Advent 2022: Christmas Day
Relinquishing the Status Quo
We meet Joseph, a pious man, in the grip of a dilemma. According to Matthew, he discovered that the young woman he was betrothed to was already pregnant. Soon enough others would learn about his bride’s condition and it would reflect poorly on him one way or another. Likely, the situation kept him up for nights as he weighed his options. What is a righteous man to do in such a precarious situation?
There was a protocol in place for such a situation, a tradition to tell a good man like Joseph exactly what to do should he learn his betrothed was pregnant by another man before the final wedding ceremony. The man must go to the community elders in the public square and make known the situation. This would allow him to protect his reputation and keep his standing in the community. The man would then involve the woman’s family and compel them to return the bride price or impound the dowry. It was standard for the man to receive economic compensation under such circumstances. But this expected practice apparently did not sit well with Joseph.
He decided to handle his dilemma differently. He would divorce her quietly. He would do the necessary things privately. But he would not haul her or her family into the public spotlight and add to her humiliation. Joseph centered her in his personal deliberations – and those calculations challenged conventional expectations. He would not defend his reputation at the further expense of hers. He would forgo the financial recompense he was owed. Before an angel even spoke, we see Joseph as a deeply pious man in ways that would confound the expectations of his own community.
But his dilemma and decision were interrupted by a dream. An angel appeared amid his nocturnal tossing and turning to offer divine instruction. “Go ahead with the marriage, because it is God’s child she carries,” the messenger said. So when Joseph woke up, he took Mary home as his wife and entered into her shame, socially speaking. And when the child was born, he named him, functionally adopting him as his own son. Such an unexpected turn of events.
The first advent narrative reminds us that sometimes piety defies the expectations of our religious community, like it did for Joseph. Sometimes there is a deeper holiness – like centering the vulnerable ones, sacrificing financial gain, even accepting social stigma. When we remember that alongside the Jewish community in the Holy Land exist the Palestinian people – we often are at odds with our community. Too many of our religious and even political affiliations do not recognize the Palestinian people, their legitimate connection to the land, or their decades of loss. To consider them as anything other than terrorists can sometimes put us in line to be called antisemitic. But when we see both the Jewish and Palestinian communities and their deep heritage in the land, we are invited to enter into a solidarity that might cost us our reputation or more. And yet standing for God’s justice for all families in the land, be they Jewish or Palestinian, aligns with God’s invitation to a wider, more generous, and nonpartisan peace.
This Advent season is a good time to again
commit ourselves to God’s justice in the world,
even if it is unpopular and pushes us to
the margins of our social groups.
It is a good time to recommit to God’s jubilee,
which centers the vulnerable people
even if it costs us our reputation or some income.
It is a good time to remember that God’s peace comes
in unexpected ways, often reversing the status quo,
as Joseph embodied.
Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.
CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase
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