One of the persons who was present at the birth of Christ, one who we often neglect or even forget, is to become one of the most important persons in the life of Christ - it is His earthly father, Joseph. And maybe it's easy to think, well, yeah, Joseph was there; he was engaged to Mary and Mary was there, so of course Joseph was there.
But that's not a given.
Remember back when Mary became pregnant. At the time that she did, and even for the first several months of her pregnancy, Joseph knew nothing about it. It wasn't until she was obviously pregnant and Joseph realized it was not his that the angel came to him and told him what was going on. Joseph came late to the party, at a time when it was difficult and even almost impossible for him to believe, even if the angel so declared. It required of him a great gift of faith.
The truth is that when Joseph first discovered his pregnant wife, he was angry. More than angry, though, I think he was hurt. He was wounded. He felt betrayed, forsaken - this woman to whom he had given so much, to whom he was prepared to give his life, who he was inviting into his family forever, was pregnant, and he was not the father. He loved her, but...did she love him? Really, did she?
Imagine all the questions that must have been circling in his head. Imagine the aches that must have been digging into his heart. Imagine what it must have been like to have been Joseph, to be suffering the deepest wound that a man could suffer in that time - what looks for everything like an unfaithful woman - and having to decide to stay, having to decide to believe. Having to decide to still be there when the baby Jesus is born.
We should never just assume that of course Joseph was there; there were a lot of reasons why he might not have been.
I'm going to let you in on something - there are those in the church, in our churches - who aren't givens this Christmas. There are those who feel betrayed, forsaken, and wounded by the church, and even though Christmas seems so clear, the proclamation of the angels, the real and known and recognized coming of Christ, they still have to decide whether or not they're going to be there.
There are those among us looking at the pregnant virgin, the bride, the church...and thinking, for one reason or another, that she must have stepped out on them. She must have broken her faithfulness. She must have gone a-whoring. Because they are wounded, and it's hard for us as humans to see past our wounds.
There are those in our churches...and maybe that's you. If it is, let me say this:
Come anyway. The church isn't perfect; it can't be. It's full of imperfect human beings in need of a perfect Savior. Everyone there is just as broken as you're feeling right now, and we know...we know that we've wounded you. We didn't mean to. It's just that we're broken, too, and sometimes, we do things that our Jesus doesn't love.
But that doesn't mean we don't love our Jesus, and it doesn't mean that you shouldn't be able to, either. He is Love. And He is coming. And even if you feel forsaken, betrayed, forgotten, rejected, abused, whatever...come. Come see it. Come see Him.
This Advent, be a person who comes anyway, believing in the bigger story. Believing in the message of the angels. Believing in Christmas.
And if you're one not wounded by the church, keep in mind that the person sitting next to you in the pew this year may be. It's not a given that he or she is there; it took a great act of faith to come at all. Honor and embrace them.
For God is, this Christmas as all Christmases, doing a new thing. And the new thing God is doing might just be you, whether you're one who, of course, was coming or you're one who really, really, really had to think about it long and hard.