As I am intentionally walking through Advent this year, this time of waiting and expectation, I am noticing new things. Often, we can tend to miss the cultural context of this first Christmas story. The Jews were waiting to be rescued from the oppression they were experiencing under Roman rule. Life was hard with heavy taxation and the heavy-handed rule of the Roman Empire. They felt God had abandoned them and were waiting for a human savior to rescue them by military force. This is an important understanding in reading the gospel accounts. The Israelites wanted and needed to be rescued from their oppressors. They didn’t expect a baby or even someone like Jesus.
Luke tells us about Mary, a young girl visited by an angel, Gabriel. Mary is “greatly troubled” yet, inquisitive, curious, and bold in her conversation. Mary is confident and expectant as she responds with an openness to the invitation. She receives this gracious gift of being the mother of Jesus as depicted by Gabriel. She receives this gift of incarnation without the expectation to earn it by performance and without trying to manage it. She only receives this precious gift of God for humankind, boldly yet freely (Luke 1:28-38).
As the story continues, we read that from this place of receiving and trusting, Mary stands on firm ground. We see her respond with openness to Gabriel and confidence in the song she sings, the Magnificat. This first proclamation regarding Jesus shows a strength in both Mary and in her expectation of what all this meant for Israel.
Mary didn’t completely understand the implication of God breaking into this world for humankind, nor did the world around her, but do we? Do we expect to be rescued from our current situation and then placed in a position of power over those who we feel oppress us? Or do we follow the teachings of Jesus to love the outcast, the sinner, those around us who are like us and those who are different from us?
What would it be like to have this gift of Jesus in our world now - oh wait, that is what we are invited to experience every Advent, even every single day. This is the incarnation lived out in our very own lives.
In Matthew, we read about Joseph and his interaction with an angel as he receives direction in keeping Jesus safe from those who desire to kill him (Matt. 2:13-15). Joseph responds with obedience to what he is told. He doesn’t seem to doubt but follows through on each request. Recently, I noticed something different I hadn’t noticed before.
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene (Matt. 2:19-23).
Joseph followed through on returning from Egypt once Herod had died as instructed. When he discovered that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was reigning in Judea, Joseph became afraid. Through my life, I have ignored my emotions and perceived them as weak, false, or negative. Here, we see Joseph paying attention to his fear, pausing in it, and then being met in a dream that validated this same fear response. It wasn’t a bad thing to be afraid. It was wise to notice and to pause. As Joseph paid attention to what was going on in his own heart, God met him in it.
What a wonderful story! What a wonderful invitation to adventure as we live moment by moment while listening in quietness (inner) and peace (no judgment) to our own hearts along with thinking through the implications of what we do with grace, openness, and courage. We are invited to walk this life out moment by moment, step by step - only paying attention to the present while still noticing all that is around us. We, all of us, will do this so very imperfectly.
But we are invited to trust Love, trusting God’s gentle provision, leading, care, intrusion, and Presence. We are invited to be like Mary who openly received and trusted and like Joseph who openly trusted and received. We are invited to love in contrast to the expectation of being rescued and then potentially becoming an oppressor ourselves. We are invited to live out the Love of the Incarnation.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!