You and I are nothing but flesh
PROFESSIONS OF FAITH
As it turns out, we Perry Countians are connected to royal blood. Who knew?!
Seems that the father of Meghan Markle, fiance of Prince Harry, was a resident of Perry County. Further, he was descended from a 14th century English monarch. Perry county scumbags, indeed!
Okay, so he graduated from Newport High School in 1962 and hasn’t been seen so much since. This hasn’t stopped me from considering the possibilities. Suppose Meghan discovers a yearning to connect with her Perry County roots? Suppose the Perry County hamlet of MARKLESville becomes a vacation haven for the royals? Suppose Prince Harry feels a need to bag a whitetail before heading back across the pond? I can just hear the chatter at Tom’s Garage near my house:
“Hey Harry, git ur buck?”
Okay, so it’s not entirely probable. I digress.
Good to remember that, were those wildest dreams to eventuate, we would eventually discover that royals have their rough spots. A casual study of the British monarchy would reveal that in technicolor. Flesh contains foibles, and ain’t none of us exempt.
The New Testament begins with a genealogy of the 28 generations which form branches on the family tree of Jesus. There are some odd sticks: good kings who made bad mistakes (David, Hezekiah, Asa, Uzziah, Jehoshaphat), bad kings who were just bad (Jehoram, Rehoboam, Ahaz, Jeconiah) and one who was simply horrid (Manassah). There were severely flawed patriarchs (Judah and Jacob), and the uneven, tragedy-leavened tales of Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah the Hittite). A full accounting of the incest, prostitution, exploitation, desperation and loss which wove their way into these lives wouldn’t likely survive the editor.
John Ortberg had a point: “Want to feel better about your own family? Read the Bible.”
But we’re not exempt, are we? Humanity can delight and desecrate, give and take, love and hate with remarkable frequency. It is hard to get a read, but we know there are always flaws between the lines. When a local paper invited readers to submit an essay on what was wrong with the world, the early 20th century literary apologist G.K. Chesterton offered a two-word response.
And so the I AM invades at the end of this disjointed generational beginning to the Matthew account: “When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”
“Holy Spirit/” Not everyone is understanding or receptive this dynamic, yet our culture finds many ways to casually nod to the concept of spirit beyond flesh, even as our pursuits are so often so physical:
“He seems to be in good spirits.”
“There was a bad spirit in the room.”
“That was a spirited comeback by the Eagles.”
“They had no spirit last night.”
All of it is subtle recognition that we are not just flesh and blood; that something else can move us to different places. And never is this claim greater than the simple profundity of Matthew 1:18. The Holy Spirit found in a peasant girl in a backwater town where nothing good was known to come. Common people. Common lives. Uncommon entrance.
Uncommon invasion for Joseph, a righteous man, who first sought a secret means to end the betrothal (a custom-based pre-marriage arrangement without full parallel in our culture), as quickly and quietly as possible. So far as he knew, he had been betrayed, but his motives for ending the relationship were clear: to keep her from disgrace.
And then more interruption. A dream informs Joseph that he is not to separate from Mary; that this startling turn is of the Holy Spirit. Further, this unborn child “will save His people from their sins.”
May we assume that Mary was a noble and good woman? I think so. In the Luke account, she is reckoned as “highly favored.” May we assume that Mary’s pregnancy would have come as a terrible shock to Joseph? And may we remember that the dream was Joseph’s, and no one else’s. Once over it is HIS to know, HIS to interpret, HIS to … believe as flesh is invaded by the Spirit of God.
“And Joseph arose from His sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife.”
Part of the motive behind the betrothal period was to ensure that the woman was not pregnant by another. It usually lasted a year or so, after which the bride would be taken to the home of the groom. Joseph took her home immediately, while pregnant. In doing so, Joseph took on the shame of a sin he hadn’t committed. People can count.
“Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s son?” the homefolks would scoff years later as they rejected Jesus’ ministry.
No, he wasn’t. But Joseph had acted as nobly as any human father ever has. The Spirit was at work. The word was delivered. Joseph obeyed; not only sparing Mary further disgrace, but taking much of it on himself.
King or peasant, we all have decisions to make when the pervasion of God’s Spirit crowds our existence. Spirit-driven acts can seem odd, unreasonable and unnatural. But the supernatural invasion of Christ into our world, and the noble simplicity of characters such as Joseph, provide a template worth writing life on. As the spirit invades we are formed into more than flesh.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:6-8).
As you formed the greatest birth, be born in us Holy Spirit. We are nothing but flesh without you.
Andy Meiser is the pastor of Eshcol Brethren in Christ and Saville Brethren in Christ churches, in Ickesburg.