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Attending to Advent — Expectations & Reputation

December 17, 2008

As we reflect upon Advent I realize anew the clash between expectation and reputation.  The Jewish people relied upon the Torah, prophets (I’m including the “historical” books), and wisdom books.  Their expectation of a renewed and restored kingdom was seen through the eyes of David and Solomon.  I wonder even today if we do not put certain expectations upon our Advent and Christmas celebrations that do not match the reality of the first Christmas. Amid the festive performances, the gift giving, to our rightful yearning for peace on earth do we miss the connection between expectation and reputation?

Perhaps Mary and Joseph were the first ones required to lay aside preconceived expectations as they laid aside their reputations.  The Word informs us that Joseph was a righteous man.  His position and standing in the community was at risk if he were to wed Mary.  If he “divorces” Mary quietly he would “save his reputation.”  If he agrees to marry then he is legally becoming the father — assuming responsibility and giving the child a name.  And he loses his place or position in the community because he has tied himself to Mary and to her illegimate child.

Mary, of course was at great risk.  Her life was literally on the line.  Even with marriage the people in their community knew who she was.  Reputations have a way of sticking.  Think about Marion Jones (she was on Good Morning America today)… she went to jail over lying about her steriod use, she had to return the Olympic gold medals she won.  Mention her name and the associations begin.  She is trying to rebuilt her reputation.  I bet we could come up with a list of 10 people very quickly that would fit the same description.  What is our response to these people?  Our response gives us insight into the Mary and Joseph.

But perhaps we need to also realize someone else that lost their reputation in the bold act of salvation and restoration… God did.  Scot McKnight writes in The Jesus Creed that “God ‘loses his reputation’ when he chooses for his Son to be born to parents with bad reputations…God chooses to reveal himself most dramatically in the reputation-losing death of his very Son on the cross.” (p. 81)

What Joseph and Mary live out is something we all will face if we are going to embrace and follow … in our obedience to follow Christ we find our identity, not the identity of what someone else wants, but our true identity.  John Stott defines it this way: “When the Christian loses himself, he finds himself, he discovers his true identity.”  (quoting again from The Jesus Creed, p. 80 & please recognize the use of gender is a reference to both men and women).

Our reputation is what others think about us.

Our identity is based upon who we are before God.

Mary put it this way:

For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

–Luke 1:49-53.

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