Mary- we get the mental images of this sweet, young, quiet maid with a strong will. A young adult who resolutely moves forward with the plan God has announced for her without fear for the Lord is with her. That is about as deep as think about her life. We sanitize her experience, just as we do with lives of the saints. We tend, unconsciously of course, to make them celluloid heroes – not quite real, and in the words of musician Ray Davies: ‘celluloid heroes never really die’ – meaning their life isn’t real.
But while watching the movie ‘The Nativity’ last night I was struck by a conversation that Joseph and Mary had. They were well on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary really didn’t know each other that well. They were struggling on the journey while they were introducing themselves to each other on the way.
The Jewish custom of the time was that after being married the bride lived with her parents for a year, and since soon after her betrothal Mary went to visit Elizabeth for many months she had been out of contact with her husband. Then of course she came back noticeably pregnant and you know the story. So during the trip to Bethlehem for the census they were still coming to know who the real Joseph and Mary were. At this point in the movie, Joseph asks Mary if she was afraid and she said yes, then in return he said the same. It dawned on me the unknown that they were experiencing.
The entrance of Christ into their lives didn’t change how the world would treat them. They still needed to live in the time. The movie brought to force the barbarity of the Romans and their henchmen, and subsistence living that was normal life. Their struggles brought the expected anxiety and fears, pain and suffering – those same realities that we face. And yet Mary added a whole new level of struggle with her fiat, and Joseph accepted her burden as his own. Not many of us turn to our spouse to wonder when our child would recognize their divinity.
But along with this unknown this Christmas gift brought them a partner, a companion closer to them than even themselves, it brought God to their lives – the unknown was made known. What an amazing gift, throughout their struggles they had God with them. Never would they need to know loneliness, together or apart; Joseph, Mary and both together would always feel the presence of God with them.
The same is true with each of us. I hope that starting with this Christmas, we learn to de-sanitize our ideas and mental pictures of Mary and Joseph, allow some of the true life to enter our meditations. Then we can sit back in awe and thanksgiving in their gift to God and us of allowing Him to work through them for mankind. When we meet for next Sunday’s Vesper Service we will have celebrated the Nativity, followed the next day by the first Martyr and will have celebrate the Holy Innocents – life as the world throws it to us doesn’t change because God is with us. But we change, and maybe like the movie The Nativity shows us we can be a seemingly small event that can help change the world. Let us look to Mary and Joseph who did it first.