Ah, the human side of the equation.
First, a lesson for the Middle East. Adultery does not need to be dragged into the streets and aired in public. Stoning may be traditional and even recommended by some, but notice, the man who chose to divorce the woman quietly was the one called righteous. When Mary Magdalene was dragged into the street, Jesus said the one without sin could cast the first stone. Listen Middle East, when we condemn others we really condemn ourselves.
But then, it seems to me the answer to our condemnation by us or by others might be found on Christmas.
Meanwhile, the angel said, “Do not be afraid.” Isn’t it curious? Whenever an Angel of the Lord appears in scripture, the first thing the Angel says is, “Do not be afraid.” Why is that? We cannot fathom what it must be like to be confronted by an Angel. We cannot even imagine, unless an Angel has appeared to you. We can only suggest that being confronted – being laid bare before the Almighty must be a terribly frightening thing. The text says the Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, but even there…poor Joseph.
We can’t hide when surrounded by angelic light. Some fools think it might be cool, but we know the light of the Lord penetrates into every dark corner and crevasse in our soul. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to escape, and all of our worst deeds, words, even inclinations come bubbling up. How horrified, how mortified, how ashamed one must feel. Perhaps this is why the Scriptures say the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I believe if any of us really understood what was inside us, what we have done under the light of stark reality, we would feel crushed. We would not even dare ask for mercy or pity. We would deserve every ounce of condemnation in the world, and we would know it.
But then again, it seems to me Christmas day might have something to say about that.
To really understand the Christmas story, or the Bible in general, I believe it is imperative to understand the humanity of it. John Calvin called the Scriptures books about God and ourselves. We do the God part pretty good, but for some reason we tend to forget the ourselves.
Look at Joseph. He was an ordinary fellow engaged to someone who may have been as young as sixteen. Most scholars believe he was older – perhaps as old as in his thirties, not that the age difference was unusual back then. What else? He was a carpenter, a laborer, an ordinary working stiff. He may have been a bit of a redneck, or whatever they had back then, but in any case he was not a rich man. He was, however, a small business owner. I’ve often wondered if the Romans ever contracted him to make crosses.
There is not much we know about Joseph. He is conspicuously absent from the days of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus mentions his mother. He also mentions brothers and sisters, so Joseph and Mary certainly did some “knowing” after Jesus was born. But again, most scholars believe Joseph passed away before Jesus began his ministry. Whether he died young or died at a ripe, old age (maybe 60 back then) we cannot say. So here, we don’t have much to go on.
But this much we can say. Joseph, in his own way, was not unlike you or me. You can be sure he was angry to find his virgin fiancé already pregnant before the wedding. It is to his credit that he did the right thing. Would we? Of course, the angel helped. But that was a dream. We have dreams all the time, don’t we? Think about that for a minute.
In the end, Joseph chose to believe God. We are told elsewhere that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. In Joseph’s case, after the angel encounter, it is possible he was afraid not to believe God. Still, he accepted what he was told. He married the girl as evidence and he called the boy Jesus. Still, do you think he had doubts?
The song says all our hopes and fears, but I feel it would be more realistic to say all our doubts and fears. Imagine thinking that the child growing in the young woman’s womb was the result of the work of the Holy Spirit of God. This was God’s son, and Joseph knew that. Do you think he stayed up nights wondering how he could possibly be a good father to God’s son?
Yes, we like to think of Christmas as a time of great faith and great joy, but here we see fear, doubt and trouble. We see a good man, willing to take his bride despite the first thoughts of indiscretion. We see the second thoughts of self-doubt and wonder. When Mary was told, she hid all these things in her heart. She was afraid to tell, certainly, not that anyone would have believed her. Joseph did the right thing, and I also have no doubt he did his best. No news, in that sense is good news.
And Jesus. He was Immanuel, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin, he was “God with us.” Joseph and Mary accepted the child given into their hands, and I am sure God might have said, just love the child and love each other. Though the child is not exactly given into our hands in the same way, do you think we can accept him on that same basis? Sure we have fears and doubts, self-doubts and perhaps even deserve only justice should we ever stand in angelic light; but I believe God would say as he has said so many times, “Do not be afraid.” Just love him and love each other. That is all we really need to do.