1 Samuel 2:1-10

Matthew 1:18-25

In this week’s Gospel passage, Joseph is pondering what to do about his soon-to-be-wife’s pregnant predicament. Matthew tells us that Joseph was “faithful to the law” (NIV) or “just” (ESV), and also that he was kind—he was trying to find a way out of this predicament for everyone that would preserve as much dignity as possible, perhaps especially for Mary. 

Yet it is right in this internal discussion about what the right thing to do that an angel appears. The angel tells Joseph, “Wait, wait, wait!” Joseph wasn’t considering the full picture. Joseph was thinking about what was just, which is a very, very good start. But the angel instructed him to also think about what God’s spirit was up to—and, as is so often the case, God’s spirit was up to something big! Something surprising!

As I’ve let this passage simmer in my heart, I’ve realized how often many of us try to get away with staying in the realm of thinking about what is just or what is right. Justice is important! But the angel to Joseph can remind us all that we can’t just stop at our internal, intellectual discussions. We are told that the important things are to love justice and to walk humbly with our God. And while God is always about justice, it won’t always look like the rules or our expectations. And if we aren’t walking around with our eyes and ears open to seeing where God is at work (or if we aren’t receiving angel visitations!), we might miss it. Imagine if Joseph quietly divorced Mary and declined the opportunity to parent the divine!

In our Old Testament passage this week, Hannah reminds us in her song that God is all about flipping our expectations upside down. We see it here in our gospel passage as well—it’s not just the infertile that are pregnant, but the young virgin is pregnant, too. Societal and religious expectations are thrown out the window as Joseph takes Mary as his wife. The creator of all things is now called Immanuel who walked and talked and ate with us!

In my daily life as a missionary in Cambodia, I often come into contact with reminders that God is up to surprising things. Even as Cambodia’s churches have gone through almost two years of pandemic restrictions and the country as a whole has endured extreme economic hardships, we have seen God moving and working. Churches have not been allowed to gather for much of the last two years. But the head of one region shared how despite the restrictions, because of her healing prayer for a sick person, a new church was born. Our partners with the Cambodia Baptist Union have responded to hunger with rice distributions and found surprising favor with a government that is predominately Buddhist and sometimes inhospitable to believers. Another pastor shared how, even with churches closed, she’s been able to continue to visit people living in prison. And in fact, she shared at the Bible training, here is a man right here who was just released! He had come to faith and also had come with her to the training. 

Yet, even as I often see these examples of God moving in surprising ways, it’s still easy for me to forget to ask God to open my eyes to what the Spirit is doing instead of relying on my cultural and spiritual understanding of what is right and just. God, please continue to send your messengers to remind us!

This advent, as we wait and long for what is to come, may we follow the instructions of the angel and think not just of justice, but also about what the Spirit of God is up to in us, in our families, and in the ever expanding Kingdom of God-With-Us. May we have eyes that are open to seeing what God is doing and join in. May we, like Hannah, be ready to sing the song of God’s often surprising, paradigm shifting, and always wonderful faithfulness. 

Lauren Brewer Bass is Cooperative Baptist Field Personnel serving in Cambodia, wife to David and mom to Chloe and one on the way.

Cover Image: Pastor Kongyu, on the left, chats with members of a “Covid-era church” that was born unexpectedly during a period of country-wide restrictions.

This blog series made possible in part by a gift from Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC.

If you or your congregation is also using Year W this liturgical year, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at meredithstone@bwim.info. Further resources and online conversation about using the Year W lectionary can also be found at Wilda Gafney’s website: https://www.wilgafney.com/womenslectionary/