What Makes You, You?

By The Rev. Anne Michele Turner, Bridge Rector

I invite you to think for a moment about the things that make you, well, you.  What are the building blocks or your identity?  What are the non-negotiables of your life?

Maybe the things on your list are pretty abstract.  You would not be you without your sense of humor.  Or your understanding of language.  Or your deep-rooted compassion.  Or your hunger for justice.

Or maybe they are more immediate.  You are the person who lives in this house on the corner, or who is the parent of this child.  Maybe it’s even plain biological.   You have the curly hair or you’re always the short one.  You are a man.  You are a woman.  You are you.

Now, whatever it is you have imagined—all the you-ness of you—gather it up in your mind.  And toss it all away.  Give it up.  Let go of your hold on everything that makes you you.

Scary, a bit?

This morning we have a gospel story that talks about that process—about giving up the things we think are so essential to our identity, the things we think we need to be ourselves.  This morning, we have a gospel story that asks us to take this really big kind of risk.

The story is Matthew’s version of how Jesus was born.  It’s different from the version we hear on Christmas Eve.  All of that stuff about the journey to Bethlehem and the angels and the shepherds—Matthew doesn’t tell us that part of that story.  He doesn’t talk about Mary hardly at all.  Matthew is interested in Joseph’s story.

And it’s kind of a scary story, if you understand it.  Joseph was betrothed to Mary, which is kind of like being engaged, except a lot more serious than being engaged is now.  Betrothal was a legal contract.  Basically, it meant that Joseph and Mary were already married—they just had to have a party and move in together.   Everything was all set for them to become the people they had planned on being and the people they thought they would become.

And then.  And then Mary is pregnant.  And Joseph knows this is not his baby.  And so clearly he is not going to become the happily married man he thought he was going to become and they are not going to be the happy couple he thought they would be.   And legally Joseph has two choices at this point: he can punish Mary by having people throw stones at her until she dies.  Or he can quietly say she’s not going to be his wife any more.

Both of the choices are pretty lousy.   But Joseph does the kind thing and doesn’t condemn Mary to death and just decides that they will get divorced.  It’s not going to be happy, but at least Joseph goes back to being who he was before.  Matthew calls him a “righteous man.”  He does things they way they are supposed to be done.

And then.

And then there is this invitation from God.  The angel shows up and asks Joseph to marry Mary anyway.  To do this thing that will make the righteous man look kind of scandalous.  To take his peace of mind and swap it out for constant questioning.  To take the most basic assumptions about who he is supposed to be, and put them aside.  To let go.

Could you do it?  I’m not always sure I could.  To take the things that are most important about me—the relationships that matter, the professional accomplishments, the economic security, even the physical well-being—and—open my hand.  Let go.  Put them aside.

But this is the invitation that God makes here before Christmas.  If we are going to welcome Jesus into our lives, we have to be willing to let go of a whole lot of other things.  We don’t always know which things.  They might be some of the most precious parts of who we are.  But whether they are incidental or essential, they are still secondary to Jesus. And that’s a big, big challenge.

God needs us to be willing to put Jesus ahead of just about everything else in our lives.  There’s not always a contradiction—most of the time, in fact, the things that are most important to us are important because God has made them that way.  It’s a good thing, say, to care about family.  But.  And.  This gospel story reminds us that even when we think we’ve got everything tidied up and figured out, God sometimes needs us to loosen our hold and allow something strange and extraordinary and counterintuitive and really, really risky.

It’s an important thing to remember, but it seems especially important in this week.  Because [grown ups] if you are paying attention to the prevailing messages of culture, you will hear that this is the week to get everything finished, and everything neatened up, that this is when we get our houses decorated and our cards with perfect pictures sent off and the gifts wrap until it all looks like something out of a magazine.  Christmas means tradition; it means being the most perfect version of who we have always been.

Don’t pay attention to culture.  Pay attention to the bible instead.  Pay attention to Matthew, who tells us that Christmas is not about getting it all together, but is in fact about letting it all fall apart.   What God asks most of Joseph, or Mary, or any of us in this time is the willingness to welcome in the strangest of strangers, the total surprise that is Jesus’ inconvenient presence among us.  Inconvenient, and yet so much more precious than anything we already know or have.

Giving up the things that matter most.  It’s a scary idea.  But then think of what God offers us: love that matters more than anything we already know or imagine.  Brothers and sisters, it’s worth the risk.  Let go of what you think you need, and open your heart to what God challenges and invites you into.