December 7: Saving Joy!
December 7, 2015
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
by Josh Moody Each year our family has a tradition of opening one Advent Bible reading starting on December 1 and finishing on Christmas Day, December 25. This year I am sharing those Bible readings with some thoughts based on them for use as a devotional during this season. Matthew 1:18-21:
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.’Whoever says that people in those days did not understand the enormity of a virgin birth have obviously never listened to Joseph’s views on the matter! He knew full well that something “fishy” was going on when his wife-to-be was found to be pregnant. Knowing he was not the father, he made the only possible conclusion: Mary had been unfaithful to him. Given his strict allegiance to the law, he decided that it was not possible for him to go ahead with this marriage, but as a compassionate man he wanted to avoid all possible pain that might accrue to Mary as a result of the shame of her condition in those times. All, so far, so normal. But then “an angel of the Lord” appeared in a dream. Those who only read the birth narrative accounts of the Gospels are liable to think that angels appear around every corner in the Bible. In actual fact, they are highly rare. The rapidity of their appearances in these accounts shows that all heaven is on the move. (“Aslan is on the move!”) And it took an appearance of an angel to persuade Joseph that the facts of nature – that pregnant wife means that someone has made her pregnant, and if not him then, well… – were in this case being turned upside down. We often give pride of place to Mary in these Christmas stories, on a human level, but spare a thought for Joseph. What faith must it have taken for him to accept the word not just of his wife, but even of the word of God through the angel? Great faith. And this word from the angel to Joseph is of the origin of the virgin birth. This birth is “from the Holy Spirit.” In a mystery beyond human ken, and totally different from the crass ancient pagan myths of petty so-called gods sleeping with women, there is a veil drawn over the miraculous creation of this birth inside the womb of Mary. Joseph, not the human father, is given naming rights as if he were the father. Joseph will call the child “Jesus” – or Savior – “because he will save his people from their sins” (v 21). And He was already doing so. Bringing together a youthful marriage and setting it on a firm footing. Honoring the downcast, giving strength to a man by giving him a naming task, and the parental nurturing that it represented, to raise none other than the Son of God. Purpose for the purposeless, hope for the hopeless, salvation for sinners. Few of us like to think we need saving. Yet, in the deepest level of our humanity, we all do. Saving from pride. Saving from anxiety. Saving from hopelessness. Saving for something, too: in Joseph’s case, to name the Child whose name would be on the lips of all the peoples of the world, and before whose name one day every knee would bow.
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now; ’tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord, who from the beginning was the mighty Word. Humbled for a season, to receive a name from the lips of sinners, unto whom he came; faithfully he bore it spotless to the last, brought it back victorious when from death he passed; In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue all that is not holy, all that is not true. Look to him, your Savior, in temptations’ hour; let his will enfold you in its light and power.
“At the Name of Jesus,” words by Caroline M. Noel]]>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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