Matthew 1:18-25 NIV
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[a]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[b] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[d] (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
This last week I was confronted with the concept of “unlearning”. Have you ever had to unlearn something? You thought you were taught in school that Pluto was a planet, but now we see from scientific advances, it is not a planet because it has not rounded the Sun on its own accord enough to become round and because it does not dominate the neighborhood around it. It is still rocky and very small, so it is now called a dwarf planet, of which there are many in the universe, I am told.
What I have learned in life though, is that the closer something you have to unlearn is to your soul and heart, the harder it is to unlearn it. For example, learning the name of a person you deal with for years, only to find out you memorized the wrong name and have called him the wrong name for two years!
But there are other re-learnings in life too…. When younger, I remember thinking this weird. Why do they keep saying that Isaiah’s words as a prophet came true, when Mary and Joseph named the baby Jesus, not Emmanuel (also spelled Immanuel)? Then, it was explained to me that naming someone and calling then something, was not the same thing back then. Naming the baby Jesus, did not mean that they did not believe him to be the Messiah or messenger of God, thereby calling him Emmanual…meaning ‘God with us’. Much like a title of Pastor, counselor, or teacher, may describe me for some people, it does not negate or compete with the name my parents gave me, of Dawn.
Words mean different things over time and the first dictionary, to aid us, was not created until 1604 for the English language alone…We have had to depend on reading other languages, from other times of history, in different pieces, over and over again, so to try to know what the words completely mean. Not always, but sometimes we learn we have been wrong and have to go back and relearn too.
Many a year at Christmas, someone in my life asks about the virgin Mary. We want to learn of a scientific proof that Mary was a virgin, in order to help our belief in Jesus, Son of her and Son of God. We have a very hard time just seeing and believing it was a miraculous conception.
The U.S. Catholic website has a great piece out about why Mary was called a virgin and some of the background to what the significance was to be during the time of Jesus. Remember, first and foremost, “Female biology was poorly appreciated in the first century. It was held that males alone generated life by their seed. Women’s bodies were merely the “soil” in which this seed was planted; they made no genetic contribution.” Ie- it did not matter at all the woman’s part, except that she carried the baby. Being a virgin was to say that for sure it was the man’s child….who the father was, was important for everything…including divinity.
“Hebrew had three words to describe a young woman with no children. The first, bethulah, is what we mean by virgin today. Other Hebrew terms with similar meanings (though) are na’a rah, a girl or maiden, and ‘almah, a young woman who is presently childless. An ‘almah could be married and not yet favored with a pregnancy…..That is a big difference to being what we call a virgin today. Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the arrival of Emmanuel doesn’t call his mother a virgin (bethulah), but a childless young woman (‘almah)…..Mary was a childless young woman at the time, even though Matthew and Luke want to make sure you see her as only being able to carry God’s child at the time.”
“Matthew isn’t being careless in his translation. Writing in Greek, he uses the Greek word parthenos, an all-in-one term for virginal girls that doesn’t split the fine hairs of the three Hebrew words. …. The point of the story is made: Joseph isn’t the father. This child is a God-event.” Quotes and paraphrasing from https://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201612/why-was-mary-virgin-30874
My friends, as we have learned more over time, most churches are trying to have us relearn and get passed this sticking point for those of us that are so very used to living by scientific proofs alone, and to realize that we do not always and immediately understand the points that are truly trying to be made at the time when they were written.
The main point of all of this, is to say that the origins of Jesus are divine. As Adam Hamilton says in his book, Faithful, Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph, we are so close to cloning humans at some point in the near future that it is not a huge jump for him to have faith in the parts that are not yet fully understood.
What I think he is saying is that faith is about so much more than just this one scientifically undiscovered piece, as of yet, that it does not stand in the way.
So how about you and me…..what is our faith built upon? I can only speak for myself, but urge all of us to think about this question…..
My faith is built on scripture that advises me. It is built on Gospel stories that I look at with eyes of tradition and the theology passed down by generations before me, yet always too, with an eye and mind of questioning and learning. My faith is also built on my personal experiences of a God who has always taken care of me when called upon. Not always the way I wanted to be taken care of at the time, but always in the best way in the end, so to show me that God wanted me to change and grow, to be a better person, with a closer relationship to God, and more faithful because of the struggles.
My faith is built on reasoning out what I realize to be cultural thoughts of the day, time, and region of the world I was born into and have experienced first-hand. For I realize that every person, of every time in history, even if close to God and able to hear the Lord, has their own cultural beliefs, prejudices/biases, and their own experiences that influence them, whether they know it or ever acknowledge it. This is a truth across the centuries.
My faith can’t help but encompass the feeling of a presence of a Lord that I cannot put my hands onto literally, but who shows me that He is there in a multitude of ways that only I get to feel, hear, and sense, over the years of my life. My relationship with God alone.
My faith is also built, and truth be known is restored, every year at this time when thousands upon thousands of other Christians, just as smart, talented, and inquisitive as I try to be, come together to sing, tell the Christmas stories, and to rejoice in the name of Jesus the Christ. Love, joy, blessings of peace and happiness, all wrapped in the security of the coming of the Savior for each of us individually, and for the world all together, we are one. Jesus came for us all!
Joseph had a dream, says the Gospel of Matthew, that an angel of the Lord came to him and told him that Mary was to have the Son of God, and that he was not to be afraid of taking Mary as his wife, but to actually do so. Being a righteous man and a religious man, he did as he was told. Joseph was faithful to his beliefs, religious and moral, and he was faithful to what he knew to be truth, to and for him.
Brothers and sisters, I can’t help but think that Joseph knew God well and he knew when he was experiencing something from God, even if other dreams he had had in his lifetime probably were different and were ones that he did not act upon them. He knew what he knew, because of faith.
How blessed we are that Joseph was that person that God could count on, to be Mary’s husband, to grow the child put in his care, who would listen to God when he realized God’s hand was upon something that affected him and his life.
Joy comes when we know the Lord. Joy comes when we recognize the Lord is speaking to us and addressing us. Joy comes in stepping out in faith and with the confidence that even if we do not understand, even if we can’t see the future clearly, and even if we never live long enough to know all of the consequences that we might wish to know and chalk up to our doing, we see “it is good” and from our stepping out, there is a sense of peace and harmony that goes beyond expectation and beyond explanation.
I Peter 3 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Mary and Joseph were of great worth in God’s sight. They were chosen to take a place in the coming of the Lord. They are portrayed by both the writers of Luke and Matthew as being of quiet and gentle spirits. Their beauty comes to us, not as stories to be dissected for possibilities or impossibilities, for no matter your faith, there is some unlikeliness or impossibility of mind born into it, or it would not be called a faith…a religion… a belief.
Let us continue with the season of Christmas with knowledge of how much our God loves us and of how much God cares for us. What a gift God gave us in Jesus the Christ! May Christmas be a time of hope, joy, peace, and faithfulness for us all!