the scandal of Christmas

I absolutely love Christmas time. I pretty much celebrate it come Thanksgiving all the way through the winter. I love the joy that comes with it. I love the parties and the candy and the cookies and the eggnog. I love movies like Elf, A Christmas Story, and Little Women. Candlelight services. Scarves and boots. Snow, snow, and more snow.

Of course, I love the story behind the celebrations. You might know the story I refer to. It is not about Santa or elves or reindeer. The story is about a baby being born in basically a barn, a girl with a “16 and pregnant” situation, and a fiance who is faced with the question of unfaithfulness and public embarrassment.

Can you imagine being Mary? You’re a young girl betrothed to a man who is probably much older. Women had no legal rights. She was probably engaged to marry him by the way of arranged marriage. And then the scandal happens. She finds out she will be with child. Think about how that would have looked. A young maiden, pregnant and engaged, in a culture where women had no rights and were relatively dispensable compared to men. The bigger question was who was the father. Joseph was potentially at risk of being accused of impregnating a woman out of wedlock. If not Joseph, then I’m sure Joseph and the rest of the community would be wondering who the father really was. She probably was terrified of the potential consequences- being an adulteress was a death sentence- not to mention the public shaming of the scandal of promiscuity.

Switch gears now.

Joseph, the fiancé, was put in quite the awkward position. Quite the frustrating decision to have to make. Even dangerous. Think about it from his perspective. He was probably frustrated that his almost wife was most likely a harlot by societal standards. Virginity and faithfulness [on the woman’s side] were an absolute. Joseph had every legal right to divorce Mary- society in Israel back then required a legal termination of engagement almost like a divorce. He could have left her to the public shaming and even potential death. He could have ruined her. He could have…but he didn’t.

Joseph was a man of character, as Mary also was. But all too often so much focus is placed on Mary because of the virgin birth, her willingness and acceptance of God’s plan. I believe she is due all respect- the LORD definitely chose her for her role in the story. Yet I also believe Joseph was just as equally chosen for his role. He embraced his role just as Mary did. He may disappear from the stories of Jesus’ life later on, for reasons we don’t know [could have been death, etc.]. His character and reliance on the LORD is so evident throughout the the Christmas story and the escape to Egypt. The first few years of Jesus’ life were made possible by God working through Joseph. Had he not been willing, had he not been someone of integrity, honor and faithfulness to God, his, Mary and Jesus’ lives would look very different. He chose to take on the fatherhood role of a baby not his own. He chose to protect Mary’s dignity rather than shame her. He chose to raise Jesus as his own son and teach him the ways of a carpenter- the task all fathers did for their sons. I would imagine that Jesus as a young boy learned the heart of the Father by learning the heart of Joseph- seeing his character lived out on the day to day.

I believe Joseph is a part of the Christmas story we cannot so easily forget as it is one to teach us much about ourselves and our willingness to serve God and others. We can learn character from him. We can learn sacrifice. We can learn discernment and faithfulness, especially when looking at their escape to Egypt.

As you celebrate Christmas remember the people who played a huge role in the story. Yes, it ultimately is about Jesus and eventually his sacrifice, which is celebrated on Easter. But remember Mary and Joseph both for the desire to honor the LORD and live their lives as reflection of that love. The scandal of Christmas is the perfect story.  Jesus came to a world full of scandal, full of pain, full of heartache, and full of so many other things. It was perfectly messy. Its in the mess, the darkness of the stable, the 9 months of pregnancy, the fear of finding Mary pregnant, the worry of a possibly ruined marriage. Jesus came in the midst of all of this and chose to reveal love and life.

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