I imagine that in the patriarchal culture of their day, Mary and Joseph thought that their situation spelled finality. They were an unwed couple in a society where women having children out of wedlock branded them as impure and, therefore, unworthy of marriage. And without a husband, women were among the most vulnerable and practically helpless. For a man, being engaged to a woman bearing a child that didn’t belong to him was an irreparable stain on his honor, as well as on the name of his whole family. Mary’s pregnancy made it look like it was all over for her and Joseph. But they remained faithful, and God made a way out of no way for them. Their temporal situation was Chapter One in a story that God, who transcends time, keeps writing. And God keeps nudging us to participate in that hopeful authorship.
Enduring pandemic days of isolation, especially during these colder weeks when night engulfs the day always before we’re ready for it to, has a feeling of finality to it. After nine months without traditions and rituals involving physically gathered community and human touch, our beloved normalcy can seem like it’s all over. Even though recent news about dependable vaccines sounds promising, when we are numbed to the possibility of a way being made out of no way for so long, such promises hit like more of a tease than an assurance. But, like the holy couple in antiquity, like the Christians forced to dwell in the Catacombs of Priscilla in the first centuries to practice their faith, like so many throughout a history that we easily forget when the present seems final, there are new stories waiting to be written for us and by us. This the impeccable hope I’m reminded of during a peculiar Advent season, because those seemingly impossible new stories are reminders that God is with us, that we are Beloved and necessary in this particular time, and that nothing can take that comfort and joy from us.
Last night, the 12-year-old in our home had an orchestra concert. It was an indoor event, held at a high school auditorium. Avoiding all indoor gatherings except for the quick rush in and out of grocery stores, I was skeptical and bordering on resentful. On top of that, Ruthie was nervous about playing her violin in front of people for the first time in over a year. But, when we were greeted at the door by an usher wearing gloves and a mask under a plexiglass faceguard and then led to our seats, which were twenty feet away from the closest person in a crowd with limited seating, I felt more at ease. What’s more, we were in that space for all of 20 minutes, during which time the orchestra warmed up and played five pieces. Still, that brief window of time, when we saw her up there on a stage and heard the music she and her peers had worked for the last several weeks to perform together, my skepticism washed away, and resentment gave way to grace.
After that concert, there was something we noticed about the girl that we’d almost forgotten. There was this undeniable joy emanating from her that we had only seen in fleeting moments throughout the pandemic, a joy that even nine months of numbing isolation couldn’t snatch away from her, a joy that I have faith will flourish exponentially more in the days ahead. It was a quick concert, a passing moment, but I have a feeling I’m going to look back on it as a rich chapter in a comforting, joyful story that is just getting started.
In this time of isolation that seems like it will never end, have faith in the truth that when it comes to the living of these days and your unique life situated in it, God is just getting warmed up. Our story of comfort and joy is still being written for us and by us no matter what factors may intimidate and threaten our present. Keep awake and take hope, for with God, nothing’s final, and all things are possible.