This month we will hear scripture that foretold the birth of our Saviour, read the words Gabriel shared with Mary about her pregnancy and be reminded of different reaction to that news. Sermons will share that during this time in Israel’s history, being pregnant while engaged was shocking but claiming to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, while being a virgin, was even more difficult to try to explain. Someone will tell us that Mary was in an unenviable position and another will say Joseph’s was not much better because both were subject to cultural and religious expectations regarding pre-marital activity; any breech of expected behaviour could have had dire repercussions.
Reflecting on the Mary’s response we know her acceptance of pregnancy was not an indication of indifference to her situation. Being engaged and pregnant (and not by the future husband) was a potential death sentence for her. We know Mary’s conversation with God’s angel allowed her to recognize her condition as a blessings as she shared these words “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49. As blessed as Mary felt, her pregnancy could have set off wagging tongues, led to discrimination and mistreatment, and her life could have become very difficult. So what did Mary do when faced with this very real difficult situation? Mostly likely she would have spoken to God seeking comfort and assurance but we know she confided in another person; her cousin Elizabeth. Mary went to someone with whom she knew she could talk with about serious matters. Her visit was immediately corroborated as the right decision because Elizabeth’s child (the future John the Baptist) jumped in her womb as a sign of acceptance. (Luke 1:41). In addition to seeking God, Mary sought out a loving and comforting individual and confided in her.
Scripture suggests Mary did not immediately tell Joseph she was pregnant and only did so after her visit. After spending a few months with Elizabeth, Mary returned home to talk with her future husband about their situation. As Mary shared the news, Joseph would know he was not the father and could have suspected adultery and called for Mary to be stoned or publically humiliated. He himself could have been subject to some disgrace, as people would have assumed he was the father. Betrothed people were not allowed to be intimate until after their wedding, which occurred one year after engagement. Mary did tell Joseph that her condition was the result of the Holy Spirit’s interaction, and although he knew her to be a good woman with a fine reputation, that was a difficult story to accept. In his mind he probably felt she was carrying another man’s child and so he left her presence troubled. There is no indication that he spoke with a friend or discussed his situation with anyone else. He went to bed that evening mulling over the idea of quietly divorcing her; a necessary action to end an engagement. However, that night he was visited by God’s angel who told him not to be afraid and to follow through with the marriage. He was also told that Mary was indeed impregnated by the Holy Spirit and that their son Jesus would save His people from their sin.
We know Joseph and Mary married, Jesus was born, and salvation was brought to humanity. We can see this as a joyous story and may feel inclined to talk about the next encounter with Jesus without any thought to the fact that two people, not unlike us, were in a very difficult, potentially dangerous situation that was fuelled by cultural and religious traditions that threatened to destroy their lives. If stoning was avoided, the potential humiliation and mocking would have followed both of them and their child for the rest of their lives. We can however conclude that their prior relationship, trust and adoration for God, for whom nothing was impossible, helped them overcome their situation. They willing accepted the truth and wisdom shared by God’s angel, which turned out to be their saving grace.
Upon reflection we can’t help but wonder if Mary was able to adjust to her situation more quickly because she had someone who loved and supported her; someone she could talk with. The time she spent with Elizabeth certainly prepared her to speak with Joseph. I take liberty to suggest that Elizabeth’s support affected Mary’s mannerism and demeanour during the talk about pregnancy and may have affected Joseph’s positive response. Scripture doesn’t say Joseph screamed or hit Mary but that he still thought of her as good and respectful. Mary’s interaction with Elizabeth could have prepared for the talk whereas Joseph seemingly goes through this trial without another human to comfort or guide him. Although he made the right choice in the end, it could not have been easy.
Christmas reminds us, that the gift of eternity with God was realized when Jesus took on human form. It reminds us that we are designed to be in harmony with God and one another and, like Joseph and Mary we must seek God daily in the good and bad times. The Christmas story also reminds us that life is better when you can share the joys and struggles with another. Do you have a friend with whom you can confide? Is there someone who cares about your spiritual and physical health; who wants to share your joys and your struggles? Will they stand with you and be bold enough to point you in the right direction to get you over life’s obstacles? This friend is not a biological brother or sister or a spouse, but a child of the most high who will speak tough love and truth into your life. Pray for a spiritual companion of the same gender as yourself, so you can mentor each other in the ways of Christ. Pray for a friend to be there in the time of adversity.