Advent Post #3

“…pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David.” (Luke 1:27)

Joseph was a distant relative of David. It was through him that Jesus, what we’d call a “stepson,” got to claim connection to the most notable king of Israel. If you take a canonical reading of Luke’s gospel (i.e., you accept the reading as the canon offers it), you see a great space in Joseph being the father of Jesus. As the husband of Mary, he became the father of her son. He would father, instruct, and raise him.

Joseph did a powerful thing in raising Jesus. He granted Jesus access to the respected royal lineage of one king God promised would reign forever. Because of Joseph’s family heritage, Jesus would be linked to and embodied as God’s enduring promise.

I don’t know that Joseph found things so royal when Mary announced things. That’s between the lines in the text, unfortunately edited from the sacred pages. We know those conversations happened. Joseph was no super saint. He was a regular one. He worked with hammers and tools and pieces of wood. He made commitments. He stayed with his choices. And he stayed with Mary.

In staying with Mary, he committed to this little child who came from…heaven? On my best days I still scratch my head of the wonder of Mary’s conception. God chooses strange ways to come to us.

Joseph raised Jesus as part of his family, and legally and spiritually it was Joseph’s line that opened to this “stepson” a world of possibility. It was possible for Jesus to be in relationship to David, the revered and loved and remembered monarch so humanly described in our scriptures. And it was possible for Jesus to bridge into all the God said God would do.

Of course, we get Mary’s side of things too. Jesus is a child of God, literally. He comes because of the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing of Mary. The child is a reaction of God’s steady and long-term favor for the world. The Spirit enriched Mary with this divine seed. She received the child from the Holy Spirit according to our scriptures, and we are presented with a Jesus who is doubly-gifted. He is gifted from God on his mother’s side and he is gifted from Joseph on his father’s side. He is raised as a royal man “up one side and down the other.”

May we remember the Josephs of the world while we so quickly recall our blessed Marys. Fathers and mothers bring us into royalty. May God grant us the ability to praise each one who introduces us, links us, and bridges us to the fulfillment of promise.

Thurman on An Island of Peace

A beautiful and significant phrase, “Island of Peace within one’s own soul.”  The individual lives his life in the midst of a wide variety of stresses and strains.  There are many tasks in which he is engaged that are not meaningful to him even though they are important in secondary ways.  There are many responsibilities that are his by virtue of training, or family, or position.  Again and again, decisions must be made as to small and large matters; each one involves him in devious ways.

No one is ever free from the peculiar pressures of his own life.  Each one has to deal with the evil aspects of life, with injustices inflicted upon him and injustices which he wittingly or unwittingly inflicts upon others.  We are all of us deeply involved in the throes of our own weaknesses and strengths, expressed often in the profoundest conflicts within our own souls.

The only hope for surcease, the only possibility of stability for the person, is to establish an Island of Peace within one’s own soul.  Here one brings for review the purposes and dreams to which one’s life is tied.  This is the place where there is no pretense, no dishonesty, no adulteration.  What passes over the threshold is simon-pure.  What one really thinks and feels about one’s own life stands revealed; what one really thinks and feels about other people far and near is seen with every nuance honestly labeled: love is love, hate is hate, fear is fear.

Well within the island is the Temple where God dwells–not the God of the creed, the church, the family, but the God of one’s heart.  Into His Presence one comes with all of one’s problems and faces His scrutiny.  What a man is, what his plans are, what his authentic point is, where his life goes–all is available to him in the Presence.  How foolish it is, how terrible, if you have not found your Island of Peace within your own soul!  It means that you are living without the discovery of your true home.

From Howard Thurman’s “An Island of Peace Within One’s Soul” in Meditations of the Heart

Thurman on Christmas, 3 of 3

This is my third post of Howard Thurman’s meditations relative to Christmas.  In it he speaks of “Gifts on My Altar.”  I hope you can think of gifts you’ve received and gifts you’ve given, particularly as this year turns toward its end.

I place these gifts on my altar this Christmas;

Gifts that are mine, as the years are mine:

The quiet hopes that flood the earnest cargo of my dreams:

The best of all good things for those I love,

A fresh new trust for all whose faith is dim.

The love of life, God’s precious gift in reach of all:

Seeing in each day the seeds of the morrow,

Finding in each struggle the strength of renewal,

Seeking in each person the face of my brother.

I place these gifts on my altar this Christmas;

Gifts that are mine, as the years are mine.

Thurman on Christmas, 2 of 3

The following is a meditation on “The Season of Affirmation.”  It’s also from Meditations Of The Heart.

Christmas is the season of affirmation.

I affirm my faith in the little graces of life: The urgency of growth, the strength of laughter, the vitality of friendship.

I affirm my confidence in the dignity of man: His fortitude in despair, his strength in weakness, his love in hatred.

I affirm my joy in the experience of living: The fragrance of nostalgia, the scattered moments of delight, the exhilaration of danger.

I affirm my need of my fellows: The offerings of faiths, the gifts of variety, the quality of difference.

I affirm my hunger for God: The desire for fulfillment, the ache for understanding, the sense of peace.

Christmas  is my season of affirmation.

Thurman on Christmas, 1 of 3

One of my favorite people, Howard Thurman, writes the following in Meditations Of The Heart.  It’s amazing how relevant his writings continue to be.  I hope this can be meaningful for you as you think about the irony of a greeting like “Merry Christmas,” whether you employ it or hear it.

There is a strange irony in the usual salutation, “Merry Christmas,” when most of the people on this planet are thrown back upon themselves for food which they do not possess, for resources that have long since been exhausted, and for vitality which has already run its course.  Despite this condition, the inescapable fact remains that Christmas symbolizes hope even at a moment when hope seems utterly fantastic.  The raw materials of the Christmas mood are a newborn baby, a family, friendly animals, and labor.  An endless process of births is the perpetual answer of life to the fact of death.  It says that life keeps coming on, keeps seeking to fulfill itself, keeps affirming the margin of hope in the presence of desolation, pestilence and despair.  It is not an accident that the birth rate seems always to increase during times of war, when the formal processes of man are engaged in the destruction of others.  Welling up out of the depths of vast vitality, there is Something at work that is more authentic than the formal, discursive design of the human mind.  As long as this is true ultimately, despair about the human race is groundless.