Being Alongside

December 17, 2009 This past Sunday we reviewed the story of Joseph and the fear he faced as the pledged husband of Mary. Through our advent series, Monsters Inc., we are discovering how profoundly the variety and complexity of human fear is embedded in the Christmas story. We are being reminded that the real and unvarnished truth of Christmas is not all sweetness and light, but deeply human, deeply challenging. And that is what makes the Christmas story all the more a gloriously good story.

Let’s think about Joseph for a few minutes. I cannot help thinking of him as the man at the edge of the action. Most classic Christian art of the holy family pictures Mary and child in loving embrace at the center, while Joseph looks on from the side. While I think we need to re-imagine this reality, it is a birth story after all, and don’t we men feel ceremonially present but functionally useless when children are being born. We do.

But might this illustration from birth roles actually represent a way we all experience life? That is, while there are times when we are at the center of the action, there are also times when we are called to be alongside the action -- one step removed from the center, yet implicated. See if you can picture how this has worked in your own life. Consider when you have been the support, the background, the one who must choose what to do in light of what is happening to others.

It is fascinating to consider how differently the Christmas story is told in the two gospels that tell it. Aside from differing details (Matthew includes the wisemen, while Luke includes the shepherds), one of the clearest distinctions between the two tellings is the perspective of the main characters. Luke tells the story through Mary’s experience (see Luke 1:26ff), while Matthew recounts Joseph’s experience as he responds to what is happening to Mary (Matthew 1:18ff). Apparently, we need to reflect on both sides.

Sometimes we are on the inside of the story, and other times we are alongside. We experience both dynamics. What is important for us is to live both sides well, and to realize that each has its own unique challenges. And if you are right now in a supportive role to someone else, do it well. Don’t be afraid to do it well. We can find God where we are, and move forward in the stability of his “fear not”.

See you this Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11.

Bob Osborne

For further reflection on the story of Joseph, read Matthew 1:18-25 and 2:13-23, and consider the following: 1. How have you tended to react to circumstances thrust on you from the outside? 2. Based on Joseph’s moral dilemma, what are the necessary ingredients for good decision making? 3. What is your experience with spiritual experience/mystery/intuition in the living out of your life? What stories of divine mystery have shaped your life? 4. How has your opinion of Joseph changed as you have thought through the challenge of his life?