Headlines from First Thoughts

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Unwanted Baby

Maybe I was mistaken, or perhaps I turned off my brain in seminary. I think I heard the words "unplanned pregnancy" associated with the conception of Jesus for as long as I can remember. After 10 years of ministry in Texas and now 3 in Tennessee, unplanned and pregnancy I guess go together pretty frequently in Baptist life.

Preaching is heard and spoken through all kinds of filters. In a nod to all the unwed, troubled, and ill-timed conceptions, "unplanned" fit one motif of Mary and Joseph's relationship. The biggest trouble with searching for the new inside the old story is that you tend to come back with motifs that fit your culture. The "unwed" "unplanned" labels note a moment of grace and hope for redemption.

But I need a stronger word, something that really gets at the root of all this. I don't want to overreach, but as I understand this moment somewhere between Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:47-2:4, Jesus' arrival was worse than an unplanned event.

Unplanned is a bit too staid and sterile. The word reminds me of an event on a calendar that could have worked better with enough committee meetings, staff meetings, or medical equipment. Unplanned is the holiday guest that calls. We can make room for her. Not a big deal. Unplanned is the sound going out in the middle of the sermon. Inconvenient, yes. Fixable, yes.
You can adjust for the unplanned.

Planning was the last thing on a 12-or-13 year old girl's mind in 1st century Israel. Parents did that, and they decided to wed her to the carpenter's son Joseph. It was a good economic arrangement for both parties, and the rites of 1st century betrothal were in place. Money was exchanged, and Joseph prepared to be married to a woman that he would try to fall in love with later. First marriage, then love.

The last thing you would want in the middle of all this would be a baby. They had not courted. What was dating to a 1st century person?

What you want is that Joseph will have enough money and room in the house for Mary when she comes to lives with him during the period of betrothal. What you want is for Joseph to stay alive and not leave Mary widowed. What you want is that this family can just have a nice normal start. Baby, yes, but that's for much later.

So when an angel arrives on the scene and becomes both Joseph's nightmare and answer to his prayers, the angel assures Jim that the greatest gifts in life are the most challenging, unexpected, and at the moment, unwanted presents. When an angel conveys similar information to Mary, it's no wonder she left town. The omission of a family support network on Mary's side shouts from the silence in the Gospel of Luke just how undesirable these circumstances really are. Mary needs time, Mary needs to go alone in the silence to her relative Elizabeth's home. Only then can this news become good.

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