“The Christmas story! I cannot relate to anyone in it!”
I overheard this at Costco the other day and tried to peek past cases of olive oil and jars of truffle carpaccio—“delicious on eggs!”—to see who was speaking. But the shelves were too full and the aisle was crowded. I gave up and instead grabbed me a jar of those truffles and contemplated the next day’s breakfast. I also asked myself, “Who can we relate to in the Christmas story?”
Joseph immediately popped into my head—a man who literally followed his dream. After Jesus was born, God spoke to him in a dream and said, “Flee!” Joseph followed that inner voice even though it must have seemed ridiculous at the time. He and Mary hadn’t been in Bethlehem that long and now they’re supposed to go Egypt? On the strength of a dream?
Why can we relate to him? I think almost everyone, at least once, has followed their inner voice. And I bet we’ve all felt like refugees at one time or another. Some of us left situations to literally save our lives. Others of us left to save our integrity, to save our sense of self, to save our dreams.
We have fled meaningless jobs, abusive relationships, dangerous neighborhoods. We have left behind addictions, grudges, negative attitudes, self-pity. We’ve all been refugees from the land of grief and sorrow. And often we fled, not knowing exactly where we were going or what we would find there. We just knew we had to go.
The Joseph Journey is an ongoing one for all of us. We have to ask ourselves all the time, “What are my dreams telling me? Who is the indwelling Spirit calling me to be? Where in my life, do I need to pack up and move on?”
This week is a perfect time to reflect on those questions because in a way, we’ve been in “advent” for almost two years. “Advent” from the Latin adventus meaning “coming.” We’ve waited for the coming vaccine; for the coming treatment; for the coming end of the pandemic. For some people COVID has been a gift because the lockdown gave them time to ponder and dream. Many listened to that inner voice and left their stultifying jobs.
I was thinking hard about Joseph as I pushed my basket out of Antarctica AKA the Produce Section of Costco. Straight in front of me was an enormous (it couldn’t be otherwise) display of pomelos. What the heck? Pomelos are grapefruits who have been working out and taking steroids. They are absurdly large–the size of basketballs. I found them horrifying.
I can only guess that the infant in the basket on the other side of the display had the same reaction. She opened her little rosebud of a mouth and let out a piercing scream that hurt my eyes.
I get this! I often feel like a tiny baby at Costco. Everything is so BIG and there’s so much of it. There are so many people. Usually I just whimper quietly but I often feel like shrieking! I gave the baby a sympathetic nod and quickly moved away because she kept screaming and even the pomelos were wincing.
And that is when the Baby Jesus popped into my head. Maybe it’s not so much that I identify with him as I aspire to be the Baby Jesus. Yes, not the adult, but the baby and here’s why.
If we are to be the Baby Jesus, then we are being vulnerable which includes accepting love and care from others. It’s so hard for us to do this because we are adult Americans! We’re all about self-sufficiency and independence and personal power and productivity. Who could be less independent and self-sufficient than a baby? And unless you count diapers, babies are not real productive.
Notice I didn’t include “powerless,” because we know that they have the power to make us get up every two hours. Or move away from the pomelos. So babies are not without power. What I’m saying is that as the Baby Jesus, we are called to be vulnerable and open with another.
Have you ever noticed how when you meet someone new or even run into a friend, there is no real connection made unless you are vulnerable with one another? Remember in the Before Times when we’d go to a holiday party and meet a new person? Often they would give you their resumé: where they went to school, where they work, their job title, how long they’ve been there. Often it’s because we ask the usual question, “What do you do?”
That’s not what the Baby Jesus would ask. He’d ask, “What gives you joy in your life right now?” “What was your biggest surprise this week? Who made you laugh today?” Those questions ask the other person to be a little vulnerable.
On the other hand, when you ask a Baby Jesus question you are vulnerable too! Because the risk is that the other person will think, “Who is this woo-woo touchy feely, half-baked Dr. Phil wannabe?” But probably not. So we ask a Baby Jesus question and then we listen.
And when we are really listening to one another, that is when we are bearing Light. Others in our presence will sense it. Perhaps it won’t be exactly like those Christmas cards that have light coming out of the manger as if Baby Jesus swallowed a light bulb. But maybe!
So this week let’s think about Joseph and following our dreams and listening for God’s voice. (Of course we are always learning how to trust.) And can we be the vulnerable light-filled Baby Jesus and bring love and joy and peace to the world? Yes, we can!
Pro Tip: Avoid pomelos and stay out of Costco.