We rarely spend enough time focusing on the completely human element of scandal surrounding the birth of Jesus. According to the moral teachings of the day, not only did Joseph have every right to break off his engagement with his mysteriously pregnant future wife, but by all accounts, Mary could've been stoned in the village square for infidelity. The religious folks of the day would've correctly cited that stoning her was "justified" by law. That's some dogmatic and unforgiving doctrine.
Mary and Joseph lived in a religious culture that called for harsh treatment of unwed women who became pregnant. People were no more inclined to accept her explanation that "God did it," than we would be today. It was an outlandish explanation. God simply does not do this sort of thing, right? The very idea offends our sense of morality, not to mention our scientific and theological sensibilities -- just as much as it did in that day and age. Imagine how it might go over tomorrow if you had to explain to your own parents and neighbors that you were pregnant (or your fiancé was pregnant), but that your child was "God's only son."
On top of Mary's outrageous claim, I always think about the gossip the couple had to endure -- talk about disgraceful! I wonder if Joseph would've been elected to the town council or allowed to be an usher in his local church. Do you think they would've let Mary sing in the church choir? Were they lining up to let the girl who claimed to be mysteriously impregnated handle money in their shop? When everyone doubted them (and everyone most certainly did), they had to trust each other. Joseph demonstrates extreme compassion placing his family and his reputation at risk with his decision to protect Mary and divorce her quietly; that is, until he is visited by an angel himself.
You see, Joseph simply wasn't as concerned with his status and standing in the community as he was with Mary's well-being.
And that is just the thing: The angel didn't appear to Mary and Joseph at the same time. In the face of all these problems, they had to believe not just in God -- but they certainly had to believe in each other.
God's entrance into the world depended on the trust and compassion of a human relationship.
In many ways, the birth of Jesus is celebrated each time we, like Mary and Joseph, set aside our concerns, our agendas and our reputations to reach out to one another with a similar compassion and trust. Through all the whispers, condemnation, dishonor and uncertainty surrounding the narrative of Jesus' birth, the truth is actually less religious and more relational than we sometimes imagine.
The power of this child's birth is a shared celebration grounded in our belief -- not just in a compassionate God, but in one another. It is fitting to remember this Christmas that God's greatest love story began with two people (a lot like you and me) who chose to set aside their reputations, their future, possibly even their own safety -- and simply trust in each other.
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