So, here's the bones:
Matthew 1: 18-25
Then 'Joseph's story'
Well, everyone knows the story of Mary & the angel. But you can’t blame me for not believing it at first. I’ve seen it before, you know, some of my friends... Betrothed a long time and – well, they get a bit impatient and accidents happen & they get married pretty quickly. But we weren’t like that – Mary & me. We were content to wait, do it right.
Then she came & told me about the baby. I was devastated. Well, I knew it wasn’t mine – so I naturally assumed it was another man. ‘Let me tell you about it’ Mary said – I didn’t want to hear it – I didn’t want to know who it was and how much she loved him more than me, and how sorry she was for letting me down & hurting me. I didn’t want to hear her say anything.. I just wanted to get away. I stormed out & left her standing there shaking her head.
My brother said to me ‘Have her stoned – her and her fancy man – whoever he is – that’s the law. Report her and at least have the satisfaction of seeing her punished’.
But I said to him ‘Reuben – I still love her, that’s why this hurts so much – I’ll just break off the engagement quietly and in a month or so she can marry the father of her child and I’ll just have to find someone else.’
And I thought that was the end of it: a sad & sorry end, but there you go.
Then I had the weirdest dream – an angel came & told me to marry Mary: he knew my name and everything! He said that this child was from the Holy Spirit and that we should call him Jesus and that he would ‘save his people from their sins’.
I have no idea what all this means, or what the future holds in store… but I went straight to Mary when I woke up. She laughed and cried and kissed me – and said that she had tried to tell me about the angel for herself.
It’s a good thing God took it in hand and sent me his messenger.
So now I’m looking forward to marrying Mary and meeting this ‘Jesus’ and raising him as my own, precious son.
I wonder what he will be like…
Luke 1: 26-35
Then Mary's story (after The Rev. Sherrie Dobbs Johnson's Midrash "Mary in the stable")
It often happens to women – being falsely accused of wrongdoing..
The new bride of a handsome widower. . . .People say she was going with him before his wife's head was cold in her grave.
The young woman who married the only man who ever treated her like she was gold instead of giving her gold-plated necklaces and bracelets and rings. . . . People say she married him for his money.
The dark-skinned woman who lives with a dark-skinned man, yet has a light-skinned baby. . . . People say, "No way!" could that baby be her man's child.
Wrongly accused – judged-misunderstood.
I am Mary, a teenager who is about to have a baby without the benefit of marriage.
I am engaged, but my fiancé and I have never had sexual relations. People laugh at me when I tell them this. While that hurts, what my fiancé believed was more important: If not by him, then by whom?
His face when I tried to tell him.. I thought he would never believe me.
Thank God for angel who told Joseph I was not made pregnant by any human, but that the Spirit of the Lord had put this new life into my body. I told him – that’s what the angel told me, too!
Then we laughed. he is such a good man, my Joseph. We wonder what it will mean to give birth to the Saviour of the world. We're going to name him Jesus, like the angel said!
So let the people talk. Let 'em laugh. I said to the Lord those months ago, "I am yours." I meant every word I said.
And now I wonder about this child I bear: how can such a tiny baby save the world?
Then a Reflection on these stories.
As we listen to Joseph’s story and Mary’s story with all their wondering and questions, we may well have questions of our own.
What will this birth mean? - shame & scandal; or life & hope?
Perhaps we are so familiar with the ‘happy ending’ we see of the nativity scene on the Christmas cards that we forget how difficult it must have been for Mary & Joseph. Mary said to the angel ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ – but there must have been times in the next 9 months when she wondered if she should have objected a little more to God’s plan.
Mary & Joseph each face the facts of what is happening – including the visit from an angel and have to decide what they should do - run & hide? grin & bear it? Or listen to what God's messenger is telling them and live with the consequences?
What about us? Can we allow this story to challenge us – to spur us on to new commitment to God’s plan for humanity? Dare we offer to be a part of the kingdom of God?
And finally as we listen to this story of the birth of Jesus from Mary’s and from Joseph’s points of view we might wonder where God is in all this. Is it God who is sorting out the mess, by sending the angel to tell Mary & Joseph what to do? Or does God cause the mess in the first place, with this plan for Jesus to be born?
Or maybe, that night in Bethlehem, in a stable, among the animals, the straw, the blood and the sweat, we will look at the mess and see God right in the midst of it.
God with us.