Sunday 18 December 2016

The One in Which God Becomes the Most Vulnerable of All

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matt 1:18-25)
And so God, the Creator of this whole Universe - the great Author of our cosmic story - is written into the narrative.

God enters our story as that tiniest, most vulnerable thing of all. A single human cell, packed with all that potential and yet in such hazard.

And the manner of God's arrival adds yet more vulnerability. A young woman pregnant, not by her fiancé. The punishment for adultery in the Jewish law is death. Of course, they're not going to catch the father. So it'd be the woman pays alone. And so the Saviour, and his mother, are in line to suffer from what today we'd call - ridiculously - an "honour" punishment. Putting Mary into the situation of the women punished for being "unchaste", a category that is still being applied by men to women today. At that key moment for the history of salvation, Joseph is faithful to the Law - but he's a decent man. He decides he's best to just keep things low-key - keep Mary alive but not take responsibility for any child he didn't father.

So a vulnerable child, and a vulnerable mother. Members of the race that has probably been most hated through all history. Living in a nation that has been conquered by a cruel, vile empire that looks likely to last forever.

Many Anglican churches in this country have a coat of arms somewhere on the walls - an attempt to remind us who, after the English Reformation, was meant to be in charge?  The Chinese government allows Christian churches - as long as they do what they're told. The Church is an institution - and institutions  wield their own power, and are involved in others' power games. It's easy to align with the ones that can give you influence; make life easy; help you keep going, or get you the grant you need.

When Mary first carried Jesus, she carried him in her fragile body vulnerably, precariously. She depended on a decent enough man - but above all on the protection of God. She is a model of what the Church should be. Depending not on earthly influence but on God. Taking a great risk - so that God can come into the world. Not worrying about influence - she had none. Not caring what people thought - she carried God's son.

In parts of our world, the Church is exactly like this. Weak, vulnerable, subject to murder. And yet faithful. They will receive crowns, because they have carried God into the world. And so the least can be great, and the mighty thrown down and our failing, confused, squabbling, suffering Church can be the Bride of Christ. And a pregnant unmarried Jewish teenager can be the Queen of Heaven.


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