The characters of Mary and Joseph have always fascinated me. As a child I pictured Mary as genteel, calm and kind, while Joseph was strong, protective and gentle. But they were also a fairly one-dimensional images of Mary and Joseph, wearing a blue scarf and tea-towel respectively. These characters are given comparatively little airtime in the Bible, given the massive roles they played in bringing Jesus into the world and raising him. Let’s look a little more closely at them.
Words for the Week
Luke 2: 1-7
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light”
In other gospels we are told Mary’s response to finding out she’s carrying the son of God is “I am the Lord’s servant, may your words be fulfilled”. By all accounts she simply got on with the job in hand, trusting God. What a staggering response to news that will cause her to be ostracised from her community! This is incredible obedience from such a young, unmarried woman in a culture where to be a woman already placed you on a lower peg than men, and where to be pregnant outside of marriage meant instant rejection from your family and social circles.
Mary’s obedience came from her faith, and it is necessary that they went together. With faith but no obedience, Mary would have believed she carried the son of God but panicked about how to cope with the situation. While obedience without faith would have led to Mary trying to handle it all in her own strength. Instead, Mary’s faith was determined, whole-hearted in its pursuit of God’s will, and perhaps most importantly, deeply sacrificial.
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God”
Corrie ten Boom
Originally thrown by Mary’s virginal pregnancy, Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly, but after a visit from an angel, he became convinced of her story. He resolved to stay with Mary and marry her, raising the child king with her. Even after hearing from Heaven that Mary was telling the truth, it must have been difficult for Joseph to face the ridicule of his friends, family and community as he stuck by her side. His faith is all the more impressive as he goes and faces the ridicule of his wider family in Bethlehem.
Has it ever occurred to anyone that if Joseph hailed from Bethlehem then he should have had family there who would put up him and his heavily pregnant wife? It is highly likely that Jesus was born in an animal shelter or the scruffy corner of a lean to, because Joseph’s family in Bethlehem disapproved of his faithfulness to an unfaithful wife. Joseph stood by Mary despite a lack of support from every structure in his life; his family, friends and faith-community. Joseph’s faith is resilient, patient, and also sacrificial like Mary’s.
Mary and Joseph both had a lot to lose by trusting God and his plans. But they were faithful and faith-filled in the Christmas story, and probably throughout the following years raising Jesus. Although it must have helped that both Mary and Joseph had angelic encounters that set them on their way, it seems they were pretty much left to it after that.
I believe that their faith and trust in God will very much have been a choice, even when it seemed they were alone and in danger. And they must have felt abandoned at points; when Mary went into labour walking the streets of Bethlehem looking for a place to stay, when they had to flee in the night from a murderous king and travel a treacherous road to a foreign country to live as refugees, when they eventually returned to Nazareth amongst rumours of an illegitimate son. Mary and Joseph’s journey of faith is one of dedication, choice, trust and obedience.
To think about Mary and Joseph this way takes me long way from the fuzzy, warm, glowing story of the nativity I perceived as a child. But it is richer for the inspiring and obedient faith both Mary and Joseph displayed. It makes them more human to think about the difficulties they endured because of their trust in God. It is a more real and relevant story when we think about the choices they had to make to trust God. And it makes us marvel all the more at a wacky God who decided to step down into the mess of humanity amongst rumours of illegitimacy, attempted murder and life as a refugee – all as part of His salvation plan for our redemption.
“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambuguity… The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious and secure, and walks into the unknown… Why? Because God has signalled the movement, and offered His presence and His promise”
Own it personally…
- Spend some time thinking about the different people who were around Mary and Joseph at this time; peers, friends, parents, siblings, religious leaders, inn keepers… What would you have thought about this strange couple sticking to their story about an immaculate conception and their complete belief in it?
- Think about God’s plan to send Jesus down to earth in those unexpected circumstances. Pray, and try to regain some of the wonder at God’s upside down kingdom! Get re-inspired at how God does things and think about how you can bring some of Jesus’ the-first-shall-be-last-and-last-shall-be-first attitude into your life today.
- Which element of Mary and Joseph’s faith/s speak to you the most? Which elements do you feel you already have? Which do you feel you could do with more of? Perhaps you need to choose to trust God more, or perhaps you should be willing to look strange to those around you, for your faith.
Speak it Out – Pray and Prophesy
Jesus, thank you for your way of doing things. Thank you that you can work through the weak, broken, lowly, uneducated, poor and humble. Thank you that your ways are not our ways. Help us to capture your heart and your strategies for bringing good news, this season and always. Help us to value those who you value, and help us to keep your priorities as our priorities.
Please help us to keep the faith like Mary and Joseph did – when all else appears to fall away, give us the capacity to choose you and remain obedient. Please give us an attitude of determination and help us to keep going for you – by hook or by crook – as we keep taking steps that bring us closer to you.