The Unexpected. In the case of one young girl from Nazareth.
She certainly wasn’t expecting to be expecting. Reminds me of something a married friend once said when asked how he was feeling about soon being a dad, he replied, ‘I’m still getting used to the idea of having a girlfriend!’ Something Mary’s man Joe might have said. I have recently been inspired by an excellent article by Trevor Dennis in Magnet magazine (cover above), and I’ll attempt to do it some justice here.
The first thing worth noting is that there are two stories.
Matthew’s and Luke’s.
In Luke’s version of events Mary and Joe travel 100 miles to Bethlehem (without a donkey), sleeping sometimes in inns along the way, sometimes out in the open. Ten days of hard travelling, made harder by Mary’s pregnancy. When you get to Bethlehem certain things are noticeable by their absence.
The likely scenario is that Joe had relatives there, his family came from there after all, and if that were so then it’s also likely that the women of the village would have been summoned to help with the birth. Mary would have imagined having her baby at home in Nazareth surrounded by the local women there. Instead she is in a guest room in Bethlehem, very grateful for Joe’s relatives and the skill of the local women.
In Matthew’s gripping tale Mary says nothing.
But Joe gets the lowdown from an angel. There is no difficult journey – but a bigger risk. Mary and Joe are happily betrothed and than blam! Mary’s pregnant. Disgrace and shame come tumbling through Mary’s letterbox. All the community would be talking and judging her, and quite rightly according to the Law of Moses. What to do?
Well, Joe gets his dream, meets an angel, and takes Mary into his home. Turns disgrace into grace. Matthew’s tale is dominated by the men, not unexpected in such a culture where the men are powerful. Astronomers roll up and go and see the king. The king tricks them, then inspired by a dream they turn the tables on him, and the upshot is the king sends soldiers to destroy all the male babies. In Luke’s account it’s shepherds who roll up. You could say that shepherds were the blonds of Jesus’s day – the butt of the joke. They were certainly downtrodden – and yet Luke bigs them up as being the only locals who discover the child. A sign of things to come… Luke has an eye for the marginalised (Zac, the woman at the well, the woman sick with bleeding for 12 years).
As does Jesus of course.
But back to Matthew’s chase. Mary and Joe escape by the skin of their teeth and head for Egypt, another difficult, dangerous journey. Mary’s milk has come so she can feed her new, vulnerable baby. In that alien environment they were probably helped by Bedouin travellers. Eventually they make a home back in Nazareth, where Joe had to start again, no land, work, family, or ancestors. A difficult beginning for this beleaguered family.
I love the traditional side of Christmas, the snow, the carols, the tree, the nativity play. But it’s worth remembering this story is rooted in harsh reality. Laced with travel, danger, escape and the threat of murder.