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That Which is Conceived ...

Matthew 1:18-25

4 Advent, A

In the Gospels there are many miracles recorded surrounding the events of Jesus' conception and birth. Today's Gospel reading marks perhaps one of the most interesting and often over-looked of those miracles ... Joseph's reaction to the whole thing. Poor Joseph. He seems to get short-changed nearly every Christmas We've got angels to hear, and shepherds to follow. We have a new mother and her precious baby to see. Joseph tends to be an afterthought at best, a necessary background fixture to round out the creche, but who has time to see it from his perspective? Well, today we do ... and what a fascinating perspective it is for us too!

(18-19) “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

What do we know about Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth? Well, we know that he wasn't born yesterday. He knows how babies are made and he knows that when Mary, his betrothed (his wife) becomes pregnant, he had nothing to do with it! But we also know that He is a good, honest and upright man. A religious man. A righteous man the scriptures say. And that is why he feels he cannot remain married to his betrothed. Joseph used the Law of God as the rule by which he lived his life and made his decisions. Mary, by getting pregnant, had broken God's commandments, or so he must assume. Yet, out of love and mercy, he does not wish to punish her, as would be his right under the law. He decides that will do what is right under the law, but what is merciful toward Mary. Understanding the law, but acting in mercy ... Joseph really is a righteous man. Any woman would be fortunate indeed to have such a husband. But in this case he is also wrong in his assumptions.

(20-23) “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”

Joseph, Son of David”, the angel begins. A princely title for a man of whom princely things will be expected. He is not to fear breaking God's commandments by keeping this woman as his wife, for this pregnancy is of God's Divine Will. Nowhere in this exchange does the angel try to comfort Joseph by saying that the baby is his. Indeed, he is very clear – this baby is of God. This baby is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies, like the one cited from Isaiah 7. This baby is God himself come to save us from our sins. And Joseph is being called upon to be the legal guardian of this child – to be the protector of this Prince of Heaven. That is why he is given the charge of calling his name Jesus. He is to hold the legal relationship of this child's father in the eyes of the rest of the world. God is calling upon him in this unbearable situation to bear the whispers and rumours – the knowing glances. He is to stand firm in the face of public scandal and honour his wife and love this child that is not his own.

And here is our Christmas miracle ... He does! (24-25) “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Joseph accepts the message of the angel. He believes the Word of God, spoken by the prophet Isaiah. He believes that these words of Old Testament scripture were written for his benefit, for his situation, for this day and these choices, and for his family. Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth hears the Word of God and believes the otherwise unbelievable. And his life is forever changed as he bore the fruits of a genuine faith ... he believed and did as God had asked! It was a perplexing and delicate situation to say the least! Joseph's low-key, heroic conduct shows that God gifted him not only with son, but with faith!

As I said, this is a fascinating perspective on the Christmas narrative for each of us today. “Do not fear, for that which is conceived is from the Holy Spirit.” Consider the irony dear friends, as the angel spoke these words of comfort to Joseph, regarding the babe in Mary's womb, the Holy Spirit was doing the same thing with faith in the heart of Joseph. And he does the same with each and every one of us!

Faith is a miraculous conception. It is that which is conceived in us by the Holy Spirit through Baptism and the proclamation of the Gospel. The power of God Most High overshadows us. We are found to be with faith of the Holy Spirit even as Mary was found to be with child by the same Holy Spirit. And where Mary brought forth a son; we bring forth the fruits of faith.

By the working of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace we come to see that the words of Holy Scripture were written for OUR benefit, for OUR situation, for this day and these choices, and for our family. Regular men and women like you and me hear the Word of God proclaimed at the lectern and pulpit and believe the otherwise unbelievable. God has come among us. God made his dwelling as one of us. And in this adoptive Son of Joseph there is forgiveness of sins. All sin, every sin, your sin and mine. For that which is conceived in the womb of a virgin, will fulfill all Scripture by dying on a cross. And then having died the death of each of us, he will rise to life for the life of each of us.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Too great a thing to believe? Yes, but in Faith we do believe, because God said so. And believing our life is forever changed as we bear the fruits of a genuine faith ... by believing God in all His wonderful promises, and in doing all that God has asked of us! In nurturing our Faith, in proclaiming the Faith, in glorifying God for this Faith He has conceived in us. For that Faith is not ours, but is a gift of God ... yet we are to claim it as our own and treat it as if it belonged to us. We are its legal guardians. We are to nurture it in study, protect it in prayer, feed it in the services of the Lord's House and honour it by our lives of service to God and one another. We are to take hold of it and forever change the way we live our lives – change the way we view this Christmas – because of it.


1 based upon the idea expressed by Rev. Francis C. Rossow in his book “Gospel Handles” St. Louis, MO, CPH 2001 (p.21-22)

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