An ultrasound may allow physicians to detect the sex of an unborn child, so that parents can prepare in advance, but to date, there is no definitive test for what the child will be when s/he grows up. That generally takes time, along with a measure of cajoling, counsel and experimentation. There are exceptions: a child born to royal parents is probably going to be involved in politics, just as one entering a family long established in commerce is likely to take part in the family business. Children might inherit the artistic qualities or athletic prowess or analytical mind common to their forebears–or they might not. Hard to tell exactly what this kid will grow up to be, or do.
So when Joseph gets word from the angel that the son about to be born in his home will “save his people from their sins”, that’s a shocker. True, the doughty king David had been an ancestor, but since then, Joseph’s line had been about average, showing little promise, accomplishing little of note. A savior? The shepherds hear the same thing while tending their flocks, as an angel sends them into town for a look at the wee babe who will become a mighty hero.
You want to agree with parents who rave over their newborns, to say, yes, I see it too, this greatness you perceive. So it’s easy to imagine when people heard this new one’s name–‘Jesus’ (no baby book for Mary or Joseph–on separate occasions, each heard an angel explain that this would be the new boy’s name)–they would smile and nod, remembering the hero from their history and say, yes, I can see it in him.
But really? A savior? The Christ? The inheritor of David’s throne? To hold this took faith, even for Mary and Joseph. And yet, that’s the idea, right? To believe that this is the role Jesus came to play, the purpose for which He was born. A lot of people–then and now–don’t believe this; Jesus was just another kid who grew up. Nice guy, lots of potential, kind; maybe a little above average, but not that much.
The Christmas story upsets so much of what we want. We want a quiet little holiday, time off work, good deals in stores, light traffic, manageable relatives. Advent upends our world with this startling claim: a savior has been born to you; to people living in darkness, a light has come; the God of mercy has sent his Christ so that death may die and you can live. So much at stake here, so much wrapped up in this swaddled baby resting in that manger.