Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (Matt. 1:18-19, NRSV)
I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine you are a fly on the wall of Joseph’s bedroom. He just found out his lovely fiancé is pregnant. “How can that be?” he cries out. “We haven’t done anything.” And then the realization hits him. Mary has been unfaithful. She became pregnant from someone else.
Joseph, of course, had every right to be angry at this development in his life. He probably didn’t see this one coming. There were none of the “tell-tale signs” which so often accompanies adultery. It came out of left field. But instead of dragging Mary out into the public and at best humiliating her and at worst having her stoned, he decides to be a bit more prudent.
“He planned to dismiss her quietly,” Scripture says. He was going to let her out the back door. He was going to make a distraction and let her slip by unnoticed. He planned to give her his invisibility cloak so she wouldn’t be detected (though the Marauder’s map would still show her). One could paint it that way. I mean we are told Joseph was a righteous man.
But at a base level, Joseph was still going to ditch Mary and force her to raise the baby all by herself. Alone. Without support. Maybe being righteous is graded on a curve.
The story continues, though, and an angel comes and implores Joseph to stay with Mary, name the baby Jesus, and raise the boy as his own. Which we know he does. We know the end of the story. But in the rush to the end, we miss something fundamental to the story of Jesus: he was born into scandal.
Think about it, an unwed pregnant teenager (it was not uncommon for girls as young as 14 to be engaged to be married) is to be the mother of the Savior of the world. The dad (for all
intents and purposes) originally wanted to not be in the situation. We might even call him a deadbeat dad if it weren’t for an ANGEL telling him to stay.
This family wasn’t and isn’t the sentimentalized one we often see in nativity sets. There was obvious pain and brokenness. There was strife and consternation. But out of this messy situation arose one who would offer hope, peace, joy, and love. The one who would embody God’s will for the world and initiate the reign of God came from a broken home. He was reared in scandal and if you read on, scandal followed him all the days of his life.
Thanks be to God.