Fourth Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 22, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
The Chinese restaurant was in Pauoa Valley on the island of Oʻahu. We were due to meet our guests from Aotearoa for a Christmas lunch at noon last Tuesday.
Lei came in from Hilo that morning arriving at the Honolulu International Airport a few minutes ahead of my arrival from Kahului. Both Lei and I serve on the Board of Directors of the Pūʻā Foundation, a non-profit organization, whose beneficiaries are those of Native Hawaiian ancestry.
I have served on the board since its inception in 1996. The foundation was established as a result of the apology, redress and reconciliation process between the United Church of Christ and Native Hawaiians for the church’s complicity in the 1893 overthrow of the constitutional monarchy of Hawaiʻi.
Over the years we have established partnerships with other native and indigenous groups throughout the world. Our friends from Aotearoa were coming to the end of their two-week visit on Oʻahu.
Four tables were set aside for us. Lei and I as well as two other board members found ourselves each sitting at a table surrounded by Maori youth. Except for the adult chaperones and two younger boys who appeared to be siblings with a couple of the young people, all of the youth were teenagers.
Time was set aside for introductions. Each stood up, one after the other, introducing themselves by name and sharing the names of their parents and the places where they were born and raised - first in Maori and then in English.
Immediately after the introductions, lunch was then served. At first, I felt uncertain about how to carry on a conversation with nine teenagers. A lot has changed from when I was a teenager fifty years ago.
But over the course of our meal, the conversation around the table became more relaxed and open or I should say I became more relaxed and open. I shared with one of the girls sitting to my right that of the Native Hawaiians living today most are “mixed-blood” – that is most have parents who come from a number of different racial backgrounds. There are very few who are able to trace their genealogy or ancestry to parents who are both Hawaiian.
“There is no one today who can say both of their parents are Maori,” she said. “Everyone is mixed.”
As I looked at the faces of those around the table where I was sitting it was evident that they were all “mixed-blood.” Many said they were Maori as well as Pakeha or Haole. Others traced their ancestral lines to many other different races.
A young man sitting to my left said that when he and sister moved to another community they discovered there was no Maori language school in the district. “It was hard,” he said, “I had not yet learned how to read or write in English. It took a while.”
Not long after we were done eating a chaperone for the group announced that the youth as well as the other chaperones were going to express their appreciation for the lunch that was provided through music and dance. If you know Maori music and dance you know that both have a distinctive sound and form.
The room quickly filled with the sound of their voices. It was nothing short of amazing. The young man I had spoken with stepped out from behind a line of teenagers to do a haka or chant as a prelude to presenting a gift to Lei, who is the President of the Pūʻā Foundation.
Knowing who their ancestors were and knowing where they were born was as important to the Maori youth as it was to the writer of The Gospel According to Matthew. Matthew makes clear in our reading that knowing who Jesus’ ancestors were and knowing where he was born are essential to our understanding who he is.
It is through Joseph that Jesus is identified as the son of David, and without that lineage, the power of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures falls apart. To say Joseph is Jesus’ father is awkward in light of the stories that suggest Mary became hāpai by the Holy Spirit. We do all we can to clean up and sanitize Mary’s pregnancy.
Joseph knows he is not the biological father of Jesus. We can only imagine the scandal Joseph was certain would come. The Bible tells us, that “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,” he “planned to dismiss her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)
It took an angel in a dream to convince Joseph that all would be well and so he makes the remarkable decision to remain with Mary and to take her as his wife. Frankly – and I say this personally – it really doesn’t matter to me how Mary became pregnant.
The fact is she became pregnant. What matters most to me is Joseph’s decision to hānai Jesus into his family and if we understand the Hawaiian meaning of hānai in its fullest terms, we understand that by doing so Joseph claimed Jesus as his own son.
Therefore, for Matthew the birth of Jesus fulfills scripture. Jesus comes from the family line of King David. He is descended from Abraham and David. (Matthew 1:1-7) He is is the child of Mary, the wife of Joseph. (Matthew 1:18-25) He is the son of Joseph.
In some ways it may seem that the Savior of the world has come to us from a less than perfect family. But in another it is perhaps as it should be. In his family, we see our families whether Hawaiian or Maori, Pakeha or Haole – often less than perfect – but nevertheless filled with aloha.
The fulfillment in Matthew is answered by the words of the Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14): “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” which means “God is with us.” “That is the promise containing all promises, the fulfillment containing all fulfillments.” (Preaching Through The Christian Year, Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 28)
Thanks be to God. Amen.