December 16, 2018
Matthew 1: 18-25
ANGELS AMONG US: Do Not Be Afraid
Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
The other day my son and I were having a conversation about people who get in trouble at school and are sent to the principal’s office. I mentioned that I don’t ever remember being sent to the office as a child. To which my son replied “of course you didn’t Mommy. You never break any rules.”
He’s right, I don’t like breaking rules. I drive the speed limit that is posted, I abhor making social faux pas and I do my best to live by the golden rule.
I think that is probably why of all the characters in the Christmas story, the one I resonate with the most is Joseph.
Joseph, member of the House of David, was a law abiding citizen. He was a righteous man the scriptures tell us, keeping the Jewish laws of the Torah handed down from one generation to the next. When he discovered that the woman he was engaged to was pregnant, he knew that she would most likely be put to death for adultery should this news become known. He knew that according to Jewish law she had broken the rules and if he stayed with her he too would become a rule breaker.
But he was also a compassionate man and he clearly loved Mary, his betrothed. The best solution he could come up with for this disastrous situation in which he found himself was to dismiss Mary quietly and go their separate ways. That way his dignity and his family’s honour as members of the House of David would stay intact and Mary hopefully would escape death.
It was a good plan until he was visited by and angel and everything got turned upside down. This angel of joy heralding nothing less than the salvation of the world must have seemed more like an angel of doom to poor Joseph. Suddenly, righteous, upstanding citizen of the year Joseph was being told not to be afraid to be a boundary breaking, social convention ignoring man.
Over the last several weeks, as we in this community of faith have been thinking about the angels of peace and hope among us, I have heard some beautiful stories. I have heard about grandparents and best friends, church members, neighbours and complete strangers who have encouraged us and taken care of us, been there for us and modelled the kind of compassion and grace we aspire to model in our own lives. We’ve posted lovely photos of children and adults playfully sporting the angel wings drawn on the wall in the café space.
The stories and images have been full of the kind of comfort and joy we tend to think of when we imagine who our angels might be or how we might be angels to others. But not one person has mentioned an angel who came to them in the way the angel came to Joseph as a disruptor, a holy agitator, as a presence that intervenes in our lives until we wake up, pay attention and change the trajectory of our lives.
I am assuming that’s because most of us prefer comfort over disruption. We prefer living inside our rule bound boxes as opposed to stepping outside of what society considers acceptable.
And who can blame us? We are living in tumultuous and fear filled times where nothing much seems certain. The last thing we want is to be pushed outside our comfort zone. And yet isn’t that exactly where we need to be pushed, beyond the status quo, beyond those places that have become so comfortable in our world they no longer serve us, if in fact they ever did?
If it’s hard for you to think of the angels in your life who have been holy agitators, take a moment to bring to mind the people who have shown you it was time to quit the job that was draining the life out of you, or to take up the work or the hobby that scared you because you didn’t think you could do it; or the friend who helped you see it was time to leave a relationship or address an addiction or to just tell the truth about who you are and the circumstances under which you are living.
Think of the angel voices within you that have encouraged you to say something about the person getting harassed on the bus; or the voice within that disturbs your peace and makes you call into account the guest at your dinner table who just made a racial slur or simply disturbs your peace and says to you “it’s time for you to do something for the good of yourself and the good of us all.”
If you can’t think of personal angels who fit this description, think of the public ones. Think of Emma Gonzales and David Hogg survivors of the shootings at a Parkland, Florida high school who have vowed not to stop agitating lawmakers in the US until the gun laws change. Think of Christine Blasey Ford who intervened in the selection of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice in the name of women everywhere who have experienced sexual harassment and been silenced. Think of David Suzuki who has given his life to being a social disruptor on behalf of our planetary home and all that live on it.
These are the rule breakers and law benders who do what they do for the sake of a better future, for peace and goodwill for all people, for the salvation of the world. Often they do it at great personal cost, risking the hostility of those who do not want to be shifted from their positions of power or change the way it has always been done. It takes courage to move outside of what is accepted as the norm.
When an angel appears to Joseph in a dream he is afraid. He’s afraid to be faithful in a way that goes against the social and religious laws of the day. He’s afraid to threaten conventional power structures. He’s afraid to be someone other than the person he has always known himself to be.
Fear is an excellent gatekeeper of our comfort zone and the status quo. But when we live passively in our fear, instead of taking charge of the circumstances in which we find ourselves and claiming our agency in life, we miss out on the joy that is intended for us and for others.
The joy that the angel brings to Joseph, as disturbing and disruptive as it may seem, is no less than the joy of participating in God’s redemptive and healing work in the world.
So the next time someone or something disturbs your peace and gives you a good scare, pay attention. It might just be an invitation to creating a better world and a greater joy.