We have reached the Fourth Sunday of Advent in this year’s journey around the sun.
The weather in my part of the world was cold and dark for most of the past week, but as the week of Christmas dawns we are in the middle of a warm up period. I am still not feeling like the reformed Ebinezer Scrooge full of the spirit of Christmas, but I am far from feeling like the Grinch whose heart was down a size and a half. I would say that my heart is feeling warmer as Christmas approaches.
This year has been one of great struggles, stresses, and changes for me and my family. Along the way I have found help and have worked through griefs that have accumulated over many years. I am slowly finding acceptance for who I am and where I am at in this life within myself. All of these things have been present during my advent waiting and reflecting.
And that is okay.
That is advent – reflecting on the good and the bad and trying to make sense of it all while looking for the light and love of the world that arrived here on earth on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.
Resetting and restoring our place within ourselves and within the world around us.
Many times along this journey, I have found myself exclaiming why me? Why us? As I read the lectionary readings in Matthew for this Sunday I began to wonder how often did Mary and Joseph say those exact words? Why me? Why us?
Our passage for today is found in Matthew 1:18-25(NRSV):
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: look, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us”. When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
I began this series of Advent reflections commenting on Mary who despite her dreams chose to be the handmaiden of God. In today’s passage we see Joseph showing the same willingness to say yes to God. Regardless of what his dreams in life were, he too accepted willingly the assignment God gave him to be the earthly father of Jesus.
There is a Christmas song called A Strange Way To Save The World and in its lyrics we hear Joseph asking the same types of “why me” questions we all ask:
Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside the stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl
Now I’m not one to second-guess what angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the world.
And indeed it is!
Do you ever wonder if after the fall God spent time coming up with different plans for redeeming Humanity? Did the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit sit around the great conference room table in the sky brainstorming ? Or did God always know the plan from the start was to send the Son into the world in the form of a human? Out of all the ways he could have possibly redeemed humanity, he chose to become human like us.
What wondrous love is this?
When I reflect on God’s plan to come himself to earth and redeem us by taking on the human form I realize it probably was the only way he could do it to completely repair what was broken in Eden. By becoming human and fulfilling the promise of a new Adam, Jesus came to not only redeem the fallen human race but to also restore us to wholeness, righteousness, and holiness.
Wholeness within ourselves.
Wholeness within our relationships with others.
Wholeness within our relationships with God.
Jesus removed the humiliation, disgrace, and shame that came to Adam and Eve at the fall. The same humiliation, disgrace, and shame that follows all of their descendants.
He removes it all and he does so with loving kindness. He restores humankind’s dignity with his love. Whether you are the woman with the issues of blood, the woman at the well, or the tax collectors Zacchaeus and Matthew, Jesus removes all our humiliation, digrace, and shame by lovingly restoring our dignity as God’s creation – human beings.
It doesn’t matter how low we have sunk. Jesus is waiting for us, reaching out his hand to redeem us. Whether we struggle spiritually, physically, mentally, or financially, Jesus comes to restore us with the dignity of our peoplehood and stands with us to support us with his love and guidance.
No situation or circumstance can take us to far for God’s loving embrace to find us.
Jesus restores the worth and dignity of humanity as a whole and for each of us as individuals. He does this because he is a God who understands all of our human needs and struggles. He has been there, done that, and triumphed over it all.
The traditional meanings of each of the four candles of Advent are hope, love, joy, and peace. We all seek these things in our lives. And they are all there for us in the long-awaited Savior we have been waiting for and seeking to find this Advent season.
In the midst of the struggles and turmoil in our lives we can find hope, love, joy, and peace in our relationship with Jesus.
We live in a fallen world where trials and tribulations find us all, and fill us with despare, loneliness, and longings. When we pause long enough to breathe and turn to God, we will find what we seek.
The strength to go on in the broken world.
The courage that we need to continue on with each task at hand.
The empathy and compassion to shine in the world around us.
We find that with Jesus we can become candles of hope, love, joy, and peace in our world for other people all around us. We find our dignity restored and our shame removed.
This Advent season, no matter where we are at in life, be it struggles or triumphs, seasons of joy or pain, may we find places for the love of Jesus in our hearts.
Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel!
Kindle our hearts with hope, love, joy, and peace. May we shine brightly as your candles in a dark lonely world that continues to wait for your coming.
May the candle flames dance brightly with restoration and dignity.
I will light candles this Christmas:
candles of Joy despite all sadness,
candles of courage where fear is ever-present,
candles of Peace for tempest-tossed days,
candles of grace, to ease heavy burdens,
candles of love, to inspire all my living,
candles that will burn all the year-long.
– Howard Thurman
Click here to listen to A Strange Way To Save The World.