Open the Gift of Acceptance – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, December 10


Wrapped presents are intriguing. A friend of mine told me that when she was a child she got into trouble when she crawled under the Christmas tree to examine a package which was for her. Unfortunately, she upset the tree and it fell over. Water and pine needles and broken ornaments were everywhere and she was caught underneath the mess.

But don’t worry, there is no danger in opening this Christmas box that we have today. We need someone who will open the box for us.

(Box on table is opened and the unwrapped figure of Joseph is put on the altar)

At home, when I am setting up the nativity scene with the various figures, I sometimes wonder “where do you put Joseph? “ Is he back in the stable in shadows observing all that is happening?  Beside Mary? Out front guarding the doorway and greeting those who come?  What is Joseph’s place in the Christmas story?

A child was drawing a picture of the Christmas story. In one corner he had a small brown house.

“That is where Jesus was born.” he said. He had drawn a  large star in the sky: “This is the star that guided the wisemen.” he explained.

There was a figure of a man carrying two bundles. He was asked “Is that one of the wisemen bringing gifts?”   Child replied: “No, that’s  just Joseph taking out the trash.”

The boy’s drawing highlights that Mary and Joseph were real people dealing with realities of everyday life.  They were dealing with conflict, hurt, a broken relationship.

Joseph had to deal with the reality of being a father. He was engaged to Mary when it became evident that she was expecting a child and the child was not his. He is now in a situation where his world is upside down, and his previous plans are gone.

He has to pick an action: charge her with adultery and publicly humiliate her because as a righteous man, how could he marry her? Or he could quietly break off the engagement and sever all ties with her; or he could choose to continue with the relationship and marry her.

Prompted by God in a dream, he chooses to accept her and his situation. He stands by Mary and faces the consequences.

In his actions, Joseph demonstrates the gift of acceptance. Precious gift to be able to accept and nourish the situation in which we find ourselves.  Many times what we planned for, dreamed about, does not happen, and then what?

Joseph will care for her and for the baby to come. Like John the Baptist who thirty years later prepared the way for Jesus and his ministry, Joseph also prepared the way for Jesus by the way he was willing to accept and trust God with the news of Mary’s pregnancy.

Joseph made a life changing discovery. He saw the big picture: God was at work in the world and Joseph was going to be a part of it! He was not sure what all it would mean to raise a child born to save the world.

Joseph said “Yes” to his life. He said “yes” to the opportunity to grow in his faith and love.  He said “yes” and waited for further instructions. He was living out the expression: “Contentment is not having everything you want, but wanting what you have.”

A little girl went to see Santa at the Mall. She sat in his lap and he asked the question; “Well, what do you want for Christmas?”  With shock she looked at him and said, “You didn’t get my email?”

Sometimes I feel like praying: “Lord, you didn’t get my email?!”

How do you react when your reality doesn’t match with what you wanted?

We can be disappointed by much in life: our jobs, family members, our health, our relationships, our circumstances. They don’t match up with our dreams. Like Joseph we have choices as to how we face each day and which direction we take.

We can blame others, have bitterness in our hearts, hold on to what might have been, should have been, or could have been. We can run away, or we can take take the courageous step of trusting God with our lives.

A man was writing on his blog concerning his many physical problems: “I can become angry and bitter. I can ask why me? Lash out at all those  around me because it is so unfair that my life is limited.  But I choose to accept that I have these physical conditions. I am going to do everything I can to live a full life while dealing with my illness. I am choosing to live each day aware that God is with me.”

God is with us in all times and places, working through good and bad. God takes our frustrations, disappointments, losses, and gives us the strength that we need and shows us his possibilities.

Prior to WW II, Rienhold Niehbur, a professor at Union Seminary in New York used a prayer in his sermons and in his talks to young people in this country. These words have been prayed by many persons through the years, especially by those in 12 step programs. The prayer has become known simply as the serenity prayer.

To me, it captures the essence of the gift of acceptance. This is the complete version of the prayer and I would like for us to pause for a few moments and pray it together as we consider our own situations.

God, give me grace to accept with serenitythe things that cannot be changed,courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,taking, as Jesus did,this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it,

trusting that You will make all things right,if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

An elderly church member in my previous church was a resident at an assisted living facility. She also has her own prayer of acceptance which she prays daily. She asks God to lead her everyday in his will, to show her his way, to guide her to the people that he would want her to reach.

In her daily prayers, she would ask God this simple prayer: “Please, God, help me to not mess it up!” She has had many changes in her life, loss of family members, and of her home, but has a quiet acceptance of what is. She is most open to being available to God’s Spirit leading her to accept others and share God’s love with them.

This gift of acceptance is revealed in our attitude towards our own circumstances, but it becomes an even greater gift as we accept the people around us in our neighborhoods and communities.  Who is God calling us to accept?

Not far from Washington D. C., Floris UMC invites day laborers in from cold for a Christmas party, a fiesta. For over 17 years, this church has reached out to immigrants in their neighborhood.  They have accepted all of this change in their county, and have been open to God’s possibilities.  Let’s see what is happening in Virginia:

It was not a long conversation. Two friends met on the street. One looked very tired; it had been a difficult year with his daughter and loss of a job.

The other friend asked “How are you doing?”  He paused before replying: “How am I doing? You know, I belong to God.  My life has been so much more than these recent troubles. However this all turns out, I still belong to God. That’s the bottom line. There really isn’t anything else. “

The gift of acceptance comes down to this: our deep trust in God’s amazing love for each of us wherever we are on our journeys and whatever we are facing.

This trust helps us find hope and purpose in the midst of life’s upside down, backwards, inside out surprises!  May we, like Joseph, receive the gift of acceptance this Christmas. 



Outside the Box: The Gift of Acceptance

Small Group Questions

Isaiah 40:1-6a & Mark 1:1-8

December 10, 2017

During these four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas, we are opening a Christmas present each week. This week, we open the gift of acceptance which is symbolized by Joseph, the father of Jesus. When Joseph found out that Mary was with child, he could have a) charged her with adultery and publicly humiliated her b) break off the engagement or c) accept God’s word that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit. Joseph chose option “c” and he accepted the situation that was presented to him.

What helps you to accept God’s promise for you when you are facing a trial or challenging situation in your life?

Pastor Robert shared about a man who had a difficult year. He had problems with his daughter and lost his job during that time. When asked by a friend how he was doing through all of this, this man responded, “How am I doing? You know, I belong to God. My life has been so much more than these recent troubles. However this all turns out, I still belong to God. That’s the bottom line. There really isn’t anything else.”

Share a time when you experienced God’s presence and guidance during a time of transition in your life.

Not far from Washington D. C., Floris UMC invites day laborers in from the cold for a Christmas party, a fiesta. For over 17 years, this church has reached out to immigrants in their neighborhood.  They have accepted great change in their county and have been open to God’s possibilities.

In what ways does our church reach beyond our walls to be more accepting and welcoming of the people in our community?

As a group, prayer this well known prayer of acceptance that was written by the famous theologian, Rienhold Niehbur before World War II, and has become known as “The Serenity Prayer.”

God, give me grace to accept with serenitythe things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,taking, as Jesus did,this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.