the offense of Advent love

Father Michael Cupp in Sunday’s sermon mentioned at some length the offense which accompanied Jesus’ birth. Mary was pregnant, but her and Joseph had not yet come together as husband and wife. Joseph was a righteous man, and while not wanting to expose Mary to the penalty of adultery (possibly and we know from the Pentateuch, surely stoning, though I’m not sure how much stoning actually occurred then, or some centuries prior to that time), he was thinking of divorcing her quietly, a divorce needed even for engagement, which itself was as binding as marriage. Mary had to know that this word from the angel Gabriel to her about bearing  a son when she had never “known” a man, that is, she being a virgin, would cause trouble, and it did. In fact, as Father Michael pointed out, this claim causes trouble to this very day, some saying that we all know how babies come into the world, and it had to be a man (maybe a Roman soldier, whatever).

But Mary accepted God’s word to her given from the messenger, the angel, doing so as the Lord’s servant. God intervened to vindicate her in her immediate situation, though we know that this did not affect the naysayers and gossips even in her own community. And was later used by Jesus’ enemies.

God becoming flesh, fully human, and doing so by the power of the Holy Spirit upon a virgin, to bring about a virginal conception and birth is itself a scandal and stumbling block to the world. Even some who accept the Incarnation want to deny the necessity of the virgin birth. Maybe it wasn’t necessary, but we know what the text of scripture clearly says, and so that is what the church teaches, and that is what we believe. Yes, the Lord of heaven and earth did become fully human, born in the normal human way, albeit from the womb of a virgin.

It seems like the way of God’s love in Jesus challenges the world at every turn. Miracles are accepted in some quarters, but at least not usually with the exclusive claims that come with the good news in Jesus. But in most places it seems, such claims are at best doubted, and often downright denied. Even I by nature am slow to accept the possibility of a miracle in life, though I believe I’ve experienced a bit of that as in something happening which would not have done so apart from direct divine intervention.

But the idea of miracle, and precisely here, the virgin birth points beyond itself as a sign to something greater. Yes, God did so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (see John 3:14-16). Yes, God became King in this world through the humble birth in difficult, lowly circumstances, which continued in different ways beyond those early days. And this speaks not only to the offense of God’s love in Jesus during our Lord’s time on earth, but also to the continuing offense which will accompany us, as we as witnesses share that love to the world. It is not that we’re to dwell on that, but simply to know that in God’s wisdom this is the case, and we must learn to live with it well. That people might come to see the Love that came, laying in that stable and manger, so many years ago.

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