Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)
The gospel text is kind of awkward and uncomfortable this week. Joseph is thinking about leaving Mary. The idea of marrying her and raising a child that is not his own is more than he thinks he can handle. Understandably he doesn't buy her story about being impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Matthew tries to give him a bit of a pass. He's going to separate from her quietly. But people are still going to know. Sure, he's not dragging her into the town square to be stoned to death, but he is still planning on leaving her.
Maybe he's hurt. Maybe he's heartbroken. Maybe he's a coward. I don't really know. Each time I read this passage, I feel differently about Joseph. I feel sympathy for him. I want him to man up. All I know is that God rescues him from the eyes of history via a dream. Joseph stays with Mary and sits across from her in a million manger scenes two thousand years later. Did Mary know he was going to leave? Did that road nearly taken haunt him? It's a thorny passage with which to grapple on Christmas' doorstep.
So I'm going to pivot, which might be a coward's way out. But as I see that title--"Don't Leave"--sitting at the top of the page, my mind drifts. It wanders to many I know who are grappling with whether they are going to leave the church. The reasons are as varied as the individuals who carry them. It could be that something has broken down in their own local congregation or faith has careened into a brick wall of doubt. The elephant in the room for many is the result of the most recent presidential election. Maybe they're hurt. Maybe they're heartbroken. Maybe they are simply just done.
Unlike Joseph, I can't exactly call this the coward's way out. I understand. Faith often seems like more than one can handle. And quite frankly, it's hard to buy our stories about Jesus considering the way in which we sometimes act.
But if I may be permitted to say one thing during this homestretch of Advent, it is this:
The church can be royally screwed up, but it can also be bigger and more beautiful than we can imagine. Look for the beauty. Look for the places that ring in harmony with Jesus. They may be hard to find and they won't always be in tune. But I believe the search is worth it. This world needs people who love God with their whole being and love their neighbors as themselves now more than ever. And the church needs you, with everything that only you can bring to the table, to be a part of the mission of God in this world. You matter. You are important. You are wanted. And you are needed to contribute to something great. If you do not hear that, please find a place where you can.
But don't leave. If you can, hold on. It's dark now, but I have to believe that there will be a light.