It’s December, and Christmas is on its way. It is a time of expectation, of joyful anticipation – carols and cookies, trees and lights, guests and gatherings, gifts to wrap and unwrap.
The very first Christmas was also greatly anticipated. Prophesies about Jesus had been spoken for centuries. The world was awaiting the “long-expected Jesus,” but how he made his arrival violated many expectations.
Let’s take a look at some of the likely expectations of the Christmas couple Mary and Joseph.
Mary enters our story as a virgin pure, pledged to be married to Joseph. During this “pledged” time, the two lovers wouldn’t even touch each other, but their commitment was binding enough to require divorce to annul it.
Mary is doing everything right – following all the cultural customs and waiting to marry her beau Joe.
Then the angel Gabriel steps into the picture. I’m pretty sure most teenagers in Nazareth would have called him, “The Angel of Doom.”
Here is Mary with her impeccable abstinence being told that she is going to be pregnant. Obviously Joseph will know that it’s not his since they aren’t even touching each other, much less making passionate love.
Mary could have received the news and said, “Don’t you know that this is going to ruin my life? Joseph will never believe me. He will divorce me, beat me and run me out of town. I’m not sure what you were expecting, but my family will be shamed ‘til kingdom come when the news gets out that I’m ‘expecting.’ Got any better ideas?”
Or she could have gotten really self-righteous and said, “I’ve kept myself pure from birth, and now you are going to ruin this by sending the Holy Spirit to make me pregnant. Nobody’s going to believe me. They are going to laugh and mock and stone me. There’s no way I will even make it nine months. I didn’t sign up for this. Go find yourself a better surrogate.”
Obviously, Mary needed a little explanation for the pregnancy-without-losing-her-virginity part, but afterward, Mary’s response is quite accepting.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
Suddenly, Mary’s identity is painstakingly clear. Yes, she may be Mary, Joseph’s girl, Mary, the virgin of Nazareth, but above all, she’s Mary, the Lord’s servant. As such, she wants God’s plans to be fulfilled in her, in spite of the obvious risk to her reputation and her “happily ever after.”
From what we know of Joseph, he is an upright citizen of Nazareth. We imagine that he is looking forward to marrying Mary, the love of his life. He longs to be with her, to caress her, to share a bed with her, but he knows that this must wait until they are husband and wife.
When he learns Mary is pregnant, he is most likely devastated. This looks bad. Awful even. Since he hasn’t even laid a finger on Mary, he can only assume that she’s been unfaithful.
He loves Mary and still wants to protect her but is also a man devoted to the law. Therefore, he plans to divorce her quietly.
Just as he’s ready to take action, an angel intercepts his plans in a dream and tells him that he should still marry Mary because it was the Holy Spirit and not another man that got her pregnant. Not only that, but this baby is going to be named Jesus because he is going to save the world from sin.
When Joseph wakes up, he does exactly as the angel prescribes. And even though Mary is now his wife, he waits to “consummate” their marriage until the baby is born and gives him the name Jesus.
These two details required a pretty big kick to Joseph’s pride. By waiting to have sex with Mary, he is further demonstrating that this child is from the Holy Spirit not from him. Joseph had also probably planned to name his firstborn son after himself or at least give him a family name. Naming the baby Jesus is a pride-stabbing act of obedience.
The violated expectations didn’t stop there – a manger birth, an infant massacre and an emergency evacuation to Egypt were also not what Mary and Joseph had hoped would grace the pages of Jesus’ baby book.
Personally, if I were God planning to incarnate my only son as an infant, I would have chosen a less-risky route. Implanting the messiah in the womb of a not-yet-married teenage virgin whose beloved could easily divorce her or even have her stoned doesn’t exactly sound safe. But God knew what he was doing.
What can we take away from all of these violated expectations?
That God doesn’t always give us what we expect. That his plans are sometimes unconventional and messy. That he is able to fulfill his plans even when they are humanly impossible. That accepting what God gives us is not easy, that it often comes at the cost of our reputation or pride, but that he is able to give us the faith and strength we need to follow his will.
What are your expectations this Christmas? Would you say you relate more to Mary or Joseph?