Advent is a time for preparing ourselves to once again experience the joy of Christmas. But in order to really share in that joy, we need to be willing to expand our definition of reality. For the Christmas story turns reality on its head! It turns things upside down and inside out. It takes our narrow strip of understanding and challenges us to expand our gaze, and to deepen our faith. The Christmas story says things are not always as they appear. Things are not limited by time or space. Reality stretches across the universe and beyond! Yes, it starts in a simple way. Yes it is filled with common characters. A tired old man forced by an occupying empire to take a long journey. A pregnant teenager unsure of her baby's origins. A cranky innkeeper, overwhelmed by an influx of travelers. A band of minimum wage shepherds just doing their jobs. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary. But the Christmas claim is far reaching. For it says that in and through these everyday characters, God was and is revealed. And that is cause for rejoicing!
I imagine when Mary first told Joseph that she was pregnant, when she tried to explain about seeing the angel and being told she was to give birth to the Christ. I imagine Joseph also had a very limited definition of reality. He was at first, no doubt angry. For it appeared Mary had betrayed him. How else would she have become pregnant? She must have slept with another man. And then to try and explain it away with such a cockamamie story! But then, in time, as his initial anger subsides, he too may have felt she was going insane.
But then Joseph has a dream. He is visited by an angel and is told that Mary is playing it straight. What she has told him is true. She is indeed to give birth to the the one who will save the people. And that, says the angel, that is why dear Joseph, you must name the child Jesus--for it means he saves.
And suddenly, overnight, the narrow world of Joseph's carpenter's shop with its wood and workbench and tools, suddenly expands into a reality he could never have imagined! The presenting scene remains the same! Rome is still in power. Mary is still pregnant. Taxes must be paid. Sheep must be tended. Yet now it takes on cosmic significance. For beneath it all, through it all, in it all, God is at work! And that is cause for joy, deep seated joy. For reality is greater, wider, broader than that which we can see!
I have seen some of life's hardships. Yes, I've often asked why. Yes, I've questioned, even doubted. But whenever I have remembered the simple truth that reality is greater than what I can see, wider than what I can touch, deeper than what I can begin to know, whenever I remember that truth, then I have been given new strength to carry on. Then I have known joy. Not necessarily happiness. I was not happy to see my grandmother fade away from Alzheimer's diesease. I was not happy to see so many productive lives cut short by terror in the attacks on 9/11. No, not happiness, but joy. That underlying sense that in the end all will be well, despite appearances. That underlying sense that God can, and will, sort it all out. For I believe that the God who was revealed in a child of born to an unwed mother in an occupied land is always at work bringing about the good, the true, the eternal. And, year after year, even in the face of personal or societal problems that seem overwhelming, it is because that broader view of reality, that Mary and Joseph view of reality, that I can sing with real conviction joy to the world, the Lord has come!