Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)
The Advent Season, which we find ourselves in presently, is a time of preparation as excitement builds and we await the wonder of Christmas morning. The weeks prior to Christmas are filled with sentimentality— listening to Christmas music on the radio, decorating the house, making cookies from Grandma’s recipe, setting out the nativity scene… Because of the memories associated with this season and the place the Biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth has within it, we often sentimentalize the story as well— thinking of how quaint the stable is, how beautiful and innocent young marry appears, how the animals would have quietly been waiting for Jesus to be born, how the shepherds would have been dressed in clean white linens and humbly made their procession to the place of the birth. We neglect just how radical and other the story really is: God taking a risk by becoming human and entrusting his earthly life to an unwed mother, being brought into this world in the midst of the dirtiness of a barn, greeted by the lowly outcasts (shepherds) and the non Jewish wise men from another region. We neglect to notice how God is working throughout the entire narrative, calming fears, motivating belief, encouraging action, and patiently waiting on the human participants to embrace their role in the salvation plan. We forget what a gift it is to proclaim that God is indeed WITH us, that God chooses to communicate, chooses to walk among us, chooses to be in relationship with us. We fail to notice how terrifying this situation would be for Mary, Joseph and all of the human participants— to have God call them to this, to have God entrust them with this, to have God expect this of them.
The truth of this passage isn’t a claim on that small moment in history, or even the 30+ years of Jesus’ life on earth, it is a claim on all of our lives— GOD IS WITH US. Do we live our lives in a way that reflects this belief? Do our daily interaction show the world that we believe that there is something to hope for, to hope in? Do we recognize God in our own life stories?
I was in fourth grade when I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Early on in my diagnosis, before they were able to balance the dozens of medications I was on, I remember lying awake at night in my parent’s bed, pretending to be asleep so that my mom would sleep too. I remember one night her weeping, letting go of the strong face that she put on throughout the day and allowing the uncertainty and the pain of watching her daughter suffer wash over her. I also remember feeling God there with me and a certainty that everything was going to be okay that this wasn’t the end.