I cannot imagine what they were thinking when confronted with choices both had to make before the trip to Bethlehem began, though I can make assumptions based on how I might respond.
Joseph discovers his bride-to-be is pregnant. He is certain that he had no part in contributing to her physical condition. The Jewish laws were strict and lethal when dealing with people caught in sexual sin and he wants to distance himself from the situation.
And yet, having such deep love for Mary, Joseph did not want to humiliate her in a public setting. He decided to release her from the marriage contract, quietly, without public fanfare. That is, until an angel approached him in a dream and encouraged him to take Mary as his wife. After waking up, Joseph did as the angel and the Lord requested.
Neither can I imagine Mary’s predicament. According to Jewish law, along with Joseph, she has made a public pledge to marry Joseph. Not long afterward, an angel appears and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.”
My gut reaction would have been “Oh, no. What’s gonna happen now?” Luke describes Mary’s reaction. She was “greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
Mary discovers she will become pregnant, even without having sex with a man, and give birth to a son. Near the end of the angel’s visit, Mary says, “Let it be to me as you have said.”
Mary was definitely a courageous young woman.
Can you imagine meeting an angel, whether in a dream or face to face, and upon hearing what’s about to happen, saying, “OK, I’ll do it,” knowing your life could never be normal afterward?
It’s one thing to live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet without looking for trouble. It’s something else when you make a decision, knowing that it is only a matter of time that trouble will find you.
Such difficult and extraordinary circumstances, like those encountered by Mary and Joseph, are the stuff that makes it an unforgettable experience. For two thousand years, this story has been the focus as families gather together to celebrate the birth of the Savior.
Our family continues the tradition as well. This year, with all the troubles of economic recession, the Christmas story refreshes our lives with hope.
In a recent e-mail, my oldest sister recounted the story of an earlier Christmas celebration. It brought back memories of that time in the ’50s when drought in the Oklahoma panhandle all but ensured a gloomy Christmas.
Though each sibling received a small gift that year, we did not have enough money to buy a Christmas tree. An alternative to purchasing a tree would have been to cut down a cedar tree on our land. However, the semi-arid land of western Oklahoma prevented the establishment of any trees at all, let alone unwanted scrub trees.
The only trees surrounding our farmstead had been painstakingly planted and watered to establish a windbreak. They were too important to cut down and too big to transplant in a pot to be of any use as Christmas trees.
Not to be deterred by the lack of monetary resources or scrub trees and inspired by a local radio program that encouraged listeners to use the resources they had, Mother went out to the roadside ditch and found a large, dried up Russian thistle. She placed it in a large tub and soaked it with cow’s milk. She took some wheat flour and lightly dusted the thistle until it was completely white.
After drying it down, the thistle was taken into the house, placed in a pot and decorated with tinsel and small ornaments.
Not to waste anything more than necessary, Mother used the milk caught in the tub to feed the baby calves.
Before Christmas Eve, we had a beautiful, “snow-covered tree.” While we sat around it, Dad read the story of the Nativity and we sang carols before opening our gifts.
It is my hope and prayer for all who read this, that whatever circumstances you are in, as you gather with loved ones and recount the story of the Nativity, may you find peace, joy and happiness through the One whose birth we celebrate this week.
May this be the year you will never forget and cherish forever.