How Odd of God…
How odd of God…
… that the great turning point of His rescue mission should come with a whiff of scandal. Mary is found pregnant while unmarried, and she claims she is still a virgin. Hmmmm. And then her fiancé Joseph, instead of divorcing her, marries her instead. A boy is delivered soon after. Probably much too soon after. Hmmmm.
Unsurprisingly, rumours abound. The ancients did not need modern medical knowledge to know how children were conceived. In early Jewish writings called the Tosefta, there is an unfavourable reference to a “Yeshu son of Pandera.” The pagan philosopher Celsus repeats a claim that Mary was guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a Roman soldier named Panthera (Origen, Contra Celsum 1.69). Both these references may date back to the 2nd century. These slanderous accusations probably go back all the way to Jesus’ lifetime. As Pastor David pointed out, there appears to be an implied insult when Jesus’ opponents said to Him, “We are not born of sexual immorality” (John 8.41, ESV).
How odd then, that God should work His greatest miracle, send His greatest gift, in a situation that could and did give rise to scandal.
Or is it?
Just before our passage, Matt 1.18-25, we are given an account of Jesus’ lineage. We might have expected more of the “right” sort of respectable people to feature in the bloodline of the great Jewish Messiah, but what we get is a stunning collection of saints, and sinners, and everything in-between. We find good kings, bad kings, heroes, adulterers, Jews and Gentiles. There is no pattern of righteousness or respectability. Wicked king Rehoboam fathers wicked king Abijah, who fathers good king Asa, who fathers good king Jehoshaphat, who fathers wicked king Joram. Five women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary herself) are included in the genealogy, which is striking because the practice is so rare. And why mention them, of all women? Wouldn’t Sarah, or Rebekah, or Rachel, be more appropriate? More… respectable? Isn’t it embarrassing that the first four women mentioned in the genealogy all had unusual marriages, sexual scandals, or suspicions of having had illegitimate children? (Look these women up in the Bible!)
And yet God worked in these unexpected people, through inconvenient (scandalous!) circumstances, to bring about His plan of salvation. If we take the genealogy seriously, then God seems to specialize in doing the unexpected. Perhaps what seems odd to us, is not odd to God after all.
When God intervenes, it is often unexpected and inconvenient. It certainly was so for Joseph and Mary that first Christmas. But they did not shrink back, and went on to live out God’s will, at great personal cost. Their obedience led to the greatest miracle, the greatest gift, the birth of Jesus, who saves His people from their sins.
Perhaps you find yourself in an unexpected or inconvenient situation this Advent season. You’d rather not be in such a situation — at work, or at home, or in school, with your friends or relatives. But maybe God is intervening in your life, so that His rescue mission for the world may go out to this friend at work, or that relative, or maybe even that someone who is making things difficult for you. How can you be obedient — perhaps even at personal cost — and so be an instrument through which Jesus can save His people from their sins?