The birth story of Jesus has so many elements that are hard to believe. The events that unfold are difficult to fathom even for someone with a vivid imagination. You have to suspend disbelief just to get to the end. And when you arrive you discover a story that is difficult to hold.
But therein lies both the problem and the solution.
This isn’t a story you are supposed to hold, it is a story that desires to hold you.
When read properly it has grit. It is more than a story about angels and magical biology, but a story about broken hearts and fears conquered by hope and promise.
In order for us to hold these stories we try to polish them up so there are no sharp edges. History has shown our desire to clean up the characters by venerating them to non human status. Mary was given an immaculate conception to ensure she was sinless, and Joseph is such a righteous man that instead of getting angry hearing about Mary’s pregnancy a more saintly interpretation of the greek says he pondered over it.
In sanitizing these stories to make the characters more Holy we have actually made them inaccessible for a human audience.
But the gospel writers leave all the right clues for those looking. Matthew eludes to the idea that Joseph doesn’t find out that his fiancé is pregnant till she is almost 4 months along. Luke writes that after she returns from her extended visit with Elizabeth she is discovered to be pregnant, and Joseph most likely hears of it through the community—what drama.
If I struggle reading and believing this story, imagine Joseph hearing it from his fiancé 4 months pregnant after returning from a distant trip. Once again trying to hold all the pieces of this together is a juggling act.
Don’t waste your time trying to tease out of these vignettes a truth to take home, because I think the truth is they are home, we live in stories like this everyday.
When we read it properly we discover that we get sucked in to these stories, because they are about us.
Life is full of disruptions that bring us to our knees.
And not necessarily because we are bad.
This story reminds us that sometimes it’s because we are good. All the disruption Mary is going to experience was because she was favoured. Joseph was known in his village as a righteous man before the scandal of this child. It might have been a century later till he was considered that again after the fact.
Both Mary and Joseph were good people, and this wasn’t punishment.
God causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous Jesus said, and Matthew and Luke have told a story to prove his point. Mary and Joseph are not ready for what will unfold as their life, and neither are we. There is no way to tell what lies ahead for any of us. But if we can read this story not from above but from inside we may discover a beautiful truth.
That when the divine shows up in all the ways only the divine can—in our lives, in our pain, in our Christmas, it isn’t because we have invited Him, but because He has invited us.