Christ Enters My World: Christmas According to Matthew

December 21, 2013

Preachers have a dual challenge each week, to exegete a scriptural text for preaching and to interpret where their people are in a position to hear it. Because of my current detachment from my church family for wisdom’s sake (avoidance of the colds and flu going around), it seems as though the last thing on my mind these days is Christmas. I have not seen the decorations in the sanctuary, attended a party, or even completed my Christmas shopping. Unlike yours, perhaps, my mental space is occupied at the moment with this decision that will be made on Christmas Eve morning about next steps in my treatment for lung cancer. Today I am particularly glad for the separation between my blog here and my Caring Bridge site, where later today you will be able to find details of my CT scan’s good news.

I woke up early this morning realizing that embracing the holy liturgical season of Christmastide is going to require some spiritual discipline on my part. The thought struck me, in “that space between asleep and awake” (thank you, Tinkerbell, in the movie Hook), that the integration of my current situation into the narrative of Christmas is crucial for bringing the Word to life. It is really what we are all called to do as Christians, I think: to answer the question, How does Christ’s incarnation enter my world, even as he entered the world? And so, I have decided in the days between now and Christmas to look at the birth narrative in each of the four gospels (I know, for Mark we will have to be creative) and see what they have to say about life as we are living it.

Matthew’s account is unique in that it records some details surrounding Jesus’ birth seen only from Joseph’s perspective. The very human concerns about Mary’s status as an unwed mother preoccupy Joseph for awhile. He, being “a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,” planned to divorce her quietly according to Jewish custom (1:19). But before he could carry that out, the angel appeared to him to explain what was going on and what he was to do in order to cooperate with God’s strategy. Gabriel’s message required Joseph to enter fully into Mary’s situation, to hook his wagon to hers, so to speak, take her as his wife and accompany his new family on an unknown journey. After the birth, he fulfilled the terms of his assignment, doing as the Lord commanded, and named the baby Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21).

I love the fact that, in this rendition of the Christmas story, God accounted for the feelings and calling of Joseph, and rallied his support for the great redemption underway. It was important to God that he had Joseph’s buy-in, and he went to special lengths to secure it. Jesus was entering not only Mary’s world but Joseph’s, suggesting to me that the mission underway required a family of faith to surround the helpless babe, remain faithful nurturers of his life and story, and keep him safe from harm (Herod’s threat, which unfolds in chapter 2 of Matthew). The mission required both adults to listen to God and obey his leading. It required them to take risks together, in this case flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous intent. It required them to own the vision God had cast for their son as “ruler and shepherd” of God’s people—a much bigger enterprise than most parents aspire to upon the birth of a first-born! It required them to hold onto hope of a very big future happening, despite the immediate threat of doom.

This is how Jesus is entering my world and the world of my family these days. God is at work not only in my life but also in my husband’s and adult children’s lives, enabling us to face our current challenge together. I trust that this probably prolonged experience will enable every one of us to draw closer to God, embrace Jesus’ vision for us as a family and as individuals, and empower us to take the risks and do the things that will be required of us to see the Lord’s redemption. We’re all taking our steps at our own paces, using perhaps our own unique vocabularies, handling them within unique emotional profiles that bring gifts and perspectives to the table.  For this I am so deeply grateful. I trust as I have received my new ministry assignment—to walk this journey with joy and integrity and to write about it—that the “Josephs” in my life have also heard from the Lord a call and a sense of purpose in being part of the journey. They truly have rallied already, and it is a joy to experience!

Within a day or two we will all be together for the week. In particular, we will be huddled together in an examining room with my surgeon on Tuesday morning, to see what the “angel of the Lord” has to say about next steps. It is well within the realm of God’s abilities to knit our hearts together in common purpose and courageous risk-taking, though ultimately the decision is mine to discern and do what seems best.  Just as the angel said to Joseph, I hope God is saying to my family, “Do not be afraid to stick with Mary/Mom, for what is transpiring is governed by God’s purposes!” That invitation is at the very heart of my Christmas celebration this year.

 

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2 Responses to “Christ Enters My World: Christmas According to Matthew”

  1. Craig Pynn Says:

    Metaphorically, anyway, I think you and your family have already traveled to unfamiliar territory–your very own Egypt, if you will. It’s clear by your deep faith that the journey there will be temporary and that you rest steadfastly in the assurance that God whose unexpected appearance in the form of a tiny baby is indeed watching over and protecting all of you.

  2. L. Lee Says:

    We will be praying for you!

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