Angels Need Space by Vicar Atticus Zavaletta
In the name of God, AMEN.
Today, after a long build up, we have finally gone back in time far enough to hear about Jesus’ birth. We are told: the Holy Spirit made this happen. Jesus is human and divine.
We’re taken up in that story, in its mystery and in its promise. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth seem anything but divine, but we see it through the eyes of the Gospels, and through the many generations of children and adults, reenacting the story of our origins, that show us the Godstory underneath the surface of things.
We see what’s in front of us: a baby born to a young unmarried girl. There are many ways you could tell that story, but the story we tell is that something wondrous is about to happen, something miraculous, something that changes everything. The world hears just another single unwed mother, another mouth to feed, another poor broken family.
But WE hear good news and great joy.
As a church, we have been waiting, hoping—Christians all over the world have spent these last weeks in a spirit of patience and preparation. Slowing down to attend to the soft, quiet sounds of a new day, a new hope, that speak to us of a just and peaceful future.
We’ve been dreaming about what it will be like to welcome God-with-us, Emmanuel, into our hearts and lives. We’ve been preparing, and getting ready. A beautiful vision of heaven on earth has slowly taken shape in our hearts, and our breaths catch with anticipation as we want to say to that vision, “Yes! Welcome!”
In the last month, my breath caught when I saw Karen, our lead acolyte, teaching Evie, our newest acolyte, how to dip her fingers in the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross. And the first time Bradley hurried to lift the altar rail after Communion so that we could take it to those who couldn’t make the stairs. And at Kids Nite watching Judi lead the older kids and the younger ones, and parents with them, in sharing about all the things in their lives they were grateful for. Yesterday watching Michelle, and Rose, and Mileena, help the kids rehearse the Christmas pageant yesterday with humor and tenderness.
My breath caught on Thursday, when I saw Whip lead a ministry of hospitality and tenderly welcome families and friends in from the bitter cold to fellowship. And that same night listening to Mark testify about the time he was praying to God and how he knew that the fox who was howling next to him, was praying with him. And watching others settle into caring conversation--as I realized that those relationships are starting to deepen, and a real community is forming, my breath caught. Seeing young people so willing to step up in leadership. When I sat across the diner from Peggy, hearing her story, and with locked eyes and a smiles, we both said at the same time, “I like you.”
My breath has been catching a lot lately at St. Luke’s.
For others, though, maybe you feel like you’ve been trying to get clear about what we’re preparing for, but don’t yet have the clarity you desire. Maybe you don’t even feel connected to the dreams you once knew, and seem to have forgotten what wonder feels like. Maybe you caught a glimmer but you’re not sure how things will go.
If you find yourself a little lost, a little torn, or a little confused. Look to Joseph. If you’ve found it hard to slow down this season. Or if you’ve seen a glimpse of heaven, but don’t know how to let that dream expand. Look to Joseph.
JOSEPH probably had an idea about how his life was gonna go. He has found a woman to marry, soon he can start having children with her, and building his family, he’s probably pretty excited.
And now his fiancée has gotten pregnant, taking him totally unawares. He has a lot of judgments, makes a lot of assumptions. Joseph thinks he knows what’s going on and how to handle it: just dismiss her quietly, and move on with your life.
What Joseph sees, is embarrassment. What JOSEPH sees, is SHAME. Joseph sees a thwarted plan, and he is going to rescue what he can, perhaps not much, but maybe by shoving it all under the rug and detaching himself from her, he’ll save his face and his lover’s dignity.
But Joseph…. he knows better than that.
He knows enough to give space. Joseph gives space between his apprehension of the situation, and his reaction.
Joseph leaves just enough space for a dream. And thank God for that.
He lays his head down to sleep, resolved to take action in the morning, when suddenly, he sees with God’s eyes, not his own.
Because what God sees when He looks at Mary, is something else entirely. What GOD sees, is salvation. What GOD sees, is a new story of freedom. What GOD sees, is a Messiah not for one group of people, but forgiveness and grace for ALL. What GOD sees, is good news and great joy.
Just enough space for a dream.
But I think that Joseph had likely had times in the past where he didn’t wait. Where he was too quick to act, and neglected the space needed for an angel to travel from heaven in order to greet him with God’s vision. Only relying on HIS sight, on what he perceived. And I bet, that it didn’t get him far.
So I imagine, that Joseph learned over the years. How else could he have had the presence of mind to respond this way to hearing that everything he planned for was falling apart?
Joseph learned to leave a space for God’s dream.
That space can separate a good angel from a bad angel, our highest selves from our lower selves. When Joseph chooses to believe the message from heaven that he should take care of Mary and the child, and love them like his family, he’s hearing from his highest self. He’s hearing, from LOVE.
This is my last Sunday with you. I will miss you and I will miss being here. I’ll miss the chance to imagine God’s dream together. My prayers will be with you as you discern the way forward. I want you to know that I am taking so many blessings with me from my time with you and I will always cherish the moments of true connection and faithful fellowship we shared.
These past months, may have seemed confusing. When things started to change, when different people than expected started showing up, when routines got interrupted, when kids started blessing grown-ups, when people who haven’t been at church in years or maybe ever, wanted to worship with us, some of you got really uncomfortable; and some of you got really excited.
Maybe it was hard to reach for God’s vision because your earthly vision told you: it’s all going to hell in a handbasket, or, even: it’s just no use? Or maybe it was hard to stand up for what you saw God doing, because how could you be sure? You might have felt abandoned when folks didn’t respond the way you thought they should.
But in the midst of every troubling circumstance, in the midst of every shameful occurrence, God’s vision sees possibilities for Love to get up and shine. I have seen that happen at St. Luke’s. I have seen the beautiful hearts in you shine with hope, and with love, and with welcome to the new thing God wants to do in this place. Your neighbors in this community have noticed it. The children in the congregation have noticed it. I hope you have noticed it. But if you haven’t, give God a little time to bless you with a dream.
Right now, St. Luke’s needs angels to show up and talk about God’s dream. Maybe that angel is you. If so, tell us about it. Don’t stay to yourself. And if the people around you aren’t open to it, find people who are.
Give space for angels, and when they show up, listen to them. Give space for God’s dream, and when you see it, talk about it.
It is a confusing and discouraging time in the life of St. Luke’s. It might be a confusing or discouraging time in your personal life. Do not be afraid, there’s an angel who wants to bring good news. Now, when the situation might not look great, remember Joseph. How will you respond now? Will you give space for God, and wake up in the morning, ready to bring His dream to life?
God’s dream needs space to arrive. Angels need space to speak. If we give space, they’ll show up.
Thanks be to God.