Thursday, December 24, 2020

Courage to Accept Disruption

Christmas Day (Vigil Mass)

Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 88(89):4-5,16-17,27,29; Acts 13:16-17,22-25; Matthew 1:18-25

Picture: cc Mecklenburg County

My dear friends, as you know, several times this past year, the government has distributed masks for free. Did you go and collect them? All of them? Very likely, for many of us, doing so would have meant disrupting our usual routine, at least to some extent. Did you accept the disruption, and claim the gift? What made you decide to do it… or not?

I ask because we find something similar in our Mass readings for Christmas Eve. In the gospel, poor Joseph has to do something that any husband would find difficult. When his plans for a happy family are disrupted by the discovery that Mary is pregnant with someone else’s child, Joseph is told in a dream to accept the disruption. He is asked to do three things: To proceed with the wedding, to name the baby, and to establish both mother and child in his own household.

A wedding, a naming, and the establishing of a household. Strikingly, these are the same three things that we find in the first reading and the psalm. Sinful though Israel may be, God promises to accept her as bride. And not just to accept her, but even to delight in her. To rejoice in the integrity that God promises to bestow upon her. God also promises to give her a new and blessed name, and to establish for her an eternal and royal household. I will establish your dynasty for ever and set up your throne through all ages

In the second reading, we’re told that this incredible promise, made by God to Israel, finds its fulfilment in Christ. Which helps us to see the deeper significance of what Joseph was asked to do. Difficult and disruptive though it must have been for him to accept Mary & Jesus as his own, by doing so, Joseph claimed the gift that God had promised to Israel and, through Israel, to the whole world. Just as Mary’s acceptance allowed God to be born a human being, through Joseph’s acceptance, God was born into a human family.

In short, by accepting disruption, Joseph was able to claim a priceless gift for himself and for his household. The gift of eternal salvation. But what about us? We who dare to celebrate Christmas this year, while the world still reels from the effects of an ongoing pandemic. Could it be that it is precisely within the painful disruption, that Christ is choosing to be born? Could it be that it is only by somehow accepting disruption, as Joseph did, that we may also claim the gift? 

I’m reminded of these lines written by the Dutch Jesuit, Peter van Breemen

(The theologian, Paul) Tillich defines faith as "the courage to accept acceptance" and he means acceptance by God. We may think that such faith does not demand much courage. On the contrary, it may sound sweet and easy. But courage is required and very often it is courage that is lacking…

Sisters and brothers, at Christmas, God offers us something far costlier than a free mask. What must we do to obtain the courage to accept disruption, and to claim the gift, for ourselves, for our families, and for our world today?

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