“Frank and Nikki sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”
This old children’s rhyme bespeaks a bygone era when it was widely assumed that families are created in predictable ways—following a recognizable sequence of events: courtship, marriage, parenthood.
Although the biblical witness assumes, more or less, this ordering of domestic life, the pages of the Bible are replete with variations from the norm—nowhere as vividly as in the Nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke.
Hearing these well-worn texts again this Advent-Christmastide, I’ve been struck by the awkwardness of it all, as the Holy Spirit visits Mary and Joseph to clue them into the mysterious workings of God.
When Gabriel surprises young Mary with news that she is to become a mother, she blurts out the obvious question: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
This awkwardness is compounded for Joseph, who learns of Mary's delicate condition along with the rest of her gossipy neighbors: “When…Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
Having resolved to end their engagement quietly, Joseph receives in a dream his own angelic marching orders: “‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 1:20)
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. That may be the customary order of things, the conventional sequence in ordinary times….but with the birth of Jesus, all of that is upended, because God is afoot, messing with Mary and Joseph, disrupting their lives and in so doing intervening in “business as usual” across the whole world.
Which is precisely the point. Ordinary time has been eclipsed by extraordinary time. Mary’s pregnancy, with its mysterious interweaving of divine and human DNA signals the end of business-as-usual.
If all of that seems jarringly awkward, we dare not be surprised. Awkwardness goes with the territory when Incarnation (God becoming enfleshed) is happening.
Awkwardness is about more than momentary embarrassment or annoying discomfort. Derived from the Middle English word awkeward, “in the wrong direction,” (from awke “turned the wrong way”) awkwardness signals a reversal of course.
And precisely that is what unfolds in Bethlehem’s manger: a blessed reordering of the whole fallen creation. Where sin, death and the devil have held sway…a new dawn breaks forth with gifts of faith, resurrection and God’s own never-ending Reign “on earth as it is in heaven.”
“Almighty God, you gave us your only Son to take on our human nature and illumine the world with your light. By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, collect for the Nativity of our Lord, p. 20)