This Advent I have found myself impressed anew with the courage and faith of Joseph and Mary. Per the Law of Moses, intimate relations between a legally bound betrothed couple could carry the death sentence. If a case was lodged against them, it would have been very difficult to argue in their defense because of the irrefutable evidence of her bulging tummy.
The angel Gabriel first visited Zechariah, whose wife Elizabeth was Mary’s relative, and was told that his barren wife, of advanced years, would bear him a son. He doubted the message and was stricken with the inability to speak until their son John was born.
Six months later, Gabriel visited Mary announcing that by the power of the Holy Spirit, she would be blessed with highest privilege God could bestow upon any woman, she would conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High. She, in contrast to Zechariah, accepted God’s will unconditionally. That was courageous faith. She was more devoted to God than she was afraid of being misjudged and condemned by the community.
We can imagine the conversation she had with Joseph, “No, really, an angel told me.”
“Mary, Mary,” Joseph probably protested, “Zechariah saw an angel. You’re just imagining that you did too.”
Her arguments in her defense were unconvincing since Joseph decided to divorce her secretly. It was nice of him to protect her from public disgrace, but it does reveal his disbelief in her Gabriel visitation story.
Then, in a dream, Gabriel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Now it was Joseph who was confronted with the decision to believe God or go the way of Zechariah. It was a big decision because even if they got married, he would still have to take public responsibility for Mary’s pregnancy during their espousal period. He did, and that was courageous faith.
We potentially see a glimpse into the social and religious pressure they were under in their trip to Bethlehem. Joseph didn’t need to take Mary with him to be registered for the census, but he probably did so to protect her from gossip and emotional stress—although we can’t be sure. What we can be sure of is that you’ve got to have a solid reason to plop a pregnant woman, in her third trimester, on top of a donkey and take a long ride.
So, there they were, Mary uncomfortably rocking back and forth on the donkey, and Joseph trudging along into an uncertain future, all because an angel appeared to Zechariah and then to them. This is not what they had planned for their lives. What did it all mean? They didn’t know, but their obedience to God demonstrated their courageous faith. They were the perfect match. The rest . . . is history.
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Dr. Rob Oberto is the award winning author of Intimacy With God: One Man’s Journey available from Amazon.
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