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What Mary and Joseph taught us

Each Christmas, I read through the Gospel accounts of the Birth of Christ in order to gain a fresh awareness of God’s generosity in giving us the gift of His Son.

This year, a long-forgotten memory from my second-grade religion class surfaced. I had arrived late and was seated toward the back of the room. A group of older students stood at the front, proudly displaying colorful strips of recycled Christmas cards they had crafted into bookmarks and were about to pass around so we might each choose one.

Leaning forward to peek around the heads in front of me, I immediately spotted the one I wanted! It was a beautiful picture of the Virgin Mary, and I thought it was the nicest one of all. I kept my eye on Mary as the pile of bookmarks traversed the rows, but, alas, someone else chose her. When my turn finally arrived, I disappointedly mulled over the limited options, eventually deciding on Joseph.

I comforted myself with the thought that, if I couldn’t have Mary, at least I had her husband. I was too young to comprehend the wonder of the roles God called them each to play in bringing forth His great plan of salvation.

Mary, a young girl, was visited by the angel Gabriel, who brought her an astonishing message: “Greetings, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you.”

He went on to explain that God had chosen her to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.

Puzzled over the angel’s words, Mary asked a practical question: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

When Gabriel explained that God’s Holy Spirit would overshadow her and that God Himself would cause the Holy Child to be planted in her womb, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Though Mary would not have fully understood what surrendering her life to God’s plan included, she wholeheartedly said, “Yes!” She showed great faith and confident trust in her God.

Then, there was Joseph. The role of earthly father to God’s Son required a man who would protect and nurture both Mary and Jesus, one who would unfailingly instruct Him in the ways of God. The Scriptures tell us that Joseph was a righteous man. This title was only given to those known for their sincere devotion to God — he was clearly a man of integrity who would not compromise God’s standards.

His engagement with Mary was a legal contract, affirming that they were intended for one another only. Joseph must have been overwhelmed by what he perceived as Mary’s betrayal, for he knew he was not the father. The Bible tells us that he decided to quietly divorce her in order to prevent disgrace for either one of them.

It was at that pivotal moment that God suddenly intervened by sending him a message in a dream, “Do not be afraid, Joseph, SON of DAVID to take Mary as your wife.” God reminded him of his identity and that the long-awaited Messiah would come from the line of David, his family line. God also set Joseph free from the fear of losing his reputation, or of offending God by taking Mary as his wife.

Joseph, whose image graced my bookmark, chose to commit himself to God, to Mary, and to this Holy Child. By his actions, he too, said, “Yes!” He chose to sacrifice his future plans for the purposes of God.

From their example, we see that saying yes to God’s plans and being in the center of His will does not guarantee that everything will be easy. It does not mean there will not be tests and trials, or moments of discouragement. I’ve often wondered why God waited to send the angel to Joseph. It seems it would have been much easier for Mary and Joseph if He had sent the angel sooner.

Maybe God was strengthening and preparing them for the challenges that were to come. Mary would probably have endured gossip and suspicion from her community. There must have been times when they both wondered why things were difficult and whether they were still in the center of God’s plans.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in seasons of difficulty, tests and uncertainty. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Christmas is about Emmanuel, God with us, come to offer us peace with God and a place of rest in the midst of our difficulties.

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel — which means God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

Michelle Smith serves alongside her husband, Gary, as part of the leadership team of New Life Christian Fellowship. She founded Purely Women Ministries with the purpose of helping women of all ages discover their true identity as women of God. She can be reached at michelle@newlifealpena.org.

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