I don’t know how you would start a gospel, but Matthew – from which our Gospel this morning is taken – starts most excitingly as follows (1-3):
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram…
Then follows the whole ancestry of Jesus. We might tend to think of many of these men and women as heroes in the faith, and some of them are. However, we find in the ancestry of Jesus several most unlikely people:
- serial adulterers
- even those who sacrificed children to idols.
- and absolute nobodies
Jesus’ own parents did not seem exactly free of scandal either. Joseph has good reason to want to get rid of Mary – after all she is pregnant and he is not the father… It is therefore no wonder that it takes a dream and an angel for him to believe the unbelievable!
Now what does the angel say to him? (20b-21):
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
His name shall be Jesus – which means as much as ‘Jahweh saves’ – for he will save his people from what!? Sins!? Why sin? Why are the Scriptures so obsessed with sin!? Why not delivery from Romans, war, inequality, oppression, poverty – why sin? What is so important about sin – and about its fruit: death.
If you have ever been to either Morning or Evening Prayer here on a weekday – you might have noticed the confession containing the words:
‘we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us.’
There is no health in us. It is not that we are not good – we were created very good and pleasing in God’s sight. Our goodness is more fundamental to us than evil is. That is why we can be saved. But, our whole beings are spoiled – there is no health in us – we are sick and need healing. And so it is that 100 years ago a newspaper famously wrote asking: ‘what is wrong with the world today?’ And they received this reply:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton’
We all know of a childhood understanding of sin: lying, gossip, treating people wrongly, etcetera. We all live in a culture and Church which often speaks of moral failures when it comes to our sexuality. And of course those sins are wrong and need forgiveness and repentance – but that is not all. Because of sin, everything in this world is ruined and flawed and fallen and on its way to death and destruction – we cannot avoid sin on our own any longer. Let me give you an example of how this fallenness shows itself in even the best of our actions:
You all came here to Church this morning – that is a good thing. But how many of you came by car, needing fuel? Now I probably drove the farthest this morning – but quite apart from the environmental impact – we are buying gas, and let me thank you on behalf of some oil-producing regimes in this world for sponsoring their programmes of oppression, inequality, and modern human slavery.
Even trying to do the right things, evil consequences follow. We are caught in a circle from which we cannot escape. And so we need salvation. Jesus didn’t just come to save us from war, oppression, or poverty, but he saves us from those evil things and the underlying problems. That is what he came to do.
But how does Jesus save his people from their sins? Well, come back in the rest of the year to follow the full story. But for now, think about this: if God wanted to become human, incarnate, He could have done so in any family on earth – in any circumstance. Yet he chose an insignificant woman, in an insignificant part of the world, in a family full of murderers and moral failures.
This, of course, is fantastic news for us. Because if murderers and child sacrificers can be redeemed – so can you and I! If serial adulterers can be chosen by God to become the ancestors of the redeemer of the world, so can we. But God’s work reaches beyond a mere forgetting of former sins – He gives and promises us a new life and a new relationship to himself.
So if we are saved from our sins, how come we don’t see some more of this, what good does this so-called salvation work? Again, come back in the rest of the year, but for now:
Did you notice how in our Gospel text this morning we read that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and that it states in the next verse that Joseph was her husband who was thinking about a divorce. Now were they engaged to be married, or were they married already?
The answer is both. It was common practice in Israel in those days for a couple to get married – legally so to speak – without moving into a house together yet. Instead, the husband would typically move to the town of his parents and build another room to his father’s house for the new couple to move into. This way, if the parents died, the new couple could take over the house and land without any problem. So Joseph and Mary most likely were legally married, but had not moved into their new house or room together yet.
Now, on the night before Jesus died Jesus told his disciples (John 14:2-3):
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
It seems to me that this perfectly describes where we find ourselves as Christians currently. Jesus is totally committed to us, and is preparing a place for us to live with Him in all eternity. We are already married to him, if you like, but still struggling with sin and yet await the fullness of that marriage feast still to come. Now, on this side of eternity he comes to us this morning in his Word, the Spirit, in bread, and in wine. And soon, when he comes again, the wedding feast will start.
You are invited this morning to that wedding feast. Do you want to come?