There is so much that goes on in the Christmas story, it’s easy to miss the parts of it that are pieces of our real lives.
My guess is that most of us haven’t been visited by an angel, even in our dreams. We don’t put daily credence in prophecy, even fulfilled prophecy. We certainly would raise an eyebrow if a pregnant daughter or granddaughter or sister or friend said an angel of the Lord visited her and her pregnancy was the result. These extraordinary elements of the story often outshine the underlying heartache and uncertainty of Joseph and Mary.
Matthew’s account tells us that Mary and Jospeh are engaged. As with many cultures even today, Mary and Joseph’s engagement or betrothal was not a romantic undertaking. It was a business-like arrangement with a binding contract. Most likely, Mary did not have much, if any, say in her choice of prospective husband. She may not have even known very much about him. He was probably quite a bit older with his own expectations of what he wanted in a wife.
No doubt, an already pregnant girl was not part of his expectations! This inconvenient reality put a major crimp in all of his plans. We know he was torn about how to deal with Mary. We know he cared enough about Mary that he didn’t want to shame her, but it did take some celestial influence to help him come to the decision he ultimately made. Angels are always signs that some divine intervention is needed.
Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about what the families thought or the conversations that must have taken place. We can only surmise that Mary did not come through this experience unscathed either. She was also bound to the religious and cultural practices of her day. I’m sure she was scared and confused by all that was happening with herself. Now she caused great distress to her betrothed and how would he ever trust her? I think it’s safe to say that all the months leading up to the birth were not some joyous, baby shower extravaganza. I’m sure the usual fears and anxiety and flights of emotion that we all face with massive upheaval in our lives, were also experienced by Joseph and Mary, and those close to them.
And that is the point, isn’t it? We have all experienced similar upheavals. Maybe you’re trying to out-swim an undertow right now. Families with discord, couples who are disconnected, young adults who don’t see a future and older adults who don’t have much future left. Friends seeking jobs, co-workers worried about their visas, others seeking acceptance and a place to belong. It can be hard to admit struggling, wondering if your anguish is unfaithful, especially this time of year.
This part of the Christmas story – Mary and Joseph and the family tree – reminds us that God keeps it real. God did not choose a fairy-tale princess or a photo-shopped model to bear the savior. God chose an unwed peasant girl as his mother. God did not choose a business success story to name and care for Jesus. God chose a man with his own doubts and questions who also needed a little angelic guidance.
We celebrate Advent as a reminder that Emmanuel, God with us, is real. God keeps it real in the people and places through which God chooses to live and work and have being. God works in extraordinary ways through ordinary people like you and me. God is with us in our upheavals and celebrations. God is with us forever and ever. Amen.