The Holy Family - Reflections 12-9-18

For Sunday, December 9, 2018
Lessons and Carols

This week Gloria Dei has a special Advent service of Lessons and Carols.  Each year we have a different theme for this service of scripture, song, and reflection. 

The theme this year is The Holy Family with reflections presented in three parts by the late Fred Meuser, theologian, pastor, and first president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Ohio. 

And so, we are invited to ponder the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child.

I am somewhat surprised that God chose a teenager to be the Mother of God. As a mother, I was pretty careful about which teenagers babysat for my daughter. And having been a teenage girl as well as around teenage girls for years and years, I have found that they can be responsible or flighty, focused or distracted, self-absorbed or selfless…. in the same 10 minutes. Really God? Your plan for the salvation of the world is to put a helpless infant into the hands of a teenage girl… 

More seriously, Mary was obviously tough & adventuresome to say yes to God’s scheme which was brought to her by an angel, in person. Actually, I think I’ll add unflappable and self-possessed; the Bible says she was just “perplexed” by the appearance of the angel.

Mary’s “yes” may have been much quicker than parents or fiancĂ© would have counseled. But that confident “let it be with me according to your word” came from a strength within that grew out of her faith in God’s goodness. She recognized the blessing that came from God’s call to her. And she saw the big picture that being blessed would bring blessing to all as her son would turn the world upside down. Indeed, a self-proclaimed prophecy is fulfilled: because of her courage and faithfulness, all people called her blessed.

Then there is Joseph. Throughout the centuries, a whole lot of art, song, and meditations about Christmas didn’t even include him. In a lot of nativity sets, it is hard to separate him from the shepherds. Did you know that he never speaks in the Bible? But like Mary, he receives his call from God and responds with trust and obedience. He may have no idea of what lies ahead, but it is enough that God knows. 

I read a wonderful poem by Ann Weems about Joseph. I share it because I love nativity sets and because the poem says so much. 

Who put Joseph in the back of the stable?
 Who dressed him in brown, put a staff in his hand,
      and told him to stand in the back of the creche,
      background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?

God-chosen, this man Joseph was faithful
     in spite of the gossip of Nazareth,
     in spite of the danger from Herod.
This man, Joseph, listened to angels
     and it was he who named the Child 
Is this a man to be stuck for centuries
       in the back of the stable?
Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway
     guarding the mother and child
     or greeting shepherds and kings.
Or when he wasn’t in the doorway,
he was probably urging Mary to get some rest,
gently covering her with his cloak,
assuring her that he would watch the Child.
Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms
and walked him in the night,
patting him lovingly
until he closed his eyes.

This Christmas, let us give thanks to God
for this man of incredible faith
into whose care God place the Christ Child.
As a gesture of gratitude,
let’s put Joseph in the front of the stable
     where he can guard and greet 
      and cast an occasional glance
     at this Child
who brought us life. 

- Getting to the Front of the Stable, by Ann Weems*

Finally, we turn to Jesus. As they say, Jesus is the reason for the season.  Jesus is God-in-flesh. The theological word for that is incarnation, which means becoming flesh. Jesus’ body and blood continue to unite and feed God’s people. 

Last week, I made up a word for God’s becoming human: “inadamahation”. The Hebrew word in Genesis for the dirt or soil of which we are made is adamah; that is the “to dust we shall return” dust. Adam gets his name from it, the Earth Creature. Two different readings this past week made me think a bit differently about God crawling into a manger, crawling into an itty-bitty human. 

Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all made in God’s image.…How?... God’s explanation is to send Jesus, the incarnate One, God enfleshed. Don’t try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God’s limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.
Madeline L’Engle in Watch for the Light 

The gospel begins with a birth. Christians claim that the God of the universe has made a remarkable intrusion into the human predicament. The God of the Precambrian soup, the God of the Carboniferous forests, the God of the Cretaceous and the Pleistocene, the God of the triceratops and the wooly mammoth: that same God, Christians say, was born in a barn. The Bible is clear: God loved the world in such a way that he gave to us his only Son (John 3:16). God loves the world with a passion that exceeds our own. God loves this planet and all its many inhabitants. When we fail to appreciate that God is human with us, that he made himself nothing and is the dust of the earth with us, the gospel comes to be… more about feelings and fantasies … and less about God and God’s deep and abiding love for his material creation.
Daniel J. Stulac in the Plough Quarterly No. 4: Earth

So, get it? Or are you still wondering what the deal is about "inadamahation"? I have spent lots of time, and no doubt will spend more time, being in awe of a God who would put on the flesh and blood of a human out of God’s great love for people. That will not change.

But, following a UN report released in October and a US government report released last week, and in the context of an international meeting addressing response to the reports, I think it is also time to claim the full meaning of “God so loved the world”. 

Jesus didn’t just become human, Jesus became dust, adamah. With this image, we can tie Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection to the earth. If you read those reports you know that the earth is definitely suffering and close to dying. In flesh we are called to love others as God loves us; through dust we are called to love creation as God loves it.

Each member of the Holy Family is worth pondering, wherever your thoughts may take you. 

Do you have thoughts about Mary or Joseph?

What does Jesus’ birth mean to you?

*Kneeling in Bethlehem, Copyright ©1980 The Westminster Press, ©1985, 1987 Ann Weems.

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