Monday, December 23, 2013

The Spirituality of Advent, Day 2, Week 4

So yet another perspective on spirituality and love at the time of Advent. Today, the reading in church was what the priest described as the annunciation for Joseph. There is the standard “annunciation” to Mary that we celebrate in the Catholic church. What the priest pointed out was that today’s reading, where the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph to tell him not to divorce Mary and to marry her and accept the child to whom Mary will give birth. This was the first mass at which I recall a priest pointing out that before the dream, Joseph would have gone from a guy who was excited to be getting married to suddenly thinking that his wife-to-be had cheated on him. On top of that, the normal penalty for adultery was to be stoned. That put the “Joseph was a just man” in a completely new light. Just divorcing her (his plan before the angel appeared to him) would have been a gift. Love. Part of something bigger even before the angel appeared to him.

I heard the story three times this weekend. First, at the Lessons & Carols celebration on Saturday evening. Then at mass this morning with the wonderful interpretation of Fr. Ray Chase. Finally, again at the Lessons and Carols this afternoon. And, much to my surprise, I did a much better job paying attention during the afternoon/evening Lessons and Carols celebration.

I mentioned yesterday that God sending the Son is a manifestation of Love for humanity and shows “something bigger.” The story of the “annunciation” to Joseph put him in something bigger. Taking in Lessons and Carols is something bigger. Hearing my son read the first lesson about God finding Adam and Eve naked in the garden the first time they recognized that they were naked before God is a part of something bigger. Hearing him read it with a sense of surety, purpose, enunciation, and decisiveness was a wonderful gift. I almost chose not to go see Lessons and Carols a second time, but it was wonderful seeing it a second time and seeing him read in a way that rivaled the purpose and the clarity of many of the adult readers.

Fr. Ray in his homily talked about how the annunciation to Joseph was representative of an annunciation to each of us. That really hit home. A reminder of God showing his love not just for Mary through the annunciation to her, not just to Joseph through what was essentially an annunciation to him, but to each of us. God’s love for each of us. God’s desire to save people from their sins. To save Joseph. To save each of us. Emmanuel means God is with us. God is with each one of us. More love. More “bigger picture”.

And one other thing that I thought about today was during the song “In the Bleak Midwinter”. This song always connects with me as when my kids were much younger, I sang in the community choir for the Festival of Light at the school. I wrote about the Festival of Light previously as I shared my version of the interpretation of the Advent Wreath this year. This year there was no community choir. That is unfortunate, but it is just a sign of the times and how busy people are. Regardless, I don’t think I have heard “In the Bleak Midwinter” at a Waldorf Festival of Light in a while. Although I believe they sing it most, if not all, years at the Lessons and Carols for boychoir.

Today, thinking about the “bigger picture” and the annunciation, and love, I thought about the last line.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
How do I read this? I read this with the following meaning.

I am not “poor” in a purely financial sense. In a purely financial sense I am lucky enough to be at a high level of income and have a lot saved for retirement even at age 43. But we have a small house. And I have so little to give when it comes to time. So, I don’t feel like I have a lot to give. And I recognize that in the sense of the Beatitudes, I am poor in spirit.

With the statement, “If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,” I think of the things I can do being a function of the things I do well. What do I do well? I share my story. That seems to touch some people. I run. And I offer my running to God. I bake and cook and I offer those to God. I try to be there for friends and family. And I offer that to God. I offer what I have.

The line about “If I were a wise man, I would do my part” is just a reiteration of giving what you have.

And the final phrase, “Yet what I can I give him him?/I will give my heart.”  
This sums up the theme of love at the close of Advent. I give God all my love. I give others my love. I give it because it is what I have to give. Love can mean many different things in different contexts. But the key is that if I have nothing else to offer, I can offer caring, listening, adapting, adjusting, perceiving, and being there. 

That is a cool lesson to take from a combination of mass and two performances of Lessons and Carols. I give what I can when I can to whom I can. And it all comes down to love to be shown in many different ways. And the message comes from all that God has done and all that God shares with each of us about his plans for each of us and the relationship of his son with each of us.

(Final note—I’m agnostic as to whether God is male or female, but it is just simpler to use “his” to refer to something belonging to God than to try to split the difference here.)

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