We’re spending Advent in wonder.
I wonder about how God chose to come into the world.
There is a lot about the WAY that God chose to go from being God almighty to becoming God WITH us, that mystifies me.
The first week of Advent we zoomed out to the cosmos, to find hope in the one who holds the big picture and promises the future. The second week we began moving in a bit to peace – the future hope is leading us to- the radical righting of everyday wrong in natural and social order, in the person of Jesus. The third week joy confronted us with it’s bombastic, all-out celebration of rightness, that comes to us in fits and bursts, and points us forward to enduring peace, and to the hope that carries us to that peace.
This week we look at love, and wonder together what exactly love is and what it means that God comes in love.
On Christmas Eve we’ll get to the event itself - the moment God enters in to become God is with us. But before we zoom all the way in, tonight we get to face some of God’s strange and revealing choices along the way, and I have to say, I am amazed all over again at God’s decisions.
Now I’m not a football person, but I do make a pretty good armchair quarterback - Monday morning quarterback-? So let’s get started.
Let’s begin with Joseph. Joseph is stuck in a real predicament, legally contracted to marry this girl who turns out to be knocked up by someone else.
Virgin birth for some is a sign of purity or divinity, and it certainly speaks volumes of a God who brings life out of impossibility, but like it or not, whatever it may actually be, at least there will be plenty implied.
And poor Joseph, what does it say to him about his wife to be? And what does it say to the whole village about this girl he’s been pledged to? He is within his rights to have her stoned for adultery, but decides to be “kind” and quietly divorce her instead.
So, to begin, God, who comes to earth to save people from their sins, decides to come as the bastard child of a loose woman and her humiliated fiancé.
This is the first decision of God’s coming that I question.
The second decision I question is the use of Mary and Joseph to begin with. It seems like God is taking some awfully big risks all around. Mary. really? Why not someone tried and tested? A priest’s wife or a wise queen, a spiritual leader of some sort? Instead God picks Mary, a young unmarried girl in a nowhere town, and just kind of springs this Messiah Mama thing on her. Thank goodness she said yes, or what then? Did God have a back up in mind?
And back to Joseph - this commonplace carpenter, by the way - Alone, confused, and stuck, he’s getting ready to do the only thing he can think of that is both proper and at least semi-considerate, that doesn’t hurt Mary too terribly but follows some semblance of propriety and God’s law, (though it does, as one scholar put it, “lack creativity and compassion.”)
Of course, God lets him puzzle out his plan first, and just when he is resolved to divorce Mary, God has an angel tell him in a dream that it will be ok, and he should just go ahead and marry her and carry on as planned with the marriage, because, don’t worry, this is God’s baby.
So, that should clear it all up…
And You, Joseph, are to name him Jesus, which means, God saves, because God is coming to save all the people.
And so, like Mary, Joseph also signs on...
But to what?
God doesn’t spell things out very clearly beyond that – after all, they end up delivering this baby in a pile of hay in a smelly barn outside an overcrowded inn in a busy town far from home. Not exactly great planning.
And don’t even get me started on what happens after the birth… what with an evil king and the fleeing to Egypt, and all.
Frankly, it just seems like the whole thing gets patchworked together with this disorderly assortment of ordinary people bumbling through it all in well-meaning but shortsighted ways.
The thing that it leaves me with is incredulity. Amazement. A little awe.
God has got some guts. Coming to earth in this way.
Just who does God think he is? Like he owns the place? No dignity; no dignitaries. No etiquette or solid arrangements in place.
Starts out as a scandal, born homeless and then becomes a refugee, all before he walks or speaks his first word… I guess what I am saying is that God just comes right on in any old way God pleases, doesn’t use the front door or the guest bathroom; barges in the back way with muddy boots like one of us. Like he belongs or something.
So, all this begs the question, why this way? You could do this any old way you want, any way in the entire cosmos, and this is the way you choose? What kind of God would come this way?
A God who has nothing to prove.
One who doesn’t care one whit about appearances or public image.
Not too worried about getting dirty, either. Or being mistaken for the help.
A God who likes to pull in unexpected characters and out of the way locations, who gets a kick out of surprise and irony, who challenges the status quo. A God who is not easily intimidated, or overly concerned with efficiency and order. And One who likes a little celebration and fanfare, but in the quirky, marginal way, not really professional quality center stage.
And, a God who comes for us all. Who belongs to us all.
Not for the wealthy or the well-connected or the powerful or pretty. Not for the righteous and the rule-keepers and the good girls and the brave boys. For us all, and so came poor and disconnected, in a scandalous way to some very ordinary people.
If we'd read all the verses before this one we'd see that Jesus is in the line of King David, except not really directly, he’s adopted in by the love and naming of his adoptive father Joseph.
God comes to earth as an adopted kid.
And does it one haphazard step at a time, just like all the rest of us.
And so I think again of Joseph and Mary, because when they’re such average, ordinary folk, it’s easy to go there, and I wonder, What I would do in their shoes?
Would I say yes?
Perhaps. Maybe we would. But to what?
I suppose the only yes one could give in a situation like this is a yes to the person in front of you, to the overall vague concept, without any idea of what it means in actuality.
What would the next day be like? Or the day after that? What kind of long-term plans would it require or personality traits would it expect of me?
I really like to know ahead of time what I am getting into, and it doesn’t seem like any of these folks had a clue. They were pulled into this thing that just kind of unfolded as they went along. Why didn’t God lay it out a little further in advance for them, give them some more heads up? God seems to be placing an awful lot up for grabs.
So any yes that we could give would be just a kind of brave but scared little yes, a nervous little yes that says, ok, God, you want to do it this way, I guess you can count me in, and then seeing where things led from there.
But maybe that’s all we’re ever invited to. Maybe that’s how it works anyway.
Love her, be his daddy, is God’s message to Joseph.
Say yes to that. Say yes to them.
Move forward into this life that I am laying out before you alongside one another.
Don’t be afraid to do it, Joseph.
Say yes to this girl I am giving to you, and the baby I am giving to the world. Be with them, and together put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads.
And maybe that’s what love is.
Not signing on for a big, clear, attainable plan. Not saying yes to a whole perfect project. But choosing to be with the ordinary people in front of you.
And saying yes to the God who calls you, in all your own shaky ordinariness.
I will be there with her.
I will go there with them.
I will belong to them, she will belong to me, he will belong to us.
And whatever comes after that, and however it comes, we’ll be in it together.
Love says, you are not alone, I will be with you. Even if it makes me look bad, or leads me to scary places, even if it makes me have to make hard choices, or rips my heart wide open, or makes me vulnerable and weak, or takes me where I never thought I would go.
Love breaks hearts and leads people to do inexplicable things.
God became with us, not in a strong and invincible, powerful and sovereign, well-planned, and foolproof strategy to save the world, but by being with us, awkward and messy, tiring and scary, a little exciting, a little confusing, a lot needy and dependent. Completely in the hands of conflicted people, struggling to do the right thing and wondering even what that is. Trusting ordinary folks to love and choose and be with God with us, come what may. That’s how God came in.
OK, so, it may not be how you or I would plan it. It’s certainly not how anyone expected it to be. God chooses to belong to us, in order to let the world know that we belong to God.
But maybe that’s the only way to truly go from being God almighty to being God with us. Through Love.
Maybe that’s the way God saves.
And if that doesn’t fill you with a little wonder…
O come, dear child of Mary, come,
God’s Word made flesh within our earthly home;
Love stir within the womb of night,
Revenge and hatred put to flight.
Rejoice, rejoice! Take heart and do not fear,
God’s chosen one, Immanuel, draws near.
- Verse to O Come, O Come Emmanual by Barbara Lundblad