December 18, 2022 Reflection and Worship Link

Reflecting the Sacred

“Sacred Knowing”

Scripture Reading: Matthew 1: 18-25  

To join with us by watching our online worship, please click here.

Most of you know that my mother, Helen, passed away about a month ago now.  My mother had what I would call a very graced adult life. She married a terrific man, my father Jack and raised four awesome children. She had a meaningful vocation as an occupational therapist and great friends. She travelled, enjoyed the arts and loved spending time at our summer cottage.

But when I was about 13 years old, I learned that my mother’s childhood had not been quite so happy. One Sunday afternoon, after we’d had a presentation at church from someone who was part of an organization called Al-anon, my mother sat me down and said there was something she thought it was time I learned about her and more specifically about my grandfather. She explained to me that my grandfather, who I loved dearly, was an alcoholic. She talked about how his drinking had cast a shadow on her childhood, how her house was never full of people coming and going to visit the way ours always was because they never knew what state Grandpa would be in from day to day and how hard it had all been on my grandmother who I also loved dearly.

My mother never spoke to me again about my grandfather’s drinking until I brought it up with her many years later after both my grandparents had died and she shared a wee bit more with me.  She was a very private person and we, her children, always wondered about the fullness of her story and the parts of that story we will now never know.

Whether it’s a wound we have inflicted on someone else or a hurt or horrific experience we have had ourselves, be it a mistake we have made that we can’t face up to, or a loss so deep we can’t bring ourselves to show it the light, or a choice we don’t have the courage to make or any other invisible shame we bear, many of us, if not all of us, carry within us the hidden pain of something unmentionable.

We come to this fourth Sunday in the season of Advent and although we might be ready by now to don our gay apparel and fa la la la la our way to the manger, what we get this morning instead is Joseph who gifts us with his unmentionable pain.

As the story goes its most likely been several months now if not years that he and his betrothed Mary have been engaged.  In all likelihood there has not been any marital relations between them. So the fact that Mary has announced to Joseph that she is pregnant, telling him some trumped up story about this being the Son of God, is all the more painful because it clearly means she has been having marital relations with someone else.

I’m old enough to remember a time when teenaged girls in the small town in which I grew up used to disappear for about nine months when they were “in the family way.” So I can’t imagine the shame an apparently unwanted pregnancy would bring to a “respectable” family in Joseph and Mary’s day.  It was an unspeakable situation.

Joseph, understandably has decided to quietly dismiss his betrothed.  It was a kindness he was extending to her, he wasn’t going to expose her to public disgrace, a good guy this Joseph. But then, in the dead of the night, during that part of the sleep cycle when we yield control and our unconscious selves come to life, a messenger visits Joseph and says “do not be afraid.” 

There is a deeper truth here Joseph, a truth that you cannot see with your conscious mind and that truth is that God is at work in the world in strange and mysterious ways and God wants you to be a part of what God is doing. Do not be afraid of what you cannot yet see with your conscious mind.

Over the course of these last three weeks we have been leaning on the teachings of Fr. Richard Rohr to deepen our understanding of what it means for God to be born in human flesh, for the sacred to become incarnate. We’ve been pondering the way that God loves us by becoming us; that its more accurate to say that Jesus emerged from an already Christ-soaked world than to say God sent Jesus from the great beyond into our sin-filled world to rescue us out of it; and that our very DNA is made up of the Creator’s DNA and therefore everything is sacred.

As we consider the story of Joseph this week and it’s place in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, we might want to consider the way that we have been created with a capacity to dream and therefore a capacity to know deeply there is nothing for us to fear but fear itself.

It’s said that whether we remember our dreams or not, each one of us dreams on average a total of 4-6 times a night. Whether we pay attention to them or not, it’s said that dreams come to us when we are ready to receive them and they always tell us something we don’t know or have not been able to grasp in our conscious or waking life.  Some people refer to dreams as God’s unopened letters.

One of the things I love about the capacity we have been given to dream is that because we can’t control our dreams, they come whether we want them to or not, our dreams help us to do what we might not have the courage or wisdom to do otherwise.

That’s what is happening to Joseph in our story today.  God needs Joseph to fulfill a bigger dream and God’s knows Joseph can do that and he is going to need a lot of courage to take on the roll that to which he is being called.

Just in case you think the Christmas story is a nice tale about a bunch of characters that have nothing to do with your life, I hate to tell you this, but the Christmas story is about all of us. The same way that God needed Joseph to listen to the messenger sent to him in his dream, God needs us to listen to our dreams and to our inner wisdom, so we too will have the courage and the clarity to take on the roll to which we are being called.

God saves the world by saving us, by planting within us wisdom, healing and grace, by encouraging us and calling us, so that we can participate with God in saving the world.

Saving the world is not about converting the world to Christianity, it’s about reminding us of who we have already been created to be and the sacred knowing that we have to live with peace and goodwill.

Our tendency this time of year is to think that Jesus was born to rescue us out of the depths of our unmentionable suffering. In fact the story tells us that it is in our hidden pain that we are met by a God who knows us, loves us, companions us and gives us clarity and courage to do what we think we are otherwise uncapable of doing. 

One of the things I love about exploring dreams, both my own and those of others is the universality of our dreams. So if you tell me about the dream you had last night, I will almost always be able to find something in your dream that speaks to my reality too.  The same is true of Joseph’s dream.  His dream, that calls forth his courage to break through the barriers of what society deems acceptable in order to bring to birth a love so broad it knows no boundaries is the same dream you and I are called to birth in this sacred season.  It’s a dream that calls us to bring to light the unmentionable pain and suffering of our own lives and of our world.

There is a deeper truth waiting to be born, a truth that we cannot always see with our conscious minds. God is at work in the world in strange and mysterious ways and God wants you and me and all of humanity to be a part of what God is doing, so that there may indeed be hope, peace joy and an abundance of love in our tired and weary world.