Advent 4: Blessing of Courage

By Jan Richardson

Image: Gift of Courage © Jan Richardson

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.”
—Matthew 1.20

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year A: Matthew 1.18-25

It’s a question that has pressed on me since Gary’s death. How do we say yes to a life we did not choose? Every morning I wake into a world I did not count on. Every day I have to figure out how to enter this life that has presented itself to me, so altered from what Gary and I had imagined.

The year I married Gary, I wrote a reflection about Joseph (Advent 4: The Annunciation to Joseph). I wrote about falling in love with a man who had a son, about choosing this son and this life, about loving this life I had not envisioned.

Now the story of Joseph comes around again—the story of this man who, in listening to his dreaming, learned to say yes to the life he had not expected. And his story compels me to ask myself again, now on this side of Gary’s dying, How do we say yes to a life we did not choose?

This yes is not something we can always summon on our own. It is not a response we can manufacture by our own strength of will. This yes depends on a constellation of gifts. Some of those gifts are ones we need to learn to ask for. Some of those gifts will find us without our even knowing we needed them.

I love how in Joseph’s dreaming, the angel comes not only with a compelling invitation, an annunciation designed especially for him, but also with a needed gift. Do not be afraid, the angel tells him. These are the same words the angel Gabriel told Mary in her own annunciation. Do not be afraid. In asking Joseph to say yes to what might seem an impossible life, the angel does not leave him to his own devices. Do not be afraid, the angel tells the dreaming man.

The angel comes bearing the gift of courage to Joseph. Courage to say yes to the life he had not envisioned. Courage to keep saying yes to this woman, this child, this God, this path that will take him far beyond anything he has ever imagined for himself. Courage that will keep coming as gift, as dream, as blessing for his way.

On this Advent day, how are you being invited to say yes to a life you did not choose? What fear do you need to let go of in order to offer this yes? How might it be to ask for the courage you need, and to open yourself to the ways this courage wants to meet you in your waking, your dreaming?

Blessing of Courage

I cannot say
where it lives,
only that it comes
to the heart
that is open,
to the heart
that asks,
to the heart
that does not turn away.

It can take practice,
days of tugging at
what keeps us bound,
seasons of pushing against
what keeps our dreaming

When it arrives,
it might surprise you
by how quiet it is,
how it moves
with such grace
for possessing
such power.

But you will know it
by the strength
that rises from within you
to meet it,
by the release
of the knot
in the center of
your chest
that suddenly lets go.

You will recognize it
by how still
your fear becomes
as it loosens its grip,
perhaps never quite
leaving you,
but calmly turning
into joy
as you enter the life
that is finally
your own.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

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A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

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5 Responses to “Advent 4: Blessing of Courage”

  1. Susan Fontaine Godwin Says:

    Beautiful and powerful in truth and clarity. I intimately understand the piercing pain of losing my beloved and facing a life unimagined, but I so greatly appreciate the way you expand Joseph’s experience to the many lives many of us (most of us) did not choose. It truly is a universal phase of life we all engage at some point. As we say yes, the gifts of grace lift us up and give us courage. Blessing and grace upon grace as you celebrate this Advent and Christmas season. I am so grateful for you and your writings that touch so many.

  2. Anne Says:

    I’ve often heard, and told others that courage is fear that has said its prayers. Blessings to you a you pray. You will be given the gift of courage.

  3. Lynda Says:

    “How do we say yes to a life we did not choose?” What a powerful question! This takes us to the very centre of our faith and requires much reflection for each person has been faced with circumstances not of our own choosing. I know that I could not have moved forward without the absolute assurance that God is with me. Thanks be to God for that assurance and the gift of faith. Blessings and prayers for you, Jan, at this wondrous and yet at times difficult season.

  4. Cindy Van Lunen Says:

    The life I did not choose began 4 years ago with my initial cancer diagnosis. Chemo, radiation, 12 surgeries, the last of which removed part of my lung leaving me a changed person, but cancer free..
    Hope is what kept me saying yes, and that hope was kept alive by my beautiful caregivers at NYU, friends and family who were kind in so many ways, by writers like you and Christianne, Christian Wyman, Richard Rohr, and those saints who wrote the Bible. i would never have asked for cancer, but the beauty I have.seen reflected back to me by these people is nothing short of amazing.
    I started taking the sunrise/sunset pictures as a way to redeem the sun that was in part responsible for the melanoma. The sky has become my redemptive blessing. I stand at sunrise in that color and feel the love of my creator. That pink, blue, gold, painting across the heavens is my hope. It holds me close and tells me that I am held in my saviors arms … and when I forget that… I know need to go back and stand on that beach and luxuriate in God’s glory and say a resounding YES!

  5. Esther Rodriguez Says:

    Thank you so much for this, Jan. Courage is a special word for me…and this reflection timely.

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