23 December 2018 Doingthe Right Thing MartinBaker
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in thisway. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they livedtogether, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husbandJoseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, anangel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son ofDavid, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived inher is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name himJesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this tookplace to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name himEmmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24 When Joseph awokefrom sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as hiswife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; andhe named him Jesus
Mary young and unmarried is found to be with child.
We don’t use that sort of language too much now. The quickening.The confinement. Expecting. With child. ‘To be in happy circumstances’ is atranslation from the Norwegian. That probably would not have applied in thiscase. There are a whole lot of other expressions forpregnancy which I won’t attempt to list here.
Asking around, almost everyone I spoke to has stories intheir families of somewhat unexpected pregnancies. Stories too, of children born in less thanconventional circumstances. My parents didn’t know of their oldest grandchildunto he was 4 years old. He was introduced to the family by one of my brotherson Christmas day which, even now, I think has a certain poetic quality to it.I’m not sure that my mother quite saw it in those terms.
So we read this story today from Matthew, and it kind ofgets lost in all the meek and lowly, yonder mother and child images. Ultimately a young peasant girl giving birthto the son of God in the living area shared by both people and stock, in a peasant farmers house.
But let’s go back a bit. Today, before the birth, we have our first startling, Christmas story tolisten to. When Jesus’ mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before theylived together, she was found to be with child
That’s the startling images which our scripture writers areasking us to wrestle with.
Those first Christian Jewish readers when they heard this storywould have been referencing stories from their scripture. How do we deal with this situation, and theyalong with Joseph would have looked up their Bibles to Deuteronomy. .
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 says:
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to bemarried, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bringboth of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young womanbecause she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violatedhis neighbour’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
By this time in its history, the Romans would not allowlocal populations to enact these laws themselves. But every Jew would have known what the lawsaid. It’s there in black and white after all.
And so when we read
19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwillingto expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
He is probably doing all he can to make the best out of avery bad situation. Remember, we aretold that he is righteous. Back then righteous would have meant the same as lawabiding. If they weren’t able to stone Mary to death the penalties would stillhave been harsh and the dowry would still need to be returned by Mary’s family.
But here we get a sense of Joseph placing compassion abovewhat the rule books says. What the Bible says. A sense of listening to God’svoice seeking God’s will rather than being dictated to by rules and convention.
After the shock of my newly discovered nephew turning up on Christmasday, a place was found for him at the table. My mother, a fundamentallyconventional mother, still able to contain herself sufficiently to find someChristmas gifts for the new grandson.
Joseph, she deserveswhat’s coming to her, it’s in the Bible, but Joseph, being a righteous man andunwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
God was with Joseph. An angel spoke to Joseph in a dream andconsoled him. Mary had not cheated on him, and he was still allowed to marryher and to name their son.
Jesus was not the only meaningful name that was applied tothe child in this passage.
We are also told that that this all happened to fulfil theprophecy in Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son whowould be called Immanuel (God with us).
In Isaiah 7, the kingdom of Judah was under attack. Isaiahand his eldest son went to the king of Judah and told him to request any signof his choosing that things would work out for the southern kingdom. So Godsaid that a specific young woman would conceive and give birth to a child. Thewoman in Isaiah’s prophecy would name the child Immanuel, which means “God iswith us” in Hebrew. The verb “is” is important.
Not “God with us.” His mother prophesied in naming him “Godis with us.” The message that “God is with us” true when the kingdom was victoriousbut also a few years after when the kingdom was destroyed. God is with us not just in times ofdeliverance, but in times of devastation.
God is with us then during times of joy, but God is with usduring times of destruction as well
Naming Jesus, Immanuel God is with us, it is saying thatJesus’ birth fulfilled that ancient prophecy more than even its originalcontext. Yes, we see so much destruction, but Jesus’ birth testifies that Godis with us!
So a simple lesson the, important one today. From the ancient time God is with us. To thetime of Jesus his title reminds us that in times of deliverance and in times ofsuffering both, God is with us.
At this time of the year we often hear news reports aboutpeople telling us that the Christmas story is make believe, someone writes inthe paper that it was a fairy story. A mother moved her child from a schoolbecause she didn’t want the child involved in nativity play. She argued that itwas indoctrination.
When people talk that way, there is always an assumptionthat they know better. That there is some place where their children willsimply learn facts, and proof that the child removed from the nativity playwill find their fulfilment, and value in an environment free from these stories, where there is only rational discussion.
The challenge is that such an environment does notexist. There’s always a dominant story.In Jesus day it revolved around the power and oppression of the Roman Empire.The treatment of troublemakers, and the overwhelming use of torture, andcrucifixion.
The Romans had the power and told the main story back then.
The child withdrawn from the nativity play won’t be withdrawninto a neutral environment. That child will hear other stories. We know what someof those dominant stories are. The environmental damage caused by greed, and overconsumption. We have anepidemic of loneliness and social isolation. New Zealanders have high levels ofprivate debt.
What stories will the child be listening to?
Here today, confessing Jesus as Lord, we are talking about astory which we make central to our lives. We are also making a statement that love and joy peace and hope God’s forgivenessand assurance that God is with us in this Jesus.
Mary, Joseph, howunlikely. From the most unlikely obscureevent, from a tiny town on the edges of the Roman Empire comes 2000 years of proclamation that indeedGod is with us.
We understand why that is incredibly hard to believe. Nowonder you want to take your child out of the nativity play.
24 When Joseph awokefrom sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as hiswife, and he named the child, Jesus
Can we trust dreams?
Remember in Joseph’s life the rules were the rules. Thatwould have been the rational responsible way of dealing with this unmarriedmother. He would have been admired by othersfor taking a hard line here. There is not going to be a nativity play here. Notgoing to punish her but she will be quietly dealt with.
The dream, however, was enough for Joseph. He had beenasking many questions. "What should I do about Mary? What does the lawdemand? What does my heart tell me?" The dream answered these bigquestions.
So let’s stand with Joseph today. Asking the big questions. About our future. Our life. What gives us apurpose. As unlikely as it is - as we ask the big questions about our lives,our purpose we find in the end, that Jesus is the answer. Immanuel. God is withus.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.