Trust * An Advent Reflection

Trust * An Advent Reflection by Joel Erickson

 

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Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.[1]

The situation is clear. Joseph is to be married, but his fiancée is found to be with child—not his. There’s only one thing to do: break off the engagement. He would be within his rights to make this a public matter, but Joseph is a man of honor. He will end things quietly, let the girl keep a shred of dignity.

Then he has a dream.

In the dream he is told to ignore what the situation calls for. Stay the course. This is from God. And now Joseph has a choice. He can double down on what he knows, or he can trust.

Trust is proceeding beyond your capacity to verify. It is relying on something, or someone, outside yourself. Trust moves you into a space where you cannot do things on your own—and it is terrifying.

It is no wonder that the angel of the Lord has to tell Joseph not to be afraid. He probably hadn’t been afraid up to this point. Disappointed, frustrated, maybe angry—but not afraid. There was nothing frightening about divorcing Mary. This was the right thing to do, and Joseph had made up his mind to do it. It is rather the prospect of this alternative course of action that now strikes fear in Joseph’s heart: to actually proceed with the marriage on the most preposterous grounds. Joseph is being called to flout everything society has taught him about propriety. Worse yet, he can’t even verify for himself that his reason for doing so is legitimate.

In his Christmas Oratorio, W.H. Auden artfully reimagines the exchange between Joseph and the angel (Gabriel):

Joseph

How then am I to know,   

Give me one reason.

Gabriel

No.

Joseph

All I ask is one

Important and elegant proof . 

Gabriel

No, you must believe;

Be silent, and sit still.[2]

To move forward in trust we must accept the absence of proofs and assurances. But in order to do that, we must first be silent, and sit still. We must silence our many demands, our pleadings and our bargaining. We must cease our frantic flurry of activity, our desperate attempts to manage the ever-increasing multitude of plates that we simply must keep spinning. Only then can we begin to listen. Only then can we hear the voice that is calling us out of ourselves and into this terrifying place where we can do nothing but trust the One whose voice we hear. Only then can we recognize this voice as the voice of One who is supremely trustworthy. Only then can we begin to believe this One when he tells us do not be afraid.

Advent is supposed to be a time for silence and stillness. It is a time for reflection and repentance as we wait for Christ. Today is December 20. There are just a few days till Christmas, and I daresay that for most of us silence and stillness have been hard to come by these past weeks. I might also hazard to guess that, whether we’d admit it or not, we are not terribly bothered by this.

The trouble with silence and stillness is that we might just hear from God—which is something that perhaps we do not want to risk. Like Joseph, we might hear something that disturbs our grasp of the situation, something that calls us to abandon our very reasonable and appropriate chosen course of action. We might just get a terrifying invitation to trust. So, like a child who plugs his ears, shuts his eyes and sings at the top of his lungs to keep from hearing his mother’s voice, we fill our lives with noise and activity—anything to fill the void at the core of our being where we might actually encounter God.

But God draws near anyway. Christmas comes, no matter how we spend Advent. And sometimes God makes himself heard even when we haven’t created the space to listen. He comes to us—in a dream, perhaps—and disrupts our busy lives. This is our invitation to trust. We do not have to banish all of our doubts and fears to accept it. That is not what we are asked to do. All we are asked to do is take the next step.

When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.[3]


[1] Matthew 1:20 in The Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1966)

[2] Auden, W.H. “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio,” in The Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden (New York: Random House, 1945)

[3] Matthew 1:24


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Joel Erickson is a marketing professional who once studied theology. He lives in the Chicago suburbs with his wife and four children.


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