Summary: A look at the realities which Mary and Joseph had to face in living out God’s will.
My son-in-law was looking for Advent candles in a Christian bookstore. They use the Advent candles for family worship during this season so their hearts will be tuned to the true spirit and meaning of Christmas. As he brought the package of candles to the counter he asked the sales clerk if they had a Christ candle. There were three purple candles and a pink one, but no white one – the Christ candle, which they light on Christmas morning, after Scripture reading and prayer, before they open gifts. The clerk at the Christian bookstore gave him a look like she really didn’t understand the question, and said they did not have a Christ candle. He jokingly said to her, “Well, I guess I’ll have to go to Walmart to get Jesus.” She was not amused. And he did go to Walmart and got a white candle for the Christ candle. Sometimes you find Jesus in some unexpected places.
Mary and Joseph found Jesus in a place that they did not expect. It was an unusual experience to say the least. We are used to the tinsel, the beautiful decorations, colorful packages. Once again we hear the magical story of the birth of the Christ-child. Our Christmas cards will show angels visiting the earth, wise men following an bright star in the sky, a beautiful mother and proud father (both with spotless clothes and often halos), clean sheep, and a sweet smelling stable. A lovely picture. But that is a side of Christmas that is unrealistic. It’s the fairytale side of what really happened.
In spite of the fact that it was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened on earth, there were times when it didn’t seem that way, especially for a young 16-year-old girl who was now mysteriously pregnant. And things did not seem wonderful to a young man who was beginning to wonder about the girl he was about to marry. He wanted to do the right thing, even though custom would have permitted him to have her stoned to death. So he decides to divorce her (Matthew 1:19).
One of the things that we learn from the Christmas story is that God does not always conform to human expectations. God often reveals himself in unexpected ways. And one of our problems is that the Christmas story has become so familiar that we have lost the impact of what really happened. For Mary and Joseph it was wonderful, and yet it was also disastrous. There must have been many times when they asked the question: “Why couldn’t we have had normal lives, and normal children, like everyone else? Why didn’t God choose somebody else?”
It begins wonderfully. Mary has a special visit from the angel Gabriel to give her the glad news of what was about to happen to her. He told her that she was a person favored by God, and blessed among women. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.... The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30-35). It sounded wonderful, but she was still confused and frightened. It helped to go to her relative Elizabeth’s home in another town for awhile. Elizabeth was also expecting, and they were a comfort to each other. The only trouble was that after staying at Elizabeth’s for an extended period of time, she had to return to her own home, and it was now very obvious that she was pregnant.
How the tongues must have wagged when she returned to her town. It was great that God sent an angel to her to explain how and why she was pregnant, but no one else in town got the message. You can almost feel with Mary the looks out of the side of people’s eyes; the whispers as she walked past a small group of people. You can feel with Joseph as his friends smirked, or sympathized with him in order to get more information about what had happened. He knew nothing about what had really happened with Mary. You can feel his hurt as he knew what people were saying about the girl he loved and was planning to marry. You can feel his confusion and anger. Finally, God spoke to him in a dream. The angel of the Lord said, “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). He had been thinking of breaking the engagement, of quietly setting Mary aside — to divorce her, to put it plainly — but now the dream had convinced him otherwise. It had not convinced anyone else, but it had convinced him. If you have ever been gossiped about you can imagine what this couple went through.