Advent is well and truly upon us. Christmas trees are up, shopping is in full swing, the lights are glittering on trees and houses.
Yet this year there is a strangeness and fear that many people are feeling. COVID means that much of the world is in lockdown. People are isolated, frightened and alone. The world has changed in the way we now relate to each other, our communities, and ourselves. Many of us cannot travel, cannot see loved ones, and are facing the Christmas period with trepidation and uncertainty.
Advent can speak into this fear in a way that, for me at least, it hasn't before. Mary was a young woman who was asked to take on a burden, a responsibility, that was much bigger than anything she had ever faced. She was asked to carry a child without ever having known a man, knowing that her family and community would assume that she had slept with someone and judge her for it. For who would believe a young girl saying that her child was miraculous, a pregnancy brought on by God? She chose to take on this responsibility, trusting that God would care for her and the child, that she would survive pregnancy and child birth. She had to trust, even though her family and community would shame her, that Joseph may abandon her, that she may end up a single mother in a time where there was no welfare support. She faced isolation, fear, despair, judgement and pain.
Joseph was asked to take on a burden also. First, he had to choose to believe that Mary had not been unfaithful to him. He then had to face his own family and community assuming that he had slept with Mary before they were married, either that or he was a fool and taking on someone else's child. He would have had to face people he knew and loved judging him and thinking less of him, or feeling pity for him for being burdened with a crazy woman and her 'miraculous' baby. He faced isolation, uncertainty, fear and judgement.
Advent was not a time of celebration for the holy family. It was a time of great change, uncertainty, and fear of the future. There were no Christmas lights, no presents to be shared. There was no expectation of celebration and feasting. Much like life during this pandemic, there was only confusion and fear of the unknown.
What made Mary and Joseph special was their choice to trust God even in the midst of all of the craziness. Even when they had no idea how it would all turn out. Even though they didn't know how family would respond. Even though they faced isolation and loneliness. They chose to trust. They chose to trust in a God that had never broken a promise to their people. They chose to trust that God would protect and honour them for what they did. They clung to the hope that history of a God that always came through, even when it seemed hopeless.
In this season of advent, I encourage us to be like the holy family and cling to the promises of a God who does not fail us. In the face of a world that lives in fear, I urge you to trust in God. Trust the promise that this all turns out for the good of those that follow God. We know how this all ends because we have been told. In the end, God wins and we are free of fear and pain.
I am not saying, as many are, that we are in the end times and Jesus is about to return. We have no idea when that will happen! It may be that this generation will see it, it may be in another 2000 years. What we do know, is that no matter what, no matter when, God is with us. God is with us now in the person of the Holy Spirit. We can rest in the knowledge that God will not abandon us to fear and despair. And we know this but looking at our history, reading the stories of people like Mary and Joseph, and seeing that God does not walk away from those who follow him.
As we face isolation and fear, let us remember a young woman and man who were asked to do the seemingly impossible and yet trusted God to carry them through it. Let us remember them and hold fast to our own trust in that same God.