Monday, December 21, 2009
Notes on the Nativity 6
Joseph “did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace” (Matthew 1:19). And so he considered, as the best course of action, a private bill of divorce, after the precedent of either Deuteronomy 22:26 or 22:29. Such an action would need only two witnesses, and would bring the least possible reproach upon Mary. This solution would allow her either to bear her illegitimate child in private away from Nazareth, or to marry the father, if possible. Obviously Mary’s future well being was more important to Joseph than his own vindication.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 1:20).”
Both Mary and Joseph were asked by God to accept the disgrace and shame of a couple who had “sinned.” Joseph was told to name the child (v. 21), an act which would be interpreted by all as an admission of paternity. This would also be equivalent to an admission that he had lied in previously asserting his innocence.
In the eyes of the people, then, either Joseph was a weak man who could not control his passions, or, worse yet, a fool duped into raising another man’s son. (Because of Mary’s three-month sojourn in Judah, the gossips could make a strong argument for the latter view.) Such matters would not be soon forgotten in a close-knit country village.
God could have made it easier. He could have smoothed the way, but He did not. Mary would gather her belongings and go quietly to the house of Joseph. She would go with relief, certainly, that her beloved no longer doubted her, and that he was one with her in understanding the marvelous revelation of God. But she would go also under the disdainful eyes of her friends and neighbors, and perhaps the sorrow of relatives, which she could do nothing to alleviate.
For Mary and Joseph there would be no happy wedding, bridesmaids, feasts, laughing children, gifts or good wishes. The cloud of suspicion was made worse because there could be neither repentance nor explanation, only passive endurance: “For what glory [is it], if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer [for it], ye take it patiently, this [is] acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called:…”
God saw to it that His own Son was provided with sterling examples of such traits in his childhood. Jesus was “called” to follow the pattern of meek suffering in well-doing that Mary and Joseph set for him. The grace under pressure which they showed during an extended trial was the object of his keen discernment. He could not fail, as he grew up, to hear the whispers and the innuendos; but from his parents, never a complaint.