“Tell me the story of when I was born.”
Children, sometimes even grown children, will ask this question. It’s not that they want a history report, ‘just the facts please’. They want to hear you tell them about the experience of their birth in your life. It’s about the relationships, the joy, the hope, the affirmation of being loved. Telling the story allows us to let others see and hear what’s important to us, how we were open to and changed by this new life. They want to see our eyes light up, our faces fill with joy and our whole presence exude love for them and that moment in our lives.
Imagine Jesus asking Mary and Joseph about his own origin story, his birthday! ‘Tell me again about the Angel, Imma’… ‘did Wise Men really come from the East?’ Abba, ‘tell me about the journey to Bethlehem’. Maybe, cousins Elizabeth, Zechariah and John would be visiting, and Elizabeth would chime in about when she was expecting John and Mary came to visit! Can you imagine. And John, from across the room can be heard hollering, “Tell me the story of my birth, too”, Imma!
All our birth stories are important, no matter the circumstances. It’s about how we came to be and the day we came into the world, and if only briefly, that time when time seemed to stand still. To gaze upon the face of a newborn child is to be bathed in light and love, transfixed on the beauty before you and the wonder of new life. So too the birth of Jesus, except we all want to enter into his story, marvel at his birth, gaze into his face. It’s his birth that changed everything for everyone who shares in it. And yes, Mary and Joseph knew that their child would save the sons and daughters of God, that’s why they named him, Jesus.
For Matthew, telling the story of the conception and birth of Jesus is to emphasize that it was a unique and world changing event. It speaks of the very intimate experience of Joseph and Mary. It speaks of the movement of God in creation, passing from the former age of prophets and promises to the time of fulfillment and intimate presence. Matthew sees the coming of God’s Son into the world as the fulfillment of the promise given through Isaiah centuries before. The birth of Jesus is the sign of God’s presence, “God with us.” Emmanuel.
In the beginning Joseph didn’t think he wanted to be part of the story. He wasn’t thinking about the prophetic words of Isaiah, at first. He didn’t immediately see a new age coming and this story of the child in Mary’s womb wasn’t, at first, a story he wanted to live or about which he wanted to tell others. Some of our own stories might also have been complicated and controversial. For Joseph, it was an unexpected and unwanted development in his life with Mary. The law and the norms of his culture supported his view of the situation, and although he wanted to be merciful toward her, he also couldn’t see any alternative, quiet divorce was the only way forward. Such might have been the history of Joseph and Mary if not for the Angels message in his dreams.
The message of the Angel put to rest within him the apparent scandal of the situation and revealed another path. Without clear comprehension, but full of faith and righteousness, Joseph “awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”, courageously he did as he was asked. He was asked not to follow the wisdom of man, not to invoke the law. He was asked not to abandon Mary and Jesus. He was asked to not to act out of his pain, his sense of betrayal. That morning as he rose and prayed and put on his mantle, Joseph offered his sacrifices to the Lord. He offered his dreams of the future, his hopes for children with his name, his desire for his wife. He laid down his fear, doubts, questions, reputation, understanding, personal hopes, the protections of the law and so opened himself to the mercy and grace of God.
Joseph didn’t go on to do great things in the world. In fact, his silence in Scripture is so deafening it demands attention as its own spiritual lesson. His righteousness became his greatness. His silent love for God became his greatest strength as he faithfully agreed to extend his loving mercy and wrap his mantle around Mary and Jesus and bring into being the Holy Family. Faith and Grace made him able to receive Mary and the child; to fully love, protect, nourish, and provide.
As their story together unfolded, they would discover that if there was any scandal, it was that God became intimately present to creation in their Son. They would learn the depth of God’s merciful faithfulness and loving commitment to creation. They became the first among us to receive the fullness of the gift of salvation in the renewal of the covenant in which God affirmed that He chooses us. He loves us. He is at the center of all our stories, no matter the circumstances of our birth. He gazes upon our beauty and He shares with us light and love this His own Son whose birth we celebrate today.
“Tell me the story of when I was born.”... “Tell me the story of when you were born again”
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.