Updated: Jan 13, 2020
For a large part of my childhood, my father served as a federal magistrate, which is a judge. Although who my dad is has never been limited to his occupation, the fact that he was a judge certainly framed my reality when I was growing up.
For example, I learned that he had a special button under his “bench” that sounded a silent alarm outside the courtroom and caused federal marshals to come into the courtroom with their guns drawn. Unfortunately, I learned that truth after having pushed the button.
I also knew when the FBI came by the house to get his signature on a warrant, my job was to keep quiet and stay out of the way—which I presumed was so they would not be tempted to arrest me.
For my younger sister, however, how she understood my father’s occupation had an even more dramatic impact on how she saw the world.
She was very young when my father was appointed. Beginning around the age of five, the fact that my father was a judge was the first thing she understood up as his “job”—and that job lasted throughout her childhood.
If you haven’t been around a five or six-year-old lately, let me remind you that these people cut to the chase. They are capable of sizing things up and ordering their world with extreme focus and clarity.
So, in that spirit, my younger sister would introduce herself to people by saying, “My daddy is a judge, and he kills people.”
Talk about bringing focus and clarity.
While the parent in me appreciates how this was certainly an effective technique for setting relational tone and boundaries, the reality is her conclusion was not accurate. The way she framed my father was off. That wasn’t really who he was. That wasn’t really what was going on at all.
Her intentions may have been pure - or "immaculate" - but she had still somehow missed it.
Friends, when we listen to the birth narrative of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew,
The story that many of us have heard hundreds of times.
The story about Joseph and Mary—the betrothed couple with a scandalous pregnancy.
The story about the coming of the Christ in the form of a human baby…
I have to wonder:
Is the way we have framed this story off?
Are the conclusions we have drawn from this story accurate?
Might we be missing it?
To be honest, there is a lot of information in the eight short verses of this story.
As 21st century westerners, we don’t usually have 1st-century-Israelite context and consciousness at the ready, so if we have lost the path a bit, that seems - at the very least - understandable.
If what you’ve been told about this story is anything like what I’ve been told, then you have been invited to reduce this story to only literal history—a simple recording of the facts of the immaculate conception and birth of Jesus as proof of his divinity, which is a fascinating idea…
but it has also proven to be a confusing idea.
In recent history, the most common conclusion drawn from this story is that Jesus must be divine because of the immaculate conception—that he is the Christ because he was born of a virgin.
To 21st century westerners like us, the immaculate conception and birth may appear to simply be historical details…but, friends, whether we can admit it or not, such literal conclusions have birthed numerous confusing ideas about purity and morality and marriage, not to mention the alienating idea that the conception and birth of Jesus the Christ needed to somehow remain above the dirtiness of humanity.
But that’s not the story we have.
That’s not the G-d of the Bible.
Jesus didn’t remain above the dirtiness of humanity...he embodied it.
If the goal was to separate the holy from the mundane, then being born in a manger surrounded by livestock seems a bit out of place.
In his book, The Universal Christ, Father Richard Rohr writes,
“Humans prefer to see things in anecdotal and historical parts even when such a view leads to incoherence, alienation, or hopelessness.”
Friends, as challenging as this may be to hear, I need to invite you to consider the possibility that there is more going on in this story than a literal, immaculate history of proving that Jesus was God.
But here is the good news:
We are invited to move away from smaller, incoherent, literal conclusions toward larger, universally wondrous and hopeful questions.
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