The first advent causes us to reflect upon Mary, the “humble servant” who helped bring to us the Savior of our world. Mary’s story gives us a greater awareness of Christ, who dared to take on flesh, to implant himself in the womb of humanity and to come down to earth not as the expected king, but as a baby. Mary’s life and circumstances only serve to point us to Jesus.
Often we forget the other key players in Jesus’ earthly beginning, particularly Joseph. Joseph’s story begins in Matthew 1:18, when he discovers that his betrothed is pregnant. At that time, engagements were legally binding and could only be dismissed in a court of law or with a certificate of divorce. Couples were legally bound to each other, but they lived apart for a time to test their level of commitment and to ensure that the betrothed woman did not get pregnant. Mary failed this “test” miserably, and Joseph was left holding the bag, left to assume the worst about his affianced.
In my first year of chaplaincy I visited a patient with severe cirrhosis of the liver. The man must have been in his early fifties, but he looked like he was one hundred, and his stomach was so filled with fluid that he might have been eight months pregnant. His arms and legs were skin and bones, his face tired, his eyes hollow and sunken in. An overwhelming odor permeated the room as I entered. For the sake of this story, we will call him Mike.
Mike sat on the edge of his bed and began telling me a story of pain, depression and life-long alcohol abuse. And just as quickly as his story began, quiet assumptions began to spring up in the back of my mind. Like Joseph, I assumed the worst.
Mike continued to tell me how he lost everything: his house, his job, relationships that were important to him, and finally his health. Now he sat in a hospital room with only months to live. I felt a deep compassion for Mike, but at the same time, my pity was based on the assumption that this man probably didn’t have a relationship with God—that God could not possibly be in this complicated situation.
Perhaps Joseph’s judgments were similar to mine when he discovered that his soon-to-be bride was an expectant mother. What was he supposed to think? It looked bad; it felt bad. Crushed and humiliated, Joseph resolved to spare Mary public shame by serving her papers privately. If Mary had dropped into one of our churches on Sabbath morning, I’m sure we would’ve come to our own conclusions about her. Joseph assumed what most of us would have: that Mary was unfaithful, and the child illegitimate.
Only the story takes a surprising twist—one that Joseph was not expecting. While toying with the idea of divorce, Joseph has a dream. Matthew 1:20 says:
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”
I find it significant that the angel of the Lord calls Joseph “Son of David.” While assuming the worst about Mary, Joseph completely forgot his own complicated family tree and how God had worked through it. His genealogy included Abraham (a polygamist), Rahab (a prostitute), Ruth (a foreigner), David (a murder and adulterer), and countless other humans who found themselves in complicated situations—situations bearing little help or hope.
Mike continued his story, explaining how alcoholism eventually led him to homelessness and his present physical state. I was surprised to hear him talk about his daily dependence upon God. Instead of feeling sorry for himself or beating himself up for his poor choices, Mike talked about God’s faithfulness to him. He talked about the relationship he had with Jesus, a relationship I had assumed did not exist, judged illegitimate. And it all of a sudden occurred to me that I knew nothing of the kind of faith about which Mike spoke.
Like Joseph, I had made assumptions that were probably warranted to some degree—assumptions that were natural and human—but that forgot how God had revealed himself through precarious situations in my own life. I was surprised and humbled to discover (as Joseph did with Mary) that God was in fact already at work in Mike’s life. And I was reminded again of the graciousness of God for showing up in my own life. Mike’s faith was not only stronger than my own, but truly legitimate: conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Praying with Mike, I was keenly aware of the fact that I was on holy ground. Jesus shows up in unexpected and complicated places—even in the womb of a virgin.
Singer and prolific song writer, Sara Groves writes a song called “Add to the Beauty.” One of her lines says, “Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces, calling out the best of who we are.” That is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of salvation. Over and over we find redemption in strange places and small spaces, like virgin wombs and hospital rooms.
At the first advent, a scandalous pregnancy ends up meaning salvation for all. If Jesus came in “strange and small places” then, is it possible that he might do the same in our complicated circumstances today?
My prayer is that I will not be so quick to judge “illegitimate” something that is born of God. I want to see God’s presence in the complicated details of my own life. Like Joseph, I want to wake up and realize that Jesus comes in “strange places, small spaces, calling out the best of who we are.”
Jaci Cress Perrin is a chaplain in Orange City, Florida and is Assistant Director of Logistics for The One Project, whose mission is “to celebrate the supremacy of Jesus Christ in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” www.the1project.org
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3632