Communion in Pandemic- Stunningly Beautiful

Image 8-9-20 at 11.31 AMThe man sat far left of me in our sparsely populated sanctuary. The elders passed communion — in a safe, combined peel and partake cup where the wafer and juice were tucked between two layers of thin plastic. I watched as he struggled to open the elements; then he wrestled with his mask to partake of the bread and wine.

There was something profoundly holy in that moment.

This man, who sat alone, socially distanced from others, had come to church with his mask on, sang and worshiped with his mask on, listened to the message with his mask on, and had now come to the table—as it was—and fought to let that holy communion, that bread and wine find its way to his mouth—all the while, trusting in Jesus to do with those common elements—whatever HE alone can do.

There were many thoughts that swirled in my head.

Image 8-9-20 at 11.34 AMFirst: It is stunningly holy that in the middle of pandemic, men and women, children and the elderly, gathered together 6-feet apart, wearing masks and shields to worship their Lord. It isn’t easy wearing those masks, yet there we were—obeying the Lord to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together—so deep is our longing for community within the Church.

Second: It is strikingly holy that this man was willing to struggle to partake of the bread and wine. It is awkward and feels odd to peel away the communion elements. Yet there we all were—feeling uncomfortable—but more desperate for Jesus and community than perhaps we’ve been in years. We are all longing for communion—the communion of the saints and the presence of Christ. We were there together seeking the balm of the Holy Spirit uniting us as one holy Church.

Third: It is soberingly holy that in order to take the elements, we had to remove our masks—spiritually speaking. We tugged at our sin, our sorrow, our suffering and sought to lay it all bare before the one who heals. And there, with open face—we ate. We dined on Christ, on hope, on faith, on trust, grieving and letting go of our common practices, and unmet dreams, and we chose to embrace what is—not what we hoped would be.

Finally, the Church is gloriously holy. It is set apart for Christ. It is meant for worship and encouragement, for building up, not tearing down. It is intended for service and love. Things are not what we wish, but one can still experience the communion of the saints as we sit together in the sacrifice of awkward worship and communion, pray for one another, and ask ourselves, how can I serve Christ and his beloved Church during this pandemic.

It is stunningly beautiful to do so.

 

(Our church has sought to provide the best of all safety practices, even putting in a new circulation system to care for the flock. We wear masks, socially distance, and are ushered in with great care. It’s not what it was, but it is what it is, and may the Lord help us through it all as we are faithful to him and to one another in love. Let’s find ways to serve the body, even as we socially distance.)

Please, if you feel unsafe to gather–don’t. This is simply the joy I felt to be with others–even though it felt awkward. 

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TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN, GIVEN

Henri Nouwen had four words that meant much to his life and ministry. The words are: TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN, GIVEN. I like them and think I’ll steal them for myself. I hope you will take time to actually think about these words–for they are about YOU, too.

These four words are spoken in communion. They symbolize the gift of Christ for us and how he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, then gave it to his disciples.

TAKEN: We have been taken into the heart of God and received by him because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Jesus took the bread, he also takes us. As he does, we are welcomed as children of God. Children! Of God!! Forgiven. Accepted. Received. This brings unspeakable joy.

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BLESSED: Jesus blessed the bread. He lifted it, prayed over it and blessed it. He has
blessed us, as well, given us indescribable spiritual wealth in Christ. He has provided everything that is needed to live a life in him. He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” You are seated with Christ and in him. He is at your right hand and your left. He is your constant companion for life. Then there is the word of God and the promise of resurrection! We are gloriously blessed, and the blessings are eternal.

BROKEN: Jesus broke the bread to give it to his disciples. He himself was broken to be given away. We also experience brokenness. We see our sin and are broken by it. We experience suffering, like Christ, and we are broken by it. We understand the futility of life, its pain and its grief as we encounter disease, poverty of spirit and wealth, or health, injustice and pure evil. But being broken while understanding that we are first taken and blessed, makes the fourth thing possible.

GIVEN: When we understand that we have been taken by grace, blessed by grace, and broken for the sake of mercy, we are then given to the Church and the world. Our sorrows enable us to understand, give mercy, aid, comfort, and to pray more effectively for others. We have true compassion because we, too, have suffered. The ability to be given must follow the first three.

All suffering can become food for the world. But knowing we are taken by grace, blessed abundantly and broken for a purpose will help us see it all redeemed as we are given, also by grace, to the world.

 

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A Journey of Discovery

In Matthew 1, Joseph is told that Mary will bear a son, and that he should be called, “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Today I meditated on this name. Jesus, Yeshua, the Lord is my salvation. It’s funny how an understanding grows over time.

When I first became a Christian, salvation meant being saved from hell. It meant getting to go to heaven. That was a pretty good deal, and I took the free ticket. It wasn’t a deep understanding of things.

The next thing I became aware of was that he also saved me from the power of sin. Sin was no longer to rule over me, because I had been given the Holy Spirit to help me walk in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. When this dawning came, it offered me hope for getting rid of those cantankerous sins that overwhelm me and cling like the stench of a skunk. This was also good news.

The third “awareness” was that “salvation” meant many other things, too. It was used by Israel as God delivered them from their enemy. It was used by David, when he hoped to be kept safe from Saul and other enemies. It was used by God-fearing, “drowning” men and women over the ages. God was a place of safety and hope–of deliverance and rescue. He saved them from disease, war, traps, and intrigue. It was reflected in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil.”

But lately, I’ve become aware of another kind of salvation. It’s the salvation life in a real kingdom. The Kingdom of God begins here and now for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. It’s a salvation that sees the benefits of the goodness of God in the land of the living. It understands the glories of kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. It comprehends that judgment and hatred are not helpful–but harmful. It is aware of the contempt found in politics, and editorialized opinions and understands that self-righteousness and pride have little to do with the Kingdom of God. This awareness abhors lust–not because pleasure is against God, but because lust, not desire, is always willing to take another person’s dignity to fulfill its passion. God has placed great dignity in man. To operate outside of that dignity defaces our glory in some way.

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‘The Kingdom of God is… righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) The spirit of this age hates, despises, judges, lusts, and is full of pride. It’s easy for any man or woman (including me), saved or unsaved to fall into this world system of judgment and condemnation. It’s easier to resist that if one gets a glimpse of the salvation God offers in the form of love, forgiveness, pity, truth, morality, and mercy. His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” is supposed to be filled with glorious light–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

The salvation in Christ that God offers is complete salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a salvation from the myopic views that this world system offers us, and into which we have been conformed. It includes salvation from the power of our sins, salvation from things we never even know we are being saved from (accidents, death, disease, temptation) and ultimately eternal life. But it also includes life today in a kingdom of love, mercy, and grace.

May it be! Come Lord Jesus, into this present darkness and deliver us from ourselves.

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Hope Completely

I don’t know about you but my flesh suit needs ironing. It’s like everything else I see around me. Stuff is falling apart, systems are failing, we’re getting older, or sicker, or worse. Many of us are anxious, and don’t know how to cast fear aside. We are uncertain during this pandemic and can’t regain stable footing. Some face horrible options—none looking like plans originally held. It rattles our peace.

As I prayed with a few other women through sections of I Peter 1, these things came to light and brought great hope.

I Peter 1:13 says, to “prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It also says, that we were born of imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God which will never die. Something in us is imperishable.

Hope, in New Testament scripture, centers on things to come: resurrection, reward, restoration, revelation, and rest. After seeing the risen Christ, Peter understood hope. He was certain that things promised were going to happen. We aren’t able to see these things with our eyeballs. They are unseen, but real—more real and more permanent than what we do see—failing business, lost jobs, marriage problems, or death. We see now (if we didn’t before) that we can’t put our hope in the wrong places—world systems of all kinds.

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In the eyes of the early saints, it’s as if the unseen has more substance and is heavier; we can anchor to it. All the New Testament was written to a persecuted and mostly poor church. The joy, celebration, and comfort they experienced had a great deal to do with what Christ had brought into knowledge—a kingdom not of this world and one they could begin to live in now through faith. There was more yet to come, but they were building an unseen kingdom of love, hope, justice, and human souls. It wasn’t the complete, but it was beautiful and filled with glory, nonetheless, even though it was often painful, grieving, and sacrificial. Immanuel was with them.

This meant that they could live in freedom with hearts of love and forgiveness, serving Image 5-7-20 at 9.59 AMone another—while actually storing rewards in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt. Because God had put on a human body to teach and show us invisible, kingdom things, those who were having their goods taken, or sent to The Coliseum, could rest in the fact that reward and restoration were coming, and at some point complete restoration would actually come through the Church, “which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:23 (Curious and curiouser)

Romans 8 offers even more hope, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God…the Spirit helps our weakness…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God who are called according to his purpose… nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wow! Just wow!

According to Christ, the poor and weak often have an easier track to the kingdom. They don’t have as much to lose and therefore can give their whole mind, soul, and body to eternal, better things. Those of us with plenty, have so much more to fear losing, so much more to grieve when we do lose them. Reports often come to us of poor Christians, in poor, oppressed nations being unbelievably happy in their faith. It’s basic. Unencumbered. They have nothing here; so they hope completely in a glory that is to come.

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Worship at a secret church in China

Will this present darkness impact me? Yes, tremendously. But if my house is built on the Rock, I won’t go down. Will I grieve? Yes, but not as without hope. Will I be afraid? Sure, we do live here, for now, and uncertainty rattles us. Will I serve? Yes, because I’m building an eternal kingdom. Can I even rejoice? Yes, because this isn’t my permanent home, and my hope is completely in Christ.

 

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Mirroring: Ryleigh and the Poopy Diaper

IMG_0463Last week I spent some time with my 2 1/2 month-old granddaughter. She is at that absolutely delightful stage where she is beginning to notice faces and voices and responding to them with wiggles, mirrored smiles and attempts at coos and giggles. I could stare at her for hours, coaxing grins and responses.

I was holding her; her mother joined me on the couch. I had hogged the baby and offered her to her mother. Kelli took Ryleigh, but I said, “I haven’t changed her yet. I know she’s wet.”

“I’ll get it in a minute,” Kelli answered.

We sat for a few minutes, and Kelli noticed she was getting wet. She looked closer, and it was more than just a little pee, it was a poop-pee situation. It got on Kelli’s clothes and she needed to change. Ryleigh also need a change. I stood up to take Ryleigh and change her, but there must have been something in my expression that made her respond as she did.

Ryleigh’s lower lip began to quiver, and she looked like she might burst into sad, inconsolable tears. I instantly changed my expression and cooed, with a huge smile, “O sweetie, I love you. You are so precious.” The quivering stopped. I know she didn’t understand my words, but my tone and expression made a difference.

Recently, I read that when children are born, one of the ways infants connect and bond with the world and others is through the safe mirroring of love from their parents. They see and respond with equal expressions. How do children know that a smile means something positive? They just do.

In II Cor. 3:18, we are told to behold Christ as in a mirror. So often, when we look into the face of Christ in our prayers and scriptural meditations, he has some sort of expression that might cause our lips to quiver. We sense rejection or that some how we’ve messed up, and he’s in no mood to clean us up. But is that reality?

My love for this little baby is absolute. There is nothing on her person, nothing in her cries, nothing in her diapers that causes me anger. I love every inch. I am utterly consumed with loving her and making her feel as joyful, accepted, and content as humanly possible.

I am completely certain that Christ is greater than me. His love is more consuming and sufficient. His look is loving, even as he cleans us up with his all-sufficient grace and power. We’ve already been adopted. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We’re in the family—his beloved children.

Ryleigh cried some as I cleaned her up. It was a four-wipe situation. But as I cleaned, I smiled and cooed tenderly to her. “It’s okay. We’ll fix this. I love you, sweet girl.”

She never took her eyes off me.

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Transforming Companion and Lord of Heaven and Earth

fullsizeoutput_f0dTransforming Companion!

Lately, I’ve had two pictures of God that have encouraged and enlivened my walk with Christ. One is that of a transforming companion, and the other is that of Lord of Heaven and Earth.

As my transforming companion, he is my rabbi, my teacher, my wisdom giver, and my ever-present, gentle guide. As I walk with him in this way, I recall and meditate on gospel stories of his kindness to sinners, his compassion for the suffering, and his anger at the self-righteous. In these stories, I get a “feel” for him as a person, as one who gives us an example of God’s perfect and wise nature. He is a keeper and a teacher of the Law of the Heart—not just obedience to the letter of the Law. His Kingdom is one that is designed to bring the best possible news to mankind—and it’s not just that we are forgiven. It’s also that his life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control is the best possible way to walk in this world. If the world did what he suggested with honor and respect for one another, and without hatred or contempt, or lust (sexual, power, money, control) —what a world it would be! However, this Christ-life is a life led in the power of the Holy Spirit—and even its possibility is foolishness to the world. (Who turns the other cheek or lays down his life for another, anyway? How silly!)

Image 3-21-20 at 12.27 PMThe words from the Breastplate of St. Patrick remind me of his constant presence, and I KNOW he is with me—pointing to the things he wants me to notice. His love continues to be poured out on the earth, and he longs to do it through his Church. As my transforming companion, I am changed as I “gaze as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” I walk with him and look at him. As I do, the only thing that makes any sense is to imitate him and to love to the uttermost this most excellent One beside me.


Lord of Heaven and Earth!

Recently, I went to hear Mozart’s Requiem. Requiem is about the final judgment and includes scenes from Revelation. I did not know that when I bought tickets or meditated that morning in Revelation—re-reading sections of it to gain a sense of reverence and awe. (It was assigned reading for my class.)

I entered the theater expectantly, and then I read the lyrics from the playbill. Wow! I thought, “God has something special for me tonight.”

The orchestra tuned together, then the choir joined. Each musical instrument harmonized together while playing different notes and with beats that seemed at odds with one another. Each voice was an instrument. I shut my eyes, opened my hands and heart. As I listened to the choir and orchestra, I tried to imagine multitudes singing praise to God. I could not. I tried to imagine thrones and powers. I could not. I listened with tears and closed eyes and worshiped as the singing and music went on. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of that one production of mere mortals, and sensed the awe due to the ONE seated on the throne.

Image 3-21-20 at 11.59 AMThis glorious “Other” is beside me in the person of Christ and in me by his Holy Spirit. God has put on flesh, as a garment, so I can comprehend his ways and see his heart without overwhelming fear. This sacrificed Humanity (Jesus Christ) makes accessible to all his disciples a multiude of gifts and mercies, so we can walk in his ways and obey his commands.

This image keeps me humble before my gentle teacher and rabbi. It reminds me of the glory and power of the one who walks beside me in incomprehensible humility and love. He is my Father, my God, my Maker, my Brother, and my Companion. It only makes sense to make him my Lord and follow him in obedience toward transformation.

So, he is my Transforming Companion and the Lord of Heaven and Earth. I think I’ll walk with this One for a while. All glory to his name!

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Swinging Bridges

This past week I crossed a long, suspension bridge. A family walked toward me, as I began my walk over the ravine. Walking was awkward. Where do I put my hands? My feet? How do I keep from motion sickness? I tried various positions and then settled on a place for my hands on the silver cable, but my pace felt odd. With each step the bridge wobbled. I reached the middle of the wide expanse and looked down. I watched the gushing waters break into tributaries and leap over the rocks in waterfalls. People sat on boulders—watching serenely as the surging waters tumbled down the hill.

The family on the bridge drew near; as they did, my foundation moved back and forth with a dizzying sway—due in part to their playful antics. I moved to the side; they passed by; I survived.

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Historic Banning Mills Suspension Bridge 

When I turned to go back to my cabin, I noticed a wide, silver metal ridge that ran beneath the center of the wooden slats that made up the bridge. I tested it. When I kept close to the center, the rocking subsided. When my pace was normal, the bridge swayed. Another family entered the bridge and came toward me. Their footsteps increased the movement, and I became disoriented and woozy. After they passed, I breathed, re-oriented myself, and returned to the silver center.

For me, that walk is a lot like life with Christ. The more I’m around a bunch of people; the less I can orient myself to right thinking. Others influence me—their opinions, values, and laughter. I become off balance. However, if I want, I can focus on that center path—that silver swath of stability and choose to put on the mind of Christ.

Recently, I was at McDonald’s writing this article, and I overheard four teenage boys slandering friends—laughing at their build, their hair, their “lack.” One of the young men shared an intimate and embarrassing moment with his girl friend. I felt violated. He sullied her reputation by sharing, and then he boasted about his “humbly” asking for forgiveness from her father. They all laughed. “Smooth move.”

The conversation reminded me of the many voices teaching us it’s okay to gossip, or brag about wrongdoing, or to judge others by body, intelligence, wealth, looks or personality. The world debases what Jesus loves (everyone–especially the suffering); it’s harder to walk a narrow-road life when those voices mock Jesus’ way.

Christ’s “bridge” rides high above such ideas. It’s a centered, silver route of hope, love and kindness, of dignity and honor—tenderness and pity for the small, the ugly, the poor and the broken, the violated and the violator, the slandered and the slanderer. The false judgments and condemnations of the world may disorient us, but we can return to the love and truth of God any time. There we can get re-oriented in silence and solitude with Jesus, whose mad love for the world will take our breath away and help us love what the world hates and hate what the world loves.

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The Demented Cardinal

male cardinalThere’s a slightly demented male cardinal who is making mince meat out of his body and brain by slamming himself into my kitchen window. The poor creature sees the image of a male cardinal whom he supposes is his competition in the local battle for mating dominance. Observant skeptical females shake their plumed heads.

He flies at his twin. Wham! Wham! Wham! I’m waiting for the day when I see his body lying on the ground beneath my window. I try to protect him by shooing him away and dropping the shutters so that maybe the doppelgänger will somehow disappear and I can save his poor beautiful, but deceived red life.

But if that reflection is hidden, he finds another one he can peck at. He is sure what he sees is something it is not—his enemy.

We’re not supposed to be our own worst enemy. Neither are we to be our own idol. If Red was a little less demented, he might know that the image he sees is himself, and that flying into the window is self destructive, and he’d leave himself alone. If he were really smart, he’d see he’s beautiful.

The New Testament is full of statements about who we are because we live in Christ and Christ lives in us. It is absolutely fabulous! Unbelievable, in fact. Too often we are like the cardinal, attacking our image in the twisted mirror of our imagination. Stupid, idiot, failure, ugly, fat—are just a few of the assaults we make. There are other attacks that are just as dangerous—beautiful, sexy, rich, in-control.

This is the year 2020. Most people are not lost to the imagery of clear vision.

However, I suppose we’re all deceived about something all the time. Often, it is because we lack faith (at least I know that’s true of me). I fail to believe that God cares for me like a shepherd cares for his sheep, like a tender father cares for his children, or like a faithful husband cares for his wife. I see a twisted image of myself against a spooky background and I’m fearful, so I move in for the kill—attacking myself and others because I’m not enough, and I have to take care of myself.

When I don’t KNOW God as he is, I won’t know myself as I am (truly loved). When I don’t know myself (as sinner/saint), then I won’t KNOW God either (justifier/redeemer). Part of my very being as a believer is God in me. Another part is me (the sinner with bad eyesight) in need of God. But both make up ME! The beloved, glorious me.

I often choose a word or phrase for the New Year. One year it was “zeal.” Last year it was “union” with Christ. This year it’s “vision.” I want to see God as he is and myself as I actually am. All parts of me are held in the Father’s glorious embrace and fully adored and beloved—even all the dark and unseemly parts of me. When I gaze in the mirror at my own reflection, I want to see myself being held by God with all his promises surrounding me, and I do not want to be afraid or dismayed by the parts that are as-yet unformed into the image of Christ.

I don’t want to be like that silly cardinal, pecking at myself in the mirror of my own twisted mind and thinking it will get me what I want: rid of an enemy and on with a fruitful life. Seeing myself as loved and adequate in Christ will do more for me than body slamming into a wrong reflection.

 

 

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He Who Serves

In Elizabeth Fryling’s book, Mirror of the Soul, the reader is invited to meditate on a parable from Luke 12:35-38. In the parable, Jesus tells everyone to stay ready for the master’s return—to keep lamps lit and ready. Then they can open the door for him and welcome him when he returns from his wedding feast. Fryling asks the reader to consider what they would be doing to stay in readiness for the master. (How would you use your gifts to keep the house/Church/world ready?) She also has the reader think about how we would feel when the master enters the house, girds himself as a servant, and has US sit down while HE serves us.

When he walks through the door, I’d be ecstatic. He’s finally bringing his bride home. I’d be thankful that I’d watched and waited for his return and kept the house neat and beautiful. The house is well lit; aromas steam from a pot of food always kept ready. Flowers are on the table. The servants laugh, bow, and shake his hand and smile–a lot.

Then, he invites us to sit at the table while he serves us. At that point, I would begin to cry and be ecstatic at the same time. I’d be confused. What? Me, sit, while you serve me? Impossible. I’d be stunned. The idea of my master serving me would be discomforting. I would also be astonished by his love and in awe of his humility. Surely, only the great can serve so generously and demonstrate what humility and service actually look like. God serving man is humility of the highest order. I can see how Peter felt.

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Normally, royals are served. Jesus came and taught a new way of doing business. God bends and washes feet, and he girds himself and serves others at a table. 

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (NASB)

God is for us and proved it in Christ. We serve him who first served us and who still serves us with all we need for every day’s journey. He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” He gives us grace to believe, fills us with the Spirit so we can be faithful, and each day he fights for us and with us. Then he serves us ever so gently and lovingly as we do good deeds, as if we actually did something that wasn’t first because of him or empowered by him. We love because he first loved us.

I still want to cry at the thought of Jesus putting on servants clothing and walking around, dishing out food and drink for me. But that’s what he does, every moment, every day, until the day I meet him face to face, and even then, according to this parable, I will still be served.  AMAZING!

How would you feel if this happened to you? It does. Every day.

 

 

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Joseph’s Struggle

St. JosephIt was a sleepless night—full of a broken heart, tears, and agony. It was the worst I’d ever known.

Mary had come back from Elizabeth’s round with child. I was stunned, humiliated, confused, and broken-hearted. My gut twisted within me. I could barely breathe. I was an upright man and had built a reputation as being just. How could she do this? What was I to do?

I listened with disbelief to her ridiculous claims. Had she gone mad? Did she really expect me to believe that an angel had visited her? That she was the chosen virgin for which we’ve long awaited?  The virgin Isaiah spoke of and all the young girls wished to be? The sign from God when he said, “a virgin shall be with child, and you will call him Immanuel?” Could I believe that she would bear “the Son of the Most High?” That is what the “angel” told her. She’d lost it. Simply and completely lost it. Obviously, she’d done something to get herself pregnant. What a fantastic story to tell. But I’d known her. She was neither flirtatious nor bold, known for her fine character. She was shy and restrained, a modest young girl—or so I had thought.

I wanted to tear my clothes, to throw ashes on my head, after I’d thrown up the contents of my roiling stomach.

Amidst great confusion I fled. I glanced back at her as I walked out the door while she clung helplessly to her mother. Tears streamed down her face. I knew she wondered what I was going to do. Hmmph! If God had sent an angel, this shouldn’t be a problem.

I was angry and hurt. But I had grown to love her. But she was lying and/or had gone insane with a crazy story to cover her adultery. Neither was acceptable. But I also felt pity. What was I to do?

I must admit that I took a long deep draught of wine that night to moisten the dry ache of betrayal and rejection in my heart. I paced. I raged. I prayed. Exhausted, I fell asleep.

I tossed fretfully, wakening here and there to the beat of my own heart hammering in my chest—that hollow space made dark and cold from loss and the misery of having to choose between too bad things: to take her as my wife or put her away and watch her be stoned to death.

During the night I got on my knees, weeping before God. “Show me. Show me. I don’t know what to do.”  During one of those wakeful moments, I had an idea. I decided I’d put her away quietly. Send her back to Elizabeth or some other relative. It would be horrible for everyone, but better than death.

I fell asleep in that pose. On my knees, head prostrate on the floor. And I dreamed. In my dream an angel appeared and declared a list of impossibilities.

Take Mary as your wife.

Don’t be afraid to do it.

The child she has growing in her IS conceived by the Holy Spirit.

She will give birth to a son.

You must name him Jesus—the Lord is your salvation.

For he will save his people from their sins.

When I awoke, my heart flooded with peace, I also remembered the rest of the ancient prophecy. The child who would be virgin-born would be called Immanuel, God with us.

I leapt from the floor. My knees and thighs ached; my head ached, but I was feeling fabulous.

Her story was true. I knew what to do! I shouted and danced. I felt the sudden filling of a protective, loving heart. I was called to love and shelter, to guide and direct this unique child—this God-with-us child. I was called to tenderly care for this very young woman and the mother of the Messiah. I had a job to do, and it was a fabulous one, and it didn’t really matter what people said. God had spoken, and I was at peace. I was going to participate in a cause more noble than I ever dreamed. I was going to help raise and teach this holy child. Me, a lowly carpenter. Ha! Who could have imagined a thing so fabulous?

The sun was just appearing on the horizon as I stepped out the door and raised my hands in worship and joy, and then I almost danced to her home. I was certain she had worried all night, too. I wanted to ease her fears and bring her where she belonged, home with me.

 

This is an imaginative story of what Joseph might have felt like when he discovered Mary was pregnant. You can get the real story in Matthew chapter 1. It’s a reminder to me that there was real human emotion in the Christmas story. It also reminds me that even though we might be confused by our circumstances, when God clearly speaks through his word, his saints, or by His Spirit, (or even an angel) and we know what we’re to do, we are at peace.

 

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