The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung had a proverb over the door of his house which read “Bidden or unbidden, God is here.” The Season of Advent and the actual faith of most of us concentrate on God bidden, God coming to us in ways we want and expect. We do not like to deal with God unbidden, showing up in our lives when we think things are going along just fine. We like Advent because it focuses on God’s coming to us at Bethlehem and at the end of time. One is safely tucked away in the distant past and the other is presumably tucked away in the distant future. The actual faith of most of us relies on God to come when we call but remain tastefully in the background at other times. I will not ask for a show of hands but my guess is that many of us try to keep God on retainer, available when needed. The actual faith of most of us seeks to maintain a spiritual line of credit that can be tapped when circumstances warrant. If the wonderful crèche collection here at the cathedral were to reflect the actual faith of most of us there would be a baby Jesus in a container on which is written ‘In case of emergency break glass.’
We like the idea of God bidden but part of the wisdom of Carl Jung’s proverb includes God unbidden. In the Gospel lesson for this morning Joseph is confronted by the unbidden presence of God. He had planned to wed Mary until she revealed her pregnancy. He did not believe her story about the angel anymore than you would have. But he is a nice guy. He could have had her punished or at least shunned for her obvious adultery but instead he decided to simply send her home to her folks; an honorable solution to an embarrassing problem. But God comes to him, decidedly unbidden, and throws the whole plan on its head. The rest as they say is history but be aware that Joseph did not ask for that dream and probably did not like it much when he got it. God unbidden continues to step into lives like Joseph’s, yours and mine. Come with me and see how we experience God unbidden.
The first thing to know about God’s way of coming unbidden into our lives is that most often there is no auditory moment. You may think that God does not speak to you because you do not hear voices, preferably sounding like Morgan Freeman. But God does not usually use an auditory moment. I am speaking to you now. You hear my words and formulate an idea in response. The speaking and hearing constitute an auditory moment as prelude to an idea in your head. With God the idea just shows up without any conversation so that we do not so often hear as realize that we have heard and an idea is at work in us. God delivers ideas unbidden by us and also gives us impulses, tugs and realizations. God nags at us, peppers us with coincidences, opens some doors, closes others. That is how God unbidden is experienced in life. You may say “That happens all of the time. These are ordinary things.” I would agree.
The fact is that God is most often experienced in the context of the ordinary. Don’t let Hollywood tell you how God works. Extravaganza is not God’s basic motif. God prefers the ordinary. Do you know why the ordinary is ordinary? It is because God likes it and made a lot of it. The ordinary is God’s thing. Don’t wait for a voice; don’t wait for high drama. Be alert to the everyday experience because that is the way God comes unbidden into your life and mine.
If you understand that God comes to us in ideas, tugs, impulses and opportunities, you will soon be aware that every idea, tug, impulse and opportunity is not from God. I have had some really swell ones that clearly were not. I think you have too. So how do we recognize God’s tampering with our minds as opposed to that which is far less than God?
The answer is rooted in the fact that the Judeo-Christian tradition is not a philosophy or set of ideas. It is a narrative, a story being told, a plot unfolding across history. When God puts an idea into our heads, a tug at our hearts, an impulse inside us or an opportunity before us, it is always consistent with what your English teacher called the arc of the story. The interests of God are well established in the 4,000 years of this telling. Anything God says to you or me will be consistent with those interests. Let me give you an example. Throughout the narrative of our faith God has shown a particular concern for the lame, the least and lost, those getting hurt, falling behind or wandering off. When God comes unbidden into our lives it is often to make something good happen in the lives of people like that. Another example. The story of our faith shows our Lord to be a gathering God. God’s fondness for connecting things is why we can call creation a uni-verse instead of a multi-verse. God connects people bringing individuals into families, families into clans, clans into tribes, tribes into nations and nations into harmony. Our faith is full of words that begin with R E – reconciliation, religion, redemption, repentance, renewal – all of them are about putting things back together. God is big on unity, healing in all of its forms. When God comes unbidden into our lives it is often to help make some form of connecting or healing possible. There are many other interests of God established in our story, care and healing are just two but you get the point.
So think for just a moment about what has been going on in your life recently: the ideas, tugs and instincts; the doors of opportunity strangely left open or strangely closed; the hurting, stumbling and wandering people who have shown up in your life; the breaks and disconnects that are lying all around us. These are the signs of God unbidden.
And there is one more thing. Acting on these things is probably a little scary, something that would leave us in an uncomfortably vulnerable position. This is true because God does not bother to tell us things we can figure out for ourselves. God tells us about things we might ordinarily ignore, rationalize or miss altogether. In the Gospel Joseph had time to think through what he should do about Mary. He resisted his first impulse, which was probably not very generous, and came around to a decision that reasonable people would consider honorable and righteous. It was a good decision until God, clearly unbidden, got a hold of it leaving Joseph uncomfortable and vulnerable. That kind of discomfort is another sign of God unbidden in our lives. Consider the words of Rudolph Otto who wrote early in the 20th century, “ If in a mystic moment you feel something drawing you into the situation, something powerful like a magnet. And if at the same time something within you is afraid, resisting, wanting to move back…If you feel yourself wanting to run toward and away from the moment at once…you can be fairly sure you are standing on Holy Ground” (The Idea of the Holy, 1929).
And that is how God comes unbidden into our lives to plant seeds of concern and compassion; to tug us into healing; to open opportunities for repentance, reconciliation and renewal; to make us uncomfortable; to leave us vulnerable. All of this in return for a faith so alive and vital that it crackles with energy that fills us with the fullness of God and makes a difference in this world. That is what goes on because bidden or unbidden God is here.