how to arrive at Christmas: Mary & Joseph
It is the season of Advent!
It’s that season when, while the rest of the world jumps ahead into Christmas, we hold back and do what we can to get ready for it - doing what we need to do to get ready to embrace everything it means.
This year, we’re doing that through our brand new nativity set. We’re using it to count down to Christmas by asking what each character tells us about how we’re supposed to show up on Christmas - about the posture, disposition, or mindset we’re to have come Christmas morning so we can embrace it all.
This week we’re spending some time with Mary and Joseph.
Now we know the most about Mary, don’t we? Her story is pretty well known:
She’s a young teenager and one day an Angel named Gabriel showed up. He floats down and starts the way they always do with … “Don’t be afraid!” And Mary, in the long tradition of strong and courageous women, doesn’t run away or freak out, but remains open and stays to hear the message.
So Gabe proceeds to tell her the same thing Joseph would hear later: that God has a special plan for the universe, but for the plan to work, there’s just these tiny little catch: She would need to become pregnant.
Now we not told why this particular Mary is asked. There are early commentaries that talk about how Gabriel approached other women before this, asking them all the same question, but they all turned him down. And at first it looks like Mary might do the same as she says ‘There must be some kind of mistake.'
But the angel replies: ‘Nope, it’s no mistake. If youre down with it, the Spirit of God will come upon you, He will be great, called the king of kings and the prince of peace. He will be the Saviour of the world. You will name him Jesus."
And Mary, upon hearing this, she gives consent, saying: ‘Yes. Let me be the one to do this.’
And Jospeh, the poor guy, he gets kind of left out of Christmas, doesn’t he? But despite what that may tell us, his story is just as important as Mary’s.
About 8 months after Mary gets her message, he finally clues in that Mary is pregnant, and just before he’s about to end the engagement quietly, an angel appears to him in a dream saying: ‘Hey, don’t freak out that your fiancé is pregnant. She’s conceived through the Holy Spirit. It’s part of what God is doing in the Universe. Oh yah, one more thing: I want you to name the baby Jesus.”
So Joseph wakes up and what’s he do? Instead of breaking it off as planned, instead of being even more freaked out, he changes his mind. He stays with Mary. He takes her back home to Bethlehem to be counted for the census. He says “yes” to what God has asked him to do.
Now the stories are stunning aren’t they?
There’s the craziness and wonder of it all - there’s the whole virgin birth thing, there’s the idea that this baby is actually God amongst us, and the angels appearing. All stuff that seems so surreal and magical.
But I dont think that’s the most stunning part of it all. What even more stunning than that is the fact they each said “yes.”
And we kind of lose out on this as these stories have become sanitized and turned into nice children’s pageants, but think about it for a sec.
What was at stake? What did it mean for them to each say ‘yes?’
Well, first off, there’d be the loss of family, community, and religion. Having a baby out of wedlock would have been an issue, but having God’s baby? Mary would be disowned by her family and friends and exiled from the temple leaving her completely alone. And as a woman in that age, that was a death sentence, especially if Jospeh broke off the engagement.
But Joseph didn’t. He stayed. He took her home to Bethlehem. Can you imagine that conversation? “Mom, Dad, this is Mary. Oh, don’t worry, it isn’t mine. It’s God’s!” Yah, it wouldn’t go over very well. He’d be disowned too. There’s a reason they had to look for a place to stay when travelling back to his hometown. Nobody wanted them.
To say yes, was to risk losing their community, friends, and family.
That would lead to the second thing, a life of poverty and struggle.
We know from where Mary and Joseph live that they were probably already very poor to begin with. Jospeh was a tekton, which is a carpenter or a stonemason, he’s a builder. His living would be pretty sparse. Mary, well, as a woman, she’d be basically unemployable. Things would already be tight for them. But to be cut off from the support of family, friends, and the temple? They’d be completely on their own. They’d have no outside support whatsoever. They’d struggle each and every single day.
To say yes, was to risk a life of total poverty or at best, barely making it by.
And then, of course, and no biggie here, there was the treason they were each committing.
When the Angels appeared to Mary and Jospeh, what did they say about this child they would have? They told her: "He will be great, called the king of kings and the prince of peace. He will be the Saviour of the world.”
Where do you think they got those lines from? They certainly weren’t new lines. Every person alive in that world would know the titles of “king of kings, price of peace, saviour of the world.” Those were the titles of Caesar, the Emperor. He was the king of kings, the prince of peace, and the saviour of the world. Nobody else would dare to call themselves that because it would be a direct threat against the Emperor. You’d get killed for calling yourself that and you’d certainly be killed for calling your kid that. There’s reason they become refugees later on in this story - they were being hunted by the Empire.
To say ‘yes’ to bringing him into the world was to take on the Empire, it was to commit treason, it was to risk getting killed.
So, let’s go back to our question: what was at stake for Mary and Jospeh to say ‘yes’ to bringing God into the world in a brand new way?
This was a life and world changing decision. It turned everything upside down.
But despite that, despite the loss of community and financial stability, and despite the fact they could be hunted down and executed, they each said ‘yes.’
They each risked everything to be a part of what God is doing in the world through Jesus.
So what does that tell us about how to arrive at Christmas? What can we learn from them about how to show up at Christmas?
We don’t just show up happy and excited, we show up ready to risk.
Having seen and felt what God is doing through Christmas, having seen and felt that a new kind of life and a new kind of world is possible, a life of hope, joy, peace, and love, a world where everyone has enough and everyone has a place, we show up knowing the stakes, and just like Mary and Jospeh, we show up ready to risk everything.
We show up saying ‘yes,’ ready to nature and nourish this vision for the world, and ready to defy and resist whatever stands in its way.
So the question for us to rumble with this Advent is:
"what do we need to do to arrive that way?"
"What work do we need to do to show up ready to risk?"
“Are we willing to show up and have everything turned upside down?”
Now I can’t answer that for you. It’s only a question that we each can answer. But it is an important one for us each to ask because it reminds us that Christmas isn’t something we just celebrate, it’s something we embrace:
it’s the invitation to move past the happiness and joy of it all, and into the commitment is invites us into - joining in on what God is doing in the world:
repairing and restoring it until everyone and anyone can have lives of hope, joy, peace, and love.
So as we head towards Christmas, may you do what you need to do to say ‘yes’ to this vision and get ready to risk everything.