Matthew 1:18-25 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 young woman 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.
You Didn't Hear That From ME!
We love gossip!!!!!! When we get hold of a juicy story, we like to tell somebody! Remember that skit from the TV show, In Living Color where the main character, after raking someone over the coals, would look sideways at the camera and say, "...but I'm not one for gossip, so you didn't hear that from me!" We relate because we love feeling like we’re “in the know'; that we have the scoop on something no one else knows about. It gives us a sense of importance- of one-upping someone else! When a good bit of gossip comes our way, somehow our sense of caring for each other gets mixed up in comparing our lives to one another… and we love talking about that. In our hi tech society we even have various forms of media devoted solely to our love of gossip. Gossip has become big business- it sells! And the bigger the shock value, the juicier the gossip!
People haven’t changed much in 2000 years. We have been gossiping for centuries… The Greeks called it- skandalon- scandal!
The Bible is no exception. It’s filled with story after story of people who were surrounded by or participated in scandalous (gossip-worthy) behavior. But somehow we want to protect the birth of Jesus from scandal at all costs. We want to make it all peaceful and perfect and serene like our porcelain nativity sets… to separate it somehow from the scandal it is…
The birth of Jesus took place in this way- says the passage from Matthew.
“When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together,(in other words... known each other, come together, had sexual relations) Mary was found to be with child, from the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew takes great pains to tell us that the birth of Jesus is anything but porcelain perfect.
Let me ask you... If you are Joseph and your fiancée comes to you and says she pregnant, and you know the baby isn’t yours- what do you do?
Well, if you’re a normal turn of the 1st century man, and you are, as the text says, 'a righteous man'- meaning, a man who has followed the laws of his religion, a man who knows right from wrong, a man who knows the scripture and believes what it tells him he has to do in this situation- you know you are not about to marry this girl… no matter what kind of story about the Holy Spirit she's cooked up.
But, if you are Joseph, you have a sense of the relational and common sense side of the laws of your religion; you know that your faith is about showing compassion to one another at all costs- then you realize that sending Mary to the edge of the city to be stoned to death isn’t the answer either. So, to avoid this, and to protect your girl, (and yourself) from humiliation… you plan to just walk away…
And, if you are Joseph, when you have a divine being visit you in the middle of the night; and this being, this angel, tells you to go ahead with the marriage, and that Mary’s story is on the level... well...you hang on to every bit of hope you can muster that what you’ve just experienced wasn’t really a hallucination from eating bad seafood- that the being who visited you really was an angel. And even though you know that for the rest of your life you will be surrounded by scandal and ridicule… you marry her anyway- and you let people talk, and you put up with the stares and the laughing and the gossip… and you try to protect Mary from what you can- and protect yourself from what you can… and maybe you’re angry about what you have to endure… and maybe you’re not…
In truth... it’s not the first time Mary’s family has been the subject of scandal. Her family tree has more than it’s share of questionable characters swinging from its limbs. In fact Matthew opens his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. “Four women are named as part of the genealogy. Many commentators have noted this, and most of them note that all four of the women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and "the wife of Uriah") have somewhat scandalous sexual histories. Following immediately on the heels of this narration of Jesus’ strange ancestry we have the story of the pregnancy of Mary by someone other than her husband.”[i]
So scandal is nothing new to Mary- but why spend all this time laying it out for us? Why do we have to be shown that Jesus’ birth was not "normal?" To prove the virgin birth? Perhaps. Many have argued that without a virgin birth, there would be no deity- that Jesus could not be “God” unless he was conceived in a non earthly way…
Perhaps the author of Matthew surrounds the birth of Christ in scandal as a preview to his life- which will itself be gossip worthy- shrouded in scandal- from the time he ditches his parents on the way home from Jerusalem to turning the tables over in the temple to partying with drunks and prostitutes and tax collectors… to disrespecting the religious leaders and government all the way to the cross… the cross itself surrounded by scandal. Surely that’s another strong argument…
Or is there something more that Matthew is preparing us for? Is there something that we should be aware of… something that warns us from the very beginning, that following Christ will lead in itself to scandal?
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me." (We translate it "takes no offense at me." Matthew 11:6)” [ii]But the word is skandalon… And if I am reading that correctly- I have to take that to mean that there will be times in my life as a follower of Christ when I will be at the very least, tempted to take offense- or to be scandalized- or even myself scandalize the name of Christ. There will be times that I can and will act just like Joseph- when my Lord will ask something of me and I feel like it’s too much of a burden, it’s too hard… that to follow what God is saying will cause me ridicule or embarrassment or a change in lifestyle or reputation; when doing what God is asking me to do might cause me to have to give up things, or not put first what I consider important, or change the comfort level I have come to love… and when that happens and I am faced with a choice to say yes or no to the God of heart… my desire will still be to just walk away without a word… I can dismiss God quietly…
And if I’m honest with myself, I do that a lot. And I hang on to my religion, or my religious rules about right and wrong or I’ll find and quote some passage in scripture to justify my behavior. “God wouldn’t be asking me to do that… because it says right here in scripture…” even though I know exactly what God is calling me to.
You don’t believe me? I did it years ago when I felt God calling me to be a pastor. I fought it with everything I had. I was in a church that didn't even believe in women preachers! And I so I would quote scripture like, “women should be silent in church,” so I could hang on to my own sense of worldly security instead of stepping out in faith to allow God to do something new. I don’t like public speaking… I’m not a big fan of confrontation… I would have to TELL people about God… heck, I would have to tell people God was calling me… ME! And instead of being happy about it or honored by it- I knew it would be embarrassing for me- I would have to face ridicule from my conservative friends, I would take ribbing from my family… “Who are you to be a pastor, Linda??”, “What are you in mid-life crisis?,” “You’re the black sheep of the family! The party girl!”
And even though I made it over that hump, and that was a big one, I sometimes still find myself wanting to dismiss God quietly…
I tried to do it again when I felt God calling me to my present position. I was so content- so 'happy.' Why did God have to uproot my life and move me away from everything familiar?
And I continue to do it- I try to be obedient-
honest... but I still don't want to have difficult conversations even though I
know God asks me to...I still don't
like spending so much time in prayer... there's so much to DO! And there's
something else I can trust you with... most of the time I find myself wanting
to dismiss God, not when I am asked to
do something for someone else... that's easy forme.If
God asks me to stand up for someone else, or for injustice, or for someone who
is being abused- man I am right there! First one out of the gate with a flag in
However, sometimes God asks
me to do something for me- I didn't learn to stand up for myself as a child- so
every time God asks me to do something for myself, or take time away from
someone or something to care for myself.. it I cringe- it's easier to leave
things alone isn't it? Where's the
But that's usually how it is for me.... when it's difficult, or will cause me
pain, or will cause me to stand up for who God is calling me to be in the
world- it’s easier to just walk away quietly.
'Blessed are those who are not scandalized by me…
So my prayer for you today is this: that sometime before Christmas you will ask
yourselves, 'What is it in your life that God may be calling you to that you
would rather just dismiss quietly?'
Is it some type of ministry? Is
it standing up for others fighting injustice? Is it standing up for yourself?Is there a relationship that needs ending so
you can be the person God is caling you to be? Or is there one that needs healing- and you have to
begin the work of reconciliation (talk about wanting to dismiss quietly...)
Or maybe for you it's as easy as recognizing
the scandal of Christmas… maybe God has been calling you to do Christmas
differently this year… to make this year about more than wrapping and baking
and shopping and porcelain nativities? But in order to do that, means explaining
yourself, or embarrassment, or going against the norm of Christmas at wal mart-
I mean, America… being scandalized yourself to honor the Christ Child.
And believe me, I know it's so much easier to walk away... its easier to just fit in...
its easier to follow the rules... don't make waves. But perhaps just this once, perhaps
this time, you can hang on to every bit of hope you can muster that you
may have just had a divine encounter with a messenger from God, and walk
forward in faith to what God is calling you to do!
Share the good
news of Christmas! We love a good scandal… this is such a juicy
story!spread the word… go tell the
world about the scandalous birth and life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Not
for one upping, or to be in the know or to compare yourself- but to bring joy to
the world- the Lord has come!!!
But I’m not one for gossip, so you didn’t hear it from me..