I’ve just had a look at the Christmas story as told by Matthew in chapter 1:18-25 of his gospel, and a few things triggered my imagination that I want to pass along to you. (Remember, I AM a writer, and us authors are all mad as snakes, cursed/blessed with vivid imaginations. So, bear with me as I take a non-traditional look at a few of the scenes to see what we can see)
Have you ever stopped to consider the commotion news of the pregnancy caused in Joseph and Mary’s little town? First off, Joseph had to be a hot mess. Think about it. His nice, sweet little teenaged fiancée—the darling of the community—turns up pregnant and he knows that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY that he’s the father.
Think of the implications. His heart had to literally be broken to the point of feeling like it was being ripped from his chest. This was brutal! We’re talking feelings of confusion, betrayal, humiliation, anger (possibly thoughts of taking revenge on whoever the father was).
Can you imagine the conversation that took place between Mary and Joseph? The one where she rolls out the whole, “Oh, hey, it’s okay Joe. God is the father of this baby and, yes, I’m still a virgin,” whopper?
She finishes the wild tale of the big, scary angel dude appearing to her and all that followed. His eyes go wide and he blurts out, “Are you freaking kidding me right now? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. No one will believe it. I don’t believe it. Are you delusional?”
Besides the inevitable, “What-did-I-do-to-deserve-this?” wave of self-pity that rolled over him, there had to be a mountain of public shame and humiliation. Can’t you just hear his pals: “Joseph, bro, are you seriously considering staying with that little cheater? That…that fornicator? Dude, you’ve got to do what’s right. According to the law, she has to be stoned.”
Remember, this was 1st Century Palestine, and life for a devoted, orthodox Jewish person was a vastly different experience than anything we can possibly conceive here in our enlightened, sophisticated, PC 21st Century existence. There were rules. Harsh rules with little or no give to them.
Whatever else Joseph was, he was fully human and humans have emotions. His had to be out of control. The Bible is very clear that divorce was on the table.
Joseph has status in the community. Why? Well, don’t forget that HE is the direct tie through genealogy to the lineage of King David. As such, he would’ve been expected to maintain exacting standards. Mary’s news puts him in a rather unenviable predicament, i.e., how to maintain his reputation AND deal with this uncomfortable situation.
So, what does he do? He goes to sleep. Now, I don’t know about you, but that would have been impossible for me. Sleep? I mean, who could sleep at a time like that? But he did, and while he was sleeping the same big, scary angel dude who had appeared to Mary appeared to him and told him not to worry because everything Mary told him was true.
Have you ever had one of those dreams that was so real when you woke up you were surprised that it was just a dream? This was probably something like that. He wakes up with a start, looks around the room to see if Gabe is still there, shakes his head and rubs his eyes, probably mumbling to himself, “What the heck just happened?”
We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph. But we do know that he was a righteous, Godly man. How could he not be? Do you seriously believe God would go to all the trouble of having his only son be born of a virgin only to saddle him with a jerk for a human father? Not gonna happen.
JOSEPH: “Uhh, babe? Can we talk. Maybe go for a little walk? I’ve got something I need to tell you about. You see, I’ve had a dream.”
MARY: “Yeah, I know. We BOTH had a dream and now it’s all destroyed.”
JOSEPH: “No, not like that. You know that angel who came to you? Well, he came to me too. And…I think we’re going to be okay. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
And, just like that…the unexpected became accepted.
They get through the initial emotional trauma and (once again…bear with me) they both knew all the prophecies. We’re talking God’s son—the Messiah. A KING who is coming to remove Israel from under the cruel boot of their oppressor. Right. So, where do kings reside? That’s right…palaces. And what do you think their conversation would have been like in the months leading up to the birth?
MARY: “Joseph…do you think he’ll be born in a palace? Will there be servants and silk and marble floors and—”
JOSEPH: “Yes, Mary. All of that and more. This is the King of Israel. The Messiah. How could it be otherwise?”
My imagination is pretty good, but it fails me when I try to imagine the scene when their fantasies ran headlong into the reality of what was actually playing out. I guarantee you that in all of Joseph and Mary’s wild imaginings during the nine months of her pregnancy regarding what the actual birth was going to be like, this reality wasn’t even on the radar.
I can just see Joseph sitting there by Mary’s side and wondering what in the world he’s supposed to do. It’s not like a carpenter had any qualifications AT ALL for assisting with the birthing process. Can you just hear him mumbling, “Really, God? You’re actually going to allow this? I don’t know what I’m doing. Mary doesn’t know what she’s doing. These cows and sheep stink and I just stepped in something squishy. Is this some sort of test? If it is, I don’t get it.”
In spite of the fact that Mary’s dreams of God’s Son being born as royalty in a fairytale-like castle somewhere had been replaced by the south end of a northbound cow staring her in the face; in spite of the fact that Joseph had been looking forward to sanitary conditions with plenty of palace staff to assist with the birth; in spite of the fact that they were feeling all alone and abandoned, they just went with it knowing in their hearts that God was up to something.
So, there they are. Jesus has just been born. I have to believe that of all the people either one of them anticipated being present at the birth, a bunch of shepherds smelling of eau de sheep were close to the bottom of the list. Perhaps ranking above tax collectors, thieves, prostitutes and beggars…but only just. Religious leaders? Probably at the top. Members of the aristocratic elites? Of course. But, shepherds?
“Really, God? These are the guys you chose to hear the announcement of the birth of your son? The guys you commissioned with spreading the news throughout Bethlehem? I’ve gotta tell you, I wasn’t expecting this. I wasn’t expecting ANY of this.”
God seems to delight in doing things you would least expect. That’s what is so unexpected about his ways. He’s unpredictable. Untamable. He does things that transcend logic and reason. Things that rarely make sense. And I think that in the end, Joseph and Mary got this.
I’m not a fan of the unexpected. I like to know what’s coming. Have things planned out. And I’m sure I’m not alone. And as a popular worship song says, “Arrival’s not the endgame, the journey’s where You are. You never wanted perfect; you just wanted my heart.”
Give yourself a gift this Christmas: When the unexpected comes and things seem like they’re spinning out of control, remember God’s promise that He in every circumstance will cause the unexpected to work out to your advantage.
Merry Christmas, my friends.