Alternative story lines | 18 December 2016 | Advent 4

Texts: Luke: 1:46-55; Matthew 1:18-25  

Alternative story line.

Matthew 1, beginning with verse 18:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* didn’t take place.  When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, was a righteous man.  Joseph was a righteous man, a man of commitment, a man of honor.  Joseph, a righteous man, a man of duty to the law of his people.

Mary, found to be with child not from Joseph.  Joseph, found out.  Righteousness demanded obedience to the law and the law was clear, as firm as stone, faithfully transcribed through the generations, read publicly weekly for all to hear who wished to follow the way of righteousness.

The fifth book of the Torah, the 22nd chapter of Deuteronomy, regarding the young woman given in marriage, from her father’s house to her husband.  If evidence is found of the woman’s lack of sexual purity, the law states: “then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 22:21).

Mary, a pregnant unmarried young woman.  Joseph, a righteous man.  Not a hateful or violent man.  But a righteous man.  A God-fearing man.  Unable to see another way.  Unable to counter the obligations.  At first fundamentally divided about the way forward, then with a heavy heart, then, joined by other righteous men, with a growing sense of righteousness, Joseph carried out the teachings of the Scripture.  His honor restored.  Evil purged from their midst.  Now, the birth of Jesus the Messiah didn’t take place.

Alternative story line.

Matthew 1, beginning with verse 18:

18 Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”

And so this is what he did.  He dismissed her, quietly.  Quietly he dismissed her from the pledge of marriage.  Quietly he sent her back to her father’s house without accompaniment, and without condemnation.  Quietly Joseph moved on, went back to his life, back to work.  Quietly Joseph eventually found another young woman to marry and quietly they lived their lives together in the hills of Judea.

Quietly Mary returned to her father’s house.  Quietly she gave birth to the fatherless child.  Quietly she held him, sang him lullabies.  “Quiet, you must keep quiet my child.  Don’t cry out, don’t raise a fuss, don’t cause a commotion, don’t stand out in a crowd.  You must live quietly my child.”

Quietly Mary raised the child with the help of her family.  Quietly the child grew to become a boy, a young man, an adult.  Quietly he lived in the shadows, stayed away from large crowds.  Quietly he observed the world, trying not to let the world observe him.  Quietly he lived, quietly he prayed, quietly he died.

Alternative story line.

Matthew 1, beginning with verse 18:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’

And that’s what they did.  They named him Emmanuel, God with us.  God with us was born in the time of King Herod, in the town of Bethlehem.  When Herod learned of the birth of God with us he set out to destroy him, and so Mary and Joseph and God with us became refugees, fleeing, finding sanctuary in Egypt, the same place their ancestors had been enslaved.  Nights, Mary would cradle God with us and sing the poetry and prayers of her people, adding her own lyrical twists and turns: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for God has looked with favour on the lowliness of God’s servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is the name.
50 Mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
51 The Holy One has shown strength with his arm;
has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 The Generous One has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 God has helped servant Israel,
in remembrance of mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

After Herod’s death God with us returned with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, in Galilee.  God with us grew, an adult, and found his way through desert into the waters of baptism under the hand of John the Baptizer.  A dove, and the sky spoke, “My beloved Son.”  God with us headed further into the desert, facing demons, rejecting temptations having only the veneer of beauty.

God with us walked alongside fisherfolk and wealthy; collectors of the imperial tax – collaborators, and revolutionaries; religious purists and lepers ineligible for official worship.  Around God with us blind became seers, women became students and disciples, peasants became inheritors of the kin-dom of God.  God with us preferred parables over propositions.  God with us enacted mother Mary’s fierce lullaby, scattering the proud, bringing the powerful down from their thrones, lifting up the lowly.  Teaching: blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the merciful, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Righteousness, in the form of justice.

God with us caused quite a stir.  This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets.

Pilate put God with us on trial.  God with us put Pilate on trial without saying a word.  Quietly, at least that once.

God with us was deemed not fit to live with us.

God with us put creation on notice, that life will have its way with death.

It is still rumored that God is with us.

Alternative story line.

Mary is an enslaved young woman from the Yoruba tribe of West Africa.  She survives the Middle Passage to the Americas in the 18th century, is purchased, and moved to a plantation in Virginia.  She has no sexual contact with any of the enslaved men but is found to be with child.  She gives birth to a light skinned daughter.  Nights, she cradles her child and sings the poetry and prayers of her people.

Alternative story line.

Joseph is a middle aged man in Ohio.  One year his son comes home from college and tells his father he has always felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body.  He will be transitioning to a she.  Now this father was a righteous man.  A righteous man.  A God-fearing man.  Not a violent or a hateful man, but a righteous man deeply committed to the Scriptures.  Years later he hears the faintest whisper, coming from outside and inside at the same time: “Do not be afraid.”

Alternative story line.

Jesus is born the day after tomorrow on the snowy plains of Standing Rock in the Dakotas.  The Lakota infant is wrapped in a zero degree sleeping bag donated anonymously by an elderly woman from Alabama. The tribes already gathered from the north, the south, the east, and the west come to see the child and offer prayers of blessing, and song.  A pipeline construction worker, a state official, and an oil investor hear of the news and come bearing gifts.

All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan:

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing

All this took place to fulfill what was spoken through the Sufi poet Rumi:

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”

All this took place to fulfill what was written by the Pulitzer prize author Annie Dillard: “What I have been after all along was not an explanation, but a picture” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 182).

All this took place to fulfill what was written by Julian of Norwich who won no prizes or awards in her life of hardship. “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

All this took place to fulfill, to full fill, to fill full, to enter the empty. When will we feel full?  Why are we fearful?

All this took place to fill full the container of time, overflowing now.  To testify that life is having its way with death.  To give the dream in which the angel says, “Do not be afraid.”  To wake us up, assured that the scandal of love in which we participate is conceived of the Holy Spirit.”

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