Saturday, 21 December 2013

Emmanuel - "God with us" Advent 4A

Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-16
Matthew 1: 18-25

Joseph's Story:

I've had the most amazing and disturbing dream
and it seems that I'm not the only one
As if it wasn't enough that Mary is pregnant
Now I'm having night time revelations about her
and the baby she's carrying.

But that's skipping too far on in the story
As you may already know we were engaged to be married
Everything seemed to be going well
between the two of us and our families.
As is the custom, our marriage had been agreed
between our parents
Mine are getting on a bit,
so I know that they were pleased
that I had finally found the love of my life
Because that's who Mary is ...
... or at least she was a few short weeks ago ...
... then I wasn't sure what to think
I know that her parents were also pleased
that she had found someone with a thriving business
someone who would be able to provide for their daughter
someone who would care for their grandchildren
They didn't seem to mind the age difference
and I was just so overjoyed
that Mary seemed to have eyes for me at all
After beginning to think that I'd left it too late to get married
here was this wonderful creature
who seems to like spending time with me
I thought she'd end up with one of the village lads
a husband nearer to her age
but no ...
Strange how things work out isn't it?

Now there was Mary,
scarcely a woman herself,
promised in marriage to me
the village carpenter and jobbing builder
What she saw in me God alone knows,
but I was head over heels in love
I don't mind admitting
What had I done to deserve Mary?
someone who would give me the children
I wondered if I  would ever have ...
... or at least that's what I thought
until just recently.

Things were progressing just fine.
I was working hard,
taking on extra work to grow the business
I had to take seriously my future responsibilities
as a family man
We hadn't set a date for the wedding
but that didn't seem to matter
Mary was still young, there was plenty of time.

I wasn't overly concerned
when she told me that she had decided
to go and visit her cousin Elizabeth
It was a snap decision I think,
but I expected that she wanted to talk to her
about the prospect of married life
maybe make plans for the wedding
I would miss our chats
when she called by the workshop to see me
The times when we would talk excitedly
of the house I was building for us
Truth be told, it would give me a chance
to get on with it - put all of my spare time to good use.
If I could get the roof on before she came back,
that would be a nice surprise for her
and then maybe we would be able
to make plans for the wedding itself.

Looking back now
I noticed she seemed a little distant before she left
Not quite as talkative
But I put it down to nerves about the journey
I even convinced myself
that she was having second thoughts
about going to see Elizabeth
and would miss me too much!
Little did I know the real reason for her uneasiness ...
She would have to stay for a month or two
to make the trip worthwhile
so I told her not to worry and to take as long as she liked
after all, I trusted her, my fiancée
I reassured her I had plenty to be getting on with
and that she was just to enjoy some family time
I would miss her of course
and count the days until she returned
But I wouldn't have dreamt of stopping her
The girl was the love of my life - remember?

Well, true to my word, I did get on with my work while Mary was away.
The business prospered and I filled all my spare time
round at the site of our new house.
The roof was finished and I was working on some furniture
when word came that Mary had returned.
You can imagine my excitement
as I hurried to finish work for the day
and went round to call at her home
But you can also perhaps guess at my puzzlement
when I encountered sombre faces in the house
the worried looks; the way her family hardly spoke
nor even met my gaze as they ushered me though
to where Mary was resting after her journey.

As I went to greet her she said nothing
and I stopped
sensing that something was wrong
puzzled for an instant
until she stood up as I crossed the room
and I realised ...
... the truth of her condition
plain for all to see now

I stopped,
the shock on my face must have been so obvious
I cringe now at the thought of it
She just looked at me
tears trickling down her face
watching for my reaction.
In those few moments
words were unnecessary
I just felt stunned and simply stared at her
My whole world fell apart in that instant
and I couldn't find the words too express
the hurt, the betrayal, the unimaginable welter of emotions
that suddenly assailed me.

With the advantage of hindsight,
I can see why she couldn't say anything to me
about the baby before she left
She probably scarcely believed it herself
She was terrified poor child
Deeply frightened
of what her family would say
of what the village gossips would think
of what I might do.
We hadn't discussed this particular version of our future
The law allows a drastic course of action
for a man who finds himself in my situation
If a bride is found by her husband
to be already pregnant before the wedding
he can call for her to be stoned to death.

No wonder Mary was watching me
waiting, paralysed by fear for my reaction
probably wondering whether I would reach out
to strike her in disgust rather than embrace her in love

In the event I did neither, but just slumped into a chair
wordlessly battling to come to terms
with this shocking turn of events.
I sat there bemused for what must have seemed an age
until her father, himself overwrought with emotion
begged me to stay and listen to what she had to say.

My first reaction had been to run, to get out and away
to be on my own,
but I was suddenly overwhelmed by tiredness
and so I stayed.
The story began to come out, haltingly at first
as Mary related all that had happened to her
in those recent months.

And I sat there unable to take in everything to begin with
as Mary described her dream-like encounter with an angel
a messenger from Almighty God
who delivered this unbelievable news
about the child she was to bear
Now I think I've got the sequence of events clear,
but at the time it took some explaining, I can tell you!
The reason for Mary's sudden decision to visit Elizabeth
was not to get help planning our wedding
but rather to seek confirmation
of part of the angel's message
For against all the odds
it seemed that Elizabeth and Zechariah
were to expect the birth of a son themselves
The angel told Mary that Elizabeth,
who was thought to be unable to have children
was carrying a son and so it was hardly surprising
that Mary simply had to go and seek confirmation of this
as a means to come to terms
with the earth shattering nature
of Gabriel's prediction for her.

Once Mary was able to tell her story,
her actions and reactions
became perfectly clear and understandable.
I was able to leave her in the care of her parents
and then I took that time out that I needed
I walked and walked all evening
wrestling with my conscience.

What to do?

I had every sympathy for my fiancée - believe me
But I didn't know what I should do
I did so want to continue to trust her, to believe her
but still things looked bad for us both
This was hardly the start to married life I had envisaged
In the end after much wrestling and debating
I returned home.
I had more or less decided that the best thing
would be to avoid scandal
and quietly break off the engagement.
I didn't want to disgrace Mary
she had her whole life ahead of her
Maybe if she went to stay with Elizabeth again,
at least for a while.

Perhaps there was a way forward?
I eventually arrived home and collapsed into bed
I had resolved to visit Mary and her family again
in the morning
to sound out her father and see if we could agree a plan
The details of this whole maelstrom of events
whirled round in my head
until finally I fell into an exhausted sleep.

But my sleep was far from restful
to start with I can tell you
As I eventually drifted from wakefulness,
I slipped into what I can only describe
as one of the most lifelike dreams I have ever had
It was the most vivid experience.

I felt as if I could have reached out
and touched the man I saw
He looked fairly ordinary
and yet he claimed to be a messenger from God
And as he delivered his words
I felt the most extra ordinary calm come over me
it was unlike any other restful feeling I have ever experienced
and his message just answered all of my questions
calmed all of my fears
He confirmed exactly what Mary had been told
about her baby's father
and then went on to tell me what we were to call our child
Yes you heard right - our child
for I suddenly understood, as the angel spoke
that we were to be married after all
All my doubts evaporated
I knew I could trust Mary again
I knew we were destined to be together
and that all would be well.

This was the confirmation I had been searching for
This was the way forward
This baby boy, due in six months or so
is to be called Jesus
He will save people from their sins
God will do this I know
I don't know how or when,
but God will do this.

How am I so confident?
The angel went on to explain to me
more clearly than any teacher
I had ever heard in the synagogue;
He quoted from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah
and explained that
he will also be known as Emmanuel
Mary's son,
our son Jesus
will be known as "God with us".

In one sense still I can't believe it
and yet I know with more certainty
than I have ever known anything
that this is true
In some mysterious way that I do not understand
he will be known as "God with us"

I must go and tell Mary the good news -
poor soul will have had a sleepless night
but I know that this will reassure her
this news that God is with us
I hope that she will still consent to be my wife
after the doubts and agonies of yesterday
but now I feel curiously at ease
and I feel sure that she will too.

I don't know what the future holds for either of us
or for that matter for our son, still unborn
but I feel that his life will have unique significance
and I pray that generations yet to come
will also remember this
and derive from that simple phrase
at least as much reassurance and peace
as I am feeling right now
"God is with us".

© David Miller 2013
Feel free to use any or all of this for non commercial purposes.
If you find it useful, do let me know. Thanks

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