According to Jewish Law, Joseph could have had Mary stoned for becoming pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. He could also have had her publicly humiliated in a religious ritual designed to prove or disprove her fidelity. Had he chosen either path, the story of Jesus, if it were told at all, would have been radically different. Joseph’s love and forgiveness of Mary made Jesus’ life, as we know it, possible.
When Matthew’s gospel goes on to tell how the angel described Jesus’ life’s work as forgiving our sins, we can hardly miss how central forgiveness in God’s relationship with us.
Usually we speak of God’s forgiveness in terms of our human weakness and cussedness rendering us undeserving of divine gifts. There’s another, more satisfying explanation. We can’t explain why the source and life of the universe should love and promise fulfillment to us. We can’t even explain why that Being would create us in the first place.
Everything we know of life is a chain of trades. The saying that nothing in life is free has deep roots in human experience. Imagining a relationship with our Creator that isn’t predicated on an exchange of some kind has been difficult almost to the point of being impossible.
The real foundation of our alienation from God isn’t the failures and nastiness that so often mar our lives but the complete inability we face when we try to trade for our lives and happiness. We have nothing to bring forward. That leaves us with an insurmountable insecurity – an insecurity that would leave us scrambling for the shakiest island of stability regardless of its cost were it not for God’s reaching out to offer us the hand of welcome and friendship. The message of Christmas and Holy Week is I value you not for what you can give me but as a friend of unquestioned worth.
We pray that this message will flow over us all as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We pray that is will become so powerful in our lives that we convey it to our world in our every relationship.