It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Now I don’t know what first century couples did in anticipation of their weddings. I mean they weren’t going to Macy’s to pick out china patterns. But I’m sure they didn’t expect this. Not just an unplanned pregnancy, but an inexplicable one.
Imagine what it may have been like for each of them.
Mary is barely mentioned, but what about her? It says she was found to be with child. How?
Matthew tells the story differently from Luke. We tend to combine the two stories in our minds and in our pageants and crèches, but for now, let’s keep them separate.
In Matthew’s gospel, the angel appears to Joseph, not to Mary, and he only shows up after she’s already pregnant and both families know it. So, I wonder how long it is before she realizes that’s what’s happening; that she’s with child? When she experiences the early signs of pregnancy, nausea, fatigue, a missed period or two or three, that certainly wouldn’t even cross her mind.
Imagine the conversations she had with her mom. She’s wondering what’s wrong? Is she ill? Could she be barren? That would almost be a worse fate. When they settle on “pregnant” as the diagnosis, imagine the distrust and the sense of betrayal she must have felt when her own family, most likely, doesn’t believe her and accuses her of lying
Distrust, betrayal, shame, this story is filled with pain and heartbreak. Mary’s father would have to tell Joseph and his family. Imagine all the shame and betrayal Joseph felt. We see a glimpse of his inner struggle. There really is no way for him to avoid shame. As soon as word gets out, he will be shamed because his wife has been unfaithful.
And just as Joseph decides what to do, God finally shows up and sends an angel, a messenger to tell him not only to marry her, but to claim her son as his own by naming him. In that culture, to give someone a name was to claim “ownership” so to speak.
This angel makes no marvelous claims about titles and thrones for the child; simply that the child is from the Holy Spirit and will save his people from their sins.
Wow! What a way to start a marriage. And it will get even more strange and more tense as it goes on; as we will hear over the next few weeks.
Life rarely goes according to plan and it certainly didn’t for Mary and Joseph. But they did what most of us do – they did their best to adjust and continue on.
Now Matthew tells us about Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus, not so we get to know Jesus’ parents. No this is a story about God.
God shows up in a dream (at least God’s angel does) to save their marriage, yes. More importantly, though, this is about God showing up in the world in the lives of ordinary people; God showing up as an ordinary person; God showing up in such an extraordinarily ordinary way, to save the people – all people.
Matthew tells his story to an ancient Jewish audience in such a way that they will understand it clearly. They’re familiar with the stories from their Bible; from the Torah, from the prophets.
Matthew begins by tracing the genealogy of Jesus:
14 generations from Abraham to King David
14 generations from David to the exile in Babylon
14 generations from the exile to Jesus, son of Mary, wife of Joseph of the line of David.
He names key figures from their scriptures, from their history. Throughout the gospel, he repeats the formula as we heard today, “this was to fulfill the word spoken through the prophet” and then he quotes the Hebrew Bible.
He tells his story to convince his audience and to place Jesus squarely within their history, their lineage, and in the tradition of the prophets. He tells of an extraordinary birth in line with the tradition of the cultures around them to convince them that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, the chosen one of God, the Savior.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, no the Incarnation – the coming of God into the world in an extraordinarily ordinary way, ask yourself some questions:
How do you respond when “it wasn’t supposed to be like this…?”
How does God show up?
Do you find God in unlikely people and places?
Matthew writes this story to convince his audience. What convinces you that Jesus is who you think he is?
The angel tells Joseph that Jesus will save the people from their sins,
What is the salvation you seek from Jesus?
Ponder these questions in your heart over the coming week. Meditate on them, maybe, pray them. See what happens when we celebrate Jesus coming into the world at Christmas.