Encouragement in Our Now from Mary & Joseph

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February 02, 2020

Today we continue in our Epiphany season – seeing God’s revelation and affirmation of Christ – the reality of the Messiah arriving on the scene. 

What’s weird about this season of is that Jesus is a baby one week and an adult the next and then a baby again…The point is not to be linear but to show – which is really the definition of Epiphany – to show. 

There are things going on in our gospel reading today that serve as example to us. We are in a strange place globally and nationally and maybe personally – and so were Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna.

We, today, have a Senate impeachment trial – only the third time in our nation’s history has a president been charged by the House of Representatives and a Senate trial taken place. Republican or Democrat – this is hard and challenges ideas for us all about faith, character, commitment, and constitution – our very democracy. Leaders in these trial presentations are not always behaving really great. It leaves us asking some questions: is this who we are? what will become of us? Where are we going? 

We are at an historic moment as a nation that is challenging for each of us. 

Additionally, there is this coronavirus. An outbreak internationally that began in China and has a lot of unknown with it. In the vein of movies I have seen, this illness quickly has come to the place of being spread person to person. A little scary as we consider other historic outbreaks. 

Right now, watching the news is actually worse than most scary movies I have seen. 

I don’t mean to be dramatic about our “now.” I realize that in every generation there are those things that take place that can shake us to our core: politically, economically, ideologically.

But our national and international news is a bit core shaking these days.

On top of that, there is the tragedy of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and ripped apart with horrifying suddenness four other families. That intersects with us – the worse can happen to any of us at any time. It does not matter of you are rich or poor famous or unheard of – none of us gets a pass on suffering and death. We are all out of control. It’s just not something we are always aware of…

I think there are ways this sense of being out of control has brought all of us in some form to a place of grief. Grief is physical, mental, emotional. It comes to us because of death of a loved one, but also through various goodbyes we make in our lives – changes in friendship, jobs, moving, and other aspects of daily life. C. S. Lewis, in writing on grief after his wife’s death beautifully names some of the multifaceted nature of it. He says,

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

Interestingly Lewis also compares grief to feeling suspense – that tension of not knowing what is coming next. With loss our habits must change, their focus must change…there is unknown that feels suspenseful – we do not know the outcome – the way it will look. 

We see that grief can be rational but also deeply irrational. It bypasses thought while affecting us emotionally and physically. 

I think for us as Americans right now, our grief can become a propensity to be overcome by the irrational – to become immobilized. It is hard to think about things going on, and it is hard to feel about them. But we need to not shut down. 

My guess is Mary and Joseph had some grief going on. Yes, there had been celebration – angels, light, singing – but now it is just daily life. In real time in this narrative it is 40 days after Jesus’ birth. 

And those aspects of grief that are so like fear and suspense were probably happening. They had lost the life they thought they would have. They were on the run. They were in danger. They probably had a truck load of doubt kicking around about all this Son of God stuff and were grappling to even understand what it meant. 

But here’s the kicker for us. Whatever was going on for Mary and Joseph, they kept doing the next thing. And according to the law, the next thing was to go to the temple – for purification, for offering, for presenting. 

The next thing for them was to do what they knew was the right thing to do: present their son and make offering. 

Doing the next right or good thing helps us in grief or times when we are perplexed. That can be fulfilling the law or getting out of bed to brush our teeth. What begins to matter, simply, is that we do it. 

Within in this fulfilling of the law for them, they were also gathering with others. And we saw this last week after Koby Bryant’s death. In response to the news of his death, people gathered at the Staples Center in Los Angles – the arena where the Lakers play their home games – quite spontaneously, and they stayed. It struck me as I saw images of this that they were having church, making meaning. Staying. A need was being met for them by simply being together. And being together with strangers. 

It matters that we gather with others – for church and to make meaning. And that’s what Mary and Joseph did. 

We hear powerful semantics today: Mary and Joseph are offering and presenting. They are bringing themselves to God. They are dedicating to God. 

And as they are around others – and let’s not miss Anna and Simeon are strangers to them - they experience mutual encouragement and affirmation together. They needed each other for this moment. Mary and Joseph needed to hear Simeon, needed to hear Anna. And Simeon and Anna needed to encounter Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the Temple. A deep mutual encounter with strangers. 

Our examples today are to keep doing the next thing, offer ourselves to God, and keep gathering together. 

We need to be aware of offering ourselves to God, of presenting ourselves to God…and in our humanness, as in the days of the Law – this is not a one-time thing. As often as we are aware that we are not offering ourselves to God or dedicating ourselves to God’s purposes – that’s when we need to do it. And don’t make it too hard. A simple and honest prayer to God on your own. Or maybe it is hard so it might be helpful to utilize a friend or maybe it feels super hard, so it might helpful to participate in confession with one of the clergy and in the confidential, beautiful, and gentle office of reconciling a penitent. 

We also need to consciously keep doing the next thing. Let’s personally think about what that is for us - the next good or right thing to do. 

And let us not forsake gathering together, because it’s there – even with strangers - we get the strength to keep going.