By Sherry Black
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25
18 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. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married — which was a legally-binding contract in those days. But before they came to live together, Joseph discovered that his betrothed was pregnant. Well, what was he to think? There’s only one way that happens. And by law, she could have been put to death for this scandalous behavior. But Joseph was a just and righteous man, and so he resolved to take care of the situation in a quiet manner. But we might also imagine some relief, from his perspective, if this was done quietly — that things may have been easier for Joseph just to make it, make her, Mary, in all her pregnant disgrace, go away.
Through a dream, an angel intervened, and Joseph was informed who the father of the child actually was — a scandal of a different sort. The child was from the Holy Spirit! I wonder what Joseph thought of that. Still, the angel must have been persuasive, and Joseph took Mary as his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until after the child was born. And, as the angel commanded, Joseph named the son Jesus, which means Saves.
In a patriarchal culture, Joseph accepted Jesus as his son, giving up his right to parent and name his own son as firstborn — another scandal.
The final scandal in these verses comes from the writer, Matthew. Matthew interjects another name for this child, referencing and fulfilling Hebrew prophecy: “‘The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”
Emmanuel. God with us. Born of Mary and the Holy Spirit. Born into our crazy, messy world. God in flesh, God in human form, God is an actual baby named Jesus. A scandal becomes our salvation.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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The Diocese of Ilesa South West (Church of Nigeria – Anglican Communion)
The Diocese of Southern Ohio