I love Mary. Mother of Jesus, Mary.
My youngest daughter’s name is Mary.
Mary is awesome (well, both of them).
But often, hers is not the story in the birth accounts of Jesus with which I most connect.
Joseph is where it’s at.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”?
I hate the line. Despite the fact that’s how I got to choose paint colors for my room when I was in high school and we lived in a parsonage. So there’s that.
But if you’ve ever been the one asked for forgiveness when someone could have asked permission, you know how much it stinks to be on that end of things.
I often think about that when I read the birth narratives.
The angel comes to Mary with this incredible and daring message. I don’t want to diminish at all her response. It is powerful. And faithful. And a great example for all of us.
But then there’s Joseph.
By the time God sends an angel to Joseph the entire store is set in motion. Mary’s gotten her angel. Mary is pregnant. She has told Joseph. Joseph, in a move of great graciousness, has decided to break his engagement with Mary quietly. Scripture tells us he is a righteous man. So I am sure he knew that she was due quite severe treatment for getting pregnant out of wedlock—and not by her fiancé. But Joseph also knew something about righteousness—that it is about being in line with God. And sometimes being in line with God means faithfulness to something greater than religious laws.
God is, after all, bigger than even the most religious folks’ attempt to codify God.
Joseph decides to break the engagement quietly because even if Mary has told him the angel’s message, who would believe her?! Joseph is not a fool.
THEN. Only then, does God send an angel to Joseph.
The ship has sailed.
The train has left the station.
Joseph is kind of asked for forgiveness rather than permission.
Mary gets to utter those powerful and faithful words, “Let it be with me as you have said.”
Joseph is just trying to catch up.
We don’t know very much about Joseph but I think we figure, from what little scripture says as well as our notions about fathers, that he was a good man and a good father. Think “Leave It to Beaver” or Danny Tanner or Jason Seaver kind of good father.
Like those fictional fathers, Joseph is often just a one dimensional person to us.
You just know there is so much more though.
Think of it: Here’s this young man who is about to marry a girl from the village. Mary has to have been a pretty awesome woman—after all, God choose her to bear Jesus. This is an exciting time for Joseph, I imagine.
Then the bottom drops out.
I can only imagine the deep disappointment and devastation Joseph must have been feeling. The kind that makes most people want to make others hurt as much as they do. Maybe Joseph felt that way. Maybe he didn’t. He at least didn’t act out of it.
I think often the testimony of our character isn’t so much how we feel, but how we act out of those feelings.
And there’s Joseph, just trying to catch up.
I feel more like that most of the time than I do feel like Mary.
Just trying to keep up with what life has brought. Trying to catch up with what God is doing.
Sometimes not doing particularly well at either.
Occasionally I’ve had times where I’ve responded to God with those words, “Let it be.” About to take on some new task of season, I look ahead with hope and excitement. Ready.
But most of the time, like Joseph, I take a deep breath and try to get on with it. Figure out what being faithful and righteous means in the face of what is already unfolding.
So this year, like most, I will relish in the words of the Gospels about Mary and her faithful response. But I will pay particular attention to Joseph’s part. Joseph’s righteousness and faithfulness and willingness to let it be. Even if he, like me, was mostly just trying to catch up with what God was doing.
And you know what? That’s enough. Just trying to catch up with God is enough. Enough for God to use you to do incredible things. Enough to bring blessing into your life and to help you share God’s blessings with others.
Thanks be to God.