As we approach Christmas in less than one week, I can’t help but reflect on the Nativity Story and what Mary and Joseph went through leading up to the birth of Jesus. Only two of the four Gospel accounts tell us about the birth of Jesus, and there are some significant differences between the two. In fact, the Nativity Story, as you may know it, is typically a combination of the two Gospel accounts. In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph (not Mary), and the Magi and King Herod play a large role, ending in the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt to escape the slaughter of baby boys in Bethlehem. In the Gospel of Luke, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah make an appearance, along with the angel Gabriel approaching Mary. We hear from shepherds (not Magi), Jesus is circumcised and presented in the Temple. To reconcile the differences, people have combined the two stories, and so Nativity scenes include both Magi and shepherds, angels appear to both Mary and Joseph, and Jesus is found laying in a manger.
But today, I do not wish to dispute the accounts in search of what might have happened when Jesus was born. Instead, I have been focusing my thoughts on the Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Advent (Matthew 1:18-24). It struck me in a way it never has before (and I used to teach a Scripture high school class). We tend to focus on Mary’s yes to bear the Son of God, and I often wonder if I could ever say yes to something so… frightening, wonderful, and undoubtedly faithful. And while Mary was chosen from the beginning to take on this task, she also had the free will to decide if she wanted to follow through with God’s plan. Mary is the most perfect model of what it means to believe, to be both obedient and faithful. But she is perfect, and as much as I want to be, I am not. So, this past Sunday, I realized how I’m more like Joseph. I don’t always believe the first time. I may doubt God’s existence at times, I may not believe the thoughts or actions of some of my fellow humankind, and I may make decisions based on my first impression – just as Joseph did when he decided to secretly divorce Mary because of her unfaithfulness to their soon-to-be marriage. Sometimes I need angels to come to me in my dreams to help me to understand my purpose and to make the right decision. To say yes.
I won’t speak for the rest of you, but I have a pretty good feeling that most of us are more like Joseph than Mary. We can try our best to follow in Mary’s footsteps, as she is the most perfect model of what it means to believe, but it’s OK if we fall. Even Jesus’ earthly father doubted at times.
So, remember, just as Mary said yes, Joseph said yes too. He just took a little longer.
Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!
Sláinte! (with water, of course)