Our reading opens with the story of Mary and Joseph being ‘pledged’ to each other. That meant that they had formally agreed to marry, but the “wedding” had not yet taken place. Most Bible commentaries think Mary is 16 years old, living with her parents (presumably in Nazareth), and Joseph is older. But in fact we don’t know, but we can guess that they were waiting with happy anticipation for the day of their wedding. Having this year seen close up what that anticipation looks like with my daughter’s wedding, and remembering my own, dimly in the far distant past, it is a time of great anticipation of longing for the day to come when you will together man and wife, for the rest of your lives.
It is right at this point that God breaks in. He is about to ask an unknown teenage girl to take part in something that is so shocking as to be totally unbelievable. What God asks Mary to do will change her life and Josephs life forever. And change the world. Gone are the happy couple’s happy dreams of a beautiful wedding; gone are the days of sweet anticipation; gone, gone, gone. And for Joseph the sense of betrayal – “How could Mary do this to me? And to try and think I would fall for that line about an angel and the Holy Spirit and God’s child! Who does she think she is – we are just common folk, nothing special about us!” But I think he still cared about Mary after all he did not want a fuss he was going to quietly divorce her.
And then God sends an angel to Joseph in a dream, and in short confirmed all that Mary had said – so they would be married, but not before rumours spread through the countryside. There will be a wedding feast, but not the way they planned. They will have a home, and it will be filled with children, but over the family will rest an uneasy cloud of dark suspicion. It will all happen, but not the way they expected.
When the angel Gabriel arrived and said to Mary “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Mary quite simply did not know what to make of it. It’s as if someone you’ve never seen came up to you and said, “Good news. This is your lucky day. God has chosen you for a special blessing.” How do you respond to that?
Mary is a bit taken aback by this and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. And who could blame her. But that’s not the half of it. Without a pause, Gabriel proceeds to tell her something that almost certainly blows her mind. He tells her she’s going to have a baby. And not just any baby. She’s going to give birth to the Son of God. Do you argue? Do you ask for clarification? Do you call 999? Do you laugh out loud? Mary could not be blamed for any of those responses. In fact, she only has one question, a technical matter she would like cleared up. In essence she says to Gabriel, “All right. I’m willing to do my part, but you need to explain how we’ll handle this one little problem.” That’s real faith. That’s believing the impossible. That’s trusting God when the “facts” argue against it. And Joseph has the same response.
The Bible makes it clear that Joseph and Mary were very real, with very real doubts, very real questions and very real faith. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than when Mary said “I am the Lord’s servant, May it be to me as you have said.” And when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Without exaggeration, we can call these the greatest statements of faith in the entire Bible. We read it or hear them so often that we forget how great they really are.
This couple are young and very much in love. They are going about doing their daily stuff, and then comes an angel and he says “your going to be having a Son, not only that but the Son of God. God will sort out the logistics, that’s all there is to it.” What do you say to that Joseph and Mary? They said “Yes”. Yes to God, Yes to the impossible, Yes to the plan of God. Did they wonder what was happening yes I am sure they did were they unsure yes but they were not uncertain.
When the angel said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God,” Mary took a deep breath and said, “Be it unto me as you have said.” And with those words Christmas came to the world. And Joseph upheld his side and did as he was asked by God. They didn’t know the full cost of saying yes. But having made their decisions they never looked back.
Those two aspects of Joseph and Marys life may be the greatest things we can say about them: They believed God when it seemed to be impossible, and they never looked back. When God said, “Are you willing to believe the impossible?,” They said, “Yes I am!” Without that Yes, there would be no Christmas. I have no doubt that they asked, “Why us ?” Why should God choose an obscure peasant couple in some out-of-the-way village to bring his son into the world? There are many answers I am sure, but there is one answer that stands out. God chose them because he trusted them. God knew they were willing to believe the impossible. He also knew they were willing to pay the price for that belief. Joseph and Mary said Yes to shame and glory; they said Yes to God’s power; they said Yes to the impossible. Saying Yes brought us Jesus Christ – God’s Son to live as a man with us.
And it’s still true today that “Nothing is impossible with God.” That’s as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. It’s also true that we have to say yes to having faith in Gods love for us. Remember this: Christmas is all about God’s love for us and that God keeps his promises.
I will close with this passage John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” What does God want from us? The same thing he wanted from Joseph Mary. Simple faith that he will keep his word in unlikely and unexpected ways.
Let’s pray: Father God, we do not pray for more faith; we pray rather for courage to exercise the faith we already have. Make us more like Joseph and Mary, that we be willing to believe in spite of our doubts. We pray in the name of Him whose birth we celebrate at Christmas time. Amen.