What do you tend to do when something does not seem to make sense? Like most of us, you probably dismiss it. We similarly turn away from possibilities that don’t fit with what our ideas, beliefs, and experiences happen to be. In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Joseph was going to dismiss Mary. Mary’s explanation for her pregnancy did not make sense. There was no rational explanation for Jesus’ conception and birth. Joseph, like us, planned to dismiss quietlywhat he did not understand. But, what Joseph believes and knows is too small, narrow, and limiting. I suspect there are times when we’re probably all a lot like Joseph. Have you ever had that deep sense of joy and excitement about something you really wanted to do or be only to begin hearing the negative chatter? “You? Ha, no way! That could never happen.” Have you ever given up on yourself, a dream, or another person, because something about it seemed too implausible? We chalk it up to being just another crazy, irrational, irresponsible idea. Have you ever misjudged a situation or someone else because you couldn’t accept the explanation presented to you and later learned that it came true? Sometimes we assume that if it’s not our experience it can’t happen. It can’t be true so it can’t become a valid experience. We have all had those moments when we dismissed and walked away only to later wish we had waited a bit longer, made a different decision, or spent more time asking, seeking, and knocking.
We can easily dismiss people, relationships, ideas, opportunities, vocations, dreams in our life simply because we don’t understand. Because they or it does not fit our usual experience or expectations. Because they or it does not make sense. Because the explanations are unbelievable. In dismissing what makes no sense, that which we don’t understand or can’t explain, we are refusing to open ourselves to something new. Sometimes what we refuse to open ourselves up to is God. Isn’t that what Joseph is doing when he decides to quietly dismiss Mary? Joseph is dismissing the mystery of Emmanuel, God with us. He is dismissing not just Mary, but the Mother of God, the very one who will give God human flesh, a body, the one who makes Emmanuel possible. That’s what often happens when we are dismissive. We foreclose the life and opportunities God wants to birth in us and through us.
I wonder what we lose every time we demand answers and refuse to live with questions. I wonder how often we miss our own life because we limit it to what we know, what’s familiar, what makes sense, and close ourselves to the not-knowing, to something new, different or unexpected. I wonder if we dismiss God with us by our searching for explanations and understanding rather than trusting and entering into the mystery. Ultimately, as we know, Joseph took Mary as his wife. However, he first had to move beyond what he understood and what made sense. He had to allow God with us to transcend the limits of his knowledge. He had to let go of trying to put it all in terms of a rational explanation. None of that, however, could happen between him and Mary. It would first have to happen with Joseph and God, and it must first happen within us and God as well. It is a shift that must first happen within us.
Matthew doesn’t describe any of Mary and Joseph’s conversations about her pregnancy because they just don’t matter. Making sense of this pregnancy, figuring out and explaining how it happened, is not the point of the story. The shocker is that God becomes real flesh and blood. That means God is with us in people, relationships, ideas, opportunities, vocations, dreams. So why would we dismiss them? God is with you. God is with me. God is with them. God is with us in all the circumstances and situations of our life; in joy and sorrow, in celebration and grieving, in success and failure, in hope and repair, in courage and fear. You name it, God is there with us. That’s the point of this story. Sometimes, however, the truth of what is gets lost or ignored in our attempts to explain how it is, to make sense of it, to make it conform to our understanding. Let us take a moment this Fourth Sunday of Advent to reflect on the following questions:
Who are the people you’ve dismissed?
What relationships or opportunities have you
What dreams have you walked away from?
Why do we do that?
Somewhere in those people, relationships, opportunities, and dreams there was something that made no sense. An explanation was lacking. Something didn’t match our experiences or expectations. We couldn’t understand what was happening. We didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t get straight in our head how it could all work out so we let it go, walked away. A quiet dismissal. In the end we struggled, whether consciously or unconsciously, to recognize and believe Emmanuel, God with us.
Merry Christmas to all of you from all of us,
the Holy Family Parish and Academy staffs!