(REPOST: This is the text of a reflection that I had offered at St. Edward the Confessor on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 – during Evening Prayer.)
God is with us.
God is with us.
God is with us.
It doesn’t always feel like God-is-with-us, does it? Especially now. Typically we might find ourselves on December 18th, pretty deeply into the “are-we-there-yet?” stage. You know, that feeling where we find our “it’s-almost-Christmas” glee crisscrossing with high anxiety over all the things yet unaccomplished as we race towards December 25.
Anxiety or glee – neither one is especially rooted in our Advent journey of holy waiting, but both are very common things to feel. I don’t know about you, but I am in a state of mind and heart that says, “can-we-leave-now?” rather than “are-we-there-yet?” And the “God-is-with-us” matter might be harder than usual to grasp. This makes me wonder if perhaps “are-we-there-yet?” and “can-we-leave-now?” are the wrong questions to ask.
We might find ourselves wanting to ask the question… is God with us? Of course God is with us! And God is coming to be with us in the form of the newly born Jesus. If we ask about a specific location or a point in the journey – no, we are not there yet. I’m still considering bailing out. Despite feeling very attractive though, fleeing might not be the answer; it does seem less than advisable to leave at this stage, doesn’t it?
In today’s Gospel from Matthew, we hear about Joseph, the righteous man. We know this story; perhaps we even take it for granted. We are used to every sort of tale about hook-ups and break-ups, nothing seems to shock us, does it? Yeah, yeah, yeah – we know what Joseph does with Mary, blah blah. Can we move on? Is it Christmas yet? Are we there yet?
Not so fast!
This story is shocking, and it demands our attention. As usual, God calls to us from the places beyond what our “heads” can process. This is a story of the heart, and it is brilliantly shocking.
It is not shocking because Mary was with child before she and Joseph were married according to the law. The story is shocking because Mary said “yes” and was bearing the Son of God, the long-foretold Emmanuel – or God-is-with-us. Mary agreed to God’s request! This is the shock of mutually agreed upon intercourse between God and us! Ours is a God that does not want to push us around like tiny toys on a game board, but a God that deeply longs to be in relationship with us. A God that wants to be with us – and one of us!
Back to the “are-we-there-yet”… In the Gospel, Joseph seems ready for the “can-we-leave-now?” portion of the program. Joseph, like us – is not there yet, but he is about to be there. Can he stick with God? Can we stick with Joseph? And stick with God in the process?
Joseph knew that his relationship with Mary might face some challenges under the circumstances, problems simply too great to deal with. A lesser man might have speedily divorced Mary – basically dumping her. Such an act would have left her with zero social standing. In the case of first century Palestine, that would have meant complete rejection from every element of life as Mary knew it. She would have been an outcast – along with a child designated as an outcast too.
But God is indeed with us and God had – God HAS – other plans.
Joseph was going to take the high road. His plan, we are told, was to do what he had to do by law, quietly, as not to shame Mary and reduce her social standing. He was saying yes, in the only way that he knew how, by adhering to the law. Yet, he does so in such a gentle way. I love that the word used is that he was “unwilling to expose her to shame.” Unwilling! In most matters of faith, it is our willingness that matters, but in this case, it was Joseph’s unwillingness that formed the foundation for his willingness! This is his fiat, or yes to God. What an interesting mirror to Mary’s yes! Joseph would not be hurtful, nor would he be self-protective. He would do what he had to, what he believed that God expected him to do, but do it in a way that was filled with goodness and grace. That is what made him righteous, and not self-righteous.
But the God-with-us-ness of what was to come was bigger than all of this. Joseph went to sleep, perhaps with the weight of the pending divorce on his mind. Did he fall asleep concerned or anxious? Afraid even? Angry? Perhaps he was sad, or even broken-hearted. We do not know, but what we do know is that he fell asleep and an even bigger yes was on its way.
Joseph fell asleep and had a dream- and what a dream he had! Using every means necessary, God – the God-with-us – uses this dream as the perfect way to communicate with his righteous servant Joseph, through the voice of the angel, Gabriel. Think of this as Joseph’s annunciation!
If you were here last week, you heard me refer to the artwork of Brother Mickey McGrath, and I’m about to do that again. Yesterday, when researching images for this post, I came across a video in which Brother Mickey was talking about Joseph and this dream, while showing a painting of Joseph asleep. In the image, the sleeping Joseph’s head is angled down in rest. Above his right ear we see an angel whispering, “It’s OK.”
In those two words we hear what God is trying to tell us – “it’s OK.”
Right now it is very easy to feel like nothing is OK. We have had significant tragedy here locally and we have seen tragedy in Newtown. The “are-we-there-yet?” we were feeling, might be replaced with “can-we-leave-now?” In fact, mentally, maybe we have left, we are just checked out.
Yet – God is with us! God is with us! God is with us!
The reality is that there is always tragedy somewhere, everywhere, even if not in our line of sight. This does not reduce what has happened here, or in Newtown. In places all over the globe, in our own homes and hearts, countless tragedies take place every day, in ways great and small.
Yet – hard as it may be to believe – God is with us. I mean – God is with us! God is with us! We may not always be aware of that angel hovering over our ear whispering, “it’s OK. But that is what is happening, all the time, because God is with us. What will we do with this when we “wake up?”
God asks us to live and believe the great “it’s-OK-ness” that God has promised to us, that God gives to us, this God-with–us, found in Jesus, our Emmanuel.
And it is in our own Joseph-inspired-unwilling-willingness, our own yes, however reluctantly uttered, that we do agree. During times like these, many of us may not be able to say that yes with ease – or to say it at all. But our God is with us, pursuing us, patient with us, and persistent in getting to our yes. And in that yes and the road to it, we are on our way, not quite there yet, but filled with the spirit and ready to meet our Emmanuel.
God is with us. God is with us. God is with us. It’s OK!
(Below you will find the video that I spoke of earlier.)