December 25, 2011
© 2011 Norman Stolpe
I. The last two Sundays I’ve shown you Giotto’s 1304 frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel that illustrate the Scripture passages we were looking at. Though not based specifically on Matthew 1:18-25, the Nativity fresco points us in today’s direction. With our more casual format today, I hope this can become more of a conversation than a sermon.
A. Where is Joseph? What do you think Giotto thought Joseph was thinking?
B. Now look at this icon. Where is Joseph? Any different than the Giotto?
1. Who is talking to Joseph? About what?
2. Why is Mary looking at Joseph and not baby Jesus?
3. What are the manger and the baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes?
4. Any other thoughts or questions about the paintings?
5. What about the angels? Would they be frightening?
C. Compare the description in Ezekiel 1 with these angels and the illustration from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door.
II. Matthew and Luke each tell the story of Jesus’ birth from two different perspectives for two different purposes. If we try to coordinate them too much we distort the stories and miss the point of each. For example, in Luke the shepherds do not see a star and in Matthew the magi do not come to the manger.
A. Luke focuses on Mary’s experience and emphasizes her spiritual sensitivity.
1. The themes of Jesus as Son of Man and Son of God Luke interweaves through the whole Gospel start here.
2. Mary’s virginity is only mentioned in her conversation with Gabriel, not the other six episodes of the story.
3. Luke gives lots of attention to the Holy Spirit in the Gospel pointing ahead to Pentecost as the lynchpin of his second book, Acts. In the conception of Jesus and in Acts the Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s power.
4. Mary’s response to becoming pregnant is totally joy and faith with no hint of shame or doubt.
B. Matthew focuses on Joseph’s experience and emphasizes his righteous and merciful character. He struggles with wanting to do right without hurting Mary.
1. Matthew starts his presentation of Jesus as Davidic King and Messiah with Joseph’s genealogy. He is writing after the resurrection and is already setting the stage for its significance for salvation.
2. Mary’s virginity is at the core of the story, and Joseph’s response makes no sense without it.
3. Addressing a largely Jewish audience, Matthew presents the Holy Spirit in a Jewish way as the source of God’s revelation, which is how he presents Jesus.
4. Joseph is the one concerned about responding to Mary’s premarital pregnancy. Some have suggested that he might have felt unworthy to be responsible for raising the Messiah, but I think it is a lot more likely that he was concerned about being blamed Mary’s pregnancy or for protecting Mary’s reputation.
C. By looking at the birth of Jesus through Joseph’s eyes, our shocking impossibilities become God’s glorious transformations.
1. Your observations about the differences between how Luke and Matthew tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
2. What do you see as you try to look through Joseph’s eyes?
III. Without trying to merge Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of the birth of Jesus, looking at them side by side raises some interesting thoughts.
A. Mary seems not to have told Joseph, or maybe anyone, about Gabriel’s announcement before she visited Elizabeth. Since she went to Elizabeth immediately and did not know the timing of this birth, she may have been reluctant to say anything until she knew more.
B. Mary’s pregnancy probably became known when she returned to Nazareth and was three months along and it would have been obvious.
1. For Mary to be “found to be with child” does not imply either that she was hiding her pregnancy or that it was exposed by an investigation.
2. Mary seems not to be the one who told Joseph she was pregnant. That seems strange to us, but in an arranged-marriage culture for an engaged couple to have minimal social contact would not be unusual.
C. God seems to have let Joseph struggle through to determine his course of action before sending the vision revealing that this pregnancy is from the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of God waiting until Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac before showing him the ram. It seems to be a test of faith and character, not for God to see what Joseph is made of but so Joseph will be sure of his faith.
D. By looking at the birth of Jesus through Joseph’s eyes, our shocking impossibilities become God’s glorious transformations.
1. When you look at the unfolding of the story through Joseph’s eyes, what do you see?
2. Has God ever changed your direction after you had decided what the right thing to do was?
IV. By looking at the birth of Jesus through Joseph’s eyes, our shocking impossibilities become God’s glorious transformations.
A. In your own experience, what shocking impossibilities have become God’s glorious transformations?
B. As you look through Joseph’s eyes today, can you see God’s glorious transformations for your current shocking impossibilities?