The Gospels tell us a lot of things about what Mary must have gone through because of her pregnancy. She left town and stayed with her Cousin Elizabeth for months, probably to escape public shaming for being an unwed mother. Matthew tells us that Joseph could have abandoned her, but didn’t.
And, shortly before Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph had to take a long trip. Mary, at full term, bounced up and down on that (d****d!) donkey all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They hoped their poverty would discourage robbers. And when they get there, there is no room at the Inn, so they have to stay in a stable.
Then, after the birth, Herod wants to kill them! They had to flee into exile. They became refugees. Once it is safe to return, they settle in Nazareth. But, it is a hard life: many there believed Mary had been unfaithful. And, because of that “sin,” Mary and her son were not looked-on kindly or with compassion; and we see hints of that throughout the Gospels.
Joseph is said to have been a Carpenter, but a more correct term might be “Day Laborer.” He probably walked several miles every morning from Nazareth in the hills down to Sepphoris, a city being built as the new capitol of Galilee at the time. Once there, he hung out at the local equivalent of Dunkin’ Donuts: hoping someone would hire him to haul rocks and lumber, or perhaps saw wood for the day. It was a hard life: exhausting, dangerous work; harsh overseers; long hours; terrible pay andno job security. …Not unlike the lives of many of our friends and neighbors here and now.
Joseph was a good man, and like so many people back then (and now) he did what he had to do to survive and provide for his family. His grim situation was common throughout Galilee at the time. Rich foreigners were moving in: confiscating farms; forcing families like the family of Joseph and Mary into poverty. Their fields became vineyards. The people were being taxed beyond reason. Huge villas were being built on those country estates, their absentee owners were living in luxury in cities like Sepphoris, which were built on the backs of men such as Joseph.
There was no hope for the future. Rome and its vassals controlled Judea and Galilee; and the Jews, especially the people in the countryside, starved and suffered. Life for the poor was short, and painful, and brutal.
What does this have to do with Christmas? The Bible teaches us that Christ’s birth marks the moment when God manifested among us; becoming Emmanuel, “God with us,” walking the earth alongside us. It began there in Galilee among the poor and dispossessed. God became fully human; but was still, and at the same time, fully divine.
What does this mean for us now, in this world where nothing seems to be going right? We too are constantly battling to survive, and grieving our losses. We fight for a good life. Yet, no matter what we do, we know it will end in death: the death of those dear to us, the death of everything that matters to us, and ultimately our own death. How can we possibly be joyful when the end of our story is already known, and inescapable, and depressing, and futile? Why is it important that God became a human being?
The other day, while pondering this and sharing my thoughts with others, someone asked me “Why is it so important that God was not human [to begin with]?”
I’ll tell you.