Advent Study Session 3
Oh Holy God, you gather us again in this place to listen and to discover how to live more faithfully. May we breathe in your Spirit opening us to receive your announcements. The disruption, experienced or witnessed, makes us feel helpless, yet you invite us to renew our identity as your beloved. Let us learn from each other and let Christ, the light, illumine and guide us. Amen.
We begin our journey with Joseph by noting that he, like Zechariah and Elizabeth before him, is a righteous man. But what does it mean to be “righteous”? How does that righteousness shape the way we empathise with, or resist, the stories that are unfolding before us? For many, “righteousness” has to do with obedience and rule following.
Rule breakers are, by definition, unrighteous. Joseph, as an extension of his world, likely would have had a similar sensibility. As a Jewish man living in an occupied country, shaped by his tradition and norms, he was engaged to a young girl whose unexplainable pregnancy was both a personal and a societal affront to his dignity. We know he was also, by implication, a man of kindness, who wants to do the correct thing (divorce her) but in a gentle way (privately, to save her public disgrace).
For Joseph, as for many of us who have lived through challenges to our understandings of right and wrong and changed our perspectives, the unfolding of this deeply personal disruption must have been deeply unsettling. Whatever path he chose had implications for himself and his reputation, as well as for the woman to whom he had pledged his life.
At first he choses to stay with the tradition of his formation and his community and to put her aside. The language of this decision — “he had resolved to do this” hints at the struggle this good man has endured, and the weariness such hard decisions evoke in us. His decision is not a particularly courageous one: his intended path in no way challenges the system or puts his own life at risk of real or harm. It is correct, but it is not brave.
But then, he dreams. And in the dream, a second disruption. A challenge to the way things have always been and one that puts Joseph at risk: of ridicule, of reputational harm, of being played for a fool and stuck with the financial and emotional obligation to raise a child not his own with a wife who was by all common understanding must have been unfaithful.
This was the time for courage — and the courage Joseph is asked to reach for requires him to break with tradition. It requires him to believe that fidelity to a dream and a promise will be a more faithful, and a more authentic way forward than merely following the rules.
Consolations & Desolations
Before we continue, and after asking such hard questions, let us pause to open ourselves up to God and experience our day thus far.
Share with each other in the group the answer to these two questions: “For what moment am I most grateful today?” And, “For what moment am I least grateful today?”
Read Matthew 1:18-25
What speaks to you immediately from the text? What emotions does the text stir?
Learning About Joseph
- Joseph, like Job of the Old Testament, is noted for trying his very best to follow the rules. The rule being called into question was the one that said a man and woman spent a year of betrothal before they were married.
- During this year of waiting, they were not to have sexual relations. If this rule was violated, the man could refuse to marry the woman, and she could be stoned for bringing shame on her future husband and both of their families.
- Joseph is credited as demonstrating compassion, grace and forgiveness by deciding to “put her away quietly.”
- For Matthew, Joseph is often interpreted by scholars as an archetype of Christ, who comes to teach about a loving and forgiving God.
- This archetype is demonstrated primarily in and through the messenger (angel) from God appearing, and Joseph choosing to remain with Mary and the child.
Clip 1: Yadi’s Story
- How does the disruption in Yadi’s story invite him to be courageous?
- Are there themes from this clip that resonate with this week’s biblical text?
Clip 2: Nardine’s Story
- In what ways does Nardyne’s broken heart propel her to courageous action?
- What does it mean to you to “take heart” when you have experienced loss, devastation and grief?
- What connections can you make between Nardyne’s reflection and the biblical text this week?
Clip 3: Melanie’s Story
- How did Melanie’s courage lead to more courage among others?
- Has our church had any meaningful response to possible injustices and abuses within the NZ immigration and/or justice system?
Clip 4: Flint and COVID-19
- How is the theme of “finding courage” reflected in this clip?
- Within the context of a city like Flint, how have you seen courage embodied or manifested?
As we close this session, there are 6 discussion questions for you to consider. You can discuss these with each other, or perhaps you can write them down and take them away as homework.
1.How do you define courage? Is it different than bravery?
2.Do you have any specific examples of courage that required the person or group to go against received tradition, law and order, the commonly held mores of their family or community or church?
3.Have you ever experienced a tension between being perceived positively by your family or community and speaking up on behalf of what you believed to be more right or true?
4.Can you recall a time when a disruption invited you to be courageous?
5.Can you recall a time in the life of your congregation when a disruption invited you to be courageous collectively?
6.What is the relationship between courage and hope in the lives of the protagonists and the clips and in the characters of the biblical text?
In the next session, we will close this series by learning from Mary how to use our voice.
Lord, I pray that I would stop trying to find my identity in anything other than being Your child, a child of the King and a citizen in the Kingdom of God. Thank You for this amazing grace in my Lord, you provide shelter, comfort, and strength to us. We lift up our concerns and distress for you to hear, because we know you care. Help us to have the courage to speak out where you have revealed the need. Give us the wisdom to understand how disruptions in our lives are opportunities to do what is right. Thank you for the strength you offer in love; the shelter we find in your Son; and the comfort we find in your Spirit. Amen. (Timothy Rose)
Session 3 of 4 in series “Annunciations: Disruption & Invitation”. The interactive Advent study series using award winning documentary resources was collated by Presbyterian Church (USA) and adapted for personal and group study at St Johns Papatoetoe.