It is hard to imagine. The year has gone by so quickly. So much has happened. It seems inconceivable that we are already in the Advent Season for this year.
The readings focus on expectantly waiting for the Messiah. It will also focus on our preparation for the coming of that Messiah.
For Joseph, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel account, what transpired was inconceivable:
18This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Joseph probably felt shocked, hurt and disappointed by Mary’s pregnancy. He could only believe that she had been with another man and had committed adultery.
Although they had not gone through the marriage ceremony, their betrothal was considered marriage at that time. Mary’s pregnancy would have been a great scandal.
And Joseph found it inconceivable that she could become pregnant without another man.
Joseph was a man of great character and kindness. He was going to divorce her quietly. He knew she was in a position of shame. He loved her enough not to expose her to any further shame. In his mind, their relationship was as good as dead. I’m sure his heart was dying, too.
Then what happens? An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph! This angel informs him that what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit (of God). Inconceivable! Joseph was thrown for a loop.
Furthermore, Joseph is told by the angel to call His name Jesus (the Greek for Joshua), which means “God is salvation”.
Mary’s conception was inconceivable. Joseph was not prepared for this at all! How could he be? How could you be?
Sometimes, we don’t react with quite the character and kindness to those who are caught in scandal. How often do we quickly pass judgment on those who we really didn’t like in the first place?
Or, when it is a friend or family member, we feel the shame of being associated with them. Maybe we even move to quietly cut off contact with them. We don’t want to be associated with their scandal.
If it’s someone with great moral character, we find it inconceivable that they would do something so scandalous. We might deny that it could happen. When we find out it did, we feel shock, hurt and disappointment. It’s hard to recover from.
That’s when we need to hear God’s word from a messenger of Grace. We need to hear that God uses scandals to proclaim His Gospel. Inconceivable!
A virgin with child who is the HOLY God? Inconceivable. A twelve year-old who understands God’s word better than Rabbis? Inconceivable! A man dying on a cross that is reserved for the execution of criminals to bring the forgiveness of sins to the crucifiers? Inconceivable! That same man placed in a tomb and three days later rising from death in glory? Inconceivable!
Yet, it happened! God uses those things we find to be scandals to deliver His honor and righteousness to sinners. How did He do this? Jesus, the God who became man, the Holy One, became sin. He became all sin. On the cross of crucifixion, God punished His Own Son(!) for the sin of the world. Scandalous! Inconceivable! And true.
Joseph needed a preacher. He got one in an angel of the Lord. It changed his heart. It changed his attitude. It changed his direction. It repented him. Joseph then lived by faith alone in the promise alone.
So as we prepare for Advent, just remember this, you will never be prepared for the grace of God. It is alien, strange and inconceivable. It is the mercy of God given for people who cannot conceive of forgiveness, mercy and righteousness being given through the scandal of the cross.
Scandalous behavior cannot prevent God’s mercy. In fact, as you think about those who have been caught in scandal, those are the exact people God wants to give grace. Think of Mary. Did she need grace?
And maybe, today, He will speak to those who have been caught in scandal through the scandalized. He will speak to those through you.
Because, Jesus Christ is your forgiveness. He is your salvation. He is your righteousness and honor before the Holy God. He is theirs, too.
And the scandal is … He has done it all in the most scandalous way. Inconceivable! That is good news; from this messenger to you.
To the glory of His Holy name,