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The Mother of God: Advent sermon on Matthew 1:18-25

December 23rd, 2007 by isaac · No Comments

Title: The Mother of God.
Date: December 23, 2007
Texts: Isaiah 7:10-16; Matt 1:18-25

Another teen pregnancy. It’s such a scandal. Especially since she is part of such a trusted and wholesome show. Jamie Lynn Spears. She’s the younger sister of Britney Spears, who stars on Nickelodeon TV—and she’s pregnant at 16 years old. A trip to the grocery store will get you up to speed—just glance at the front page of People magazine while in the checkout line.

Now Mary’s pregnancy may even be more scandalous for us since she was even younger than Jamie Spears—probably around 14 years old. And it wasn’t her boyfriend or fiancé that got her pregnant; nobody knew who it could be. She was betrothed to Joseph, but Joseph wasn’t the father.

Who was it? I’m sure that was Joseph’s question. And I’m sure the word was circulating among their friends and relatives. When Mary walked in the market, she felt eyes piercing her back. The slightest change in her body was reason for panic. She couldn’t hide her baby bump. What would they think?

You see, the incarnation is messy. It’s messy like pregnancy is messy, like birthing is messy. It’s a messy story—lots of complicated relationships to navigate, there’s scandal and surprise. And the gospel, the good news, is that God comes right smack in the middle of the mess. Incarnation happens in the middle of scandal.

(pause)

We don’t know the mechanics of Jesus conception. The text doesn’t give us those details. We are simply told, in verse 18, that Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Luke gives us a little more, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). But that’s all we’ve got. The gospels of John and Mark tell us nothing.

But we do know that God is there, inside Mary’s womb, God the fetus, swimming in amniotic fluid, dependant, vulnerable—our God takes risks; he inhabits a delicate and risky space. This young woman of no reputation bears in her womb the long-awaited child prophesied in Isaiah 7: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23). It’s the child. The one all history awaits. God’s intimate presence with us, among us. The child is God. And Mary, a couple years younger than Jaime Lynn Spears, is the mother of God.

What does it mean that God is born of a woman? That God chose to be completely dependent on a woman? For one thing, here’s a pregnancy that doesn’t need a male. (Sorry guys). The Holy Spirit makes man redundant, replaceable, rendered powerless. We, us males, are barely part of the story—we’re marginal figures. This might be a hard pill for some men to swallow. God received flesh, received substance, received a body, from a woman.

This is a very strange thing for God to do. And it’s a strange and uncomfortable thing to talk about. God, through the Holy Spirit, receives Mary’s flesh and blood, the Word made flesh, Mary’s flesh, and God gestates, completely at Mary’s mercy. And then God is born, Jesus Christ, born of Mary, in the midst on controversy—who is the father?

Incarnation is messy, very messy, and very strange. And it was too messy for Nestorius in the 5th century, the leader of the church in Constantinople. On the surface, it may sound like one of those typical arguments among obsessive theologians who waste their time nit-picking about a word or phrase. You see, Nestorius didn’t like people calling Mary the “mother of God.” He would rather have people say, “the mother of Christ” or “the mother of Jesus.” But no calling Mary God’s mother. That’s too much, too far.

It was too much for him to think that our all-sufficient God received flesh from a mother, from a woman. And it was too much for Nestorius to imagine that our all-powerful God of the universe received life from Mary, in her womb. And it was too much for him to say that our holy God takes that messy passage into this world with Mary’s last push.

Mary is the mother of God. And that means that Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, is our God who receives a body like ours, flesh and blood, just like we did—from a mother.

Here’s the payoff. I made ya’ll learn about Nestorius for some reason.

In Jesus Christ, God befriends human flesh. In Mary’s womb, God embraces our fragile and messy and complicated earthy lives. God intimately binds himself to our bodies, to our cells and molecules—God weaves himself into our lives, the hidden parts, deeper than we can feel. Emmanuel is the way God comes to know us better than we can know ourselves; underneath the lies we tell ourselves, or the lies we come to believe about ourselves.

Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus, is the ecstatic movement of God’s love—a God who can’t sit still because he loves us, our flesh, so much. God is in Mary’s womb because “God desires and loves and befriends human bodies. God the Spirit does not have disgust at the physical” (Eugene Rogers, After the Spirit, 103-104), like we do, like Nestorius did.

The incarnation is God’s uncontrollable love overflowing into our messy bodies, so that he can draw us into himself, 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 hearts, but everything else too, our matter, the stuff that makes up who we are: toes and fingers, hearts and kidneys, muscles and fat. All of it. God loves all of it. He gets inside all of it, passes through it, envelopes it, embraces what we want to hide.

Incarnation is the way God redeems us. God enters into our lives, our selves, all of it, and transforms it, heals it, renews it. And it’s our bodies, this chunk of flesh and blood, that God brings into his presence through the work of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that formed the body of Jesus in Mary’s womb, with Mary’s flesh and blood. God becomes human to heal us, to mend what’s been torn, to set us free from the powers of destruction and bondage, what we call sin.

All of this is what it means to say that Mary is the mother of God—that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, among us, through us, inside of us, embracing us, transforming us. The incarnation is God’s affirmation of how we were created us, of what God created us to be. It’s how God loves us, you and me—all of us, all parts of us.

And just as God loves us, so we must love one another. Just as God befriends our bodies, so we must befriend one another. This is what the Holy Spirit does, the mission of the Spirit—it befriends us, overshadows us, blurs the line between spirit and matter, moves through our flesh and blood, and binds us together in friendships. As Herbert McCabe puts it, “God is present to us in so far as we are present to one another.” God’s presence overflows through our flesh and bones, our physicality, and molds us together into something wonderfully new, the body of Christ.

Of course there’s always more ways we can nurture our friendships, more ways to weave our lives together. But I think ya’ll should pat yourselves on the back because I think we do a good job at that. I have found meaningful and sustaining friendships in this place. You are my friends. And I hope you feel the same.

But all his talk of God’s love for us, God’s intimate embrace of our humanity, also leads us in another direction, something I’m not very good at: evangelism, missions, outreach.

Now, I’m not talking about evangelism out of fear of damnation—that God will send people to hell because we’re not good at sharing the gospel. Instead, I’m talking about an evangelism rooted in the incarnation, rooted in the way God loves flesh and blood, the way God loves people, bodies, individuals—the way God can’t help but draw flesh and blood into intimacy, into love, into communion.

We evangelize because God loves people, flesh and blood, and so should we. The incarnation teaches an evangelism that can’t help but befriend people, to draw them near, because that’s how the Holy Spirit moves. God longs for our selves, for our bodies, for our life, to be near us, to hold us close. And we share in that divine longing—it’s called evangelism, our sharing in God’s longing, God’s desire, God’s intimate love, for bodies, for people.

Incarnation as evangelism brings us full circle back to Mary, the teenage mother of God. We are inside of Mary; this church is Mary’s womb. And the Holy Spirit is moving, resting upon us, moving through us, gathering matter, reconfiguring flesh and blood, reforming our bodies, stitching us together in the body of Christ.

And just as Mary was young, very young, so is this church. Who would ever trust someone as young as Jaime Lynn Spears to raise their child? Well, we’re even younger—eight years old! Who would ever imagine that we, our young and immature church, can bear God’s presence, can birth the body of Christ?

But that’s where we are: Mary, the mother of God… inside the womb. And we are gestating, drawn from the material of this world, gifts, being formed, transformed, into that fragile, humble, body—the body of Christ, Emmanuel, God’s presence for the world. We are God’s body, being formed by the Holy Spirit, to be God’s presence, God’s invitation for all flesh to join our communion, this union, which is God’s loving embrace.

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