Matthew 1: 18-24
Joseph, an upright man, a good religious man, embarrassed, frightened, confused and wanting a divorce. Mary a dedicated woman of faith, yet unmarried and pregnant. No room for them to stay and so a cave where animals are kept, shitty and smelly, becomes the place of his birth. . . . Who would ever think that nothing less than God would emerge from this mess?
God chooses to come to us in the mess of life! And our lives at times can certainly be quite messy. There are illnesses, quarrels, wars, misunderstandings, depression, addictions and any number of maladies that can befall us. It is precisely in this mess that God chooses to reveal God’s self. It is precisely this mess which can become the birthing place of wonderful things! When life’s messiness comes upon us, we need not fear, but open ourselves to it as a place where wonderful insights can emerge and otherwise undreamt paths can be revealed!
Yes Virginia there IS a Santa Claus! Even good can come from your screwed up family! 🙂
Good things can emerge from seemingly bad or shady experiences. The genealogy of Jesus that we have in Matthew is not an accurate historical record. The purpose of Matthew is to place Jesus in the line of David setting him up as King. As you read the record though, there are some interesting people that emerge like Rahab, the mother of Boaz who was a prostitute, and his wife Ruth who was born of incestuous origins. Of course we also have King David – one of the greats of the Old Testament – who was also an adulterer and murderer. Matthew places Jesus within the lineage of some pretty interesting people! The point is that all is “redeemed.” Our shortcomings, or the shortcomings of our families are not the end of the road. Good things can emerge from seemingly less than perfect people! What one of us is perfect? What one of us does not carry with us some shame of past or present transgressions? Perhaps a lesson today could be to let go of the shame, to let go of the past and to live well in our present, knowing that we are loved, despite our imperfections, and that we can do good, despite our flaws. We need to do what we can to overcome our character defects, . . . yes! But to live in the shame placed on us by ourselves or others only serves to keep us down. It does nothing for us or others. Despite our imperfections, we can still do great good in the world and bring light and life to others!
Some of us who are gay unfortunately have had negative experiences with our families. I know some gay people that were kicked out of their homes when they were teens, others whose partners are never welcome in their family’s homes. I myself was told by my brother around this time last year that I was a spiritual detriment to his family and that he needed to protect them from me. Gratefully I also know families who welcome their gay sons and daughters and their partners with open arms. How blest are they indeed!
Whether we are gay or straight, people sometimes have difficulty with their family. Family issues have a way of coming to the fore around this time when, traditionally, families gather. If you are one who has issues with your family, take heart. Even Jesus‘ family had some issues and his genealogy certainly contained a few characters! I can only imagine what Mary and Joseph’s brothers and sisters must have thought of their nephew at times! No one is really immune. It’s just a part of life.
I think its important, especially this time of year, to have some sense of family, some sense of belonging, particularly for those who have difficulty with their own families. Perhaps it might be a time to look around. Is there someone that we know who is without a sense of family or belonging? Like the One who welcomed all to the table, perhaps we might invite them to our tables. And if you are one who is alone, one who has been rejected, know that you are not rejected from the Divine table, but are embraced in love – no matter what your family, or even your church family may say!
For those of you who might feel a little down lately, know you’re not alone. Many people get down this time of year with all the hype, romance, and hustle that this season can be. As I wrote yesterday, I too have realized that I’ve been dealing with a lot of negative thinking and need to change my thoughts.
12 Step programs have a bit of wisdom to offer those of us who feel a bit down, who wallow in self pity, or who deal with a lot of negative thinking. Get out of yourself! Many times in 12 step meetings you will hear this bit of advise given. If you’re feeling down, wallowing in self pity or in stinking thinking – go help someone. Go help another addict, another person who is struggling in some way. Get out of yourself and just go help someone. This will make you feel better.
I did just that yesterday when I visited a woman in a nursing home, who I know is lonely. When I walked in the room her face literally lit up like a Christmas tree and she hugged me tightly. She was so happy that I had come to visit, if even for a little while. I don’t know who benfitted more though. All I know is that I felt a lot better having seen her.
Feeling some holiday blues? The prescription: Get out of yourself. Take it. You’ll feel better.
Most of us think it’s the other way around, . . . don’t we? When I experience it, when I see it, when you show me, then I’ll believe it. Isn’t this the spoken or inward response that we have to something that even slightly seems out of the ordinary?
Recently I was watching a Christmas movie, I can’t remember what it was called, or even the plot. But what I do remember is this line in the movie: “Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing!”
Probably due to years of my father saying things like I would never amount to anything, that I was good for nothing and could do nothing right, I still, at times, grapple with those messages in my head. This weekend was one such weekend. No matter how many times I have been told that I do good work, this weekend I was simply not feeling it, seeing it, or hearing it. I sat there feeling like a failure. Gratefully I rather quickly became aware of these negative voices in my head. And then I thought of the line from that movie. And immediately, in the middle of performing a task for my job, I began to think about all the successes that I’ve had in my job, all the good things that have been done and almost immediately my mood began to shift to the positive. And, not only that, I began to see and feel differently about what I was experiencing in my job performance.
Believing IS seeing. As we believe, so shall we see and experience life. I also realized that I am in the midst of one hellava “stinkin thinking” streek. And as I have moved inward, enveloped by these negative thoughts, I project that energy outward – and it, indeed becomes my reality. I only pray for the grace to continue to become aware of such negative thinking and, by changing what I believe, what I think, that I will see myself and others differently.
It’s SO easy to dwell on what is wrong with our lives, our partner, our job, the church, this or that person and certainly what’s wrong with the world! Why does that seem to come so naturally, yet thinking positively does not.? It’s like we have to train our minds to work and think in different ways. When we do so, then we will come to see life in a new way.
I often ask myself this question: Do I want to be a person that sees and talks about what is good in this world, or what is wrong with it? Whenever I am around someone who consistently has a negative edge to their conversation, I quickly receive an answer to what kind of person I want to be! It’s a drag being around a consistently negative person. Yet I have to admit that I am sometimes negative in what I say and how I perceive myself, others and the world – and I don’t even realize it!
John the Baptist was called to “testify to the light.” I want to be a person that testifies to the light, to what is good. Ironically enough, as the darkness descends, this season is about testifying to what is good in human nature and the world. In the midst of all of our problems, in this season we CONSCIOUSLY take an opportunity to look at what is good, true and beautiful in ourselves and others and celebrate that! The key is in CONSCIOUSLY deciding to look at the good in another.
Today perhaps it’s good to ask ourselves this: Am I person who testify’s to the Light?
The animated Christmas movie “Martin the Cobbler” (originally a story by Leo Tolstoy) tells the story of Martin, a shoe repairman. Martin’s workshop and living space is in a basement with one window that looks out onto the street where he sees people passing by. Life has left Martin a sad, withdrawn man. His wife died at an early age, leaving him a son to raise. When the son was of age to begin helping him, he took ill and also died. Life had been difficult for Martin and he basically gives up on any belief in a good God.
One night, while reading he hears someone call his name and the voice says: “Martin look out into the street tomorrow for I will come to visit you.” The next day, Martin remembers the voice and begins to look out the window, expecting something to happen. As the day wore on, nothing much happened. But he did see a man he knew who’s shoes were worn and who was cold and hungry. Because the man was blocking the view out his window he invited him in. Noticing he was hungry, Martin gave him something to eat and noticing he was cold, he gave him an extra coat he had. The day passed and nothing extraordinary happened. At the end of the day, he noticed his Bible and he took it out, opened it and noticed the passage where it said “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me something to eat.” He then realized that God had indeed visited him and from then on he kept looking out the window noticing people and his sad, withdrawn life began to blossom again!
God often comes and visits us, but we don’t recognize God. Jesus in the Gospel today says that the people didn’t recognize the prophet Elijah nor do they recognize him. As a matter of fact, people oftentimes get rid of prophets! God visits us every day. Prophets are sent to us everyday. Do we see them? Perhaps we, like Martin, should look out the window of our sadness or pain today and see the One who comes to visit us in many disguises that we might be lead to newness of life!
“I, the Lord your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go. If you would harken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river.” (See Isaiah 48: 17-19)
Certainly in Isaiah’s time the common belief was that if you were following God’s ways, you would be blessed. If you were ill, or poor, that meant you were a sinner. Jesus of course turned this belief upside down with such teachings as “blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn,” etc. For Jesus happiness had little if anything to do with material or physical goods – and herein lay the discovery of true joy! When we realize that happiness doesn’t come from any person, place or thing, but from within, then we are the happiest of people. In this sense, less might indeed be more!
It’s ironic to reflect on this when culturally and within many, if not most of our homes, there are growing expectations of this or that “gift.” Perhaps it might be good for us to reflect on what might truly give someone “happiness.” Is it this or that gift, this or that thing? Or is it an experience, presence, self giving that might engender a sense of deeper joy.
“Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the Lord”
(See Isaiah 41: 13-20)
For some reason those words, “worm” and “maggot” never struck me before, but they kinda slapped me in the face today! Can you imagine calling someone a worm or a maggot? Pretty strong language I’d say!
But did you ever feel like a worm or a maggot? Did you ever say or do something that you deeply regretted? Did you ever feel like you’ve gotten yourself into a situation or a way of being where you felt there was no way out? If you’ve ever been in such a situation, you know what it feels like to feel like a worm or a maggot. But there’s good news. There IS a way out! There IS the possibility of change!
The other day I was flipping through channels and happened upon the movie “Bruce Almighty.” It started and finished with “God” washing a floor, dressed in a janitor‘s uniform. At the end of the movie, after Bruce has made a mess of things being “God” for a week, God invites Bruce to join him in washing the floor. When they’re finished God admires the clean floor and says: “No matter how filthy something gets, you can always get a little water and wash it right up!”
No matter how bad it may seem, no matter the pain we may have caused, no matter what we have done or how we have lived, . . . we can change and live in new, life giving ways. That’s good news. We just have to make a step in the right direction.
Part of this season is about giving, making a difference in the lives of those in need, or the community in general. I was driving to work today and came across a busy intersection at which were cones set up and people walking up and down the street taking donations for a cause. I was heartened by the fact that these people actually took time out of a free day to do something good that would benefit other people, people that they may not even know. This is one small example of how a meriad of people give of their time for the good of others or the community in general.
Advent is about making known the presence of God to others. Its about incarnating the presence of God. It’s about God with skin. Experiencing the presence of God through our prayer is good indeed, but sometimes we need God with skin. We need the touch and comfort of another. And we are called to be that for others.
“Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
Make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!”
(See Isaiah 35: 1-10)
We are, each of us, a Word of God spoken in time with a mission, a purpose. How can you make a difference in someone’s life today?