being a righteous man
and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,
planned to dismiss her quietly.”
“That’s a shame,” we say, when we hear about things going badly for someone. “Shame on you!” my Dad used to say, when I did something naughty. He said that to me a lot, I recall...!
The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: Mary was pregnant, and her fiancé Joseph knew perfectly well that he was not responsible for that fact. Being an intelligent fellow, who knew enough about the birds and the bees, he guessed that she was involved with someone else. But, as Matthew reports, Joseph was not only intelligent; he was also “righteous” and compassionate, too. He had a choice: to either tell people why he was letting her out of the engagement, or to simply end it. He was all set to simply end it without adding to her shame.
Nowadays, we live in a society which has countless different standards for sexual behavior for different people. Laws differ across county and state lines; community standards also differ widely. In Virginia since July, 2016, “the minimum age to get married is 18, unless a minor has been emancipated by court order. Upon application for a marriage license, an emancipated minor shall provide a certified copy of the order of emancipation.” Marriage is illegal in Virginia “When either party lacks the mental or physical capacity to consent to the marriage.”
In other states and nations, the ages and rules sometimes go younger still. We are told that ‘younger’ was the usual way in Joseph and Mary’s day.
In Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg in A.D. 2020 (the latest year for which the Virginia Department of Health has published statistics), seventeen (17) girls ages 17 and younger gave birth to babies. In Page county, it was two (2) girls age seventeen or under. One may fairly assume that those girls did not conceive those babies all by themselves: unless marvelous supernatural events like we read about in Matthew and Luke’s gospels took place, there were boys and men involved— not to say “responsible.”
Of 1696 live births to Harrisonburg and Rockingham and Page females in 2020, 626 were to unmarried ones of all ages (37%).
We don’t stone women— or men— to death for adultery or fornication around here. Not in A.D. 2022. Those babies are growing up among us, as are their mommies and daddies.
Luke’s gospel says that Jesus was born while Joseph and Mary were engaged (“betrothed”). Matthew’s gospel says that Joseph “took her as his wife” already pregnant. (1:24) This raises many questions: did the neighbors make snide comments about the baby? When Joseph and Mary went from ‘engaged’ to ‘married,’ who witnessed, or celebrated, or officiated, or gave consent ?
We know Who invited the magi to the baby shower.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We deal with people today who are ashamed, whether privately or publicly. We have “reality” shows and "social [anti-social ?] media” that daily push people to air dirty laundry. We have neighbors who assume double standards for themselves compared with their children, or for themselves compared to people who are somehow “different”— by race, or age, or culture, or nationality, or religion, or language.
Joseph had a visit from an angel in a dream. The angel told him to go beyond even the righteousness and compassion that were already part of his character, and to accept the baby as
“God with us.”
Let us allow angels from the All-Compassionate, All-Loving One to speak to us in our dreams, this Christmastide, about babies, mommies, and daddies. God is still speaking,
“Therefore the LORD Himself
will give you a sign: ....” -Isaiah 7:14