Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Each year at Christmas, I revisit the story of the birth of Christ and try to see a new aspect of something I hadn’t seen before. One day while listening to the song “Precious Promise” by Steven Curtis Chapman, I thought about the unforeseen circumstances of their story.
Mary’s condition would have surely caused her and others to shame and question. Pregnant? Not wed? Mary had done no wrong to bring about this particular result. Luke reminds that she had found favor with God. Questions and fears were likely for Mary. How was this happening? And, would Joseph believe? Yet, she rejoiced. Her faith was remarkable in the Magnificat. She saw God’s mercy toward her, even though this may have been difficult: “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).
Joseph’s faith was surely tested. Would he believe even when he didn’t understand the occurrences? At first, he considered divorce. But, God intervened supernaturally. Would he act on his faith and believe the angel, though his circumstances might be perceived as shameful? Would he worry about what others thought or continue to obey God? He chose to obey God.
Later, their son was crucified. Ouch and double ouch: The pain this couple endured. They were just ordinary people like us. Their marriage survived it. Hearing stories of others who face agonies, can inspire, embolden, and fortify.
This year I see something new in the Christmas story: humans and God together in the midst of confusing, unexpected events and facing shame, yet glorifying Him. Mary and Joseph both had to trust God and believe that God would do something bigger than their situation. They chose faith rather than fear. They must have believed that God was good.
In grief, this is essential too: to continue to believe despite plights and predicaments. It is hard and at times, hearts doubt, because suffering hurts so much. Your faith may feel like a tiny mustard seed some days, but that is okay. Maybe Joseph and Mary felt that way too at first. This story can strengthen and encourage perseverance through confusing hardship.