It’s the week before Christmas and I’ve been thinking a lot about the characters in my nativity scene. Today my mind was filled with questions about Mary and Joseph and what those first months before the birth of Jesus might have been like. It was no PG Hallmark movie, I can tell you that.
Mary is young. Maybe 14 or 15. She’s engaged to Joseph, the young man down the street. This arrangement is not weird at all. In fact, it’s totally culturally normal and acceptable and expected. Girls get betrothed and married young. They are more of a property piece. Good ol’ Patriarchy.
As far as we know, there is nothing particularly special or unique about Mary. She’s a hard worker and a devout Jew and Joseph is happy with the match.
Then one day everything changes. An angel visits Mary and makes an announcement. She’s pregnant. With the Messiah. God has chosen her, an unmarried teenager, to be the Mother of His Son.
Now, Mary is familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, God with us.” So when she hears that It’s her- she’s the virgin Isaiah spoke of hundreds of years back- she accepts the job and praises God. I can’t wait to meet this woman someday. I have so many questions for her.
Here’s a bit of what I’ve been wondering about Mary: Did she tell her mom? Her siblings? Her girlfriends? We know she told Joseph and we know he flipped. But he’s a nice guy and really seems to care for her so he decides that rather than have her stoned for getting pregnant (there’s that Patriarchy again), he’ll end the engagement quietly and she’ll just have to endure the public shame on her own.
But then the angel visits Joseph and fills him in. Mary’s not kidding. She’s also not making excuses. She is really still a virgin and she is really pregnant with the Messiah.
What did Joseph tell his mom? His siblings? His buddies?
Face value hasn’t changed with Joseph’s revelation. He is still engaged to a girl who is pregnant with a child who isn’t his. People are either going to assume they’ve slept together or she’s cheating on him.
That growing belly’s hard to hide.
Joseph could have stuck to his plan and bailed. He didn’t. I’m taking this guy out to coffee in heaven.
I wonder who sent Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth, for a few months. Was it her parents? Were they ashamed of their pregnant daughter? Was it Joseph trying to protect her from the scrutiny of a small and chatty village? Or was it Mary’s decision?
Elizabeth believes her. So does her husband, Zachariah, who’s not speaking because he also had an encounter with an angel who basically duct-taped his mouth shut until the fulfillment of the word regarding his baby son came to pass.
Did anyone else besides Joseph and her cousins believe Mary? Was she overwhelmed with joy and excitement and telling everyone she knew? I’m betting no because, let’s be honest, she would have sounded like a nut job.
The Jews are waiting for a Rescuer. A King to be their champion and save them from oppression. The prophecy promises as much. The government will rest on His shoulders and His name shall be called Prince of Peace. Surely He will be of royal birth and living in a palace with important and wealthy people.
When the girl next door gets starts showing and, when questioned, says she’s pregnant with God’s Son, you don’t fall down and worship, you roll your eyes and scoff at her in judgment of her bad choices. She should just keep quiet. She’s lucky to be alive after all. That poor, poor Joseph.
I bet Jesus’ parents were both totally relieved when they heard the news of the census and had to leave town. We’re they married yet? If not, was it taboo that Mary went with Joseph on the journey to Bethlehem? Were they already labeled as such a scandal that it didn’t matter? What were those conversations like as they walked and looked at Mary’s very pregnant belly move with each baby kick.
Back up for a second- God knit Jesus together in Mary’s womb. Incredible. The Word became flesh. And not with the snap of a finger or the speaking of magic words. The Word became flesh cell by cell. Week by week. Ounces then pounds. Fingers than fingernails. Eyes then eyelashes. God with us. God in us. God is us.
Then they get to Bethlehem. They know this is the place where it’s all going to go down. It’s part of the prophecy: Judea, the City of David, Bethlehem.
The world is about to change. Deliverance, in the form of a screaming newborn, has come. Did anyone else know?
God did. God used an army of angels to tell a group of shepherds. He also put a massive, never-before-seen star in the sky, but apparently the only people who picked up that signal was a group of astronomers living “in the east,” who spent the next two years following its light.
What did day two of Jesus’ life look like? What were Mary and Joseph thinking as they walked out of the barn, baby in arm, thanking the Inn Keeper for giving them his barn for the night.
God entrusted His son to a couple of homeless kids. The balance is hanging on their ability to keep it together. And they do (except a few year later when they lose him for a week and find him teaching in the temple but that all worked itself out). They find jobs, and a house, and then the wise men visit. What a trippy day that must have been. What did the neighbors think when a caravan of kings from the east roll into town with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh for the toddler next door? Seriously, what the heck.
I could go on and on. As I’ve been studying the humanity of Jesus in our Facebook Live study of the book of Hebrews, I’m looking at the Christmas story with a new lens.
It really happened. Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and the shepherds are not fictional characters of a fairy tale. I’ve never wondered about the “behind the scenes” of Cinderella or Peter Pan. Those details don’t matter because the stories are made up.
This story is not made up. This story matters.
This is the story of God pressing “go” on His plan to reconcile the world back to Him. Each character has been carefully selected and (whether they knew it or not) prepared for their role in the story. But the people who should have recognized the plot unfolding in front of them, didn’t. The real thing, in live time, didn’t look much like they imagined it would. But it played out perfectly. From the pregnancy, to the humble birth scene, to the parade of wisemen, to the Sermon on the Mount, and the calming of the storm.
Perfection. All the way to the cross.