The Scandal of the Manger

December 21, 2017

MATTHEW 1:18-24 (NLT)

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.


In high school, a girl I knew got pregnant, and she quietly left to what was then called a “home for un-wed mothers.” She stayed there until the child was born (who was quickly adopted) and then moved to another state.

It was quite the scandal. Everyone knew who she was with, and they “knew” who was responsible: her.

In today’s text, when Mary turned out to be pregnant while still engaged to Joseph, it was going to be a scandal. So Joseph was ready to quietly leave.

Joseph’s reputation, especially as a descendant of King David, was probably at stake. But in this patriarchal culture, the real victim of the scandal was Mary. In their culture, a couple who was engaged was considered legally married, they just hadn’t consummated the marriage.

Under the law, if a women became pregnant outside of this covenant, she was considered the adulterer, and the punishment was death by stoning. But as we saw yesterday, Mary was willing to lay down her life and endure a scandal to say “yes” to God’s call.

We see God working through an un-wed virgin, but take a closer look at the females Matthew includes in Jesus’ genealogy, and we find a family of sex scandals. There’s Tamar (pretended to be a prostitute and got pregnant by her father-in-law), Rahab (a prostitute), Ruth (slept with Boaz while he was passed out drunk), and Bathsheba (essentially raped by King David).

But where we see shame stories, God sees salvation stories.

Matthew’s genealogy starts with Abraham (who had a little scandal of his own). But take an even closer look – all the way to very beginning of the family tree – and we see an even greater scandal involving all of us:

In the very beginning, the Spirit hovers over the water of chaos, and God creates light and dark, oceans and sky, land and animals, and finally Adam, the Hebrew name for “humanity.” But humanity rebells and turns away, and so there are curses of brokenness, toil and death.

And one of those curses is on Eve, the “mother of humanity”: I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth (Genesis 3:16).

The miracle of life, the gift of sex, and the call to create will now come at a price. And until the modern era, the leading cause of death among women was childbirth.

So what is the scandal of the manger? That God didn’t wipe it all out and start over, but by grace redeemed the curse through one of the ways it was manifest: childbirth.

That the God who hovered over the waters of chaos hovered over the water of a womb.

The One who created the cosmos became an embryo to recreate us.

What we see as producing shame, God sees as a path to salvation. So then, it is not enough that Jesus is God with us, but also is God one of us to heal, redeem, restore… to fix all humanity broke after he birthed us.

This is why, before the scandal of the cross, we pause to adore the scandal of the manger.

To be continued…


Heavenly Father, you turn our shame into salvation. As the poet says, your grace makes beauty out of ugly things. Please birth this hope again in us during Advent. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.


  1. What do you think of this idea of the “scandal of the manger?”
  2. What is the shame you need grace to turn into salvation this Advent?

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