Advent 4 – Andy Philip, Chaplain – 22nd December 2019

It’s like I’ve only just woken from sleep.
Almost everything before seems
little more than a dwam.      Not that it felt
that way when she first told me about the bairn.
No, it was as though a legionary had run me through
right here in the chest. How could
I thought. Mary. My Mary. How could she
do this to me?
I knew her to be a true, good woman.
Oh aye, a bittie thrawn at times, I’ll grant you.
Thrawn and feisty but mighty loyal to all she loves
and I knew — or thought I knew — that she loved me.

We were betrothed — almost as good as actual
man and wife. Everything was set for her
to move into my home, our home.
The beams of this house, our modest furnishings,
every piece of woodwork here —
I and my father crafted them with our own hands.
But my hands were tied by her unfaithfulness:
what choice did I have except to cry the whole thing off?

After weeks of wrangling and wrestling, I agreed
with myself to break it off in secret, so as to save Mary
from the shame divorce would heap on her.
I’m not a man to be vindictive. How could I
disgrace her before all our friends and neighbours
despite the hurt she’d caused
by sticking to her story about the child
being from the Holy Spirit?
But still, I wasn’t quite at peace.

Now, you know me: I go to synagogue, try to keep
the sabbath and the festivals, strive to follow the law,
but holy man I’m not, still less a prophet.
And you remember well how many
centuries have passed since God broke open heaven
and spoke to our forebears, lighting hopes
that even now are still deferred. So you’ll forgive me if
it took me rather by surprise to find
an angel stationed at the foot of my bed.

This angel — so bright and calm and beautiful it was,
like every blossom and bird
you’ve ever known or imagined rolled into one
and grown beyond the wildest expectation.
This angel told me Miriam’s tale was true.

Yes, you’ll tell me I was dreaming.
There’s no denying that, but mind how God
spoke to Jacob, Joseph and Gentile kings and slaves
through dreams. You’ll say
it was all just wishful thinking on my part
but think what the prophet Joel said
about God’s Spirit poured on all people
in the last days. Are these
the last days? I couldn’t say, but I woke up
with peace washing through me the like of which
I don’t think I’ve ever known before.

Peace, and great excitement. Excitement like
a child’s excitement at visiting the holy city
with its bustle and its towering buildings
but scaled up several hundredfold and at once
completely new, completely different. Why?
Well, God had spoken. God had spoken to me.
God had spoken to me and Mary about our people.

Now, anyone who knows me, they will tell you
I’m no Zealot. Though I yearn to see
the kingdom restored to Israel just as much
as any son of David does, fighting is not my style.
The angel was a sign, of that
there can be no doubt. And our boy — yes, a boy;
the angel let slip that wee detail — though I
can’t tell what kind of man he’ll turn out to be,
he too will be sign, you wait and see if I’m not right.

I see you find it hard to credit what I’m saying.
Think on Ahaz, who the prophet Isaiah invited
to ask God for a sign but turned the offer down —
and him a king and all! God spoke the word
and the sign was given anyway, the sign of a boy
named God-With-Us when it seemed the Lord
had left our people to their own devices.

Yes, those are old words and we are waiting yet
for the Messiah that the prophet foretold
but they still ring true to me. We must continue
to recite these signs to one another, holding hope
like a lamp in the dark.    God calls to us all
and calls each of us in many ways. Mary and me,
we’re no more special than you, just trying our best
to be faithful to what the Lord has asked of us,
however strange or hard it seems. And Mary, she’s
the one who’s led the way in faithfulness.

I’m awake now to the sound of God’s voice,
alert to the signs of his presence. Life
seems so much more alive, for God has come
among us again — among our family, our people.
I can’t wait to see what acts of power he’ll do.
Friends, wake up: pay attention to the signs.

One Reply to “Advent 4 – Andy Philip, Chaplain – 22nd December 2019”

  1. I was very moved and inspired by this superb imagining of Joseph’s reaction after being visited by the angel. Writing the monologue in Scots brings the story right into the present. More please!

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