Simply Christmas: Less Talking, More Listening (Matthew 1:18-25)

Here is the text from my sermon last Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, OR. The sermon text is Matthew 1:18-25

The story of Joseph always amazes me. It amazes me because I’m not sure I would have made the same decision that he did. For all intents and purposes the “right” thing, the “lawful” thing was to dismiss her. The “lawful” thing to do was expose her to public humiliation, for her to stand trial for adultery. Joseph was a noble man, a man who must have built a remarkable and trusting relationship with God. What Joseph did, defied all logic. It defied reason. Joseph listened to an angel, in a dream, who told him. “Do not be afraid, take Mary as your wife, name your son Jesus.” Joseph chose to go against all that he knew because he trusted God, he trusted that his vision was from God, he listened to the vision. I don’t know how many times in my life I have felt a nudge to do something that was seemingly impossible and certainly illogical. Almost every time I have brushed it aside, I have refused to listen, I have not trusted. I imagine that Joseph taking that first step was difficult. I imagine he could not talk to anyone about his situation. I imagine he felt lonely. I imagine he felt scared. I imagine that his plans for his life were now washed away in an instant. He had to now re-imagine what his life would be like with his new wife Mary and their son. Would he be ridiculed? Would he be an outcast? Would he be killed? Joseph’s ability to trust that God would be with him no matter, must have taken time. It must have been the product of long hours of talking to and listening to God, allowing himself to trust and to be worthy of trust. As we are surrounded with the noise of the season, let us take a few moments to listen, a few moments to allow God’s still small voice to become as loud as a choir of angels. A few moments to hopefully continue to build our trust level with God and for God. Let us take a moment to breath allowing God’s breath to flow through our minds and fill our hearts with the vision of the Holy Spirit living and moving through our lives. Let us take a few moments of silence to simply be…

(2-4 Minutes of Silence)


As I began to prepare for this Sunday, a Sunday where we are reminded to listen more than we talk. The story of my friends and colleagues Adam and Sarah Walker Cleaveland from Livermore, California, kept rattling around in my brain, kept coming up, kept being in my thoughts and prayers. Before I shared this with you I asked Adam and Sarah if they were comfortable sharing their story. Adam has written about their journey at his blog I believe his words better explain their story. This is an excerpt from his blog entry entitled “October 25: The Day I Will Never Forget

On Sunday, October 24, at around 1:15pm, Sarah’s bag of water broke, although we didn’t know it at the time. We weren’t really sure what had happened, so we went to Labor & Delivery in Walnut Creek. After a few different tests, the doctor pulled a stool over and sat down next to the bed. It was at that moment that I knew that we were in for some bad news. There was something about the way the doctor sat down on the stool, and began to share with us the news…

We really didn’t have any options – we had to end the pregnancy. We were at 19 weeks and 3 days.

We were given our own room in Labor & Delivery and we waited as Sarah was given [a drug] to induce an early labor. The night was spent trying to get some sleep; in preparation for doing something we never thought we’d ever have to do in the morning. Sarah was given some pain meds to help with the increased cramping, but around 6am, it got too painful, and she got an epidural.

It was only a few minutes after the epidural was in, that Sarah’s cramping became worse and the delivery began. It happened very quickly, much quicker than we had anticipated, and on Monday morning, October 25, at 6:49am Micah Walker Cleaveland (10 ounces) was born and at 6:54am Judah Walker Cleaveland (8 ounces) was born.

What was perhaps most shocking about the birth experience was that they were both born alive and breathing…they had heartbeats and were quickly wrapped in blankets and given to us to hold. Because of where I was standing when they were born, I could see them when they first came out. Micah, who seemed significantly bigger than Judah, was kicking and I could see his tiny little arms moving around.

We spent about 3 hours with them that morning. Sarah and I took turns holding them individually and together. Shortly after their birth, one of the pastors from our church came by and spent time with us. Sarah decided that since they were alive for about a full 1-1.5 hrs while they were with us, that we should baptize them. Our pastor was there at that time, and so we baptized them and prayed for them.

Right now I can’t describe what it was like to hold them – to know that I was holding my sons in my arms…I was a dad. I am a dad. And that is a crazy thing to think about.

At around 10am, we decided we were ready – as ready as we would ever be – to say goodbye to Micah and Judah. And so the nurse came and took them….

Even as I type this post, it still feels unreal. The whole time at the hospital feels like it never really happened. Yet, each day, we are reminded that we have suffered a huge loss. Every time we receive another flower delivery, or another comment left on my Facebook Wall, or another meal delivered to us from wonderful people at our church, I am reminded that we are grieving.

I don’t know what the future holds. I can’t even look past the next few days – it’s too hard. But I do know that we are surrounded by an amazing community (both online, from folks in our church, close friends, friends I haven’t heard from in a long time, etc.) who is praying for us and loving us and eager to find ways to support us. And that means more than you could ever imagine.

Adam and Sarah’s story is tragic, it’s gut wrenching it reminds me that there are no words that can be said to “make it better”. Even though we, even though I offer up words to fill the void that is felt by loss. I am reminded of my time as a chaplain when we were told, “don’t just do something, stand there.” I am reminded that all I can do for Adam and Sarah is be there. All I can do is pray. All I can do is listen.

For all those who are grieving, grieving the loss of a loved one, grieving the loss of a job, grieving the loss of time, grieving the loss of comfort, all I can say are the words offered by Adam’s religion professor and friend, Jerry Sitter, “I have no words. This is horrible. And I’m here for you.” God is here for you. In his book “Grace Disguised” Dr. Sitter says, “A willingness to face the loss and to enter into the darkness is the first step we must take.”

As we take a moment to listen for God to meet us in our time of need, let us together and as individuals take that first step into the darkness of those things that we have lost during this year and let us be drawn to the light of the Christ child, remembering that it is though hope in him we are saved from our darkness. Let us take a moment in silence to simply listen…

(2-4 minutes of silence)


Rev. Greg Bolt


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