Isaiah 7:10-16; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Worlds apart, though not a great distance, Mary and Joseph bear parallel but private burdens. What thoughts must have raced through their solitude?
Oh God, what would he say if I told him the truth?
What will he do if I say nothing?
Oh God, what will happen when he begins to notice that I am pregnant?
If he dismisses me, what will become of me? What will become of this child?
Oh God, you began this work in me. How will you see it through to its promised end?
Oh God, what would she say if I asked her for the truth?
Would I want to know?
Oh God, could I ever learn to love her and this child that isn’t mine?
Am I not enough to wait for?
Oh God, how could she do this to our promised future?
Mary holds the weighty knowledge of her intimate, personal involvement in God’s saving plan, as another life takes on its own weight within her body. But she holds this knowledge alongside an utter incapacity to explain that plan to others. Reading only Matthew’s text, we know at least that she has not ventured to tell Joseph.
Meanwhile, Joseph undergoes the trial of his deepest conscience: a conflict between the righteous observance of the Law, his personal instincts of compassion and discretion, and his own dashed expectations. Probably, he is gravely disappointed.
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
This Gospel account speaks of Jesus’ miraculous birth; however our celebration today remembers the miraculous birth of his mother, Mary. There’s no record of this in the Scriptures. The best we can do is found in the Gospel of James, which dates back to about year 145. The Gospel of James is “apocryphal,” i.e., it doesn’t have the authority of the Scriptures but it does give us an early picture of the piety that developed around Jesus’ mother, Mary. According to the Gospel of James, Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, fervently prayed and prayed for a child, to no avail. But then they received a miraculous promise from God that Anna would conceive a child, and this child would herald God’s plan of salvation for the world. God was especially present in Mary’s life from the beginning. Two second-century teachers, Saint Irenaeus and Saint Justin Martyr, who lived at the same time as the Gospel of Thomas appeared, wrote that if Jesus is the new Adam, then Mary, his mother, is the new Eve.[i] Saint Augustine, writing in the fifth century, said that through Mary’s birth and the birth of her son, Jesus, the nature we inherit from our first parents Adam and Eve is changed from “original sin” to “original blessing.”[ii] Mary, then Jesus, change everything.
We frequently remember Mary for saying “yes” to God’s invitation.Joseph also said “yes”though none of his words are recorded in scripture. His life is his word. Joseph’s actions speak loudly.
Joseph was a righteous man. Quiet Joseph resolved to do the right thing, to dismiss Mary quietly, to save her from disgrace.Then God told Joseph to do something different, to take Mary as his wife and name their child Jesus.Joseph listened and followed.
Micah 5:2-5a; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:18-25
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of a few Marian Feasts that is revered by some and viewed with suspicion by others. It is a Feast that is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox traditions, but is not in most other mainline protestant traditions. The reason for this is complicated, but in brief Medieval Divines insisted that in terms of Marian devotion there be a distinction between hyperdulia and latria; hyperdulia meaning ‘strong reverence,’ and latria meaning ‘worship,’ which belonged to God alone. However, the line between hyperdulia and latria, between reverence and worship was often easily blurred and Marian devotion sometimes slid into what was termed “Mariolatry.”[i] On a personal note, I grew up in an Evangelical Protestant tradition in which hyperdulia AND latria were blasphemous and those who did any of that were a part of the ‘cult of Mary!’
Here is this morning’s sermon. When I looked up the readings my first thought was, “These have been used so often, every year, what can I say about any of them?” But then I immediately thought of the significance of Joseph’s acceptance of the angel’s message and his response to it. The phrase came to me, “Joseph listened and acted” and I went on from there to develop it. –
David Allen, SSJE
As we come closer to the Holy Season of Christmas and the birth of Jesus, the Gospel Readings at the Eucharist help to prepare us for that event.
Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, had become aware that Mary was with child. Being a righteous man, he wanted to avoid Mary becoming a public disgrace. He was planning to dismiss her quietly. But as he slept an angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream. That was no ordinary dream. Joseph realized that it was not.
I have to admit that I haven’t seen that many Christmas pageants. (The truth is, we brothers don’t get out much.) But of the Christmas pageants I have witnessed or been a part of, I am certain that I have never seen one where Joseph is the star of the show. The spotlight is always on Mary and the baby. Joseph stands off to the side, in the shadows, as a necessary, if somewhat embarrassing, appendage, an actor without lines and without anything to do, really.
But in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Joseph, not Mary, is the primary human actor. Matthew’s narrative takes great pains to identify Joseph as the father of Jesus, tracing out his link to King David in the elaborate genealogy that opens the gospel. And in our gospel lesson today, even if Jesus’ birth is clearly a miracle of God’s power through the Spirit, still Joseph is the real father, who by naming the child according to God’s command, in effect adopts this child as his own.
Micah 5:2-5a Psalm 113
Romans 8:28-30 Matthew 1:18-25
Several years ago, quite unexpectedly, a friend and I were invited to join the annual French national healing pilgrimage to Lourdes, to be a part of a contingent of 1,000 malades and 3,000 caregivers to spend a week at the famous holy place of healing.
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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.