When Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem they had already been pushed around by the dictates of politics and power. They had to leave their home while Mary was heavily pregnant and walk for days just to be registered in the census, a means by which taxes were worked out and imposed. Their fleeing to Egypt was another part of that forced journey.
We all live under the dictates of politics and power, some negotiating it better than others depending on our race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexuality, privilege, education, wealth, place of birth, religion, health etc. Some learn to comply to the systems or use them to their own advantage, others rebel seeking to find an elusive freedom and others sink, suffer, and just try to survive.
The biblical stories are told within the stories of politics and power, of how faith was forged and developed and lost and found again. Today’s story tells how faith was carried and protected, vulnerable and so fragile. As Mary and Joseph travelled to Egypt and then on to Nazareth, they literally carried their faith with them, in the form of their child and all the hopes for the world held in that baby. All the while avoiding the murderous and jealous powers that slaughtered all the children under two years of age around Bethlehem.
What is the faith that you carry like? Is it strong and robust, sure and solid, or are you a bit more unsure about it? Perhaps what you carry is a mixture of faith and doubt? Can you imagine the doubts that plagued Mary and Joseph along the way as they fled trying to find shelter and food and work to survive, to keep their baby alive? Why is this happening to us? Did an angel really appear to us? Is our child really the Saviour of the world? Together they carried a mixture of faith and doubt held together with the threads of love.
When we talk about keeping the faith we often mean holding on to our beliefs through thick and thin. We pull them together into creeds which we recite; creeds that reinforce our beliefs, which become sanctuaries from doubts, exercises to go through in our minds, like building muscles to become strong in the faith and we hang on to them against all the temptations and trials we go through. It can be exhausting - such a battle raging in the mind. Faith is not just what we believe in our minds, what we have learned in church, Sunday school or Scripture classes in school, or even in Theological colleges. Faith is lived through our whole body, through our hands and feet in actions, in our words and on our faces and gestures.
Faith needs doubts to develop. Brian McLaren says that doubts are not the opposite of faith but rather complement each other. Doubts are necessary for a life to be lived with authenticity and honesty. If we ignore or avoid our doubts, if we don’t engage with our doubts, we may never grow in our faith. We may never grow into the fulness of love or discover life in its fulness, perhaps not experience a deepening awareness of God’s presence in all things.
Paul, in first Corinthians 13:13 says, And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love. No doubt for Mary and Joseph their journey was not driven by some well articulated statement of faith or creed of beliefs but by love: love for their child, love for each other, love for the world; more instinctual than intellectual, of necessity rather than choice. In Galatians 5:6b Pauls says, … the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Can there really be faith without love? I am coming to see that faith for me is living because of a dream, a mystery, a hope beyond comprehension and articulation, a glorious vision of the imagination, a longing, a thirst, an unknowable knowing; God revealed in a baby born to two loving faithful parents a long time ago. Above all faith in Jesus is a life that is lived in love.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation