Sunday 19 December 2010

Bible Book:

"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the chld conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." (v.20)

Matthew 1:18-25 Sunday 19 December 2010


On the fourth Sunday in Advent it is tradition to celebrateMary, the mother of Jesus. She has central place in the birthnarratives: she is the one who carries God's anointed ("Messiah" v.18) who will "save his people from their sins" (v. 21). 

In this passage, however, the focus is not on the main stage. It ison Joseph, whose role is always a supporting one; he is always inthe wings. Even in this passage his role is deliberately marginalas the author stresses his non-involvement in the conception ofJesus. This underlines the theological point that Jesus is bothhuman (through Mary) and divine (by the Holy Spirit). 

Today some of us may struggle with the notion of virgin birth. Itmay be easier for us to consider Jesus to be genetically human butanointed or adopted by God at his Baptism. (This is what as Mark'sGospel, which contains no birth narratives, might suggest.)However, in ancient times a virgin birth was a commonplace way ofsaying 'this person was not merely human, but in some sense agod/God'. 

It may be helpful to think of both this passage and Mark's accountof the Baptism of Jesus (Mark1:1-11) as two ways of saying the same thing: Christiansbelieve that to save us (v. 21) Jesus must be both one of us(human) and one with God (divine). How this is possible is amystery which cannot be unravelled but only enteredinto. 

In this sense perhaps Joseph is a help to us. Joseph, like anyoneelse, has plans. He wants to be in control of his life. When hefinds out that Mary who is legally bound to him ("engaged" v. 18)is pregnant, he plans to divorce her. But instead of relying on thecustoms and instincts that would keep him safe, Joseph enters intothe mysterious world opened up to him by an angel in adream. 

As this 12th century image from San Juan de la Peña in Spainsuggests, Joseph (no less than Mary) allows himself to be touchedand changed by Emmanuel (God's mysterious presence at the heart ofhuman life). 

To Ponder

What sense does the story of the virgin birthmake to you?

When plans for your life have been thwarted, howhas God spoken to you?

What kind of approach is needed in order to enterinto a mystery rather than trying to unravel it?

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