A Shameful Christmas Story

Faithfulness to God can disrupt your life and defame your reputation. That’s our Christmas story today.

The celebrated virgin told the announcing angel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). But Mary’s legendary submission to God’s will for her life did not spare her the pain or shame of radical faithfulness.

Her own fiancé doubted she was telling the truth. Hear her impassioned appeal to the man she loved: “I wasn’t unfaithful to you or to God — please believe me!” Joseph didn’t. He decided to get rid of her, according to Matt. 1:19: “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

So Joseph was a decent fellow who didn’t wish to humiliate Mary publicly; he just needed to get her out of his life. So he “resolved” to abandon his beloved to the minimum consequences of adultery. It took a dramatic visit from an angel to convince Joseph that Mary was telling the truth. Gabriel defended Mary’s faith and faithfulness: “That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (verse 20).

We don’t know how long Mary was in limbo with Joseph. The Bible just says “as he considered these things” (verse 20) — that is, as he considered how to implement his resolution to put her away.

Meanwhile, perhaps nobody in Nazareth believed Mary was telling the truth about her swelling abdomen. Apparently desperate, “Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a town in Judah” (Luke 1:39). This was not a shopping trip to find cute outfits for the new baby. Mary got out of town “with haste” and traveled 100 miles on a lonely journey to find shelter with the only couple in Israel who knew firsthand about angels announcing miracle pregnancies.

Imagine Mary’s relief upon finally arriving at the home of Elizabeth, who greeted her with a Spirit-inspired affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (verse 42). So this young mother was blessed by God, not deserving of rejection by the man she loved. And her Baby was blessed too — not a son of shame, but Immanuel, God with us.

Mary stayed several months at Elizabeth’s crisis pregnancy shelter before returning to Nazareth’s suspicions and gossip. Ultimately Joseph did believe her, but only after another persuasive visit from the angel to Nazareth.

What can we learn this Christmas season from Mary’s time of trouble? Many things, including Paul’s assessment of the good life that comes from the obedience of faith: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). So whatever may be our own suffering this season, we may echo Mary’s courageous commitment: “Behold the servant of the Lord; do with my life whatever you will” (Luke 1:38).

Featured in: December 2014


Martin Weber

retired from denominational service, is a hospice chaplain.