There is another side to the story. And this is really huge…
To recap – Mary, young virgin, becomes pregnant, and is chosen to bring the long-awaited Messiah into the world. Through the window of a 2013 corner lot nativity scene, it’s all shiny-Christmas-ornaments-and-candlelight, but in Mary and Joseph’s culture, this was a scandalous story. Mary was engaged to Joseph, Mary was pregnant, and Joseph wasn’t the father. This was not only grounds to end the relationship, it was grounds for accusation of adultery. Adultery was punishable by death by stoning. No Christmas ornaments there.
So….Joseph had a decision to make. By rights he could claim adultery and leave Mary to her fate, but the gospel of Matthew says that “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” (Matthew 1:18-25) Joseph decided to spare her, and in effect, take on her public disgrace. Dismissing her quietly would likely indicate to his community that Joseph was a deadbeat dad who left Mary at the altar.
The story goes that an angel intervened and the wedding went on as planned. But the point is this – in his planning, Joseph showed a compassion and mercy for Mary that went beyond himself and the expectation placed on him by his culture.
So here’s the huge part, are you ready? From the beginning, from the very womb, Jesus of Nazareth calls us out, and forces the question – Who do you love? What would you give up for that love?
Fast forward a couple of thousand years to a different headline…
Faced with the oppressive system of apartheid, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail because he chose to push beyond the expectations of his culture. When he was finally released, his position had not changed. In his address to a rally in Cape Town on his release from prison, he said, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realized. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela’s life-long struggle against oppression begs a familiar question: Who do you love? What would you give up for that love?
Maybe one of the reasons the Jesus story is so challenging is it invites us to love beyond the expectations of our culture,
to give beyond our expectation of ourselves,
and to believe beyond our expectations of God.