22 December 2013

Matthew 1:18-25

“and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’” (v. 23)


The author, Matthew, is treading on delicate ground of the ancient story of God's search for the heart of humanity, and of humanity's search for God but also of the cultural and ethical standards of the day. To quote a friend of mine, there is something 'indecent' about the account of Mary and Joseph and Matthew faces the challenge of how to tell the tale in such a way that it makes sense of ancient traditions, and the acceptable behaviour of the day?. If Matthew struggles a little in this task, then he sets the scene for Jesus who struggles in exactly the same way, for the God Jesus reveals doesn't fit easily into either our religious assumptions or our moral certainties.

From Joseph's perspective a pregnant fiancé with whom he has not had sex is an awkwardness that is not hard for the modern mind to understand, but perhaps we don't quite get the 'indecency' of the situation. The story is more fundamental than an implied sexual embarrassment or frailty. Women were in those days considered property and theft will be understood to have occurred, promises and contracts broken, and an ending of the engagement would seem the most humane way forward. But a relationship of cosmic importance was about to be destroyed before it had got going - Mary and Joseph no longer engaged - with nothing but sad and bitter memories and child caught between them. Joseph and Mary as partners mattered or else why did the angel persuade Joseph to hang on in there?

Joseph is asked to trust that a greater 'decency'is taking place, a God-incident in which morality and ancient story are not destroyed, but fundamentally fulfilled. In this way God chooses both Mary and Joseph to share in the redemption of all, by being the family that will hold the baby who will one day hold the world, and bring it life.

To Ponder

  • What is more indecent? A hungry starving child or one with irregular parentage?
  • Why do the issues of sexual immorality sometimes upset us more than the consequences of injustice, greed, cruelty and neglect?
  • And why do you think God reveals God's own self this way and not another?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin

Born in Africa to missionary parents, Mark Wakelin is a Methodist minister, He was the President of the Methodist Conference 2012/2013, and before that worked for the Connexional Team, as the secretary for internal relationships. He is now the minster at Epsom Methodist Chuch.