However, when we look at the original Christmas story, we discover that so much in it was far from normal. Joseph had to confront the fact that Mary was expecting a child that had been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, he overcame his bewilderment and, willing to cooperate with God’s plan, took Mary as his wife.
Having travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be included in the Roman census, Mary and Joseph found themselves without a roof over their heads when it was time to give birth to Jesus. Having to take refuge in a stable is definitely not what would have been anticipated! Nor would they have foreseen the visit by the shepherds who related the message they had received from the angels: Today is born a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord. St Luke tells us that Mary ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’.
The unusual happenings did not end there. Before the child Jesus was two years old, learned men from the East sought him out to offer him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh they had brought with them for the King of the Jews. Then Joseph learnt in a dream that his little family was in danger and he had to uproot them from Nazareth and flee into Egypt, staying there until King Herod had died.
No, the Christmas story is anything but ‘normal’ and sometimes, because we are so accustomed to hearing it, we forget this. What courage, care and tenderness we find in Joseph, who had every reason to be anxious – about both his and Mary’s reputation because of Mary’s pregnancy, in his inability to find a place in a crowded Bethlehem for Mary to deliver her son, at the thought of travelling from Israel to Egypt in order to keep his young family safe. In today’s terminology, Joseph and Mary were faced with teenage pregnancy, homelessness and harassment by government authorities before being forced to become refugees seeking asylum in a foreign country for themselves and their son.
As a carpenter, Joseph must have been a very exact and practical person. What confronted him as the husband of Mary and the foster-parent of Jesus, however, was the mystery of divine life and human life coming together and life situations that were beyond his control. His response was to trust in the plan that God had for him, and to take on his role of carer and protector of Mary and Jesus with goodness, tenderness and concern.
So, as we gather with our families this Christmas, as we join our faith communities in praising God for the gift of Jesus, the Word made flesh, who came to dwell among us, let us take our cues from Joseph and Mary. 2020 may have been for us a very testing year; we may have been separated from those we love; we may have been stood down at work; we may have struggled to keep up with our children’s education as they learnt online. These have not been ‘normal’ times, but if we have trust in the loving kindness of our God whose plan for us may be different from what we imagined, and if we ‘treasure all these things in our hearts’, then we will be able to step into 2021 with hope.
Dr Jenny O’Brien is manager of Office for Worship
Jump to next article