Advent 4A: Remembering God’s Promise
By: The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff
The circumstances of his impending marriage were significantly less than ideal. The year they got betrothed, Joseph discovered that she was pregnant. How? By whom? Who could possibly believe Mary’s preposterous claim that the “Holy Spirit” impregnated her? How dumb did she think he was?
How devastated Joseph must have been as he wrestled with his hurt and anger over what he assumed was her unfaithfulness, and the betrayal of all his hopes and dreams for marriage. And yet, he attempts to do “the honorable thing.” He plans to end the engagement quietly, so as not to draw negative attention to her, but certainly also not to his own embarrassment. How to tell to family and friends why the engagement was suddenly off? How does one explain, after all, that he has been cheated on by God?
What do we do when our dream for the future suddenly ends, with no satisfactory explanation?
I remember the hurt and pain I felt when a dating relationship came to an end, whether I was on the receiving or initiating side of the breakup. Gone were the golden hopes for a future of shared companionship, dashed were the dreams of fulfillment from my loneliness, rent asunder were the mental photographs of a joy-filled future. Over and over again, it seemed that I would meet the “right” person only to experience hurt, anger, and betrayal when the relationship didn’t develop to meet my expectations. I often felt “cheated on” by God—why wasn’t God providing the wonderful person, the wonderful future, I dreamed of? Perhaps Joseph felt the same.
What do we do when our dream for the future suddenly ends? What do we do when the perfect job doesn’t materialize, when all the time and energy and study we’ve invested into that particular career path is wasted? What do we do when a marriage doesn’t work out the way we hoped it would, and we are suddenly facing a divorce? What do we do when our child falls prey to addiction, and we are made to face questions about our failures as parents? What do we do when we develop cancer and our very life is under the threat of death? In these difficult, painful moments of life we may feel, like Joseph, that we have been cheated on by God. If we are doing what we are supposed to, if we are following God the way we believe we are called to, life just shouldn’t work this way, right?
And yet… in the very moment of his despair, God sends Joseph The Dream. Not just any dream. Not just a dream of explanation. God overshadows Joseph with God’s own hopes for a glorious future, God’s own Great Dream for humanity. God’s dream of a future when humanity is reconciled with a God who desperately loves God’s own creation. Through Jesus, God will transform the world itself. Through Jesus, God will save God’s people from their sins. This is the message, promise, dream that God gives each one of us: Jesus is Emmanuel. God is with us.
In his book, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes that “we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end” but, he continues,
…there is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now—in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally… Indeed, God is transforming the world now—through us—because God loves us.
Joseph’s life certainly didn’t work out the way he expected it would. Joseph’s own life was transformed; he played a key role as father to God’s own Son. Joseph and Mary were given the monumental task of raising Jesus into the man he would become. In order to live into God’s dream, in order to play his role in God’s story, Joseph had to be willing to give up some of his own dreams. Small as they were in comparison to God’s, that had to be a painful process, full of uncertainty and unknowns. But in the midst of the uncertainty, Joseph clung to the memory of the message God gave him, the promise of the glorious future which Joseph would help birth into being.
God doesn’t come to save our dreams; God comes to save us. When facing life’s heartbreaking moments of loss and grief, what we do is remember. We remember God’s promise that God is with us. We remember God’s promise of redemption.
Remembering God’s promise is not a passive acceptance of whatever happens to us. Remembering God’s promise is an active choice to trust that God will never abandon us, even in the moment of our greatest need. Remembering allows us to let go of the illusion of control we have over our lives, and it gives us the strength to let go of our dreams and expectations in favor of God’s great dream. Remembering God’s presence with us allows us to move forward without fear—even into an unknown future.
The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff is rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Winchester, Kentucky and is part of the Network for Pastoral Leadership and Congregational Development. Her greatest joy as a priest is walking with people who seek and follow Christ in deep relationship with each other. Chana believes that God’s grace is extended to all, and that nothing is impossible when we truly seek and attend to God’s call to us! In her spare time, Chana can be found dancing Lindy Hop and teaching basic swing, enjoying conversation and caffeine at a coffee house, or exploring local attractions and foodie hangouts in the Kentucky countryside. Chana lives in Winchester with her husband, TJ, and their two dogs, Molly and Momo, and their hedgehog, Jacob.