Now here it is, the eve of Christmas Eve, and I've finally slowed down. Just a little. I'm nestled away in the heart of Kansas and my sweats, and as always it feels good to escape my daily grind and relax for a while. I'm still frantically trying to work out music for the Christmas Eve service at church and nail down a schedule to see friends on Sunday...but at least I'm breathing again.
Despite the continual external and noisy distractions, a few ponderances have managed to drift through my imagination now and again. I listened to a preacher tell the Christmas story from Joseph's point of view, and this preacher's observations brought the whole scene down to earth just a little more.
It's easy to be numbed to the images of baby Jesus and the shepherds and the manger and the star, to smile and nod as the story is gently told every year by a gaggle of dressed-up children at the front of the sanctuary. It's easy to be distanced from the realities of Bethlehem all those years ago.
Realities of the implications of young teenager-Mary's sudden pregnancy. Here is a girl, probably not even finished growing, who chooses to accept the angel's word that she is going to have a baby. "Aw," we think, "how nice."
Nice that she now has to answer to her family and fiance and try to explain to them that she's pregnant but hasn't cheated? That she's still a virgin? Nice that she has to plead for her life because her family and fiance now have the legal right to stone her to death?
Ever notice that there's no mention in the Bible of Mary's parents? Is this because they cast her out of their family for being pregnant and not married?
And what of Joseph? The woman he loved broke his heart. She's carrying someone else's baby, but insists that it was the Holy Spirit Who impregnated her. Is she lying to cover her tracks? Who did she sleep with? His best bud? Or maybe she's just crazy... Either way, there's disgrace on her, her family, and him.
Yet he keeps her. Surely he has full knowledge that his family is feeling quite disgusted with him for staying with the girl who may very well have socially ruined him. What in the world was he thinking?
And then the two of them journey off to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born. A lowly stable, a messy birth just like all the others, the pain of contractions, and finally...a baby. The Savior. Did that moment feel holy? Did the young couple sense heaven's presence as Mary lay drenched in sweat and blood, as Joseph held in his arms a baby he did not conceive? Did they know how significant this moment was as they sat surrounded by animals, smelling dusty straw and stinky manure?
Did they have any family left to call their own? Did they visit their parents to show them their new grandson, or did their families even speak to them anymore? Where should they settle down to call home if there was no place that welcomed this disgraced couple?
What faith that must have required from each of them, going into this whole ordeal knowing that they faced utter ruin. Yet they were obedient. In the midst of their messy and lonely lives, they chose to believe their ordinary and undesirable circumstances were creating a story greater than they could even know.