Saturday, the Eve of Advent 4, 21 December 2013
In today's Gospel the just man Joseph prepares to send his future wife Mary away because she is pregnant and it's not by him. I think we can all understand the difficulty of his situation pretty well. And St. Matthew thinks this is important because he places this story in the second half of the first chapter, at the very start of his Gospel. It doesn't have to be like this. For example, when the Gospel of Luke tells this story, it starts out with an angel telling Mary about this miraculous and forthcoming birth, It seems simpler for her: first, Mary says, “How can this be?” Then she simply says, “Yes.” But it is a little more difficult for Joseph.
Matthew’s Gospel goes on to say it is only when an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him, “Do not fear to take Mary for your wife because she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” then he decides to do so. So just as Mary's tentative response followed by a sure answer is one way to respond to faith, to the possibility of participating in God’s life and love working in us and through us; so the story of Joseph's doubt, the surprising dream, and his subsequent decision to take this new birth on faith, points to another way of being in a conversation with God.
Maybe all life is, at its most basic, a conversation with God that enables us to grow in and into love. Sometimes we can simply say yes, and other times — as in any relationship — we need further dialogue, we need to present our doubts, we need to sleep on it, we need to be awakened by a dream or an insight that carries a message that makes the world bigger than we ever might have known. And the important thing to remember is that God has room for all these conversations with us to take place. The incarnation of Jesus means that God is willing to meet us where we are. If we are willing to do the same.
Mary and Joseph will take this holy new life of God with them and bear it into being, father it forth, in everyday life; give him tools, teach him tasks, give him their very flesh and blood, as God’s child, God’s word, God’s human fave of love joins us in the very midst of the human family. And in these actions they are a model for us on this last Advent Sunday before Christmas.
Maybe every Advent, maybe every moment, God sends us a message, God asks us this question: "May my word of creativity, reconciliation, and renewal may be borne in each of our lives as it is born in the life of Mary, for this good news of incarnation, God becoming flesh, means that God is willing to come into the very middle of each of our lives. God is always willing to meet us that intimately, to love us that much, so that he would be, as St. Augustine says, closer to us than we are to ourselves.
Almost 20 years ago in California I preached to a small group of deacons in the Anglican diocese there, and several people in the gathering laughed when I said that, when Christmas comes, we are all a bunch of pregnant virgins. It may seem shocking thing to say, but I stand by it. Jesus Christ is willing to be born in us, if we are willing to be born in him. God's love can come into the middle of our lives and make us new, give us new lives; though sometimes this can start in very small ways. But every little baby is a reminder of a very big promise, that Jesus wills to be with us and for us as we follow God in faith, grow in holiness and hope, and live in the light of God's love for us in our love for God, our neighbour and ourselves.
Almost one thousand years ago St Simeon, the new theologian, wrote this; and it’s still true:
We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisiably
whole, seamless in His Godhood).
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightening.
Do my words seem blasphemous? - Then
Open your heart to Him
and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him
We wake up inside Christ’s body.
where our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and he makes us, utterly, real,
and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in his light
we awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.
Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)
translated by Stephen Mitchell