We need to be overshadowed by God’s Spirit and we need to give birth to the thing that will reshape our world.
Today’s text: Matthew 1: 18-25
Let’s start with what I think is the hardest line in this story – “she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit – and then let’s ponder for a moment the way Joseph reacts to an unbelievable situation.
We can pretty quickly get tangled up on the biology of Mary’s conception. But thanks to a reflection I heard this week from Jacqui Lewis, the senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, and Jim Kast-Keat, their associate minister for education, I stumbled upon a much richer way to think about this.
The story of Matthew we heard today is only one version of Jesus’ birth story. Another one comes from Luke. In Matthew’s version, we heard about Joseph’s struggle. In Luke’s version, we hear about Mary’s struggle.
Luke tells of an angel giving Mary the news that she is about to become pregnant with one who will be known as the Son of the Most High. Mary asks how this can happen – that’s the biological question. The angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Remember the story at the beginning of the Bible about God’s Spirit sweeping over the waters as order began to emerge from chaos? That was a story of new life. And now, as the world seemed to be in a dark and destructive place, God’s Spirit hovered over Mary and from the darkness of her womb, new life would emerge that would transform the world.
The angel tells Mary that her son will be named Jesus, a name that means “one who saves.”
So, asked Jacqui Lewis, “can the Holy Spirit conceive in us something called ‘that which will save’?” In whatever darkness we find ourselves surrounded by, is there a place where life can break through?
It turns out, says Jim Keat-Kast, that just like Mary, we need to be overshadowed by God’s Spirit and we need to give birth to the thing that will reshape our world.
Not that giving birth is so easy, as those of you who have done it know all too well. Pushing out that new life is painful. It takes preparation and it takes work. But then… wow!
Of course, if you are a teen engaged to a guy and suddenly you have to tell him you are pregnant, that’s a whole other complication. Sometimes getting overshadowed by the Holy Spirit can create situations that are socially awkward.
Then it helps to have someone like Joseph around, someone who will stand by you as you try to bring new life to the chaos of the world.
Look at the steps Joseph takes.
First, he does not want to embarrass her, to make her an object of scorn in the village of Nazareth, to turn her into an outcast. So he thinks he will just quietly end the engagement. People may think he was the father, but at least they won’t want to stone Mary to death for adultery. It’s a gutsy call by Joseph.
Then the goes a step farther. In his dream, he gets a broader sense of what is happening to Mary, that she is bearing the one who will change the world. He agrees to continue the engagement, to marry her, to stand by her side on some of the very difficult days ahead.
Thanks, Joseph, for that image of caring strength.
Thanks, Joseph, for showing us how to stand by someone who is vulnerable.
Michael Bryant is going to sing a song he composed called “Please Protect Them.” It’s a song about Christmas, but it’s also a song that reminds us of our calling to take risks like Mary and to stand by the ones facing risks like Joseph.
May God’s Spirit overshadow us as we bring life to our world.