Matthew 1: 18- 25
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yetdid not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
I may be the last of the remnant generation who grew up on the steady and bland diet of watching Doordarshan, as my father refused to give in to my endless rants to subscribe cable TV. So I tried all the tricks to tune in cable TV as very grainy versions I could manage by wasting my time on the terrace, trying endlessly to make the TV antennae and the cable wire meet. Don’t ask me what was the science or the logic of it. Sometimes it worked and most times it did not, which is not surprising. To cut the long story short, I had to live on endless nonsense on DD like Alif Laila, Alibaba when my friends discussed ‘Friends’ and ‘Bold and the Beautiful’. My friend asked me what is my favorite serial, and I remarked “Rukavat ke liye khed hai: Sorry for the interruption”. And he looked puzzled. It was just my attempt of being sarcastic as a teenager, I had to paint everything in dark by exaggerating. The transmission of the programme went off air, with rainbow colors on your screen and a very annoying tone accompanying, right at the time of an interesting cricket match, when the ball is in the air and you kept guessing what happened and there comes the most hated lines “Rukavat Ke liye khed hai: Sorry for the interruption”
In our lives we have certain calculations and goals that we set. These become your milestones in life. After my graduation I will try to write GRE and study abroad. In another 2 years I should get a job to pay off my loans. By the age of 27, I should get married. As my friend Wret used to say “Dude I wanna earn real quick and fast and before you give that awful judgmental look, I wanna earn so that I can retire by the age of 35 and then chill.” So we all have such expectations, dreams, desires that give meaning to our pursuit for happiness. But more often than not, life is not privy to our dreams or our goals. We hit roadblocks. Expectedly or unexpectedly one fails in a subject, fails to get the job she/he dreamed of. One loses a job with lots of loans and dues to clear. Dreamt of a fairytale wedding and ended up in a nightmare. A near one dies, leaving a huge vacuum in our lives. These are all the scenarios and even more when life gets seriously interrupted and God is not kind enough to say “Sorry for the interruption”.
Joseph too had very ordinary dreams. Dreams to get married to his beloved and have a quiet family life. And his betrothed Mary comes up with the news of being pregnant. What a scandal? And even more she comes up with a weird explanation. She says that she has conceived by the Holy Spirit. Who would believe it? He could see people talking about it. When in the market he could imagine the stares that he would undergo. Life is seriously interrupted. And he has two options in front of him. One is to expose her so that she is publicly stoned as per the law, and the other is to silently divorce her.
When life gets interrupted, we get anxious to fix it. We are dismayed that our own expectations hurt us and resolve never to expect anything. The hurt of betrayal is a deep wound. And to top it all, the endless questions and stares of the people to deal with. And divorce it is. Joseph decides that the first thing that he will do tomorrow is to get rid of Mary silently. With great clarity he knows that he is now in control. And then he goes to sleep. Sleep is very tricky. You are just not in control. I unrealistically set the alarm at 5 AM. But sleep rules me down to fail my New Year resolution to wake up early. When we used to go to youth camps my friends were afraid to sleep next to me as I kick those who sleep next to me and snore annoyingly and to top it all, I used to even talk. My only consolation was that another friend of mine sleep walked. I cannot say I will not snore, or kick or talk while asleep. Soji seems like a gladiator to have put up with all this. In sleep, we are not in control of the dreams that come to us. So when Joseph was not in control, in a dream, an angel invaded him saying “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 20-21). He is now to decide, whether to be compelled by his hurt, the stares and talks of the people or to consider the gentle whisper of God in the night to accept Mary as his wife and to protect the child. It is a matter of interpretation. One who’s cynical can easily rubbish this off and work from the logic of hurt and revenge. But Joseph interpreted the dream accordingly and acted upon it. Michael J Marsh beautifully says that Joseph had to let go off the fear, anxieties, and imagined scandals and let God take control. He emptied himself and became the womb that would protect Mary and the child from the rage of Herod and the stares of the community. His interpretation led to a creative action. Christmas is the story of two wombs where Mary offers her womb to bear the Child Jesus and Joseph who emptied himself and became the womb. When life interrupts let us not succumb to knee jerk reaction. Let us submit to God by letting go off our anxieties, worries, panic and wait for God to talk in the silence of night, in the deafening pain of waiting.
Joseph realized the scandal was not that Mary was pregnant, but the scandal was that God is in our midst. Scandal is not about the question of faithfulness of Mary but the divine faithfulness of God who would condescend to be man. God would be installed in our midst. God is in our midst. God is here. He is Immanuel. But in circumstances like the above, he seems absent. He seems distant. How do we make sense of Immanuel? The question is are we emptying ourselves to bear the message of God to reach out to people in pain? If this statement makes no sense, let me close with an illustration.
Rev E.J. George is a stalwart priest of the Mar Thoma Church. My first experience of him was when I was rushing to the Kottayam Market to buy vegetables for the seminary mess. Achen, who had never met asked me if I am from the seminary. I answered in the affirmative. He asked me all my family details. And I very impatiently kept answering him. And I thought this would finish with the answers, so that I can be back on track, buying vegetables, I was wrong. In midst of the market, he held my hands and prayed. I was shocked. I never knew somebody would pray for me in midst of a busy market. My rush was over. I had deeply felt the presence and nearness of God. If this was not enough, in 3 days time I get a postcard addressed to me from E.J.George Achen with a quote on it and assurance of prayer for my parents. But that’s not where the story ends. It is only the beginning of another beautiful strand of story. My cousins Mary and Susan lost their mother on 26th November 2014. My cousin Rev. Mathews George and I received this news when we were at the Annual Clergy Conference. I recollected the 13 months struggle that this family went through when Kunjumol aunty suffered from Cancer. But I was truly amazed at how aunt and the entire family faced this. Mary and Susan tried their best with prayer and service to prolong their dear mother’s life. Even Babu Uncle was hopeful and realistic. Everytime she succumbed to a series of illness, the trend was she would overcome it and comeback by God’s grace. So when in the end of November when she was seriously ill with a lot of complications, we all hoped that she would once again triumph. More so, both the daughters hoped this would be the case. But it was not to be. When we reached Mumbai at our aunt’s house, we were moved to see the mortal remains of our dear aunt and heartbroken to see the tears of our cousins. Once the funeral service at home was over, we were ready to head towards the church. My cousin Mathews George Achen, Mary, Susan and myself were in the same car. It is at that time Georgie aka Mathews George achen told us that while he was rushing home from the Annual Clergy Conference at Kozhencherry, Kerala, he happened to meet Rev E. J. George Achen. When Georgie tried to excuse himself by saying that he was rushing to the funeral in Mumbai of his aunt, Achen insisted to know more. He asked about the daughters and family. And after hearing all this, E.J. George achen took two hand written notes from his Bible to be given to the daughters. The note is a poem that is credited to anonymity. The poem “He takes only the best” is as follows.
“God saw she was getting tired
And a cure was not to be
So he put his arms around her
And whispered, ‘Come with me’
With tear filled eyes we saw her
Suffer and fade away
Although we loved her deeply
We could not make her stay
A golden heart stopped beating
Hardworking hands put to rest
God broke our hearts to prove to us
He takes only the best”
After reading the note, both daughters were deeply surprised. How could an achen who is a complete stranger talk to them miles away directly to their hearts? Mary quipped “This poem is the answer to our prayer. God definitely has spoken to us.” I could see how much this great gesture had partly healed the sisters. Achen who is ready to stop and know about others, who writes small notes of healing and comfort for people he has not seen, became the womb that carried the message “Immanuel, God is in midst of this. He is here”
(The photo inserted is the photo of the note given by Rev E.J. George)
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal