Baby Jesus’ parents are underappreciated. We are moving to reconsider Mary, as well we should, but for a moment contemplate Joseph. We are told little about him: he is a descendant of David, his family has evidently moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth where he seems to be a respected citizen. Some traditions – remembering that we never hear about him after Jesus’ 12th birthday – conclude that he might have been an older man, dying of natural causes as Jesus enters adolescence, and leaving Mary and her eldest son to rear a set of younger children. But what we know for certain is that he must have been confounded by Mary’s pregnancy, never having lived with her as husband and wife and that he was a kind and honorable man, deciding to quietly separate from his beloved, naturally assuming she’s been unfaithful. And then, of course, he doesn’t. He’s blessed with a revelation to “not be afraid” to marry Mary and so he does, becoming the father of the Lord.
How ambiguous that must have been for Joseph at times. No clear explanation other than the baby was to be named “Jesus,” meaning that “God is with us.” And no directions as to what to do, how to rear the boy, how to regard Mary, what to do next. Simply left to his own, Joseph must have known only that it was a mixed-up scene.
“Ambiguity” is a word that’s ambiguous: it can mean either “of multiple meanings” or “of unclear meaning,” but, regardless, it describes a lot of what I feel, especially this time of year.
I am so grateful for so much. And yet I have so many more hopes and desires for the world, for the people I know best, for those I love, for myself. I am truly happy but I can also get sentimental and nostalgic just about now in the season of Advent. We think we are secure but random shootings are now so commonplace that they don’t even make headlines for more than a day. I am ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but completely understand why some folks go to “Blue Christmas” services. Christ is born but the world cries out for a savior: if only we received him.
And so I think about Joseph who acted on the basis of what he knew, who trusted God for the rest, and who plainly could live into the ambiguity of this world: a world God is already redeeming with Jesus. All that means is that we do not have to live in ambiguity. The Church is not ambiguous about the world: it is the arena of God’s action. The Church has not lost its mission: to spread Good News! And we who are the Church remain powerful: more than able, by the Spirit’s grace, to serve in ways we do not have the strength to do by ourselves, but will do by God’s power at work within us.
Blessed Joseph who knew the ambiguous and yet wound up with Jesus. And blessed are we who know ambiguity but also know Jesus who is very clear about our worth to God and God’s determination to make all well. Thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Unambiguous Christ,
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HELLO FROM HARVEY – BLESSED AMBIGUITY
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