Grace Notes

Matt. l:18-25

Have you ever noticed the grace notes in your life? You know, those fleeting lyrical moments of beauty that give a positive accent or movement to your life? In music, grace notes are the very quick light notes that add a special color to the composition.

Advent is a time to celebrate those moments of graciousness in our individual, societal, and religious life when we are surprised by joy - caught up for a moment by the graciousness of someone else and, ultimately, by God.

I talk a lot about epiphanies and about finding God in moments of crisis or in the grittiness of life in the warf and woof of our textured existence. But there are also moments of quiet celebration that are intimations of a broader festival of joy and a sweeping symphony of God’s redemptive love.

What moments of graciousness occurred in your life? I can remember, when I was five years old, sitting on my mother’s lap while she sewed. Nothing major. Just quiet and warm and peaceful. There was snow on the windows and a fire in the fireplace. I look at her rocker now and wonder how it held us. Was she smaller than I remember? She smelled so good and was so warm. A small memory. A grace note that helped to make life sweet, good, positive.

The Bible, which is the story of our life with God, is filled with grace notes: those moments of surprise, beauty, and graciousness that often as not are picked up in the stronger themes and movements of the Biblical score. In the birth narrative, Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. He is betrothed to her and wants to abide by the law, according to which he should dismiss her. In a dream, Joseph is told by an angel that Mary is a virgin, the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph should marry Mary and be the father. The baby is to be named Emmanuel, or “God is with us.” Joseph takes Mary as his wife and cares for her.

Scholars have written truck loads of material about the birth narratives. All that scholarly stuff is interesting. But after having waded through the material, what really strikes me is the graciousness of Joseph. His response is to honor and to affirm the dignity of Mary. He chooses compassion, or love, over the law, thereby setting a precedent for Jesus’ later actions. This story has come down to us for nearly two thousand years, and it has maintained the kindness and graciousness of Joseph. He is not a macho, strong, forceful leader. Rather, he is a good and gentle man. Joseph’s response is a grace note in the greatest story ever told. Amen.