Good morning, I had never thought of Jesus as an unwanted child. But that was Joseph’s first response. It is amazing how God works. We will resume meeting the first week of January. Peace to you all. Vernon
EVERY CHILD A TREASURE
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.
It certainly seems peculiar that the reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent is the birth of Jesus. Usually this is a Christmas Day text. But here we have Joseph preparing for the birth of someone else’s child. What was he to do? His was most likely an arranged marriage. We should not imagine that Joseph and Mary even spent much time together. This was not dating as we know it. In the end, none of this matters because Joseph had to decide how he was going to respond to the news of his betrothed’s pregnancy. It does not take much imagination to visualize Joseph’s predicament.
Joseph was well within his rights to accuse her, shame her and perhaps even have her stoned. These things happen in real life. What would you do if the woman you were to marry tells you she is pregnant— if the man you were to marry tells you he’s fathered another child? Recently (11/29/18) there was a woman in the news who read her cheating fiancee’s salacious texts in lieu of her wedding vows. Far less dramatically, blended families have to be intentional about becoming a family. We attach so much importance to blood lines that we often lose sight of what it means to be loving. The rivalries, power struggles and jealousies that can be present in any family are usually magnified in blended families. It takes focus and intentionality to navigate these waters.
As the scripture tells us, Joseph had resolved to ‘dismiss her quietly. It was not in Joseph’s self interest to adopt a child and he would not have done so without divine intervention. The smart move was to disengage—and that is often true today. Many people on dating websites automatically dismiss potential partners who already have children. It is just too complicated and there are lots of other fish in the sea. Compared to public humiliation, Joseph was certainly kind to Mary but dismissing her quietly could only reduce some of the negative consequences for her; it didn’t do anything about the struggle she faced as an unmarried mother. It did, however, extricate him from a very messy wedding which almost certainly would include a lot of raised eyebrows and mummering— not to mention the many costs—-emotional and financial of raising a child.
Then the angel of the Lord intervened telling him: “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.” Doing the right thing—being a righteous man—was not enough. God wanted Joseph to claim this child and to claim Mary. It was not enough to ‘do no harm’, God wanted Joseph to love in a new way. Just as hope, peace, and joy are understood differently in the Advent season, Love is being redefined. It turns out God’s saving love is less about feelings and more about choosing to regard. God’s love does not follow secular rules and expectations. Blood lines, conventional appropriateness no longer matter. What matters is the choice to regard another human being through thick and thin. That is what an adoption is. That is what a marriage is. And even though we are ‘supposed’ to love our children, in real life, it is the same commitment we make when we choose to have our own children.
In ordinary life, we are much more likely to associate the word love with familial affection, camaraderie, romantic love, the joy of finding someone who ‘gets us’ or the passions of sexual intimacy. God’s love, however, is much bigger. Such love is not based on feelings. It is based on choice. That is what is asked of Joseph. We cannot sustain such love on our own. We have to have received such love to offer it—that is the gift of the messiah. But if we have known such regard—a God who joins us in every aspect of our being, because he chose us, it is possible to extend such care to others.
We see the harbinger of such love in both Mary and Joseph. When Joseph obeyed the angel of the Lord, he named and claimed Jesus as his son. Jesus did not belong (at least paternally) to the Davidic line until Joseph adopted him. God’s promises were fulfilled in a highly unlikely way. Joseph chose Jesus as his son. We are only to learn later that God has chosen us in the same way.
God’s loving always includes risk. No parent knows what parenting will bring. By any secular standard, both Joseph and Mary chose to swim upstream. No newly wed knows the difficulties ahead. But we choose to support and enhance the ones we love. Nobody asks if we feel like it. What matters is that we do our best to move in God’s direction. It is hard work to care for a family. It is hard work to try to build someone up when we are exhausted. We go sleepless to care for sick children. We ache when those we love are in pain. We get anxious for their future. But most of us choose to love. Most of us struggle to discern what it means to love in real life. For Joseph, it meant changing his mind. It meant turning toward what he was turning away from. It meant claiming an unexpected and in some ways unwanted child.
God’s love doesn’t care about color, gender, age, immigration status or any other human criteria. In that way God’s love is always unexpected. Children matter as much as adults, women as much as men, the poor as much as the rich and even the enemy as much as the friend. In real life we put hundreds of conditions on who we choose to regard. Joseph’s first choice was not to take on a child that was not his. Common sense and convention certainly gave him permission to step back. But every child matters— even ones that are not our own. In the excitement and anticipation of the Christ child, it is important to remember how easily the infant Jesus could have been discarded. Someone, a set of humans had to claim him, adopt him and make him part of their family. Someone had to make God’s way of loving tangible and real. None of his wondrous things could have happened otherwise.
There is no person, no child that does not deserve such love. But we need to remember there are many unwanted children in this world. Many will never be treasured. We must remember the children in cages, the children wandering the streets, the children who are exploited. But we should also remember how easy it is to be too busy to listen to a child. It takes a special gift to treat children as children of God. It is all too common to patronize rather than do the work of being fully present. That is the love that God brings to each of us—and it is the love God called forth in both Mary and Joseph. And look what became of that.
In this advent season, be grateful for the people who have made God’s love real.
May we be ever mindful of the unwanted and discarded of this world. May everyone one of us trust God’s adoption. May we learn to love in God’s new way. Let it be so.
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