God is about to smuggle himself into our world. We stand at the borders of our souls, expecting a glorious, conquering hero to come. After all, this is the infinite Lord of the universe. This is the one who the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins calls, “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled, Miracle-in-Mary-of-Flame.” How can God break into human existence without at least an earthquake?
But listen to the story. There are these two teenagers living in a small town in a backwater country. The boy is a carpenter – an honorable trade, but nothing fancy, and the girl is just a girl named Mary. She is a country girl, someone with calluses on her hands from hauling water and grinding grain. And then something terrible happens. She gets pregnant. These days, we may shake our heads or be embarrassed when a girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, but for Mary and Joseph, this is a life-shattering event. Joseph has every right to break off the engagement, especially since he knows he is not the father of the baby. The best thing to do would be to break the engagement quietly and send Mary off to live with a distant relative until after the baby is born. If the news gets out that Mary is pregnant out of wedlock, she might well be disowned by her family and forced to live the rest of her days as a beggar or a prostitute. But Joseph chooses not to do that. He does the unthinkable. He takes Mary as his wife and takes on the task of helping to raise this unusual child.
Who would expect God, infinitely powerful and infinitely vast, to sneak into the world in such a way? And what is it about these two young people that makes them God’s choice? They are not described in any gospel as particularly outstanding. They are just regular people, like you or me. But they say yes. As Luke tells Mary’s story, she simply says, “Let it be with me according to your word.” And Matthew tells us Joseph’s side of the story. He wakes from his dream and simply goes ahead and does what he believes God wants him to do. It’s not quite what we are used to. This is not glamorous or flashy courage. It is simply the courage of consent. It is the courage of people so clear in their love for God that their “yes” appears easy.
God could come into the world in any way at all. We could have seen Jesus coming in blazing chariots of flame or with conquering armies. But God is not just infinitely powerful and just. God is also infinitely loving and graceful. God is too kind to ever force us into love. God will not break into our lives without an invitation. And God does not ask us to do things that we are unable to do. However, this does not mean that allowing God into our lives comes without cost.
Mary surely understood what her consent would mean. She took a terrible risk to bear the Son of God. And Joseph knew what he was taking on as well. If this was the Son of God, their lives would be completely overturned from that moment on. Joseph and Mary knew that nothing about this child would ever be ordinary or easy. Their “yes” was not the naïve agreement of people who didn’t know what they were in for, and yet they gave consent anyway. Now we begin to see the full dimension of courage that was required of these two young people.
We tend to think of Jesus’ coming as long ago and far away. We don’t generally cast ourselves in the roles of Joseph and Mary. But the fact is that God continues to smuggle himself into the world. He comes quietly, in the lives of ordinary people just like you and me. He doesn’t force himself on us, but slips in quietly, when we say yes to Love. And he asks of us what he asked of Joseph and Mary. He asks us to be transformed, to have our lives changed from the inside out. God asks us to bear him into the world, to love with heart and mind and soul and strength. We may suffer for this love. We can be guaranteed that bearing Christ will not make us live happily ever after. But God promises that if we will simply consent, the world will be changed.
May God give us in these days the eyes and ears to hear his gentle coming and may God give us the courage to say yes.