Christmas reflections | Ott Observations

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A few days ago, most of us were celebrating the birth of Jesus. It is a time when you can’t help but do some faith reflection. 

There is so much guidance and teaching from Jesus to consider, as well as what the model of his mother Mary represents to us. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve found my reflection wandering, thinking a bit about Mary’s husband Joseph.

According to the Bible, Joseph knew Mary’s baby was not his. As a “righteous” man, he also knew his faith and the laws of his time called for her to be cast out and maybe even stoned to death as an adulterer. 

He was unwilling to expose her shame, so he decided to divorce her quietly. Then an angel appeared to him in a dream and explained how Mary had become pregnant and that her son would save his people from their sins. 

Joseph did what the angel commanded and took Mary into his home. He was a humble and supportive bystander to the most glorious birth in history.

This scripture provoked a very interesting discussion in the weekly men’s prayer meeting I attend. 

Based on the upcoming church service reading, we challenge ourselves to think about what it means for us in our lives today.

We all readily agreed Joseph was an example of courageous manhood we should try to copy.

When we considered how Joseph rejected the laws of his faith and times, based on a dream, our conversation got a lot more complicated. 

The practice of any faith requires a lot of interpretation as we apply it to our contemporary life. Within all faiths, our pastors range from strict to progressive and their interpretations vary accordingly. 

After all, they are human too, and subject to the same failings and prejudices as the rest of us.

Often we rationalize behaviors and beliefs in our own lives that we know deep down aren’t right. So we make our peace by finding a faith interpretation we feel supports us rather than challenges us.

God spoke to Joseph through an angel in a dream. How does God speak to you or me? Do we have dreams like Joseph? Is our conscience tweaked? When we hear a different point of view, is God trying to tell us something?

Like I said, it was a complicated prayer meeting discussion.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a mother who had lost her young adult son. Her interpretation of her faith had her despising him because he was homosexual. Perhaps she sees herself as being righteous and true to her faith. 

But what would Joseph have done? When the Prodigal Son returns home after squandering his inheritance on a life of squalor and sin, his father welcomes him home with a celebration. 

When Jesus is challenged to rank order laws, he says two are most important: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

Perhaps these messages are angels talking to us about when we should and shouldn’t be righteous.

The Supreme Court is currently considering a case where a woman is challenging a state anti-discrimination law that would require her to design a wedding website for a homosexual couple. Her position is this would compromise her religious beliefs. 

Regardless of the legal outcome and interpretation of the First Amendment, I found myself thinking about religion.

What religion teaches that it is OK to discriminate? Are there any boundaries for religion-justified discrimination? Can we be anti-Semitic because Jews killed Christ? Can private businesses deny food or healthcare based on their religion? Can we have multiple wives and have sex with children because our religion decrees it? 

Maybe when a religion contradicts basic decencies for how we treat each other, we should be putting the religion on trial – or at least someone’s interpretation.

I read a letter in another newspaper about this case. 

The writer suggested that businesses with faith-based discriminatory policies should be allowed to have them but should be required to openly communicate them. Then the buying public can decide if they want to support a business that discriminates. 

Let the free market decide rather than the Supreme Court.

I’m wondering what Joseph would advise the website designer. Would he tell her to be righteous even if it hurts others? Or would he say to listen for an angel saying it is OK to serve someone even if you don’t approve of their lifestyle?

My Christmas reflections include hearing from many angels. They’re telling me to not be so righteous, to be humble and to serve others instead of myself. 

They’re reminding me to be thankful for a Savior who forgives my sins, and that I must also forgive to be forgiven. 

May you all hear from your angels and find serenity, love and joy this holiday season.

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