Hold on. Mary? Pregnant? How? Why? Who? And most importantly: what now? These disillusioning moments for the young Joseph presented only questions, no answers. He always thought Mary was a decent, God-fearing girl. Maybe he was wrong? How disappointing it must be to learn this of someone whom he had such a high opinion of and great affection for! This definitely wasn’t what he envisioned his marriage to be like.
What now? He had every right to send her away, not to speak to her again. Plus, as a righteous man of the Law, he should not proceed with the marriage. Breaking off the betrothal would probably be the right step. Yes, maybe he should do that. And what of Mary? He knew the Law was not kind to a sin like the one she apparently committed. If others find out, she’d be doomed to a life of misery, maybe worse. No, after much contemplation, he felt mercy was in order; rash action would be unwise. Send her away quietly. Give her a bill of divorce before two or three witnesses. Make this process as private as possible and wish her well. Yes, yes, that’s what he will do.
At the end of his rope, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, saying, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Hearing the Christmas story over the years has taught me various things, but this year, the story of Joseph’s first Christmas showed me this: that God was in what seemed like a scandal.
It wasn’t an actual scandal, but it certainly seemed scandalous to Joseph at the time. And that’s the point. We would like God to work in ways we can predict, measure, and write an annual report on. We would like God to “play safe” with something we can control. And more often than not, we would like God to fit in our theology.
I think it’s time to expect something different.
The story of Joseph’s first Christmas challenged me to take a second look at the things that seem weird and outside of my comfort zone. Some things are just plain wrong and we should put them aside. But for all we know, careful deliberation may reveal one of them to be the hidden workings of God, unacceptable from our perspective, but perfect from His.
To clarify, we should not go around looking for scandalous events, neither should we be okay with them. What I’m saying is that it is entirely possible that what may appear questionable to us may not actually be what we thought it was. This is where discernment comes in. But here’s my point: if, under much inspection and prayer, something unorthodox is found to involve the hand of God, we should not reject it, even though it may initially be uncomfortable.
The church has been praying a lot for God to move in powerful ways. I am too. I’m just wondering if, when God does move, it would be in a way we can't readily accept. I pray that we will be able to recognize the fingerprint of God in the things in which we don’t expect to find Him. This is what the angel was essentially saying to Joseph: “I know how it looks, and I know how you feel, but don’t reject it because God is in it.”
So just as God revealed to Joseph that the virgin birth was the work of the Holy Spirit, so sometimes God may point to something uncomfortable and say, “Don’t be afraid, for I am in it.”