One of our family’s Christmas traditions is to read about the Messianic prophecy and its fulfillment over the Advent season. We take roughly four weeks to camp out in Scripture as it relates to the foretelling of Jesus’ birth and then the fulfillment on that Holy Night in Bethlehem. Each night, we take a little bite sized piece of Scripture and chew on it a bit, explain things to our kids, try to understand it ourselves, ponder things, wonder what it must have been like back then, what it would be like for God to call us to something so important, how we would have reacted to Gabriel’s appearance. I think we all agree that our reactions would not have been as calm or collected as Mary’s. Because when you start with “Do not be afraid”, well… it’s like saying “Don’t look down”.
When we start reading on the first Sunday of Advent, our family’s nativity scene sits in its traditional place… empty. And as we move through the story, as we wonder together as a family, as the greatest story ever told unfolds with each verse, as Mary obeys and sings her song, as Joseph wrestles with this unbelievable scenario, as each nativity player appears in Scripture, he or she appears in our stable. And it’s a tangible way for an 8 year-old and a 6 year-old to literally anticipate the Christ child coming. Ok, it might work for the 30-somethings in the group as well. And I’ve started to notice something. You can really get the lay of the land when you camp in one spot for a while… and wait.
First, Mary came on the scene as Gabriel appeared with a positive pregnancy test. After 400 years of still quiet, God whispers into the heart of a virgin. And she says simply, “I am the Lord’s servant.” And I wonder… was she skipping and spilling with joy on her way to tell Joseph. Was she biting her fingernails wondering his reaction? God had a plan for her and I’ve been in that place before… not the “pregnant-with-the-Savior-of-the-world” place but the “I’ve-clearly-heard-from-the-Lord-and-can’t-wait-to-tell-my-husband” place. I wonder if she got the reaction she was expecting… or did she keep it all to herself and wait.
A few days later, Joseph appeared as we read about him in Matthew 1:18-25.
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)
Something tells me this was not the response Mary was looking for, but I wonder. Was she discouraged? Did she doubt? Did she even know the thoughts he had in mind? Did her opinion of her soon to be husband waiver? Or did she wait. And trust. And hope… while Joseph had things in mind knowing God still reigned on high.
“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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
There we go. Joseph is now on board. His very own dream. His very own appearance. From the very same angel. Now Mary and Joseph can compare notes and move forward. Knuckles, Mary. Let's do this!
Something as huge as the birth of the Messiah… and God didn’t send Gabriel to the chosen couple. It would have been more efficient to do it that way. Right? I can almost hear Gabriel. “Oh, good. You’re both here. I’ve got some news…. Oh, yeah. Do not be afraid.”
But that’s not how it went down. God sends Gabriel to Mary first. Mary. Betrothed to Joseph. With news that was devastating in outward appearance for the day and time. A woman who had a lowly position in the culture hears the message. First. Alone.
And when Mary discloses her news, we read about what Joseph, the household leader, the protector, the provider, had in mind. To sneak out the back.
Mary responds to Gabriel with, “I am the Lord’s servant”. And Joseph responds with thoughts of a quiet divorce. Two different reactions. Two different heart conditions. So there needed to be two different visits. Because Joseph still had to prepare Him room.
And just like that, on a December evening two thousand years from the stable, gathered with my favorite people in my favorite room reading a story I’ve read a hundred times, this detail-oriented God who created the heavens and commands the waves unwraps a little more of the marriage mystery, reveals more of Himself and His perfect ways. Helps me understand a little deeper the need to prepare Him room for this season of Advent, "the coming".
And shows me that our union doesn't unite our timing.
Marriage. It is such a gift. And for all the wonderful things about marriage, it’s also equally hard. Because sometimes we’re the Mary being coached by angel armies. And sometimes we're the Joseph with our own things in mind. When there are two, there may be one flesh but there are still two faith walks. And so we must wait... on God to align our steps. And trust... that God will do what He promised. And hope... because the Christ child IS coming! Do not be afraid.