The Mystery of Love!

Celebrating Joyfully in the Face of Despair
December 8, 2022
God is Love! In Anticipation of Christmas Eve.
December 24, 2022
Celebrating Joyfully in the Face of Despair
December 8, 2022
God is Love! In Anticipation of Christmas Eve.
December 24, 2022

Here we are at the 4th Sunday of Advent, reflecting on the experience, ideas and actions of God’s Love in our lives!  In this season of Advent, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby wrote about darkness, courage and suffering, offering us an unlikely context for a reflection on Love. He said:

Advent is the anticipation of the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  This is what we wait for, in this time of darkness.  Advent gives us the time to acknowledge … suffering, to sit in the darkness, to really recognise its depth and name it.  There’s no need to pretend everything is fine or to try and shy away from the truth about how we feel.   The night is, in many ways, the story of our lives.  Yearning for more, hoping for better.  And this is exactly where we as Christians find our vocation – to name the darkness, to fully live in it and help others through it, but to know that something better is coming.  Even when we can’t discern any light at all, it is coming.     It might test our faith.  It takes great courage.  But it is in the night that we listen for the still small voice of God, promising us that even now, He is with us. (i)

In reflecting on Justin Welby’s words, I am once again struck by the impact of God’s light and love on our human darkness and on the fears expressed by Matthew’s Gospel writer who describes Joseph’s behaviour, his response to life’s choices, his trusting love of God and his faith in the great story being unfolded by God out of God’s great love for all humanity.  It was a story which specifically included him, an ordinary man made extraordinary, like Mary, by their choice to trust God.  (Matthew 1:18-25)

Matthew’s Gospel writer tells the story of the coming of the Son of God as a newborn babe, offering insight into Joseph’s perspective.  The writer is focused on the origins of the baby – from the Holy Spirit; his genealogy – explaining God’s presence in this child; on the naming of Jesus – as Emmanuel; and, his identity – as Messiah, saving people from their sins.  These four verses are full of enormous, breathtaking detail. 

However, in this telling, we don’t have the drama of Mary as a young unmarried mother encountering God’s messenger and stepping deliberately into God’s plans; we don’t have the joyful news of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth unexpectedly pregnant also in her older age; we don’t have the great hymn of revolution sung by Mary to the world throughout the millennia.  The Magnificat was so radical it was banned in some countries in the 20th century. 

Matthew’s gospel writer instead, gives limited details of Mary’s pregnancy which must have caused great consternation in her family and in the community.  The writer simply offers a brief statement about her unexpected pregnancy said to be ‘from the Holy Spirit’, a description which led Joseph, a kind and righteous man, to the decision to end their engagement without public drama, minimising the dishonour and shame to all concerned.

Then something extraordinary happened, in this time of darkness and confusion, which caused Joseph to reconsider his understanding of this most scandalous circumstance.   Consequently, we are offered the opportunity to meet instead, Joseph the dreamer, who trusts relationships rather than rules, who preferred mercy rather than sacrifice, who responded to dreams rather than to demands. 

God uses dreams and as described in the Bible, as a way of freeing us and rebirthing us.  They push us into new life. This is what happened with Joseph who was confused, worried and wanting to do the right thing.  We can see ourselves in Joseph, wondering what God can possibly be up to as God turns us all into dreamers too as we contemplate God’s way rather than our own.   You and I, we know the past has gone, we know the new is coming and has already come but we have no idea how to survive in our dark and arid places of rejected dreams of God’s love.

Theologian Walter Bruggeman reminds us the dreams in the Bible have something in common.  Dreams show us God’s presence in a humanly organised world.  God’s dreams are an unlooked-for communication in the dark of our nights, as we sleepwalk through our lives, opening us to a different world unlike the one we live in during the day.  God makes us restless and uneasy, until the dream and the vision come together and become real. 

I wonder if this has been your experience once you start to let go and invite God into your life.

Old Testament Jacob woke from his dream a restless wrestler but was blessed in the end.  Old Testament Joseph woke from his dream and saved his people.  The magi woke from their dreams and went home a different way. In this story, New Testament Joseph wakes from his dream and embraces the Saviour of the World and takes a new way home.   Having been changed by their dreams all these pilgrims discover a purpose and a promise to live life for someone and something beyond themselves. 

Joseph, an ordinary man and Mary a young girl to whom he is engaged and married in a small community, choose deliberately to live God’s dream which is the only reality worth living.    Joseph, described as righteous, finds his righteousness is based on love not law.  He trusts his intuition and imagination to be in right relationship with God’s dreams for us.  In doing so, Joseph becomes faithful to the heart of God and not to the rules of this world. In this story, Joseph legally adopts Jesus, he brings Jesus into the lineage of the royal house of David, he takes on the role of father to his son, and he keeps his marriage covenant with Mary.   The promised child is in Isaiah’s time, but the promise is also of the Immanuel to come. 

We live in both chaotic times and in biblical times, when a dreamer such as Joseph can free us from the complexities of life which might otherwise confine and constrain us.     Advent is the most countercultural time of the liturgical year.  With our purple shadows and matching music, with the knowledge Christ has come, Christ is coming, Christ will come again, the church is loudly, lovingly clashing with our human culture. 

Our choice is to refuse to become sentimental or materialistic. We dare to look at the darkness of our days, so we might imagine the brightness of a new and loving way in God.  Joseph can be our guide in these times.  He invites us to share our dreams of a new life, a new way, dreams God knows and is ready to bring to life.  Joseph shows us how to welcome incarnation, the radical intrusion of a flesh and blood God into the challenges and hardships of our human lives – the full dream of shalom, compassion, justice, grace, wholeness, abundance and love.  He shows us how to name our dream – Jesus, God With Us – a dream so vivid it blinds us with its glory and its love.

The Lord be with you.

References and Bibliography

  • (Archbishop of Canterbury’s Facebook:  @archbishopofcanterbury 12Dec22)
  • Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2013. Feasting on the Gospels.  Matthew, Vol.1. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.
Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

Comments are closed.