Dec 16

What Mary & Joseph Heard at Christmas, Part One

I have been thinking about Mary and Joseph’s experience during the first Christmas.   What did Mary and Joseph hear from God?

Mary and Joseph were asking two very different questions at Christmas.  Mary was asking, “How?”  “How will this be, Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” is what we read in Luke 1:34.  While it may appear so at first glance, Mary was not looking at her situation with skepticism or disbelief.  Mary was not asking for a sign, or whether or not the message from God was valid.  What Mary was asking was how would a virgin birth be fulfilled.  Mary was asking how to proceed when a logical way wasn’t possible.  What Mary heard that there was a way, as nothing was impossible with God.  God chose Mary, a young, poor, female from a small town out in the boonies-who would have been considered unusable by God for any kind of task, to be the one who would conceive and give birth to a child by the divine power and working of the Holy Spirit.  What Mary heard was that she needed to trust, be faithful, and let God work. Mary heard that a virgin birth is possible with God.

Joseph’s question was different.  Joseph wasn’t asking “how”, but “who”?  Who was the father? Who else did Mary give herself to?  Who in their right mind would stick by someone with such a crazy story?  Joseph had a dilemma.  He and Mary were pledged to be married, and were in the middle  of a three-step engagement.  A been a public announcement had been made, and arrangements had been made for Mary and Joseph to enter into the official state of betrothal.  At this point in their relationship they had a legal-binding contract, and could only be broken by a formal process of divorce.  Sexual relations between the couple during this time were not acceptable, and any sexual relations with someone else would have been considered adultery, which was punishable by stoning.  When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, and he had not been with Mary, he was obviously upset and had a decision to make.  As a righteous man, he couldn’t follow through and marry her, because he would be condoning Mary’s sin of adultery. Divorce was mandatory in a case of adultery according to the the law.  Having compassion for Mary, he didn’t want Mary to go through a public divorce where everyone would find out what she did, would face humiliation, be disgraced by the community, and ultimately sentenced to death.  Where there was no law that required a public divorce, Joseph decided that a private divorce would maintain his personal righteousness, and save Mary from public humiliation.

However, In a dream, Joseph heard from God:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins…” Matthew 1:20-21

God eased Joseph’s doubts and fears and encouraged Joseph to go through with his original plan to marry.  Joseph heard a confirmation from God that the story Mary had told him about her pregnancy was in fact true.  Mary had not been unfaithful.  More importantly, Joseph heard from God who the father of Mary’s baby would be.  God called Joseph, “Son of David.”  In the Old Testament we learn that God established a covenant with king David that salvation would come through David’s line through the birth of the Messiah:

“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…”  2 Samuel 7:12-13   

In the opening chapter of Matthew, we find a genealogy that includes Jesus as a descendant of King David, where Joseph is part of that lineage.  By taking Mary to be his wife, Joseph adopted Jesus into his family lineage.  In addition, God told Joseph that he was to name the baby Jesus.  To name him would formally acknowledge Jesus as his son.  In other words, when Joseph was asking “who?”, God answers with “it’s you, Joseph!”  Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father.

Mary and Joseph had significant questions, and God’s response to those questions reveal to us that He is not an impersonal, disconnected, celestial being who is irrelevant to our life.  Our questions, doubts, wonder and problems are at the very center of God’s heart.  God answered the questions that Mary and Joseph were struggling with about how the birth of Christ would come to be.  How would it be possible?  Who could believe it?  Mary and Joseph heard answers to their questions.