Few reflections on the Christmas narrative

Image Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/110000/velka/baby-jesus-manger-scene.jpg
Image Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/110000/velka/baby-jesus-manger-scene.jpg

Although it’s already past Dec. 25, yet for Christians, the essence of Christmas will continue for all seasons. I’ve written about this one (last year), as to anticipate the subsequent year (i.e., 2016), in the title of Jesus is not only “the reason for the season”. That piece focused on the all-encompassing effect of Jesus’ birth towards the course of human history, in good and even in ugly times. For although it’s easy to recognize God’s goodness when circumstances favor our expectations, we nonetheless ought to press forward in faith, that is, by banking upon God’s character as our gravitational compass even when the circumstances betrays our expectations.

In a similar route, this blog however will dwell upon the story of Jesus’ birth documented by Matthew the Levi, previously notorious of being a tax-collector, but in following Jesus, ended up to be one of the gospel writers. The goal, contrary to setting a different direction, is to augment what was already written previously, for no other reason but to cultivate our devotion to the One by whom all things are made possible – Jesus.

In progression, I’m going to list some of the reflections I had reading the texts (i.e., Matt. 1:18-22). Although given the rich Christian heritage, I’m quite sure my reflections are far from new. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop me from presenting it in a fresh way.

Okay, let me reiterate these:

The good news was started by a bad news. Although in retrospect it doesn’t seem be so, but before the birth of Jesus, weird and sad things took place! At least for Joseph, Mary’s fiancé.

Mary was betrothed (viz., engaged) to Joseph. As such that in a Jewish culture, the waiting would last for about a year. The woman, as in case with Mary, will live with her parents, and the man will also live with his. The waiting period, committed to the seriousness of marriage, will demonstrate their faithfulness towards the pledge of purity. This is true especially for the bride (at least in their culture). Such that if she will be found committing an unfaithful act (i.e., sleeping with a man or bearing a child) before the wedding day, her unfaithfulness and impurity towards the pledge will render the commitment nullified, that would result in cutting off their well-anticipated wedding. On the other hand, if she will be proven faithful in the course of that waiting period, her husband would courageously get her from her parents, and in grand processional march, lead her to their new home (assuming that they’ve already performed their wedding).

However, something lamentable happened that provoked Joseph into wanting to divorce Mary, although by doing quietly (v. 19). That of course was finding out, in his shame, before their wedding day, that she was bearing a child. The shame credited to this apparent unfaithfulness cannot be overstated. For in Jewish tradition, anyone who is caught involved in such act will be subject of shame and of stoning to death (c.f., Deut. 22:23-24).

And I believe, being in similar situations of screwing up, we can perhaps identify with Joseph, if not with Mary. For Joseph, who was reputed to be a just man, having been betrothed to an unfaithful woman, was nothing less than a big slap on face, especially in a culture that was inclined with legalism. In short, the good news was literally started by a bad news!

Another one,

In the times of our disappointments and discouragements, God intervenesAs when the time Joseph considered to divorce her, being disappointed and discouraged, something unnatural happened – “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” (v. 20). In other words, in the times of our disappointments and discouragements, God intervenes.

Living in our time, that may not necessarily mean an angel will appear to us in our dreams, rather, it can be open to various ways, for instance having God’s inspired Word available to us when the cares of the world threats to overcome us (c.f., Matt. 4:4), or God orchestrating situations in which his provision or deliverance can be seen and recognized. Of course, all by his grace!

Lastly,

Jesus is the hope for our sad story. As the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph 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” (Matt. 1:20-21, ESV, Italics mine).

The sad story of reality is that there is something wrong that wrecked everything good (for instance, our relationship with one another, another one is by having the sense of guilt and shame). The Scriptures called it sin – our rebellion against a holy and a just God, that manifests itself in our earthly living. And the holiness of God requires justice to be executed through our condemnation. But what God’s justice required, his mercy and love provided by sending his eternal Son, to be born in a lowly state, and to die and be condemned in place of his alienated people.

In fact, to go every further and general – Jesus is the hope for every sad story. His coming back for his people will be the inauguration, to borrow J.R.R Tolkien’s words – where every sad things will become untrue. Where “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4, ESV). Or as what Jon Foreman wrote, “where the weak are finally strong. [And] where the righteous right the wrongs.”[1]

Conclusion

Given the character of God revealed in the Incarnation, even the bad things can be redeemed to accomplish grand things for His glory and our joy. Or as what T. H. L. Parker wrote,

From the biblical point of view, world history and personal life stories possess significance only in the light of the incarnation. The squalid little story of lust in Judah’s dealings with Tamar (Genesis 38) falls into its place in the genealogy of the Messiah (Matthew 1:3). Ceasar Agustus was on the throne in Rome for the sake of the unknown baby in its manger.[2]

In conclusion, the providence of God “tells us that the world and our lives are not ruled by chance or by fate but by God, who lays bare his purposes of providence in the incarnation of his Son.”[3]

And without him, there is no reason for every season.


[1] This line was taken from the song Where I Belong by Switchfoot in their 2011 album Vice Verses. The song talks about authenticity in the struggle we have in our earthly vessels and the hope of the future that awaits before us in heaven. You must hear it, though, to appreciate it.

[2] T. H. L. Parker, “God’s Work: Providence,” in David Horton, The Portable Theology: A Master’s Level Overview In One Volume (CLC Publications, 2014),  120.

[3] Ibid., 121.

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