As the sun rose over those mountains in the hillside of Judah, Mary said her goodbyes to Zacharias and Elizabeth and began making her way back home. She had been hidden away in that mountain retreat for twelve weeks. And it was time to get back to that little-shoot-of-a-town. The one where the Babe growing inside of her would grow up outside of her like that tender plant that Isaiah had prophesied of so many centuries ago. But first, she had to tell Joseph.
It wouldn’t be easy news to share. “Honey, I have to tell you something,” she probably said – unsure of how (or where) to begin. She had three months to get used to the holy news that was delivered from Gabriel’s lips. Ninety days of keen understanding that the hand of God was on her in a way that she would never again experience. In a more profound and deeply spiritual way than any mother in the history of the world would ever experience. Weaving and working. If only we had a glimpse of her journals from those weeks. The peek at the glory that was happening. And the conversations she had with God as He worked so closely within her.
In Mary’s day, to be betrothed to a man was far different than the modern engagements we are so familiar with. A betrothal was binding. In fact, it was seen as the most binding part of the marriage. So binding that even if the actual wedding never took place, Mary would still be unable to marry another man until she had procured a paper of divorce. And the timeline of betrothals varied – some taking longer than others. It all depended upon how quickly the dowry could be gathered and paid. If the groom was less-well-off, betrothals could take longer while he saved his resources. That could have been the case with Joseph and Mary since we already know she didn’t have much in the way of earthly posessions. Either way, Matthew picks up where Luke leaves off. This time, telling Joseph’s side of the story.
Mary had returned home. And shared her glory-laden story with her betrothed-husband. It’s difficult when a woman experiences something spiritually that her still-gives-her-butterflies-man that woo’d her wholly and completely wasn’t able to be a part of. When something so profound and so holy occurrs that can’t quite be put into words. “I can’t explain it to you,” she probably said. “You just had to be there to understand.”
It took a certain amount of faith for her to share this holy information with him, knowing that he wouldn’t understand. But praying that God would show him the same way He showed her. Desperate for Him to. Because the first thing she likely saw was the flash of anger on his quickly flushed face. He probably didn’t hear much after he heard the word pregnant. It was understandable. And I imagine the conversation ended rather abruptly.
It’s in this in-between that Matthew picks up his narrative. In the middle of the night. As Joseph tossed and turned. Alone with his thoughts while the rest of the world slept soundly. “I’m a just man!” he thought, turning onto his side. “Upright! Righteous! I don’t just know the law of God, I live it! I’ve done it all right. How can I possibly move forward with this?!” He huffed and yanked his pillow, flipping on his back. He was having a fierce internal conversation marked by passionate anger boiling up and then quickly subsiding as his love won out. He couldn’t possibly divorce her. They hadn’t yet come together in conjugal cohabitation yet, but legally and in the eyes of God? They were married. And he truly loved her. He couldn’t possibly hang her out to dry. But he was tossing and turning with the idea to secretly and quietly cut her off.
It was a surprising position he found himself in. He didn’t know it, but as he tried to decide what to do about Mary, he was also the very first man who was faced with the choice of what to do about Jesus. Whether or not he would continue with his betrothal marriage to his virgin-and-pregnant wife also meant deciding whether or not he would accept the growing Babe into his life. The Son that was not conceived by him.
would he love Jesus?
He could dismiss her (and Him) from his house. And his family. And his life. And refuse to be associated with her (and with Him). And refuse to acknowledge a contract. Or…
It was at that very moment that the angel appeared to him. Much more dramatically than he did to Zacharias. Or Mary. It was a divine interruption of the dark thoughts Joseph was struggling through. Subsiding Joseph’s boiling-up-again anger. The angel appeared Bright. Resplendent. And spoke quickly. As Joseph was thinking of terminating his contract with Mary, God reminded him of His covenant with David. The one about the eternal throne of glory that his seed would sit upon. David – Joseph’s relative that was King 28 generations before he was alive. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said. He skipped over his typical “fear not!” greeting and went straight to the heart of the matter: “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife!” And the heavenly interrupter went on to explain the same thing that Mary had tried telling him earlier that day. “That Babe she’s growing? It was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And when He is born, you will name Him Jehovah-is-Salvation, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Joseph had reached the crux of the conversation that every single person that would ever live after him would reach. The most important point. Would he believe the angels words? Would he believe that Jesus is Jehovah-is-Salvation and that He would save His people from their sin? And, in doing so, would he keep Mary as his wife, and get a front row seat to the glory of it all?
What do we decide about Jesus? About Christmas? Not about the red cups and what may or may not be on them. Or the white beards and the reindeer. Or the stockings and the elves and the wreaths and the beautifully wrapped packages. But that Jesus was born. And that He is what His name says. And that He saved His people from their sin. And He saved me from mine. Because that’s the crux of all of this. And without it? Without Him? All those other things? They’re just lipstick on a pig.
Jesus, thank You that this entire season is about YOU. Thank You that we have a reason to celebrate. And decorate. And sparkle and shine. Because You came to this earth. And wrapped yourself in humanity. To by our salvation. And to save Your people from sin.