It often amuses me how ‘cleanly’ the first Christmas story is portrayed: seemingly so neat and tidy. Mary and Joseph, the happy couple, clippity-clop on a donkey all the way down to Bethlehem for the birth of their first son.
It so neat. Too neat. And there’s way too little drama in that.
I love Matthew 1:19. It’s the Bible verse which gives you an insight into Joseph’s mind after he finds out his fiancée is pregnant and he knows he’s not the father:
Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
OK, so firstly the whole marriage and engagement wording is a little odd to our modern ears. They weren’t married yet at this stage – but it was so on.
Until Joseph decided it had to be off.
This is the couple. The couple that you’d never think would be busting up because the woman is clearly in the Almighty’s favour. And the guy, Joseph surely is as well by association, if nothing else (actually I think there’s a lot more to Joseph than just his association to Mary… herein may lie another post).
But the couple in Matthew 1:19 look like they’re about to be on the rocks.
Mary is pretty much the Christian version of The Bachelorette. She’s the Churchy girl known for her holy life, virtuous living and (surely) deep knowledge of the Jewish Old Testament. She’s not the type of girl Joseph would ever expect to be sleeping around.
If ever I feel sorry for Mary it’s at this point.
Imagine telling Joseph that you’re pregnant but that it’s the doing of The Holy Spirit and not any man. (As if…) Imagine trying to explain that to him and wondering whether he’d believe her?
Clearly he didn’t, but he still wanted to maintain her dignity as much as possible. So it was time to divorce her, but quietly.
Even the Messiah’s got skeletons in his closet. Earthly parents who almost busted up while he was in the womb. That’s not a family of domestic bliss. That’s a family almost falling apart.
It’s a scandal.
Don’t neaten Christmas up too much. Don’t have the baby Jesus silently sleeping with some farm animals standing nearby and the warm ambience of candle light. Don’t make it too romantic.
Keep the scandal there.
Keep the couple struggling to know how to interact with one another in the light of such a bizarre and unexpected turn of events.
Keep it real. Keep it rough.
Yours in dirty laundry,