Dec 08 2016

Finding Leads To Losing – Losing Leads To Finding

“Forget trying to have the perfect experience.
Forget trying to get your life right.
Sink into your current experience.
Let it wash over you; drown in its embrace.
When you feel lost, heartbroken, unsure of where to turn
When doubts smolder and questions rage,
Know that it is Love in disguise
Burning all your dreams of tomorrow to dust.
You are doing better than you ever could imagine.”


Advent can be a busy and challenging time. Consider the experience of Joseph of Nazareth: an unplanned pregnancy; an embarrassing public scandal; the sting of perceived betrayal; expectations dashed; carefully-laid plans for the future in a shambles. Anger, confusion, and shame are threatening to overwhelm his humanity. “Know that all of it is ‘Love in disguise’?” Well, yes. That is what we celebrate at Christmas!

When I read Jeff Foster’s words, I am struck by how they convey the guts of the gospel story for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (Matthew 1:18-25). We have Joseph, a construction worker, planning for matrimony to a young woman from their small town named Mary. They are in the year of preparation, when suddenly it is revealed that she is pregnant. Joseph knows in his mind that he is not the father. He is “lost, heartbroken, unsure where to turn. Doubts smolder and questions rage within him”. It is a disaster. But the story tells us that, within this experience, Joseph encounters the presence of God. And from it, he discovers more in himself and more of himself than he “could have ever imagined”.

Matthew calls him a righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to disgrace. To be righteous was to be faithful to the religious law. The most extreme form would have been following Deuteronomy 22:21, with Mary being stoned at the doorway of her father’s house. But Joseph is not that kind of fundamentalist, and he realizes a deeper motivation within himself: compassion. He resolves to dismiss Mary quietly, not wanting her to be endangered or ridiculed. Nevertheless, he will cut her loose. Maybe then he can get his own life “right”!

But just when he has resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” It has been fear that has been stifling his full humanity, limiting his capacity to love. Now, from the heart of the crisis, God beckons him to deeper immersion. In Foster’s language: “Sink into your current experience, Joseph; let it wash over you; drown in its embrace. Lose your idealized life in order to find your real one!”

When Joseph awakens, he does as the angel tells him. He marries Mary, and prepares to welcome God’s life-changing gift. It will be into God’s loving embrace that Joseph loses himself.

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” (1:18) In this way. With a love that (for us) comes in disguise, at least to start. In the midst of what place, what busyness, what orchestrated ritual, what life crisis-will we be astonished by God’s unexpected presence? Oh, that God’s people might be freed to an Advent season with real anticipation, wondering how this “Love in disguise” will reveal itself to us!

As our old friend Ken Medema sings: “Finding leads to losing, and losing lets you find. Living leads to dying, but life leaves death behind. Losing leads to finding, that’s all that that I can say; No one will find Life another way.” [2]

Mary and Joseph are “found” in a new life together, carrying and bearing God’s new life for the world, a marvel far different than what they had originally planned. If convention or fear had prevailed, it never would have been realized!

God’s love is in everything. Everything. I’m not saying that everything that happens to us or everything we do is God’s will. I’m saying, along with the Apostle Paul, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! Perhaps this is the deepest acceptance.

No, we don’t like having “our dreams burned to dust”, any more than Joseph of Nazareth. But we don’t live in tomorrow. We live in today. Forget trying to have the perfect experience. God is with us … in this way. That is the living, breathing message of Christmas.


[1] Foster, Jeff. (2012). The Deepest Acceptance: Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life. Louisville, CO, Sounds True.
[2] Medema,Ken. “Finding Leads to Losing” on The Way I See It Now. Grandville, MI, Brier Patch Music.

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