In the name of God. Amen.
[sung] “Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children. Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water.”
That song has been running through my head all week. We usually think of it around baptisms, but this year it’s been ringing in my ear as an Advent hymn. It’s sings of a promise you can count on. It’s an Advent promise. God’s gonna trouble the water.
This time of year is filled with so much hope and expectation. We’ve spent weeks now getting ready - decorating, shopping, preparing food, organizing plans for guests, making arrangements to be someone else’s guest… The list goes on. And in these last days leading up to Christmas, it will go on. For most of us, there are plans still being made and in the days ahead they will start to spring into action.
It’s true in the church. We, too, have been decorating, and getting the church ready for all the company we’re expecting, and making sure things are clean and organized. And there’s lots more preparing and planning to be done before we’re really ready - all in the hope that this Christmas will be an expression of our joy. Our joy in the presence of Christ in our lives. Our joy in being a part of this community. Our hope is that Christmas will be filled with joy in all ways, and that it will make for us memories to last through the years to come.
Joseph and Mary were also filled with hope. They were just embarking on the first journeys of their young love - they were unsure of where it might take them, but they were hopeful and planning, nonetheless.
And then God troubled the water. And how.
Imagine what it must have been like for Joseph. You can almost hear his heart breaking, if you listen between the lines: “Joseph, being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”
Think about it.
The law was on his side. The prevailing will of the wider community was on his side. Joseph had every right to “expose her to public disgrace”. He could have turned her out into the streets. He could have had her stoned to death. He could have exerted his power as one who was betrayed to take his suffering out on her. Everyone would have understood. Most of his community probably would have even preferred it that way. But he was a righteous man. His pain was so deep that he knew that giving her pain would not bring him any relief. He knew that the economy of suffering didn’t balance out like that.
So instead, he resolved to “dismiss her quietly”. To let her find some way of eeking out a living on her own, for herself and for the child she was carrying. It seems harsh, maybe, but it was grace more abundant than anyone would have expected. And perhaps, in time, they both would find a way forward, even if it wasn’t the way that they had dreamed it might be.
But God wasn’t done troubling the water.
“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit….”
“God’s gonna trouble the water”
For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about wilderness. About how Advent is a wilderness - a place where life runs free of the binds we try to put on it, and God breaks through - through the tumult and the danger - to show us a clearing that we mightn’t have seen had we stayed where things were safer or more familiar. To show us God's very self.
God troubled the water for Mary and Joseph. God stirred things up. For all of us. And out of that chaos came one who would save us from our sins. One who would show us - through confusion and disruption, of all things! - the clearness of the way to God.
Too often, our most fervent prayers are for the familiar. Even if it’s just, “O God, just don’t let things get worse.”
So, "troubling the water" may sound scary. But if you’re the one about to drown, those currents might just lift you up.
And that’s what God is about, in Advent, for sure, but at all times. Read the Song of Mary. Hear about God lifting up the lowly. Hear about God filling the hungry with good things. That’s God troubling the water. That’s what it looks like. And that’s the promise of Christ; that God will trouble the water; that God will stir up those stagnant places and breath in new life.
Over the course of the next week, as our plans fall into place (or not), and as they are executed as we had dreamed they would be (or not), in all things, I pray that we find a clearer recognition of God’s presence. If our travel plans hit snags… If the turkey is a little dry… If we find ourselves arguing with our families more than we would have liked… If some of the present just need to be returned… No matter what, look for signs that God is troubling the waters. Maybe where our dreams fall short of what we’d hoped, there will be new room for God to break in.
Christmas is a story of broken dreams that yielded unimagined hope.
Just ask Mary and Joseph.
Throughout all of our lives, there will be times when our dreams will be broken. At Christmas, certainly, but also at lots of other times. Often, it’s through the haze of that brokenness that the dream of God shines most clearly.
And when things start to seem a little too much to bare, remember this little prayer - “God’s gonna trouble the water”. Amen.
*** LAGNIAPPE ***
Our soloist at church today chose this as her anthem today - "Christmas Lullaby" from Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World. It's a long-time favorite of mine. Her performance was just spectacular, and perfectly appropriate for the day! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!