December 23, 2001

Matthew 1:18-25

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant (it was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn't know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God's angel spoke in the dream: "Joseph, son of David, don't hesitate to get married. Mary's pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God's Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus -- 'God saves' -- because he will save his people from their sins." This would bring the prophet's embryonic sermon to full term:

"Watch for this -- a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Emmanuel" (Hebrew of "God is with us").

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God's angel commanded in the dram: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

<The Message >


1. Advent is a most joyous time. That sense of joy comes in looking back and identifying the beginning spot of our understanding. Where is the birth of joy?

There are as many different ways to talk about this as there are folks. Mark jumps in and takes the storyline back to John the Baptizer which by extension goes back to the prophets who bring the good news of present change can affect future results. Matthew tells this story through Joseph's dreams. Luke here tells it through Mary's experience. John pushes it back to creation.

The question is not which is most accurate. A better question is what is your experience of Emmanuel, God with us? How would you trace that back? Your incarnational story is to be a joy to you and others. You can tell it without a virginal birth, but you can't tell it without a sense of blessedness. Follow your blessedness and tell a new story of the presence of GOD.

2. Pot Shot number 2321 by Ashleigh Brilliant reads, "Nobody has ever explained the mystery of how I existed before I met you." That is a helpful insight as we consider whether this story of Jesus' birth is an explanation or an indication. In today's world, given what we know about birth, this is not an explanation. It is a story trying to tell an experience. What needs more looking at is the experience which triggered a story told in its own time and context rather than putting all the emphasis upon the story itself. Given today's sensibilities, how would you tell the story of where the most important person in your life came from? This question will help readers know where to put the emphasis when retelling this story as part of an oral tradition. For me the emphasis upon presence is of greater importance that the mechanism of that presence.

3. A Christmas present I hope you will buy for yourself is the new book by Bishop John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born. This gives an overview of why getting caught up in the literalism of this story is less than helpful and how we might go about appreciating both larger and more diverse stories of beginnings.

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