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  • John M

Weekly Liturgy : December 12-18

Matthew 1:18-25

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

The Nativity, Russian Icon from the 16th Century
The Nativity, Russian Icon from the 16th Century
 

TEXT:


Matthew 1:18-25

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah


18-22 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 pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:


23 “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”


24-25 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.

 

REFLECTIONS:


As I imagine this scene of Joseph considering what to do with the young woman he is engaged to marry, I think about what God was intending to accomplish. I assume God did all this intentionally--impregnated a young woman out of marriage to force a man to choose whether to "put her out quietly," to publicly denounce her, or to accept the woman in marriage and adopt the child. Why would God want to become human in this way? If I were God--all-powerful and knowing--I think I would prefer to be born into a family system with a little more security, you know? Like, I'd rather be astronomically wealthy and politically influential. Give me a palace, please! Why would God prefer something I'd consider so counter-intuitive?


A group of people I've come to admire like to talk about the holiness of being "born from below." There is, they say, a spiritual virtue from origin stories that begin in the way Jesus of Nazareth's life did--born in a barn. When I consider my own narrative of hardship--raised by a single mom, drug use in high-school, living out of my car, fleeing to the military for structure, and then surviving the Iraq war--I think about all the compassion, empathy, and resilience I formed. I think about the scars, emotional or physical, that I and others bear in ways that increases my understanding and respect. I wonder if God's desire to enter life in such traumatic circumstances highlights God's ability to be with us in all our complexities. I think God sees my scars and shows me his scars in solidarity. Our God, who was willing to be born in a barn to be with God's children on earth, is with us! Emmanuel.


Perhaps there is something to admire about Joseph's willingness to care for the welfare of Mary and her unborn child, too. There is a collaborative partnership between Joseph and God in this story. God's way of entering into the world in an uncertain situation meant that Joseph's choices truly mattered—imagine if Joseph did not accept Jesus as his child? Joseph and Mary both had choices to accept God as their child. As a result, God trusted Joseph and Mary with his very life as a dependent infant! Can you imagine God trusting you in this way? God believes in you and me to care for God's world, just as God believed in Joseph and Mary to care for his tiny human body. I imagine God felt immense gratitude for his parents on earth! I imagine God views you and I with a twinkle in God's eye for the gratitude God feels about mine and your life.


So, a strange story about a young man who isn't sure if his fiancé’s baby is his. Thank you, God, for being willing to enter the chaos of life! Thank you, Joseph, for caring for young Jesus. May this story help me and you see God's ongoing partnership and trust for us.

 

PRACTICE:


Outward Mindset Application In what ways are you collaborating with others? Reach out to the people in your life you put your trust in and talk to them about how you trust them.

Pathways Toward Centeredness Centering Prayer is a type of prayer that focuses on the presence of God, Emmanuel. Thomas Keating described the practice in four movements: 1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. 2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. 3. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. 4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. Cynthia Bourgeault describes it beautifully in the video below, and then leads a guided time of prayer starting at minute 17:50. There is also an app available for your phone, called “Centering Prayer,” if interested in practicing more regularly.

Questions for Reflection

In what ways or areas in your life are you longing for God’s presence?

In what ways or areas of your life can you imagine God’s presence with you?

How does this focus on God being with you feel for you?One of the beatitudes says, “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Reflect on instances where you or someone you love has suffered—how were you or are you comforted in that mourning? Who in your life can you share this comfort with as you align with others who mourn, too?

 
Many of our reflections on each week's text come from other sources. If you're interested in reading more of what inspires us, here our our two favorite reflections.

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