“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Says our psalm today – three times in such a short passage.  Over and over and over again.


“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved”


Joseph.  Could he sense that something was happening around him that would speak to his holding his ground?  Did the angel’s face shine? Could he sense that the risks he would be taking with his family, his friends, the village, the Torah, the Law – could he sense that God was siring up something in and around them that would justify the risks he was being asked to take? The humiliation of staying with a woman, pregnant by way of the Holy Spirit.


Joseph was called “Righteous.”  A good man. A man who has a dream.


In the dream, God, through an angel, tells Joseph that his inclination to divorce Mary should not be followed.  The angel tells him to risk the shame which may come by marrying this woman, by adopting this child, by risking this reputation-game-changer. God is busy creating something and Joseph is needed for that work.


God is stirring something up.  The psalm today reveals the source of the language we use when we pray “Stir up your power, Lord, and come.”  That great advent collect.


But I can’t help noticing when the church changes words in order to domesticate divine action. The church chose the word “power” but that is a choice.  The psalm does not say “Stir up your power” rather, it says “Stir up your might.”  It’s just like the church to choose the word “power” rather than the word “might.”  Anyone not really paying attention might not notice the word change.  But I do.  And I expect women do too.  And good men.


Joseph had power.  He was a man in a patriarchal society.  He bought Mary fair and square.  Mary’s dad had the goats.  One of them was already simmering with garlic and cumin.


But more importantly Joseph and might. “Might” comes from the old English “mæht” and implied both “bodily strength” and “authority.”  Joseph had the “might” of righteousness and of integrity.  He was a good man. Unlike all the other times in scripture when a person is called upon to listen to God speak a new command to him in a dream, Joseph is the only character in scripture that in no way objects or even discusses the command.  He simply does what he is told. Joseph must have been a secure man – secure in his masculinity. A good, secure, confident, kind man.


With one act, one shout even, Joseph could have subverted the birth of Jesus and would have been within his religious and legal rights to do so. With one word, Joseph could have called for a street trial which would have been followed by a village of men throwing stones at a 12 year old girl until she died.  It would have taken a while.  Stoning was a very slow death, since the men’s arms would get tired. They would need to rest from time to time.  Find new stones. Re-group.


Men throwing stones at a 12 year old girl is power; but it is not might.


I imagine Joseph to be a quiet man.  Solid and gentle and smart.  Non-reactive and attuned to the advent of God in his life.


In Jesus’ day, When men stoned a woman they placed her in a hole in the ground, so that as the stones piled up, she was slowly crushed while she bled internally from the stoning. The custom was to cover the girl’s face – to keep her face covered and in darkness – her face in darkness with a shroud – her face in darkness so that she could not see her murderers.  It is easier to kill a person not staring at you.


“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” This line is repeated three times in today’s psalm.


Today, I think of the darkness that covered the earth before God began creation.

Today I think of the darkness of the whole in which sat the woman about to stoned and whom Jesus saves, Could he see his mother’s face in hers?

Today I think of the darkness of the upper room, the darkness of the sky when He breathed His last, the darkness of the cave for three days and the darkness of a stable.


Joseph is silent.  Silence orphans us from certainty.  Joseph steps into obedient uncertainty even as the wheels of power grind around him.


I wrote an article about the future of the church which is the Lead today on EpiscopalCafe – the church’s on line news source. I said in the opening line “Might it be true that the great threat of God becoming human, as a baby who becomes an anarchist rather than a priest, is that in the incarnation, God threatens the church and her power-mongers, annually?”


This has been the three most challenging years of my life.  Of our life as a church. We have weathered the storms of some power-mongers and I hope you choose a good Dean – someone like Joseph.  Maybe not charming.  Maybe not hilarious. But good.  Righteous. A man or woman who listens to God and takes risks.


What is the future of this cathedral?  Well,

we will need to raise money or sell its building.

We will need to worry more about the faces of living women in our new apartment building over the labyrinth and less about the faces of dead saints over the altar.

We will need to live in the kind of silence which calls certainty to question.

And we will need to live lives in which what shines is not Christmas tree lights or wrapped presents, new cars or new appliances nor even new budgets.


What shines –  and what we must gaze upon  – is Jesus.


“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved”



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