This weekend I have been pondering... or more precisely rambling about mentally in a questioning sort of way. It is Christmas time and nativities are out in all their ceramic/plastic/electric lights glory and the "real reason for the season" is proudly referred to (but interestingly enough never outright explained) by Christian radio.
We all know the story: On a cold winter's night, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem to be dumped in a picturesque stable with fluffy sheep and cows. The lovely Mary gives birth to a chubby Jesus while the statuesque Joseph stands watch and welcomes the wisemen three and shepherds when they arrive to where the twinkly star led them. "A Saviour was born," time for cookies and Christmas trees.
Of course the more "accurate" version of this "loosely based on a real story" tale points out that the stable was actually a dirty cave, the wisemen visited Jesus when he was closer to two and there could have been more or less than three of them, and Jesus actually was not born on December 25th. With these facts in our belts we seldom read this incredible story with any other picture in our minds.
This weekend I read the story of Christ's birth in all for gospels and made an interesting discovery: We don't know nothin. The details that we have are few, and the rest is really interpreted by our culture, traditions and popular Christian imagery. The most important event in history is documented without the nitty gritty details that make our characters take true solid shape in accurate detail. The human every day "real" of the story is lost by generations of the "Christmas Story" being told and retold with the help of skits, flannel graph and bright nativities.
This loaded story has taken on a huge fascination to me. The amount of questions that can be asked can only be answered when we are in Heaven and can ask the main characters themselves. For now, they have utterly changed the way I think about that moment. These details take the "Christmas Story" to real human life. If you care to join me on a long ramble that could take you outside the box, please read on.
First of all, who were Mary and Joseph? Mary was favored by God and carried the Saviour of the world. She was a young uneducated and unmarried woman that was pregnant outside of marriage in a culture that mandated that she be stoned if caught. "She gave birth to a baby that an Angel told her was the Son of God and raised him through his childhood. Did she get it? Did she really truly understand who Jesus was? It seems almost irreverent to think of her as anything but the most intuitive, wise, nurturing spiritual pinnacle, but the two times we see her interacting with her Son as He grew up and started His ministry, she did not get it. Passover in Jerusalem: Caravan heads out after the event and Jesus is assumed to be off somewhere with friends or family and mom and dad leave. A day later they can't find him and panic ensues sending them back on a frantic three day search. They find their 12 year old in the temple teaching, listening in general blowing the minds of all who were near Him. "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I had to be about My Father's business?" was the only explanation given to Mary's understandable reprimand and "they did not understand His words." Next we go to Capernum and the hosts of a wedding embarrassingly run out of wine. Mary approaches her Son and essentially asks Him for a random miracle. "Dear woman why do you involve Me? My time has not yet come." She ignores this and says to the servants "do whatever He tells you." Yet when she visited her cousin Elizabeth she understood the significance of Who her Child was, but did she really truly get it? Hmm... Also: how did Mary's mom react? She would have been one of the first to discover her daughter's pregnancy. Did grandma get it? Did Mary receive any kind of support from her family? Her visit to Elizabeth most likely was not a pleasant visit but an escape from the growing shame and misunderstanding that surrounded her and her family.
Who was Joseph? He was "a righteous man." We know even less about him aside from one very important thing. He chose to throw his reputation away and give up a future as a respected man by choosing to marry his pregnant fiance. By believing the angel and saving the life of Mary and her Child, he essentially claimed a supposed guilt for something he did not do. "That Joseph... was a decent guy till he got mixed up with that fiance of his... too bad about all that really." He took the shame and married a woman he did not know who was carrying a child that would never be his. Huge. How did he view his wife? How did he interact with his Son? What was the relationship between Jesus and his earthly father like?
In that culture, Mary and Joseph most likely did not know each other at all. This was not a meet, develop a strong relationship, fall in love get married deal. Their families probably planned the whole thing, they knew each other perhaps from meeting a few times then WHAM! Life happens. Scandal, huge emotional turmoil, decisions, drama and off to Bethlehem. A man and a young woman/girl trekking off to be taxed. Can you imagine? What was their relationship like? Did this whole experience cement a relationship that rapidly grew to a deep supportive friendship and then love? Did they fight initially? Did she try to explain pre angel's visit to him and he did not believe her? How did they reunite when he came to know the truth and she returned from her 3 month trip to her cousin's? What was it like raising other children along side the Son of God?
Why do we assume it was just the two of them? Joseph would of had to go with his whole family to Bethlehem. He was not the only person in the whole town to have to go. He may have represented a group, but certainly Uncle Ben and some of the cousins would of had to come with them. "There was no room for them in the inn" makes a lot more sense with a party of 20 trying to get in. The stable could have been shelter to more than just Mary and Joseph. The shepherds could have been telling their fantastic news to a possibly very skeptical family. They could have been the reason that many of them believed. Was Joseph even there for the delivery? Who was actually there with Mary? How did Joseph's family receive her?
As this is now turning into a book, I shall end abruptly. I encourage you to pick up your Bible and read this incredible story with a blank slate and no preformed pictures and ideas in mind. It really changes it and gives new life to a story I have heard my whole life. Exciting!