Title: Like Mary, Like Joseph
Text: Isa 7:10-16, Matt 1:18-25
Date: Dec 19, 2010
Author: Isaac Villegas
Loved and Liked
The story of Christmas, of Immanuel, God with us, is that we are not only loved by God, but that God likes us. Not only does God love us, God actually likes us. (See James Alison, On Being Liked)
Let’s think about this for a little bit—about the difference between loving people and liking them. Of course, the two overlap. You can love someone and like him or her at the same time. But I can think of people who I love, but who I don’t really like.
After all, I am supposed to love even my enemies, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like them, that I have to enjoy their presence. But I will try to love them. And there are people that I meet and interact with in various places in our community who I love, who I would do just about anything in order to help them, but I don’t think I would plan a pleasant evening with them.
I’m sure you can think of people in your life as well—people that you love, but don’t particularly like. If you wanted a pleasant evening at home, you are going to try to spend it with someone you like, someone who you actually enjoy being with, and someone who likes you, who likes to be in your presence.
Now, what I’m saying is that the story of Christmas, and the story of the whole bible, is about a God who not only loves us, but also actually likes us—a God who is always finding ways to be with us, to be in our presence, to rest with us, to draw close to us. I mean, how much closer can you get than being born in someone’s else’s body?
That’s basically the point of my sermon. But to get there, we should talk about Mary and Joseph. First, Mary.
“She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18). The Holy Spirit draws near to Mary. And through her pregnancy, the Word is made flesh. Jesus receives his body. In Jesus God receives flesh—receives substance—from a woman. This is very strange thing for God to do. The all-powerful one depends completely on a woman; he is at Mary’s mercy. What does that do to the way you think about God’s power? For these nine-months, the giver of life is totally dependent on Mary for life. What kind of God does that?
Well, a God who wants to be with Mary, who wants to rest in her womb. In Mary’s womb we find a God who wants to draw closer and closer to humanity, to us. In Mary’s womb, God joins our fragile and messy and complicated earthly lives. In Jesus, God intimately binds God’s very self to our bodies, to our humanness, to our cells and molecules. Through Jesus, God is woven into our lives, the hidden parts, deeper than we can feel.
Jesus is the ecstatic movement of God’s love—a God who can’t sit still because God loves us so much. God is in Mary’s womb for no other reason than because “God desires and loves and befriends human bodies.” The incarnation is God’s uncontrollable love, overflowing into our messy lives, so that God can draw us into the depths of love.
The incarnation speaks of a God who is so moved by love, that God gets inside of us. God permeates all of us, not just our hearts, but everything else too—all the stuff that makes up who we are. All of it. God loves all of it. God gets inside all of it, passes through it, envelopes it, and embraces even what we may want to hide.
Why? Because God not only loves us, but God also likes us. God wants to be with us, intimately present to our lives. God doesn’t have to like us—God already loves us, and that should be good enough. But it’s not enough. The salvation of humanity is not enough. God could have come up with another way to save us, a way that wouldn’t have had to be so dependent on a woman, a way that wouldn’t have had to be so risky and so messy—pregnancy and birth, I hear, are quite messy. God’s plan of salvation did not have to pass through Mary. God doesn’t become human through Mary in order to obey some kind of cosmic rulebook about how salvation is supposed to play out. No. God chooses to become human through Mary for no other reason than because God wants to, because God wants to be close to her, God wants to be close to us.
Grace is the name we have for the way God is present with us because God likes us—not because of what we can do, not because of what we may become in the future, but simply because God enjoys being with us. Grace means God is present with us just because God wants to be. “Look,” says the prophet Isaiah, “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). Jesus is God’s way of being with us, of being present.
Even though I know this to be true—that we are like Mary, pregnant with God’s presence in our lives; that our bodies are full of God’s presence, the God who likes to be with us and draws close to us. Even though I know that’s true, I usually feel like Joseph. He’s a marginal character in the story—a supporting actor in the drama of Christmas. Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus’ birth have nothing to do with Joseph. According to the story, somehow Mary gets pregnant without haven’t sex with Joseph or anyone else. At the very least Joseph could have helped out with that. Instead, he is rendered powerless to make Jesus happen. He’s body is unnecessary for the birth of the Messiah.
Instead, Joseph becomes a midwife—walking with Mary as she prepares for birth, supporting her as she comes to term. As far as we know, Joseph is the only one around when Mary gives birth—other than, I guess, the animals. In the Christmas story, Joseph doesn’t get the joy of feeling God’s life develop and grow within him. That role belongs to Mary. Joseph, on the other hand, is told to be with Mary—that’s what the angel of the Lord says to Joseph. He is to be present, at her side.
That is also an important part of the Christmas story—and it’s part of the story that meets me where I am at, and maybe some of you as well. Instead of being at the center of the story, instead of being the one who is pregnant with God’s uncontrollable joy—instead of being like Mary, you are like Joseph, the midwife, the one who comes alongside, someone who is called to be present.
The Christmas story is about trying to be present, about drawing closer and closer. It’s about a God who refuses to be some kind of power above us and beyond us, a God who refuses to keep a safe distance from us. This God, the one we find in Mary’s womb, wants to be with us, to be a presence of love that we can rest into.
“ ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matt 1:23).
 Eugene F. Rogers, Jr., After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources outside the Modern West (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), p. 103.