The Christmas story of Mary and Joseph is often romantically exaggerated today. But the reality of these young people had little room for romanticism. Although they played an important role in the life of Jesus during childhood and adolescence, the biblical account of them is quite brief. Yet it speaks of characters and choices that can be a blessing to us.
The Bible reveals to us a very special engagement story. Two young people of good origin with noble, God-fearing characters experienced God’s guidance in a unique way. These previously unknown and insignificant people became part of God’s salvation plan.
The story of Mary, the mother of our Savior, remains largely in the dark. Nothing is to distract from Him, the Son of God. No one but God Himself is to receive our adoration and divine worship. But the Word of God points us to a virgin in the small town of Nazareth in Galilee who was characterized by faith, humility, and love for God. She had a close and affectionate relationship with the old priestly family of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
Mary was still living in her parental home but was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth. He was a quiet, noble, and God-fearing man from the tribe of Judah. Their marriage vows were the beginning of their marriage, by the standards of that time, and Mary was already his wife according to the law and society.
When the angel visited Mary (Luke 1:26), she was a pure, unblemished virgin (verse 27). She was startled by the angel’s unusual greeting, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you!” Her reaction is understandable in context of the historical background. Women had so little prestige at that time that Jewish men usually refrained from greeting them. Moreover, the angel told her that she had found special favor with God.
But the message that followed left her stunned. “You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son.” At the first moment, she will certainly not have grasped the enormous implications of this news, because just at that first sentence, she stood shocked and completely perplexed before the angel. No one knew better than herself that she had remained pure and had never been with any man. How was she supposed to become pregnant?
Two special characteristics of Mary appear here: her faith and her willingness to sacrifice. She believed the word of God through the angel, even though it logically made no sense to her. She was certain that God’s way is always a holy way.
Then she consecrated herself and her whole life to God’s will, for a pregnancy at that time made her appear dishonorable before her fiancé and the world, deserving death by stoning. Moreover, she could not assume that God Himself would explain these events to Joseph. She let herself fall completely into the hand of God: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
All this can be treated and read lightly from today’s point of view. But at that time, Mary did not yet have this realization about the way of salvation, about the miracle that the Son of God was to become man. On the other hand, the position of a mother with an illegitimate child was completely different from what we experience today in our godless, liberal society. She was threatened with ostracism and a humiliating death. The only protection for her was the word of God through the angel. God worked in her the deep conviction of the truthfulness and reliability of His plan.
The carpenter Joseph from Nazareth, a young man from the tribe of Judah, had been chosen by God to be Jesus’ father in front of the world. He was suited to Mary and was to provide the newborn with protection from gossip and ensure legitimacy in Jewish society.
Suddenly, Joseph realized with great dismay that the noble, God-fearing, and exemplary Mary was pregnant. What anguish of soul this realization must have caused the law-abiding, upright Israelite. How sorely he had been deceived! Did this God-fearing young woman, through whom he had often been blessed and encouraged, not even exist? Had she faked it all? With each day, his distress grew, the pain deep.
As a law-abiding Jew, he could not bring Mary home as his wife now. According to the custom of the time, he himself would have committed adultery if she had become his wife. His only option was to hand her over to the public court to face the full penalty of the law. Or he could separate with her amicably by giving her a letter of divorce, and then she could have married the child’s father without much fuss.
In their greatest need, God Himself came to the aid of the young couple. The angel’s word restored Mary’s full honor and at the same time instructed Joseph how to act wisely and rightly (Matthew 1:18-25).
Have you sometimes wondered, “How can I tell if a word really comes from God or if it originated from my own thoughts?” But from Joseph’s experience, we can learn that God works in us a deep, unshakable conviction of His divine will. We know what He wants to convey to us. At the same time, we are also convinced of the unshakable truth of this message. This is exactly the experience Joseph had that night.
However, it was not only through the message that certainty was established. God Himself had already given a reliable testimony through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The angel was able to point Joseph to the scriptures in which this event had already been prophesied. Joseph believed this message. Thus, for Mary, the word of God became at once promise, legitimization, and protection.
The next morning, Joseph then did everything necessary to follow God’s instruction. Surely the young people would then have talked to each other about these encounters with the heavenly messengers. They would have told each other of their fears, worries, and courageous decisions of faith. So began what was for them a new, unfamiliar journey together.
The example of Joseph and Mary shows that God knows us. He knows about our thoughts, desires, worries, and fears. But He has a way of blessing for us. He has the power to guide our lives wonderfully and make them a blessing for us and those around us.
It is good to trust completely in the Lord, even if we do not know the reasons and the outcome. The all-knowing God has the power to lead everything gloriously and to glorify Himself in our lives as well. Even if the way sometimes feels like a dead end, the future dark, even like a heavy burden – the way of the Lord is always the best. Believing God and trusting Him completely is the safest and most rewarding thing we can do.