We are in the midst of a thin space in time today. Thin spaces, are those times and places where the holy becomes palpably present in our everyday. Sometimes it can feel like we aren't alone in a vacant room, or sometimes it's warmth, sometimes it's goosebumps. Things feel very close. Now, today might not feel like the holy is in the midst of our preparations and the impending chaos of the days ahead of us, but it is. Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, when it was more dark than light, something that underpins this season of Advent we are walking through. Four short weeks ago, we started at the end of time with the coming of God’s kingdom bursting into the expanse of our time in a form of thin space which upends and reorients us into the salvation of God’s freedom in our lives. But what does that freedom look like, in a time and place where that kingdom has not yet come? It is, as St. Irenaeus says, a human fully alive to God’s glory and presence in their lives. Because in God, through God's presence in us, we are given our abilities, or gifts, our talents, our inquisitive nature, our questions, everything that we are and are becoming. Therefore God’s Glory is seen when we are fully alive to ourselves- when we break the ceilings in our lives that tell us we are not enough, not worthy, not welcome, not attractive or capable of love. Yet we still live in a world that tells us these fables, that we are not enough, not worthy, not welcome, so we hold onto the hope which Advent brings us that this world will be re-orientated by the inbreaking of God's kingdom of equality, justice, peace and joy. So why do we hear the story of Christ’s birth from Matthew this morning, it's not even Christmas? Because in it we hear the defiance of Hope this Advent, a hope that defies the darkness of our lives and world.
The orientation of Matthew’s Gospel is one which bears us paying attention to, Matthew is all about showing us the thin places where God is directly present among us. We hear again the story of Joseph accepting the news that he was to be a dad, and Mary was going to be a mother- in a very precarious state. They were not married. One sad outcome of the patrimony of the church, is the miss-translation of Mary’s state. We hear she is a virgin in some texts, which again makes this about her value rather than her humanity. You see the term Almah, a Hebrew term in Isaiah that scholars once translated as Virgin-is not actually about virginity. It’s true meaning is “young woman of child bearing age, full of vigor.” God came to Joseph and Mary, in the midst of the darkness of figuring out who and what they were to be as a couple, in the strength of their humanity- their vigor- and set them free to live God’s vocation in their lives. But not without peril, God’s vocation is always set in a landscape of challenge and uncertainty because of the work of re-orientation that we need to do in our lives in order to follow God’s plan in our lives. And that's often a lot of work, leading us to make choices differently, live differently, act differently, that means we might be less popular, and life might be more expensive. So it is no surprise that like Joseph, we doubt the news of God’s call on our lives- sometimes choosing the comfort of a known way rather than the unknown of God’s way. So why did Mary say yes to God? I mean, in some ways if she didn't say yes, we might not be here or even celebrating this season or anticipating Christmas. Well for Mary and Joseph, the presence and reality of God was so palpable in their lives that saying no to God’s vocation- God's call on their lives was about the same as saying no to life itself. Because for them, life was of God, and God was life. I believe, however, that the clincher- the reason we are all here and that Mary and Joseph said yes came down to one word. Immanuel. God with us- which is our shared vocation in this season to proclaim.
This is the persistence of God’s vocation, God’s hope for us in Advent, that God is with us in the midst of our unknown, the challenges of our lives, the tensions of this season, the darkness of our world- we just have to stop and listen. It is the thin places of Advent's message of God's defiant hope that brings to us a re-orientation of our sight- from isolation, war, anxiety, stress, to see where the world is at peace with itself, where the homeless are being fed, where families are being renewed, and that there is room enough for everyone here- not just the few. The message of Matthew, the Yes of Joseph and Mary is not for us alone, it's about us and everyone else in the world. God’s hope is one which is about gathering every single person who breathes into God's arms and never letting them go again.
So we gather again to make community and share our traditions, to make merry and be festive in the midst of a season full of liminal spaces etched in darkness. And slowly, year after year, we start to see that darkness differently, with more light than before, because we start to see the defiance of what God’s hope does and is for this world. Despite our best efforts, God still breaks in around us, God still feeds the hungry, God still lifts up the broken, God still heals the ill, God still saves us by coming to us in our own flesh at the manger- and invites us to join him in spreading that message with our lives in the world we live- but we are not there yet.
Our story does not end here church, there is more to come, but for now we wait in this present and future Advent- for God’s gift of presence here and yet to come. Our work is just beginning in this world, there is more to come. Come back in 48 hours to hear and see how this story ends. Come, O Come Emmanuel, we are waiting for you.