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By Ted Schroder,
December 18, 2016

The birth narrative in Matthew's Gospel (Matt.1:18-25) is a combination of facts adding up to a momentous truth. Jesus was born in unusual circumstances. His mother was a virgin. She was planning to be married to Joseph, and was found to be pregnant -- not an unusual circumstance these days but a scandal in that society. Joseph, naturally enough, wondered who was the father. He must have been upset to say the least. He planned to divorce her, but did not want to embarrass her further. She must have tried to tell him what she knew: that an angel had told her that she would conceive a child through the action of the Holy Spirit. But he did not buy that story. What man would? Then he had a dream. In it an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, and that what Mary had said was true: what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew saw this unique pregnancy as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. Joseph took Mary home to be his wife. These are the facts as they are presented.

The uniqueness of Mary's pregnancy contributes to the uniqueness of the baby born. He is presented as both truly God and truly Man. Such a thing is naturally impossible and cannot be proven. Therefore it requires faith in God who can do impossible things, like creating the world out of nothing. Siegfried Sassoon has a poem entitled, The Unproven.

Looking at Life, some unbelieved-in angels
Asked one another when
Science would overhear them and encourage
Their ministries to men.

Listening outside Eternity for Knowledge
And divination of Death
Stood Science. Hushed was Heaven; and all those angels,
Still hopeful, held their breath.

Some people find the miraculous element of the birth narratives: angels, and virgins, stars and wise men, too much to believe. I have never had a problem with the miraculous. I find life on Earth to be a miracle. I find conception, gestation and birth to be a miracle. As far as I am concerned God can do anything he chooses to do. Who am I to limit him? Tom Wright writes,

"There are indeed many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in post-enlightenment metaphysics. The 'closed continuum' of cause and effect is a modernist myth. The God who does not 'intervene' from the outside but is always present and active within the world, sometimes shocking, may well have been thus active on this occasion. We very well could get on one's high metaphysical horse and insist that God cannot behave like this, though we do not know that ahead of time. Along with a high moral horse insisting that God ought not to do things like this, because we send the wrong message about sexuality, because divine parentage gave Jesus an unfair start over the rest of us. Such positions produce a cartoon picture: the mouse draws itself up to its full height, puts its paws on its hips and gives the elephant a good dressing down." ("God's Way of Acting," The Christian Century, December 16, 1998, p.1215)

God did something unique in the birth of Jesus. Max Lucado put it this way:

"in reality, that particular moment was like none other. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.
The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became piercable. He was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.
God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created.
God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched himself against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluid of his mother."
God had come near. ("God Came Near," p.25)

If all that is presented in the birth narratives of the Gospels really happened, what are the implications for us?

It would cause us to bow in worship -- in wonder and humility at God in action, coming to be with us, to save us from our sins. If God is with us in the human life of Jesus, then we must listen and learn from him. It would puncture our conceptions of a world that is empty of God, of angels, or miracles, and confined only to the mundane, the rational and the abstract. Life is expanded, it is holy, it is filled with wonder, with love, with joy that God is at work to save us.

A Prayer.

Loving Father, now at the climax of this time of waiting I offer you all my longing and hoping in it. May the wonder of it all be renewed in me. Let the mystery and holiness of your great gift to us, which we celebrate afresh, come upon me as strangely and gloriously as to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem.

Father let me glimpse the joy of the angels at the goodness of God; let me know myself freed by this infant Savior from all that I am ashamed of and would leave behind: the guilt of a life selfishly lived, the burden of spoilt relationships, and the misery of failed effort.

Lord God, I bring all these to the poor stable, and ask that in this place my past may no more be seen, but my present and future be lit by that shining and generous love which shone around the angels as they sang of glory, and which shines for all of us where Christ is born.

Bless those for whom amidst other's joy this is a hard and bitter time of suffering or remembering, those for whom your gift seems to offer so little comfort. Deepen true care in my heart for them; and for those for whom this time has no holiness or glimpse of the wonder of your love. Thank you that your gift is to us all, and that you patiently await our acceptance. Bring us all, dear Father, at the last to know it and receive it. Amen. Ruth Etchells, Just As I Am, p.136


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