Meet my grandson, Levi! As we celebrated Christmas in the church I couldn’t resist the temptation to use him as a visual aid! When talking about a baby why not lay eyes on one to make the story real? He’s four months old and has found a warm place on this planet where his needs are met and he is loved! As with any baby, no sooner did we meet him and we couldn’t imagine our world without him! He fits. He’s one of us. There’s room here for him!
Matthew’s gospel serves as the bridge between the Old Testament to New. Matthew opens up his book by listing a family tree that sets the stage for proving that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He then gets down to business by telling his version of the birth story. The Greek word for “birth”, used in verses 1 and 18 of chapter one, can be translated “genesis.” So the New Testament opens with a story of beginnings, not unlike the Old Testament. But this time the starting point isn’t in the creation of plants and animals, day and night, heaven and earth, male and female. It’s the creation of a new life who is born like every other new life: as an infant completely reliant upon adults for his well-being.
Verse 18 offers a straight-forward account of a miraculous conception: “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way…” That does not sound like the introduction to a bestselling novel, does it? That sounds like a story our book club would easily skip for lack of flair. But the second sentence tests to see if we’re paying attention. A woman who is not yet married, and who is morally pure, is pregnant and the creative power behind this developing fetus? The Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that moved over the face of the deep in Genesis is at work again but this time it narrows to an insignificant spot on the globe called Israel and to a young couple who were looking forward to a married life together.
This tale tells the earth-shattering history of a Holy Hybrid. Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit but will be carried and delivered by a woman. Unimaginable. “You must be dreaming,” Mary’s parents may have said, when she tried to explain her circumstances to them. The genealogy with which Matthew begins his Gospel, the Good News Herald, gives a hint of the scandal. Mapping out the genealogical proof that Jesus was the fulfillment to the promise made to Father Abraham, Matthew begins with the Genesis of Jesus’ ancestors. Patrilineal lines were what mattered and so the wording follows a standard order: “Abraham who was the father of Isaac, who was the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,” and so forth, leading up to baby Jesus. But that’s where it gets awkward: “…and Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Any historian delving into dusty records of ancestry could smell a scandal that could not be disguised by changing a few words in the log book. Jesus was a Holy Hybrid whose birth rocked first his parents’ lives but then rippled out to His chaotic world.
In this calmly-conveyed tale we are given insight into Father Joseph’s Godly temperament. The news that his fiancée was pregnant led him to consider quietly severing their commitment and letting her return to her family with minimal disgrace. As he slept on this decision God showed up—again! In his dreams Joseph understood that he had been visited by God Almighty and that he could trust the promise that his fiancée had not strayed and that he, Joseph, was meant to parent this tiny child. In fact, this baby was already assigned a name, Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.”
“Yeah, right,” any of us might have said. “You must be dreaming,” Joseph’s family must have screamed. “You’re a good man, Joe. Don’t tarnish your reputation by hitching your life to hers!”
But Joseph had been dreaming. He knew he had met the God of new beginnings, the God of universal “genesis” and, now, the creation of a new life. And so, as the earliest sliver of sunlight parted the darkness of the night, Joseph awakened and followed the instructions from the dream. He took Mary as his wife and trusted the good news that God was indeed with him, with Mary, with the baby and their world.
No matter the circumstances surrounding a pregnancy, when a baby is born we look into their little faces and easily find….love. Babies don’t choose the adult world into which they are born. From the moment we meet them they let out a cry asking for tender care. And we offer the best of what we have. But the world into which our babies and grand babies are born is rough! We continue to be a people who walk in darkness, straining for a glimpse of the light. We witness that darkness in so many aspects to our world today: in our divided nation where truth is increasingly elusive and encampments along party lines get in the way of essential policy decisions for the good of the people. Darkness is felt by those in broken relationships who have given up on the dream for happiness for themselves and their children. Our poor stewardship of our earthly home is casting a dark shadow across oceans and lands, harming human and animal life.
We are still a people who walk in darkness but we believe that there is light yet to shine on our chaos. And the source of that redemptive glory comes to us in the form of a helpless child who is willing to bless us with a smile. No matter how far we have strayed from the mark of living a holy life, God shows up still! God shows up in dreams, in visions, in voices, in the words and hugs of other people, in scripture, in our prayers. We are called to respond like Joseph did, the one who was slighted in Matthew’s genealogical records: We do what is right with modesty and stand firm in our belief that God penetrates the darkness of our dreams with the promise of a Savior.
When has your troubled sleep been interrupted by the Word of God that saved you? From what moments of exile—whether chaos of your own making or victimization done to you—has God rescued you and planted you in a place of sunlight and growth? When have you fallen on your face and admitted to your Creator that you needed a Savior who could push past your lowly expectations to make your wildest dreams come true?
At the end of a long work day, when the other workers had left, a man worked at his desk trying to wrap up another day of details. His boss stood in the doorway, uncharacteristically quiet. The boss owned the company, had several homes scattered throughout the United States. He had a wife and two children, a picture-perfect life. But he was empty. As the sun set on another work day he approached this hardworking employee whom he knew to be a Christian. More to himself than to the worker, he shared how he was part of a church. He was part of a running group of guys who attended worship together. They accepted him as part of the group but they had something he couldn’t locate: peace and joy. Where could he find that? It wasn’t a gift that came simply by hanging with these church friends. His money couldn’t buy it. His thriving business that he led with a heavy hand couldn’t deliver that. Before a hardworking employee who wasn’t really being asked for answers, the selfish man was admitting that he needed a Savior who could free him from his sin. How had he separated himself from God (that’s what sin is, after all!)? He assumed that he was the center to his universe, not God. No wonder he was bored!
When we start asking the right questions to the only One who can part the darkness, our dreams become our reality. In something as tiny as a baby, God changes our world! Jesus saves us from our own poor intentions. He removes our apathy and fires us up with love. When we finally ask from the gut what our life is really all about, Jesus parts the darkness and shares the only Good News we need to hear: God is with us in every precious life—here, now, and always!