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Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

December 25, 2012

To hear it told at church, Mary–that Mary–wasn’t in late twenties. She didn’t have alabaster skin, like the statue in the nativity scene. She was probably dark skinned and closer to fourteen. She was a girl. In a society that didn’t view girls are potential leaders, as some of ours does today.

And Joseph probably didn’t look like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes. He was probably just a guy. Given that he walked most of the way to Bethlehem, he wasn’t incredibly rich.

So one night, this… girl, really, gets visited by an angel who says, “Mary, God favors you. You will bear a son and he’s going to change everything.” And she said, “Let it be done to me as you have said.”

So Mary becomes pregnant before she’s married. That was a big deal then. There was a place for women who had sex before marriage, and it wasn’t bringing up your kids. Society didn’t allow for that. If your wife got pregnant before marriage, it wasn’t a good reflection. So Joseph planned to break off the marriage quietly, so as to avoid embarrassment for both of them.

Except he got a visit, too, and he was told that this was God’s plan, and that Mary had not cheated on him and was still virgin.

Stop for a second. We aren’t in twenty-first century American culture. We’re in a culture views men, women, and sex far differently. A scarlet-letter-type culture. In theory, you could get stoned for adultery.

And yet, this fourteen-year-old girl accepts this fate and lives with it. There are no stories of Mary shaking her fist at the heavens, saying to God, “You didn’t tell me you were going to make me look like the town whore in doing this.”

And Joseph must have looked like a fool to those around him. He had to talk to someone and tell them his plan to quietly divorce Mary because the kid wasn’t his. Then, he accepted her. In that culture. He’d have looked like a fool.

The point of this post isn’t to tell you the Christmas story–you know that–it’s to concentrate on the people in it. On the characters. We’ve heard the story so many times that the details get lost in the background.

To take this assignment and carry it through–and to keep the women you were going to marry even though she was pregnant and you didn’t do it–these are extraordinary things. These are things that require a special kind of crazy, or a faith that most people can’t fathom.

Imagine being that young and becoming pregnant–knowing you were still a virgin–and knowing the price of being pregnant and not married. Imagine trying to explain to your family that you really didn’t bring shame on them. Imagine trying to explain to your fiance that you didn’t cheat on him–when both you know he’s never had sex with you.

Imagine getting a visit from an angel that convinces you to accept that story. Nothing surreal about that! Imagine saying to yourself, “I just accepted that Mary got pregnant without having sex because an angel came and told me it was okay. And I’m going to try to explain this to people.”

Imagine being those people and feeling what they felt.

That’s what being a writer is about.

One Comment
  1. Suzanna Crean permalink
    December 25, 2012 10:51 am

    What makes you think she wasn’t a fair skinned blonde? The fourteen years old I won’t argue with, but populations do not remain static. Just because most of the people in the Middle East today have dark skin, hair, and eyes, does not mean they all looked that way 2,000 years ago.

    Take a look at Miami. When I was a kid, the “typical” Miami woman was a bleached blonde Anglo Saxon derivative, with fair skin that had been tanned to look like leather. Today she’s Hispanic with dark skin, hair, and eyes.

    As for Mary wondering why God had made her look like the town whore, show a little respect here and read a little history of the culture of that time. The lives of these people were based on superstition. It’s doubtful that Mary had ever been alone with a man, not even her brothers or her father. Her life wasn’t a whole lot different from the lives of women in the Middle East today. They are guarded like prisoners. They go nowhere alone and are never alone with a man.

    Mary was a young lady of marriageable age from a good family. These people believed God spoke to them directly. God was a major part of their lives. If a young virgin said God got her pregnant, I doubt any of them would have voiced a different opinion for fear of being struck dead…nor would it have occurred to them that Mary was lying because she might be struck dead, too.

    Believe the story as the Bible tells it. God created the universe and all that’s in it. Getting a little fourteen year old girl pregnant would hardly be a big deal.

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