We are heading into the 4th and final Sunday of the season of Advent.
After hearing Jesus talk about the end of the world and then two weeks of John the Baptist, the fourth Sunday finally gets us to the familiar stories that we usually associate with this time of year. Mary and Joseph finding out that Mary is pregnant.
The annunciation as it is called, is a beautiful story that also gives us the Magnificat: Mary’s song about God’s faithfulness, throwing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly.
But there is also a certain awkwardness to the fourth Sunday in Advent. It is a reminder that our beloved Christmas story begins with an unwed teenage mother and her near escape from being tossed onto the streets by her partner. We then see two new parents living in poverty unable to provide the basic necessities of life for their family – including a safe place to give birth.
This week as I drove down Portage Ave., I saw the bus shelters that have been taken over with folks living in them. I couldn’t help but imagine the Holy Family taking refuge in one of these makeshift lodgings, with no room at the shelters or soup kitchens or rooming houses.
We don’t usually associate these kinds of images with the nativity scenes that we haul out of storage at this time of year. In fact, the Holidays are often a time where we enforce a certain dissociation with all the hard and difficult things happening in the world.
This Advent has been more muted than previous ones. In 2020, there was a certain novelty with doing “zoom Christmas”, combined with the hope that came with the announcements of new vaccines. Last year, we were anticipating a more normal Christmas right through Advent and up until the 11th hour when Omicron snatched it away.
But this year, even knowing there would be no health measures that will take our gatherings away, the Holidays of our nostalgic longings haven’t magically returned. Instead we are living with a lot of uncertainty, in the middle of world that is struggling under burdens of a lingering pandemic, surging flu, overrun hospitals, affordability and inflation, stories of tragedy and violence in our community, the stories of war that are lingering still in Ukraine.
If feels like all the things that could go wrong this year have gone wrong, and now we are trying to just have a “normal” Christmas.
Maybe that is why the awkward story of Mary and Joseph is helpful this week. Maybe it is the reminder we need that the Christmases of our warm and fuzzy memories maybe aren’t the true version of Christmas that we believe them to be.
Messiah comes into our world, even and especially when it doesn’t look like we hoped it would. Messiah comes to us right where we are and brings light to this world and our lives as they are today.