Summary: Let’s stop pretending that we know a lot about God! If we want to know God at all, we’ve got to start from the human end of God - Jesus. ...
"Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (19) Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (20) But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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. (21) She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Someone slipped under the church door last week this rather helpful little tract entitled ‘Islam - most frequently asked questions.’ The tract was accompanied by a short cover note, saying that a sister had left this for us - a sister who was hoping to generate more understanding between Christians and Moslems, in the hope of greater peace within our community - a noble goal indeed.
At any rate, I found this tract very helpful, and it has renewed my determination to find where I have misplaced my copy of the Koran and to use the forthcoming holiday break to read it through properly. In the meantime I’ll have to make do with this tract, which I’d be happy to pass on to others of course. It has a very interesting chapter on the merits of polygamy for example, which some of you men might find quite interesting, and which others of you would probably find less inspiring. It also has a paragraph on the truth about the incarnation of Jesus - that is, the truth about whether Jesus is really God - which was why I brought this tract with me this morning, as I want to read that paragraph to you.
Now you’ll forgive me please if I changed the language just a little, by using the word God in place of Allah for instance, as I don’t want us to trip up on that. I don’t think I’ve changed the sense of the words at any rate.
Reading from the Koran 5:72-75:
‘Surely they have disbelieved who say ‘Jesus, the Messiah, is God.’ It was Jesus who said ‘O children of Israel! Worship God, my Lord and your Lord.’ Truly, whosoever sets up partners in worship alongside God, God has forbidden Paradise for that person and the Fire will be their abode. And for the polytheists there is no help. Surely they are unbelievers who said, ‘God is the third of three (a trinity)’. For there is no God but the One God. And if they cease not from what they say, truly a painful torment will befall them... The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a Messenger. Many were the Messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a truthful woman. They both used to eat food as other human beings, while God Himself does not eat.’
That might sound like a funny note to end on, but that’s more or less where the quote ends in the pamphlet, and that, I believe, does pretty much touch on the heart of the issue. Jesus, like his mother, ate and drank. We know that God does not eat or drink. Therefore Jesus cannot be God.
We could take this further of course, as those who deny the incarnation do take it further. Jesus not only ate and drank, we assume that he exercised all the normal human bodily functions - that he went to the toilet, and was subject to bilious attacks if he ate bad food. Certainly we find it difficult to think of God in those terms. More than that, Jesus not only ate and drank and exercised all the normal bodily functions, but more particularly he suffered and died, and we surely cannot envisage God suffering and dying. God cannot suffer and God certainly cannot die, therefore Jesus cannot be God.
And yet when we read our passage this morning from Matthew’s gospel, that is exactly what we are confronted with. ‘God is with us’. God is arriving on the human scene in the flesh, and arriving in the normal human way, through the blood and pain of a normal human birth!
Matthew’s gospel tells the story from Joseph’s perspective - so they say: Joseph, who has to be the least colourful character in the whole Christmas pageant. ‘He was a good man’ the gospel writer tells us, and that’s about all he ever tells us about Joseph. Did this good man go on to be a good husband to Mary and a good father to Jesus? We can only guess.