He took the news like a punch in the gut, the breath shoved out of his lungs; his dream dying right before his eyes. How could she do this? He knew what the law demanded. But he couldn’t imagine being the one to abandon her to her certain fate: death beneath a heap of stones. He had to let her go. He had to avoid this scandal.

“The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.” Matthew 1:18-19

The story has become so familiar that we can lose sight of the scandal through which Jesus entered this world. A simple girl in an unimportant town became pregnant before the wedding vows were exchanged. But, for the Israelites, that was enough to demand her death by stoning. What options did Joseph have? God couldn’t possibly be working through something so scandalous, could He?

This God, He’s not afraid of doing the unexpected.

This Jesus, scandal surrounded Him: the assumptions about his conception, his parents’ hasty marriage, the adulterers and murderers in his lineage, his tendency to join prostitutes and tax collectors for dinner, his declaration to be the Son of God. He didn’t come to be just one more person to bow down to legalism and religion. He came to be the open door for all the fallen to enter into a relationship with God. He came to make up that distance.

And now we sing Christmas carols about this scandal, melodic tunes and trills bring us to smiles and goosebumps. We put our conception of Christ in a pretty box and tie it with a bow. We think of the beauty, which is wonderful! Because it was beautiful. It still is.

But let’s also remember the God who steps in via the unexpected path, who never shies away from what may appear to be scandalous. He isn’t fearful of messy situations like we tend to be. And the miracles He does, those are inherently scandalous themselves, aren’t they?

Joseph, facing this scandalous miracle, had the choice to kill it, abandon it, or embrace it. The law allowed for death. His good sense would have left the scandal alone. But God entered in. And, seeing this scandal for the miracle it was, Joseph chose to embrace, to see God in the unexpected, right in the midst of the messy.

Is there something unexpected going on in your life right now? Is there a scandal of your own you’re facing?

He’s not intimidated by it. Whether He brought it about or something else did, God is there. Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our messes, in our uncertainties, in our unexpected situations, in our scandals. God, with us.

Merry Christmas. Merry Miracle!

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