A guest post by Dr Grace Milton
I suspect that the events we retell and celebrate during advent were not how Mary and Joseph expected their first child to come into the world. Aside from the social stigma attached (Matthew 1:18-19) the logistics of the birth were a nightmare. Had Mary and Joseph been in control of their own family planning, they would have perhaps attempted to time conception so that the birth would not coincide with a major census involving extensive travel and uncertain accommodation.
In many ways it would have made much more sense for Jesus’ birth to have followed biblical tradition and been the result of the miraculous pregnancy of a barren woman who was already married, socially and financially secure and who longed for a child of her own (a la Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth). I certainly would have been sympathetic had Mary responded to the angel Gabriel’s announcement with a polite, “No thank you. Joseph and I plan to wait until we are married and then we will have a baby”.
However, the birth narratives we see in the Gospels subvert expectations of family at a personal and a community level. While Mary and Joseph’s expectations of how their family would grow were undoubtedly flipped on their heads, the theological expectations of how the family of God would grow were also subverted and foreshadowed by the key players in the nativity. Through the Magi the gentiles are invited to participate in the birth (and work) of the Messiah and, through the Shepherds, the marginalised are brought into the heart of history.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1: 12-13)
Throughout advent we are offered a glimpse of God’s view of family which is surprising and at times uncomfortable, but which ultimately exceeds our expectations.
Perhaps if we allow the Christmas narratives to challenge us this advent season we may consider what our expectations of family are (whether our own or our wider church family) and ask ourselves, what room is there in these plans for the vulnerable and the “outsider”?