Advent 4 A – Out of the ordinary

This may be our favourite birth story.

Favourite because we can’t tell stories about our own children

without making them uncomfortable (at least, I can’t…yet)

but also since it is the most significant birth story in our experience,

because of the character (and purpose) of the child who is at the centre of it.

 

as with any ‘good’ story, however,

there are a variety of opinions concerning the details of the thing.

And today, we consider Matthew’s version.

 

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.”

but not before the bloodlines are established –

Matthew would be sympathetic to that most basic of questions in this part of the country –

“who’s your father?”

Matthew anticipates that question from us about Jesus

by taking us back through the history of the Jewish people

he hits all the highlights –

every famous father (and several ‘infamous’ fathers) in all of Scripture –

but we are left with a bit of a problem…

 

In the end, this Joseph fellow –

no matter his pedigree, in spite of his apparently rugged righteousness –

is too ordinary for this moment.

 

And it is Joseph alone who is faced with the raw truth of the moment;

his betrothed is with child – he knows that it is not his.

Usually when people talk about the “scandal of the gospel”

they are referring to the grace offered through Christ “while we were yet sinners”

but here is a scandal of a different kind.

 

We might not understand the fill impact of divine grace

but we know plenty about ruined reputations,

and the uncomfortable questions of questionable parenthood.

What’s a husband to do?

 

He was her husband – no question about that.

And it seems that he truly loved her – this talk about his righteousness

is a macho disguise for real affection.

Joseph did not want Mary exposed to the full penalty of the law

or the ridicule of her family and the larger community.

So he believed that his only option, in light of his concern for Mary, was a quiet divorce –

something below the surface of common conversation –

something that would disguise the truth and save them all.

 

Joseph’s decision is familiar – ordinary – and one that we might choose.

Keep the truth at arms length – keeping reputations safe, and imaginations in check –

that’s the safe way; it is comfortable behaviour, that asks little of us and changes nothing,

but there is a problem …

If God has laid claim to us, then there are some things that must change;

imaginations will run wild –

because we have all heard fantastical stories about how God works –

the “ordinary” will be cast aside,

and we are not really ready for what that means.

 

If God is with us, as the prophet promised,

then our approach to life – our acceptance of the “same-old same old” –

is no longer acceptable – we will have much asked of us –

we will desire changes where none seem possible

and so, we have a decision to make.

 

We can deny that we have been grafted into God’s family tree

quietly disown God who seeks us in love.

We can secretly slip away from the truth that threatens to undo us

the truth of love without boundaries

the truth of birth (genesis in the Greek) – literally a beginning –

that is offered by God who seeks us in scandalous ways,

or we can wake from our dream of self-sufficient safety

and set out on an unknown road.

What’s a person to do?

 

 

 

Ordinary people like Joseph – like you and I – want nothing more than to avoid the scandal

to continue with our plans – not too ambitious,

not too far outside the well established patterns of our lives.

We treasure our reputations as quiet, hard-working, respectable people – as Joseph did –

and are properly suspicious of anything else.

But when the promise of God comes suddenly and very personally;

when visions in the night speak of putting our fear aside

and taking our place in the ageless and continuing story of God’s redemption,

how can we walk away?

 

Matthew’s gospel doesn’t really do justice to the enormous decision

that comes to Joseph when he wakes.

“He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…”

it seems an anti-climax, but it was the first and greatest step

towards the truth that would save us all.

 

This birth story is our favourite, and endures as a story of great promise.

It is proof of God breaking into our carefully tended lives.

It is proof that our options are no longer limited by fear for our reputations.

God’s decision to take a place among us in Jesus

has forever marked us as brothers and sisters of the one who knows no fear.

In one, shining moment of grace – by the gift of this Holy child –

we discover we can never again be ordinary.

 

 

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