Mary & Joseph – A Christmas Reflection

– December 12, 2017

Young, betrothed to be married and pregnant. Imagine for a moment the emotions and thoughts that Mary and Joseph’s parents were feeling when they found out Mary was expecting a child. These two young people were betrothed to be married. They were from the same area, probably from the same village. Yet, for Mary to be found pregnant was a shock, and totally unexpected.

You can imagine the questions, the accusations, the looks, the sneers, the anger, frustration, and dashed hopes and dreams both families were experiencing. With only one explanation that made sense…you don’t need me to draw that out.

The question everyone is asking – how did this happen? However, the answer that nobody was expecting was clearly outlined in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke.

In Luke 1:26 we learn that God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth in Galilee to visit Mary. Gabriel addresses her, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured. The Lord is with you.” She is highly favoured. The Lord is with her. She is a recipient of God’s grace.

Mary herself is greatly troubled at the words of the angel and wonders what sort of greeting this might be.

But the angel says to her, “do not be afraid Mary, you have found favour with God.” Gabriel tells her that she will conceive and give birth to a son, she is to call him Jesus, a common name but one that contains the Hebrew form of the word “saves.” This son will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He will be given the throne of his father David and will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

In response, she asks a simple question. “How can this be…I am a virgin?” How will God accomplish this wonder? The mere logic of it didn’t make any sense. To try to answer her own question, perhaps she begins to think ahead to when she will be married to Joseph and they can have a son together.

But God’s plan doesn’t involve the normal means of human logic, Gabriel tells her the Holy Spirit will come on her and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. Her pregnancy will come about because of the work of the Holy Spirit. The baby will be a miracle, worked by God himself. Just so she knows that the impossible can become the possible, the angel tells her of her relative Elizabeth who is also pregnant in her old age. Mary’s stance is very interesting and amazing – “I am the Lord’s servant” and submits herself to the outworking of the will of God, “may your word to me be fulfilled.”

“They provide for us a powerful example of what it means to follow God…surrendering themselves to God’s direction in their lives.”Mr. WordPress

Mary rushes off to see Elizabeth and spends three months with her before returning home. Mary knows she is pregnant, but who else might know? Things begin to become clear to those around her. A swelling of the belly, morning sickness, other signs? Rumours start flying, gossip may have spread in the family, within the village, synagogue chatter.

Eventually Joseph finds out. Who told him – Mary, his family, street gossip? Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. His future wife is found to be pregnant. He knows it wasn’t him. So…Who? Who did this to her?

Imagine the confusion, the rage, the frustration he must have felt. He decides what he must do. He is a righteous man, faithful to the law. He knows he must act, but he cannot move ahead and marry someone who he thinks has been unfaithful to him. So, he decides to divorce Mary but he is also a compassionate man and he decides to divorce her quietly. He could do this in a more public manner bringing shame and disgrace on Mary and her family but he chooses the quieter, more private option that would allow him to divorce her with only two witnesses present. Such an option leaves his righteousness and compassion intact.

Having made his own decision, he too has an angelic experience. Not Gabriel as far as we know as the angel who appears to him in a dream is not named. What we do know is the angel appears in a dream, rather than in an appearance. The message given is that he should not be afraid to take Mary home as his wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, he is told the name to use (as did Mary) but an added detail, the reason for the name – he will save his people from their sins.

He awakes from the dream, but wonders what to do now? He now knows that Mary’s pregnancy is from God, there is no other man involved. He has already decided on a particular course of action and now faces a dilemma – go through with he decided to do or do as the angel has instructed him.

He does what the angel commanded him and takes Mary home as his wife. We don’t know what kind of wedding they had, if any, but one thing we do know is that they did not consummate their marriage until Mary gave birth to a son and called him Jesus.

Somewhere in the weeks and months that follow news reaches Nazareth of a decree made by the Roman emperor far away in distant Rome. The decree requires Joseph to travel to his family home in Bethlehem for registration. He has to go but the interesting thing is that Mary joins him. Staying on in Nazareth would have been difficult, leaving her without her husband in a town where she may have been the butt of jokes or gossip.

The common image we have of them reaching Bethlehem just at the moment the child is to be born may not be quite accurate, but the text tells us that “while they were there” the time came for the baby to be born. It suggests they had been there for some time already, but for how long we do not know.

Their willingness to submit to God’s plan and do what the angels told them, and obey the Emperor’s decree, places them in Bethlehem at the exact time the baby was to be born. The very same Bethlehem that Micah 5:2 promised the Messiah would be born in.

Here, in the Christmas story, God’s divine plan works itself out in the faithful, obedient, submissive response of Mary and Joseph; as they obediently respond by doing what the angels tell them to do on the one hand, and follow the directions of the state and register in Bethlehem on the other. God’s servants surrendering to God’s direction brings them and us to the place where the Christ-child is born.

You have to be so utterly impressed with this young couple. Before they are married, angels appear to both of them independently. They respond positively, agree to stay together, and parent a child that is not of their (future) marriage. They provide for us a powerful example of what it means to follow God. Their experience is not to be repeated, but nevertheless they show us what it means to be God’s servants; surrendering themselves to God’s direction in their lives.

And the child that is born to them becomes the centre of our attention at this time of the year.

Grace & Peace
Dr. Stephen Roy