I LOVE Christmas! The blinking lights, glimmering trees, colorful presents, cookies, Christmas carols, and candy canes always give me fond memories of my childhood. There is a feeling of Christmas that brings warmth, closeness, and comfort to chilly and barren Ohio winters. And now that I have young children of my own, it’s wonderful to see their eye light up at the sight of Christmas ornaments, or their giggles of delight when it’s time to open presents. This is the cultural aspect of Christmas that I have embraced and still enjoy.
But there is another aspect of Christmas that I have embraced. Although the Bible records tremendous joy and awe with Christ’s birth—the angels sang and the shepherds rejoiced—there was also a dark side to Christmas that was filled with feelings of abandonment, sadness, anxiety, and fear. The first Christmas definitely did not feel much like Christmas…
The “Unplanned” Pregnancy
A wedding was planned. The Bible records that Mary was “pledged” to be married to Joseph. Did they have a romantic courtship? Was this an arranged marriage by consent of the parents? We don’t know for sure. The Bible does not elaborate on these points. But it is likely safe to assume that this wedding, like all weddings, had with it all the hopes and expectations that a day like this would entail. There was probably lots of planning, thoughts of the future, and visions of intimacy and love. And with this wedding came all the dreams and pressures of two families uniting into one.
But then God threw in a monkey wrench into the works. Mary, a virgin, was to conceive God himself in human likeness. This simple girl, who likely was only a young teenager, was to be the most blest among all women. In her womb would grow the promised Savior, hope of mankind, King of kings, and God incarnate!
Mary’s Faith & Joseph’s Trial
Mary’s faith was amazing! When she was told by the angel that she will give birth to the Messiah (Luke 1:26-33), her reaction was obedience, wonder, and joy (Luke 1:46-55). If I were in her shoes, my reaction would likely have been something quite different—fear and anxiety seem more realistic reactions. What would Joseph think? What would I tell my parents and friends? What would other people think? Virgin birth indeed! That sounds more like a desperate or delusional story from a troubled teenager with an unplanned pregnancy! Can you imagine the unfriendly glares, snide remarks, and knowing smiles? And how would she break the shocking news to her kind and gentle fiancee? After that initial excitement wore off, Mary was left with the unpleasant task of facing the hard realities of everyday life.
The Bible does not record Joseph’s initial response to Mary’s “good news.” But, since he planned to break off the wedding, we can assume that he didn’t believe her and that his thoughts were probably of confusion and betrayal. How could she have cheated on me? Pregnant with the Messiah? What kind of lame excuse is that? And yet, even in this difficult situation, Joseph still showed the tenderness and love he had for Mary. He could have made a public spectacle of her. He could have made her the laughing-stock of the entire community (or much worse, for death by stoning was the penalty for adultery). But his decision to break off the wedding quietly and discretely showed the love he still had for this young girl despite his dashed hopes, embarrassment, and confusion.
When an angel came to Joseph in a dream and confirmed the truth of Mary’s vision, there must have been some relief that his future bride had been faithful and truthful all along. Or maybe he did believe her (or wanted to believe her), but just needed some divine help to overcome his doubts. And the fact that he wedded Mary, despite what others may have thought or said, showed him to be a man of true character, integrity, and faith.
But Mary also received a tremendous gift from Joseph’s dream—she gained a trusting friend and loving companion. She no longer had to fear walking this difficult path alone and in desperate silence. They now shared the same vision, hopes, and difficulties. He was there to pray with her, hold her hand, and simply talk about all the wondrous, frightening, and practical aspects of raising a child who would grow up to be the prophesied Savior.
During this time, God’s will for Joseph’s life was simple: he was called to care, protect, and encourage his wife. That was his only biblically assigned role! As far as we know, he was not asked to be a pastor of a church, famous evangelist, or powerful leader. His job was simply to be a husband and, later, a father.