Anyone who gives careful attention to the narrative of Jesus’ birth in the Matthew’s Gospel will quickly realize that the birth of Jesus is anything but a glamorous and glitzy story. From the four controversial women mentioned in the genealogy to the murdering of every boy in Bethlehem to further Herod’s political ambitions and certainly the appearance of Mary’s infidelity which caused Joseph to seek a divorce prior to his encounter with an angel, the context which Jesus’ birth occurs in is ripe for the tabloids and gossip columns.
The amazing part of this story is that this baby is Immanuel – “God with us” – who is to be named Jesus because he will save us from our sins. However, this does not sound like a story setting that God would want to be a part of. At least that is how I was taught for many years. God is holy and righteous. Sin and sinners…they don’t belong in the same sentence as God. And so when we come to worship, we put on our smiley faces, perhaps our “Sunday’s best,” and check the world with all of our sins and struggles at the door.
But the story of Jesus’ birth as told in the Gospel of Matthew reminds us that even in a world ripe with the stink of sin, God is present. God comes to love, to serve, to show justice and mercy where hatred and oppression exists, to offer grace and forgiveness where guilt and shame exists, to tell the truth where lies have masqueraded as truth, to demonstrate peace where violence has reigned, and to give himself up on a cross as an offering that none of us could give and as a gift that none of us deserves.
Over the years I have come to admire the faith of Joseph. You can imagine what sort of rumors were rumbling around by those not privileged to hear what the angel had to say regarding Mary’s pregnancy. Yet against all rational thought that wanted to divorce Mary and be done with her, Joseph believed what the angel said and according to Matthew, his belief was accompanied with obedience. Joseph “…did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Matt 1.24, TNIV).
Against all conventional wisdom, Joseph believed that God was doing something amazing in the world and chose to participate in what God was doing – truly a selfless act. In a world like ours, where Christmas has been hijacked by consumerism and political agendas, I believe that if we truly want to experience a “Merry Christmas” that we can do so by discovering what God is doing in this world and become a participant in that. I can’t say what that specifically looks like in everyone’s life. It involves listening and observing, to see what God is doing and wants to do now. It involves becoming aware of what is going on beyond our own little spheres. It involves giving up ourselves to God for the sake of our world, a world God chooses to be present in. It involves loving and serving, showing justice and mercy, extending grace and forgiveness…
Whatever the case may be, the real Christmas story was not a one-time event but a journey that breaks forth the kingdom of God – his will done here on earth as it is done in heaven – reminding us that the generosity and good-will that emerges every holiday season is not meant to be a seasonal charity.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May God’s presence be with you all!