Reflection for Sunday – December 18, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-14; Romans 1: 1-7; Matthew 1: 18-24
Preacher: Kathi Piehler

Grayson is 3, Lucas is 5 and Emily is 9. They are three of our six grandchildren. And, like many of their peers, they are all enamored with the current resurgence of the “Super Heroes” phenomenon. Lucky for our grandkids, their respective parents monitor their interaction with the “bad guys” and emphasize the “good guys” (and gals) — the heroes. Surely, our grandchildren and many others will be asking Santa for Super Hero toys and hoping they will be under the tree in just seven short days.

And it’s not just Super Hero toys that are getting children’s attention these days. A full page in the October 10, 2016 issue of USA Today was devoted to Hollywood’s interest and excitement about making more movies with heroes, especially about female heroes and especially aimed at children.

The article states, “We don’t have a lot of female heroes onscreen, but this has (now) become a strong cog in the Disney live-action machine.” The article goes on to state that the studio has placed a priority on producing new movies that feature female heroes but not at the expense of male heroes—they will be still be prominently featured in a planned remake of The Lion King as well as a sequel to last summer’s hit, Jungle Book.

I couldn’t help but think of Lucas, Grayson and Emily when I read this Gospel from Matthew: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we—adults and children alike—saw Joseph and his young, pregnant, betrothed Mary as Super Heroes as much as Superman or Wonder Woman? Or the heroes in a new Disney movie? The scripture tells us Joseph was a righteous man, meaning by Jewish law, he could divorce Mary for having been unfaithful to him, or so it appeared, during their year of betrothal.

But we also read that Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to the shame that her pregnancy would heap upon her in her hometown. It took a super strength of faith in the message of the angel for Joseph to continue with the ancient, three step Jewish marriage process that culminated in the actual marriage when Joseph would take Mary into his home. I’m sure Mary needed that same super strength of faith to initially accept her pregnancy as the work of the Holy Spirit.

An obvious present day analogy is the woman who, when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, chooses life for her unborn child. She too, in my opinion, is certainly a “Super Hero.” Because, as accepted as an unmarried pregnancy has become, it unfortunately still carries with it a degree of negative judgment on the part of some people.

But I also think of some other not so obvious “Super Heroes” in our midst; some quiet, some not so quiet:

The Everyday Heroes:
• The grandmothers who are raising their young grandchildren because their grown children are in jail or rehab or have tragically died. Super Heroes that are to be admired and supported.

• The Afghan mother recently featured in a BBC special who, with some of her older children, and in spite of the putrid stench, are scavengers in the local dump for firewood, clothing and even usable food for the rest of their large family in her war ravaged country. Super Hero indeed!

The Quiet Super Heroes: those who, for example, without fanfare, go out at night looking for the homeless camped under bridges—bringing them sandwiches, dry clothing and toiletries.

Or those who, while continuing to go about their everyday lives, quietly and bravely endure, for months on end, the suffering of chemo, radiation, and even stem-cell transplants only to find that the evil villain, cancer, is stronger than the medicine. That was my friend, Kate.

And then there are the Not So Quiet Super Heroes who see wrongs and “make noise” to right them.

Like the young mother in Northern Virginia who has kept in the forefront the issue of allowing female altar servers in all parishes of the Arlington Diocese not only for her daughters but for all girls who wish to serve but are denied because of their gender.

Like the parents of emotionally or intellectually challenged children who keep “knocking (even banging) on the doors” of doctors, therapists and school districts—doing whatever it takes to get the appropriate care and education that their children need and deserve.

To be a Super Hero is not easy and these Super Heroes don’t just happen. I believe, they need three things:

• An open heart to hear the call that St. Paul speaks of in the second reading today from Romans—the call to be an apostle and to be set apart for the Gospel of God. According to biblical scholar, William Barclay, Paul knew that he was chosen not for special honor but for special responsibility. He knew that God had set him apart, not for glory but for hard work. It is likewise the same for our Everyday Super Heroes.

• The grace that St. Paul tells us we receive only through Jesus Christ. That grace is a gift freely given but also must be freely accepted in order to fulfill the role of Everyday Super Heroes.

• In the Gospel we are told that Joseph and Mary named their son, Emmanuel, as they were instructed. Emmanuel means “God is With Us.” Believe me, these Super Heroes know that they could not be such without having God With Them.

And so, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent we have a full seven days left to prepare ourselves. Prepare certainly for the arrival of the Christ Child but prepare ourselves, as well, to answer our call to be Super Heroes for each other thanks to a reminder from Emily, Lucas and Grayson.

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