christian organization to begin my work as a peacemaker, and I begin having my one-on-one meetings with the players, it is always interesting to me how frightened they seem to be to talk to me.  Maybe it is because they know I am a lawyer?  Or maybe it because they have misunderstood my role in the process?  Or maybe it is their fear of being held accountable?  I honestly do not know.

But I do know that, for peacemakers, it means we have one task that is first and foremost in every conflict…we must be a non-anxious presence.  We must develop an ability to disarm the players, reassure them that they are safe, and guarantee a process which they can trust.  We apparently share that task with the angels.  Everything about our demeanor and our words must send a clear message: “be not afraid”.

Being a non-anxious presence is our first prayer this Christmas season for ourselves and for the other peacemakers in our lives.  Being like the angels in that regard is a great Christmas lesson.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Merry Christmas, Gabriel…Uh, Could I See Some ID?

10 12 2009

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18a

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

Studying Luke 1 last week and this week. Last week was Zechariah. This week is Mary. But the one constant character in both lessons is Gabriel, the angel. The other element common to both stories is the reactions to Gabriel. Both Mary and Zechariah asked the same question: “But, how?” But Gabriel’s response to that reaction was very different in each story.

Let’s not play word games here, and let’s not split hairs over how their reactions are actually different. If you were writing the story yourself and wanted their reactions to read the same way, you couldn’t write it any differently than Luke did. Their reactions to Gabriel were remarkably similar. Both of them asked the same question, showing the same concern for whether Gabriel really had all his facts straight. We can engage in all kinds of speculation about their respective hearts (i.e., perhaps Mary’s question was truly one of wonder, while Zechariah’s was one of doubt, etc.), but that is just speculation on our part. We cannot judge a person’s heart. No, in order to explain Gabriel’s very different response to each of them and their respective questions, we need not engage in questions of the heart. We can find a much easier critical distinction between Zechariah and Mary: Zechariah was a priest.

Zechariah was a Spiritual leader among God’s people and was doing a Spiritual thing in the most Spiritual of all places when Gabriel appeared. What kind of sad commentary is it that, upon entering the place where God abides, doing a thing God had commanded him to do, Zechariah seemed genuinely shocked to meet a messenger from God? While Mary certainly had no reason to expect a visit from God under her circumstances, Zechariah had plenty of reason to expect it. But not only was he not expecting it, he did not even recognize it when he saw/heard it. For a teenage girl to ask some questions when a messenger from God comes to her in circumstances such as Mary’s is no big deal. But when a church leader has been praying and begging to hear from God and then encounters a messenger from God in church, it just seems like bad form for that leader to ask for some ID, wouldn’t you say?

So it has made me wonder…

How often am I shocked and surprised when God answers one of my prayers? Seriously, when I pray “fervently” in the morning for some thing, am I really expecting to hear from God in response? More importantly, do I attend gathered worship or prayer meetings truly expecting to find God there? Do I greet Christian brothers and sisters looking them in the eye with a genuine expectation of seeing Christ there? Do I attend gathered meetings listening for the voice of God in my other brothers and sisters in Christ? I believe this story raises some important questions about our expectations as leaders in the church.

These are convicting questions for me. If Gabriel walked into my church service this week with a message from God, I want to be the kind of leader who says to everyone, “Listen up! This is a word straight from the Lord.” I want to recognize it immediately as my Shepherd’s voice. To me, that is what is required of us as leaders.

Furthermore, is it any wonder that Gabriel, upon seeing Zechariah’s doubt, concluded that Zechariah is NOT the right leader to be a spokesperson for God in this instance. Striking him dumb is exactly what God would want. Why would God want a leader whose faith and expectations are so very small to be out there telling this important message?

Here is my prayer for this Christmas season and beyond: “God, build my faith and teach me your ways so that I will recognize them when I see them and will know your voice when I hear it. And if I do not, then strike me dumb so as to protect your glorious name and your redemptive message from my doubting tongue.”

Amen.

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com