Saturday 21 December 2013

Advent 4

Burne Jones Winchester Cathedra

Matthew 1:18-25
Unusually for Advent readings this account is about Joseph. He is engaged to Mary and finds her pregnant. So as he knows this is not his baby, he decides to divorce her quietly, drop her! Betrothal was equated to marriage in Jewish society, so he assumed Mary had been unfaithful and could be stoned, had not Joseph acted on her behalf,  according to Palestinian justice at the time. We’ve come a long way since then! And yet it is Josephs genealogy that is important as we are told at the beginning of Matthew, because it goes back Adam. Ive wondered about this. Maybe it was possible with oral history to go back generations. Its very grounding in a way we are not in Western society. But Joseph decides to keep quiet and avoid any public disgrace for her or him. Its the way we often behave in families, though this secret will out.
Then as he sleeps obviously mulling all this over, an angel appears to him in a dream. I love this because unlike other cultures even post Jungian, we tend to ignore our dreams, but this dream changes Joseph’s perspective on the matter. The angel tells Joseph to take Mary into his home as a sign of their union. No lavish wedding ceremony. This would indicate they were married. The Angel then gave Joseph the name for the baby and its meaning, Yahweh of salvation, in Greek “Joshua”. In Hebrew, the word “Jesus” sounds like “he will save”. And this was to fulfil Old Testament prophecies. So when Joseph woke up he took Mary home as his wife. And the baby was born as predicted, a light in the darkness, an everlasting promise, there will be light in the darkness for Gods people, because a child will be born who will save the people.

It is a story of hope, across generations, personal and communal and even global. Many of us have given up hope. We have stopped praying for miracles, for healing both physical and emotional, for healing of broken, painful relationships, for change. How many of us face seemingly difficult and hopeless situations at this Advent time? Situations that perhaps only you know of, and yet the message of God to us is one of hope whatever our situation.

Hope comes to us in unexpected ways, when we least expect it, in a dream, or in a moment of inspiration, through a friend, or even someone we dislike. God uses surprising people as a vehicle of hope. We may feel the presence of God suddenly, feel peace and strength and realize that God is with us in all things and especially in the crisis we face. There can be nothing better than to hear words of hope. An infertility broken. A diagnosis wrong. A wrong forgiven. A brokenness mended. New possibilities imagined. Hope of a better world, hope of peace between communities, religions, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Africa.

The Christmas festival is symbolised by light, a light shining in darkness and the coming of hope. The story of the coming of Christ is a vehicle, a carrier of hope for us all to feed our spirits and our imaginations. The passage reminds us that this is God with us, born as a human being to suffer as we suffer, whatever we may believe about the theology. God given hope is based quite simply a trust on something beyond our human confines, the God who brings light into darkness and speaks to us.

For many of us we need to feel the brush of angels wings and the whisper of hope this Advent, this waiting time, knowing our own inadequacies and failings and to resolve to turn our lives slowly, gradually to live new and different lives and as the angel said doing so in the face of fear, but not be afraid. Then new ways of being can be imagined personally and globally, but we have to trust our dreams and start to live them! 

Take us to Bethlehem,
House of Bread
Where the hungry are filled
And the satisfied sent empty away
Where the poor find riches
And the rich recognize their poverty
And all who worship are filled with awe.



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