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DECEMBER 23rd, 2018                                                                               PASTOR DON PIEPER

Dealing With Your Feelings                                                            Romans 5:1-5/Matthew 1:18-25


                                                “DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT


C.B.:                I made you a great big chocolate sundae for dessert........, but I had to eat it myself                                     because I just heard on the radio that ice cream isn't good for dogs.

Snoopy:           Disappointment isn't good for dogs either.  


            Poor Snoopy!  So how're you dealing with your feelings of disappointment?   Such feelings are all too common, especially at this time of year.  Disappointment comes from unrealized expectations, as expressed by one little girl in a note to her grandma: “Thank you so much for the socks and under-wear you sent me for Christmas.  They were something I wanted – but not very much!”  

            When things don't turn out as we hoped we're naturally disappointed...


Calvin:                        I can't believe this.  Every day I get all my hopes up, thinking my beanie will come...,                                   and then it doesn't.  I've been disappointed so often now, I'm finally getting numb to it,

Hobbes:          Maybe the mailman made a second trip today and delivered it in the last five minutes.

Calvin:                        Wow!  I never thought of that!   C'mon! 

Hobbes:          He's not numb. 

            For some of you, it goes much deeper.  Some of you have been thru separation or divorce and the feelings of disappointment run deep indeed, particularly at this time of year.  For others, your income has been disappointing, making gift-giving problematic if not impossible.  For still others, its a matter of unfulfilled dreams, unresolved conflicts or an illness or earth in the family.  Instead of feeling delighted this time of year..., you feel disillusioned at best.  What do you do with that? 


            It may surprise you to realize that there was a lot of disappointment that first Advent as well.  Consider Mary, for example.  Her wedding bliss was colored by the reality of her rather inexplicable pregnancy.  Her wedding night lost its luster.  Talk about disappointing!  We don't know how her family reacted to the scandal, but we do know that it was customary for all the relatives to work together to help with the delivery of the baby.  Mary was no doubt looking forward to this. 


            But then, as the time drew close, the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, put out an order that a census should be taken that forced Mary to hit the road several months pregnant.  It was the first census of its kind and Mary must've been thinking, “Why now, Lord?   Why now – and why me?!'


            So instead of being surrounded by her mother, sisters, aunts and cousins, she's surrounded by her donkey, chickens, sheep and cow pies.  How romantic!  There's a cartoon that shows Joseph leading Mary on the donkey as they pause on a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem, with a long, long caravan of people heading into the city.  Mary's eyes are bulging, as she says, “Its Christmas, I'm pregnant, God only knows how, and now you tell me you forgot to book a room?!    ...Terrific!” 


            So much for premarital bliss!  Joseph's heart is full of disappointment too.  After all, his fiancée is expecting and he's clearly NOT the father.  He's so disappointed, Matthew tells us, that he seeks to divorce her.  “He did not want to disgrace her so he decided to divorce her quietly.”   (Matthew 1:19)

            The angel convinces him otherwise but also that he's not to be intimate until after the child is born.  Can you imagine Joseph's reaction? “Wait – what?   No honeymoon?  I have to wait how long?” 

            He also has to tear down his trade and start over.  He'll be moving his family from the city of kings, (very lucrative), to backwater town of hamburger buns.  (Bethlehem means, 'the city of bread').



            And if that’s not all disappointing enough, when they finally do arrive, Joseph finds himself in a barn, delivering a baby, without any help from a doctor, the innkeeper, or any family.  Disappointed! 


            Considering all the disappointment Joseph and Mary faced, and the level to which they experi-enced them, how is it they didn't succumb to them?  How is it that they are remembered as heroes of faith and not as victims of happenchance?   What can we learn from this simple carpenter and his young wife that can empower us to overcome disappointment in our own lives? 


            First of all, they avoided negativity.  Perhaps Satan's greatest snare for those who experience significant disappointment is to become negative or embittered.  One thing that leads to this is our tendency to throw in the towel.  We quit, and thereby accept defeat, forgetting that God's on our side. 


            Another ineffective way we deal with disappointment is by playing the blame game.  We cast accusations.  We get in someone's face.  Discontent, we disassociate.

            One father asked his daughter one spring what she'd like for Christmas that year.  'I want a baby brother!' she said.  Sure enough, that Christmas, her mother brought home a baby boy.  When the father repeated the question the next year, his daughter looked down with disdain at her fussing baby brother, and replied, 'If it wouldn't be too uncomfortable for mommy, I would like a pony next time!'


            In contrast to these and other unhealthy coping habits, Mary & Joseph overcame all the areas of disappointment their circumstances brought them with a more positive approach.  Second, they listened to what God had to say.  Mary sought understanding as she asked of Gabriel: “How can this be?”

                                                                                                                                                (Luke 1:34)

            The response was both profound and timeless: “Nothing is impossible with God!”  (Luke 1:37) Christmas often brings us face to face with the seemingly impossible: a grief that seems impossible to bear, a financial situation that seems impossible to recover from, a relationship that seems impossible to restore, a personal problem that seems impossible to solve.  What God had to say to Mary applies to you and I as well.  God can and does use our impossible circumstances to reveal his love/grace for us. 


            I know of a woman who lost her husband to cancer in a slow, heart-wrenching battle.  She wrestled with the question, how can anything good come from this?  Some time later Dianne found herself on the Alpha Course and in the aftermath of impossible circumstances she experienced God's love for her anew and that verse leaped off the pages of her Bible: “Nothing is impossible with God!”


            At one point, a growing number of widows and other lonely, hurting hearts were being impacted by Dianne's loving kindness, thoughtfulness and humor.  Her whole countenance changed from a woman huddled in inner pain to a daughter of the king joyfully engaging others with his love and grace.  Dianne became living proof that nothing's impossible with God! 


            Joseph also was given a word.   As his disappointment led to thoughts of divorce, the angel Gabriel, quoted a prophetic promise to him: “Behold!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son and he will be called, Immanuel, meaning, God is with us!” 

                                                                                                                        (Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23)

            Joseph also listened to what God had to say and realized that his moment of massive disappoint-ment fit into God's master plan.  God had anticipated this, had planned for it, and was going to see him thru it.  That's another thing we can learn from Mary and Joseph.  They avoided negativity, they listened to God's Word, and third, they embraced God's mysterious and wondrous plan. 


            Disappointment became a divine appointment.  Amidst life's disappointments lies opportunities to discover God's appointment in your life.  That does not mean that every disappointment is of God.  Some occur because of our own selfishness, stubbornness or unforgiveness.  Others occur because of the evil that is done to us.  To discover God's appointment means letting go of your own agenda so that God's perfect plan for your life can begin to unfold within and thru you. 

            And of course, in order for God's plan to have its full impact we must work with God to bring it about.  Both Mary and Joseph followed up.  “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded.  He brought Mary home to be his wife..., and Joseph named her son, Jesus.” 

                                                                                                                                    (Matthew 1:24)

            He followed up.  He did God's will as it was revealed to him.  Mary's response is even more emphatic: “I am the Lord's servant and I am willing to accept whatever He wants.  May everything you have said come true!”  (Luke 1:38)

            They avoided getting negative and listened to what God had to say.  They sought to discover and embrace His incredible, if difficult, plan for them.  They signed on!  The very areas of their disap-pointment became the catalyst for God's amazing will and love coming to life not only in their lives, but in the lives of all who would follow suit, and embrace this awesome gift of new life! 


            In the book, Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, Renée Bondi tells her story...:

            “I had such wonderful plans laid out for my life, and they all seemed to be right on track.  It was my last year as choral music director at our local high school as I was engaged to be married in the spring and would join my husband in Denver after the wedding, where I'd found a job teaching. 


            My students were obviously nervous as they got back on the bus at the music competition at our city's Performing Arts Center. Our hearts soared as I opened the envelope to read our rating: Superior – the highest rating with the comment, 'Now this is Brahms!'


            Then it happened.  One morning, I slipped and fell from the foot of my bed onto my head.  As I hit the floor, I heard a crack from my neck.  I tried to roll over and sit up.  No go.  Instead I heard another craaaack and felt a burst of pain that took my breath away.  I awoke in the hospital's icu.      'Renée, the doctor told me, 'your neck is broken.  You're paralyzed from the neck down.  I'm afraid you will never be able to move your arms or legs, much less walk, for the rest of your life.  And, as a result of your injuries, I'm sorry to say, but you'll never be able to sing again either.'


            “God', I later moaned, 'this is not what I had in mind for my life!  I can't do it!  Why – why...?' And then I heard a still, small voice: 'You may not always get to choose the songs, but if you put your trust in me, you'll surely make beautiful music.' 

            It's been nine years..., and God has been good.  The first 'song' he gave me was that my fiancé insisted on becoming my husband.  I teach choir now, not at school, but at church, working with three youth choirs.  I've made a recording of songs for people who need courage, strength and hope like I did.  I've been able to give concerts where I sing and tell my story to prisoners, teenagers, church and women's groups.  No, my life is not at all what I'd planned, but every now and then I see the sweetest harmonies and sweeping cascades of God's concertos all around me and I think, Now this is music! 

                                                                                                (from Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul)

            My friends, whatever the disappointment you may be facing, no matter how slight or severe, all are potential breakthroughs in the hands of God.  Resist that inner voice of negativity and like Renée Bondi, Mary and Joseph, allow God to bring to life divine possibilities out of impossible odds, that God may transform your dis-appointment into an awesome appointment, so those around you may see your good works and glorify the Lord saying, in essence, now THIS is music!