Advent, Joseph, Mary, Jesus
Feel free to use this monologue short of re-publishing it under your own name. If you would give credit we would appreciate it. Most of all, I would love to hear from you as to how you used these words and what kind of response you received.
You know my name but there is a lot more to my story than you ever realized. To me was given the greatest privilege in the world: to witness the entry of God into the world in human form.
Mary and I had known each other for years. Our families traveled from Judea to Galilee when we were both young. The purpose of the move was to bring Judaism to those living in the area of Galilee. It was a successful mission. I suppose Mary and I were distant relatives . . . but then in a small town everyone seems to be related.
I was several years older than Mary . . . that was the norm in my day. I had always been fond of her. When it came time to think about marriage, I asked my Father to seek to arrange a marriage with Mary. That’s the way it was done in those days. There was no courtship, no drive-in movies, no prom. It was all arranged by our parents. Please don’t think we didn’t have any say in the matter. We were both consulted and both liked the idea. I really loved Mary.
In our tradition the engagement period lasted for up to a year. The announcement of the engagement was a public ceremony which for all practical purposes was as binding as a marriage. During this time we didn’t live together but I was known as Mary’s husband and she was known as my wife. In fact, once the marriage agreement was entered into it could not be ended without formal divorce proceedings. Any infidelity during the engagement period was considered adultery. We all knew this to be the case.
Shortly after our engagement Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth who was in six months pregnant. What made this remarkable was that Elizabeth was past child-bearing years when she became pregnant. It was kind of a contemporary story of Sarah. Mary was gone for three months. I missed her greatly. When she returned, however, I was in for the shock of my life.
Mary took me aside and explained that she was “with child”, in other words, pregnant. “PREGNANT!” I couldn’t hear anything else she said. I was furious, I was hurt, the truth is . . . I was crushed. Betrayed by the woman you loved. How could she do this to me?
I went home and I couldn’t sleep . . . my mind raced. I was a god-fearing Jew. I could not marry a woman who was defiled in this way. Besides, anyone who would do such a thing, obviously didn’t love me. If she was unfaithful once, what could make me think she would be faithful the rest of our lives together? How could I possibly ever trust her again? I was torn between the desire to hurt her and the desire to make it all go away.
I had a couple of options. In the Old Testament law the Punishment for adultery was simple . . . stoning. Because we were under Roman rule that wasn’t a real option, the Romans alone could sentence one to death. But, I could insist on a public divorce. It would be great scandal. Mary would be branded as a harlot, her family would face the shame of the entire community. I would hurt her like she hurt me.
Their problem was that I still loved her. As hurt as I was . . . and no matter how much I wanted to strike back and “get even” . . . I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t right. So I decided I would divorce her privately in accordance with Deuteronomy 24. It was a simple procedure, I would simply declare that I didn’t approve of her anymore before two witnesses, I’d give her a written declaration that she was free and it would be over . . . At least for me. Mary would still have to face the shame and ridicule of her pregnancy, but our relationship would be over. This latter course seemed to be the most gracious thing to do.
I was exhausted by this time . . . I hadn’t slept for a day or so. Now, having made a decision, I could sleep.
After falling asleep I had a vision. God was speaking through His angel. The angel said, “Joseph don’t be afraid to go ahead with your marriage plans . . .Mary was not unfaithful to you. The child which is now in her is a child placed there miraculously by my Spirit. Mary will deliver a Son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Then the angel went on and said all this would be in fulfillment of scripture, a Messianic passage in the prophet Isaiah . . . “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call Him Immanuel – God with us.”
When I awoke, I was stunned . . .and ashamed. I hadn’t even asked Mary about the details, I never let her explain. I just assumed I knew the whole story. Sure, it’s a very common thing to do, people do it all the time. Jumping to conclusions is the number one sport in the world. Close behind is the ever-popular: Making mountains out of molehills. But just because everyobody “does it” doesn’t make it right. I belw it and when I saw Mary, I told her so.
When I sat down and talked with her I found that her story was the same as the one which came to me in the vision. We were both uncertain what it all meant. They were strange words. But, we knew what God wanted us to do.
Mary and I went ahead and were married with all the hoopla we had originally planned. One group of people formed a procession from Mary’s parents house and another a procession from my parents home. We marched to what would be our new home and were married. Following the ceremony there was a party ( I believe you call it a reception) and only Mary and I knew the secret which she carried in her womb . . . soon however, everyone would know. We did not consummate our marriage until after the birth of Jesus.
Not long after our marriage Caesar Augustus issued his decree that a census should be taken and we must go back to the town of our family origins: Bethlehem. It was 80-90 mile trip and took 5 days to make the journey. As difficult as it was, it was good to leave Nazareth; people were talking; Mary was being ridiculed. It didn’t take a Ph.D in Math to figure out that a person nine months pregnant who had only been married four months didn’t get pregnant on their honeymoon. People were talking about me as well. People are so stupid sometimes. They assume they have all the answers but in reality they haven’t a clue.
Even though you know you’re not doing anything wrong . . . in this case, even though you know you are doing what is right, those hurtful words still wound you. The Lord did not say it would be easy, so we held on. Travel, even at this stage of the pregnancy was welcome.
Bethlehem would provide a place to be somewhat anonymous. The baby was due anytime so we packed up most of our belongings for the trip. We figured we would be living in Bethlehem for a while. Little did we realize at that time that god was ordering world events to get us into Bethlehem where His prophecy would be fulfilled.
Mary rode on the donkey and I walked. The journey was hard on Mary at this stage in her pregnancy.
When we arrived in Bethlehem we knew the birth was near. But there was no place to stay. My wife was going to have a baby and there was no place for us to stay! I admit, I was angry. I was angry at the ignorance of the people . . . didn’t they understand the monumental nature of what was about to take place? (Pause) Of course they didn’t. I didn’t.
I hesitate to say it, but, I was mad at God too. He got us into this . . . I didn’t understand. How could this be happening? I must trust, He would not lead if He did not intend to provide, I thought. I must, like Abraham, follow the Lord even when I didn’t understand. But it was hard.
We found a cave used to house the animals. Since the city was crowded, the stable was full also. It was dark, damp and not very clean. I know, you pass that off by saying sanitation was not as important in my day . . .that is true but our experience was similar to what it would be like for you to have a baby in your messy garage.
I was fortunate to find a midwife to help my dear Mary . . .I felt helpless as the baby came. Mary was great!
When I first saw this child the magnitude of the moment hit me; I counted his fingers, his toes and then, I cried. I don’t now if it was because of the beauty of the birth or because of it’s significance. The long-awaited Savior had come. I wanted to tell the world but I knew no one would believe me. I didn’t really know what to tell them.
Suddenly, I was filled with apprehension. How does one train and raise the Messiah? I was a poor man, a common carpenter. I reminded myself that God would provide. He would show us what we should do.
When the Shepherds came, Mary and I were both astonished. Though we knew no one would believe us, God was proclaiming the message His own way. God knows what He is doing.
We remained in Bethlehem for better than a year. We set up our home and began the job or raising our son. After a year or so, men from a foreign county, dignitaries; I believe they were astrologers, came from the East. They said they too had heard of the birth of Messiah. They brought gifts. AS it turned out, those gifts provided the financing we would need to move to Egypt.
Once again God spoke to me in a vision. He told me to move my family to Egypt because Herod would try to kill my son. We obeyed and that alone spared our son the cruel death inflicted on so many others. How we wept for those other families. Many were our new friends.
After the death of Herod we were told we could move back to our home in Nazareth. There were some who still talked about the past, but most had finally let the talk die out. I began the task of training my son. I taught him to be a Carpenter and every year we made the long trip to Jerusalem for Passover. My son grew in every way. And before long He was confounding us with His Spirit and wisdom. How many nights Mary and I marveled at the things He spoke.
As I reflect back on those events I can’t help but wonder; what if I hadn’t listened to the angel? What if I had ignored what I knew was right and moved to protect myself from the scandal by turning Mary over to the town gossips? I am grateful for His gracious leading. Obedience is wisdom.
I’ve become more understanding of others. I’m not as quick to jump to conclusions. I learned that from my son . . . or rather, my Savior. He always listened, He always saw beneath the surface. He never acted on impulse, He never jumped to conclusions . . . He took the time to understand and to care . . . I’ve tried to do the same. I know what it’s like to be on the other side.
O how perfect is the plan of the Lord. How wonderful is His grace. If He can use me, a common man, He can use anybody . . .even you. All He asks is that we listen and obey.
One more thing before we part . . . please remember that my son . . . My Savior, did not remain a baby. He grew up. If you focus on the manger and not His message, you have missed the point entirely. Those events in Bethlehem were indeed wonderful, but why he came is even more wonderful.
Today our God calls you to acknowledge your sin and trust in the Savior. It may seem like a ridiculous thing to ask. Like asking a man to go ahead and marry a woman who was pregnant with a child not his. But take it from me . . . sometimes the most ridiculous sounding requests are the ones which can change your life.