My first and only fistfight was when I was in eighth grade.
It was a warm spring day, and we were playing soccer on the school playground for P.E. As this was a small school, we were all close friends and had known each other since kindergarten, so playing together was natural, easy and fun. But not today.
Today, the emotions were up, and the stakes were high. Today was one more battle on the battlefield of… love. Yep, that’s right…that age old drama…and this one was straight out of some Greek tragedy. It was the epic battle of two best friends, over a girl they both loved. One was betrayed. One got the girl. And the two friends split, creating their own bands of loyal brothers. I was the betrayed, he got the girl, and this was my righteous battlefield.
So there we were, fighting it out on the soccer field, with every score striking emotional blows to our friends turned mortal enemies and with every steal becoming opportunities to strike fear into their hearts. For me, both the defender of the goal and of righteousness, while I was matching my opponent’s attacks with aggressive fair play, I had been clipped more than my fair share, and I vowed that the next one was not going to go unnoticed…and it didn’t.
After being clipped for the last time, and tangled in a mess of arms and legs on the ground, I, in a blind fit of righteous rage, started hitting the person beneath me. Within seconds, there were brothers from both camps pulling us apart and defending their fearless leaders. However, to my shock and horror, I wasn’t hitting my enemy; I was hitting my friend, a brother of my band.
In the tangle of all arms and legs that ensued after the clip, I was blinded by my own righteousness and began hitting the wrong person. I immediately stopped; we were separated to our own corners, and we were sent to the principal. In one moment, I was brought from being the defender of righteousness to the persecutor of the innocent. In one moment, I was brought from being the guy who was wronged to the guy who wronged another.
After the principal’s office, where we were still men of rage and reputation, we were reprimanded and sent to the locker room to change and cool off. It was here that I could begin to hear the words of God…or maybe it was my earthly father…I don’t know…but the wisdom was there…trying to work its way through the emotions and saying… “Be the bigger man. Forgive and ask for forgiveness.”
You see, mistaken identities aside, those punches were meant for my betrayer, those punches were meant to be the blows of righteousness, and those punches were thrown out of my misunderstanding that “righteousness” meant being right. God, however, through this moment of rage and flailing arms, legs and elbows, had brought me to my knees and woke me up to see and understand that the true meaning of “righteousness” was not being right, but rather living in right relationship with God…or in other words…in loving God and loving neighbor.
In this Sunday’s passage, Joseph is described as being a “righteous man,” that through his sense of righteousness was going to “quietly” dismiss Mary due to her being with child outside of their relationship. You see, he, like me, was confused about what it truly meant to be “righteous,” and he needed to be woken up by God to see the truth. Now, while I might be confused as to whose words I actually heard that day, God’s words to Joseph were very clear, but the result was the same. When brought to clarity, we were both propelled by God’s grace to do what was right, and love.
And you know what, while you might be thinking that Joseph and I are far apart, I challenge you to see that, when responding in love to our neighbors, we too are helping to bring about and foster the life of Christ in ourselves and others, we too in our forgiveness are bringing Christ to bear in the world, and we too are being witnesses and participants in the new Kingdom of God.
By waking up to God’s view of righteousness, Joseph was blessed to become the earthly father our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, wake up! Love. Forgive. And see what blessings God has in store for you this Christmas!