I've been thinking quite a bit about the Christmas story the past few days and weeks. Specifically, the things it doesn't say. Or rather, the things that we perhaps don't read into it, because we live in a different time and place. I have concluded that when the Bible describes Jesus as a man who understands sorrow, it is very accurate. Just think for a moment about his arrival in the world. Now sure, if he was an average baby he wouldn't remember that he was born in the feeding trough in a cave (the general concensus seems to be that the stable was likely a smelly cave hewn in the side of a hill). But his parents would have been oh, so aware. The Bible doesn't really talk about their reception in Bethlehem, except to say there was no room in the inn. What I think we easily forget is that Joseph was returning to his home town. While he might never have lived there, his family came from there. So it wouldn't have just been any old stranger ungraciously telling a pregnant woman that they didn't have a spare bed. Nope. These were Joseph's relatives. Imagine Great-aunt Gertrude standing there, glaring at you and your exhausted, terrified wife. Think of the humiliation, the shame, and the anger this young couple would have faced in being turned away from home after home by people who should have been looking out for them.
It was not exactly a forgiving time or place. Mary had conceived out of wedlock. She could have been stoned to death for it. Folks would have agreed that this was the 'right' thing to do with such a harlot. But Joseph turns around and decides to marry her anyway. That I think, would have been like saying the kid was his. Very few people would have doubted that they'd got up to mischief. Big no-no. Really, really, really big trouble. Lots of gossip. Lots of friends and family who would choose overnight to no longer recognise you. Anguished parents, humiliated, wondering what they'd done wrong in raising these two. Probably a lot of anger, possibly being yelled at and spat on. Mary and Joseph came from a small town. They would have known everyone and everyone would have known them. Suddenly, their reputations, and through them, the reputations of their families, were in tatters. Then they had to go to Bethlehem, right when the baby was due because some beaucrat decided to count all the people. So they took a dangerous, long journey. There weren't any other options. You simply didn't stand there and argue with the Romans. You'd be dead if you did. Probably after your wife was raped and your home burnt to the ground. So they went to Bethlehem to be turfed out by all the rest of their relatives. I wonder if the inn keeper who gave them the stable did so secretly. Did his wife approve? Was there a loud argument about harbouring such sinners? Did he do so out of guilt, seeing how tired and worried Mary and Joseph were? I wonder how differently the town of Bethlehem and Joseph's relatives would have reacted if they knew this was the Messiah they had all been waiting for. I wonder if they would have been so harsh, so condeming. This was Jesus' arrival into the world. I don't think things really got any better for him after that either. While the gossip would have died down over time, no one in the family would have ever really forgot his shameful beginning. He would have lived with whispers and taunts his whole life, and with the realisation that his very existence caused his parents incredible heartache and grief. I do wonder if Mary might have wished for another life, in living to see her son die brutally on a cross. We think of her as blessed, chosen by God. And she was. But I imagine that living the chosen life was neither easy, nor happy-go-lucky. It must have been incredibly hard.
So these have been my thoughts this Christmas. I am grateful that Jesus came. I am grateful that I can know God. But I am saddened that he, and those he loved and who loved him, had to go through so much for me to have this opportunity.
Wednesday, 29th December 2010