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Focus Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Scriptural Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25
n the sentimentality which has become a part of the Christmas season, it is easy to forget the scandal surrounding the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born of a young woman who got pregnant by someone other than the man she was engaged to marry. He was also born in a small, insignificant community called Bethlehem. His crib was a manger because his parents could not find the proper lodging for his birth. When God takes on flesh, God enters the world with all the vulnerability and complication associated with pregnancy and childbirth, and even in a scandalous social situation of an unwed mother. What kind of God would chose for Jesus to be born in this way under these circumstances?
This story is at once miraculous and mundane. The virgin birth, of course, does not happen every day. Yet, the kinds of circumstances which surround the birth of Jesus are all too commonplace across cultures and historical contexts: vulnerability, uncertainty, unplanned pregnancy, questions about paternity, and the threat of being ostracized from the community. The community around Mary will undoubtedly be whispering behind her back or giving knowing glances in light of her situation. Joseph has to trust this child is of God and thus care for this child who is not his own. What implications might this story have for contemporary parents and caregivers who find themselves through various circumstances having to raise a child that is not biologically theirs? How do we love, accept, and care for expectant woman, especially those in vulnerable or uncertain situations, and the children they will hopefully bear regardless of the circumstances which brought about their pregnancy?
The details of Jesus’ birth ought to awaken us the realities faced by the poor, the powerless, and the pariahs, including the ways in which pregnancy and childbirth can compound and complicate these circumstances. Women who are young, single, poor, or outside the normal social boundaries face tremendous adversity and uncertainty in pregnancy and parenthood and certain ‘unconventional families’ still struggle to find acceptance in their respective communities.
Mary’s pregnancy may have raised questions about her faithfulness to Joseph, but this child is the answer to Israel’s questions about God’s faithfulness to the covenant people. In the midst of the uncertainty which surrounds this pregnancy, this child represents God’s love and faithfulness to Israel and to the world. His name will be Jesus, for he will be the one to save his people from their sins. Jesus’ birth and the season of advent renew our hope in God’s continuing faithfulness. In advent we look forward to the birth of Jesus which is the ultimate demonstration of God’s commitment to the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Out of these unusual and undignified circumstances the hope of Israel and of the world is born—Emmanuel, God with us, come to save all people.
By Michael Burns, Duke Divinity School Intern
Worship Aids about Vulnerable Mothers
Remembering Mary and Joseph
we remember Mary and Joseph,
giving thanks for their faithfulness,
courage and obedience,
stepping out into the unknown
in the strength of your Spirit,
playing their part
in the fulfilment of your plan
to bring your prodigal people
We pray that their example
might be the pattern of our lives,
that when your gentle whisper
breaks through the clamour of this world
and into our small corner,
we might be ready to listen,
and having listened, to act.
Facts and Reflection about Vulnerable Mothers
- Out of 12.2 million single parent families in the U.S. in 2012, more than 80% were headed by single mothers.
- 39% of children in North Carolina live in a single parent home. About 30% of these are mother-only homes and only about 8% are father-only homes.
- In 2010, there were almost 14,000 children in foster care in North Carolina.
- In 2011, 25.4% of children in North Carolina were living below the poverty line.
- In 2010, 42% of births in North Carolina were from unwed mothers.