Nativity Lectures 2021 (3rd and final)

Trouble from day one

The arrival of Mary’s baby is not reported in Matthew’s gospel in the usual fashion.  The closest we get to the actual birth is Luke’s chapter six. Trouble and tensions are right out in the open, from the unexpected pregnancy to what follows the birth, and they show up in the reception of the king throughout his short life. The words of the late John Lewis, US Congressman, about the necessity of good trouble are apt. That message transcends age, gender and ethnicity, and it unites humanity in the struggle for something that makes the essential steps towards making the kingdom of God felt in this age. It is an understatement to say that Yeshua had a troubled life.

While they were there [in Bethlehem], the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Luke 2:6-7

Matthew gives us his view of the critical events leading up to the baby’s delivery (18-25), then he passes to the visit of the magi.  The gospels were not written for storytelling sake.  Each evangelist presents a package as his personal assignment by the Holy Spirit and the evangelist’s experience dictate.  Matthew’s interest is not childbirth per se, but God’s arrival among men as their Saviour, king, and God.

The projection of the king

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,”

Matthew 2:1, NASB

The arrival is both delightfully surprising and exceedingly troubling. Remember the unexpected pregnancy, the couple’s anxiety, and the massive prospect of the people’s sins meeting their match in the life and death of a single person, and free of charge to the sinner.

The people’s salvation is from sin, not from Roman imperial power. It is not salvation from the passages of human life, and it is not a cyclical remembrance of them. This baby is destined to be a king who saves his people from the futility that has clung to humanity. We must think then of “his people” as all humans, in line with Abraham’s function as the father of innumerable descendants, and with Isaiah’s “Look to me, all you ends of the earth” (45:22), and Moses’ “Praise him all you Gentiles with his people (Deuteronomy 32:43). Matthew is projecting the king who troubles earthly kings (Matthew 2:1-3) and will subject them to his rule in due time. In the meantime, he has no answer to the questions of kings and heads of state. His kingdom is not of this order.

I-max picture

No brush with disappointment, no fear of disgrace, no inappropriate pride can dull the joy of knowing what Mary and Joseph came to know.  Despite raging storm of power-hungry men, careless and crooked leaders with their conspiratorial counsel against the Lord’s anointed, we know that God is with us. Despite our countless troubles, our own stumbles and falls, we know that sins are now remittable with a heavenly and permanent remedy. To stay close to Matthew’s agenda, we can put a cap on the birth story with our humility to accept that help of salvation from sins, unless,of course, we have no idea what a sin is.