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Thinking about Joseph & Mary

A lot of people are thinking about the glorious story of Jesus' birth.  Matthew and Luke’s account are brief and to the point. As we consider what they say (as well as what they don’t), our minds are challenged and our hearts are stirred by the plight of these two young followers of Yahweh.  Whatever else one might choose to say, there was little normal about the events following Mary’s betrothal to Joseph.  And, like much of Scripture, there’s a lot below the surface to ponder.
 
Betrothal was more than engagement but something less than marriage.  In NT times, it likely involved the following:  the parents would meet and make an agreement that their children would be married.  A bride price would be negotiated since the loss of her from the household would mean the absence of a worker.  A ring or some other token would be exchanged. This agreement was witnessed by others and written down.  From that point on, the man and woman were considered husband and wife.  Only divorce could change this arrangement (Matthew 1:18-19).  However, even though they were legally husband and wife at this point, they didn’t live together yet (that’s why Mary is still a virgin though she is betrothed to Joseph – (Luke 1:26-27, 34). There was a difference between betrothing a wife and taking (marrying) a wife (Deuteronomy 20:7 ESV).   

The Scripture doesn’t tell us when or how Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy so we have to work with what we are told.  Mary goes to see her relative Elizabeth soon after her visit from Gabriel (Luke 1:38-39). Despite the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Elizabeth’s conception, it appears that Mary wasn’t aware of her pregnancy.  Luke tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth has “remained in seclusion,” for the first five months of her pregnancy (1:24), and apparently that withdrawal extended to communication with others.

Who accompanied Mary to see Elizabeth and Zechariah?  It was an arduous journey of at least fifty miles so she certainly didn’t travel alone!  Francine Rivers, in her account of Mary’s life in Unafraid, has Joseph accompanying her.  Her view is that Mary speaks to Joseph immediately after Gabriel appears to her.  He wrestles with what to do, finally deciding on a quiet divorce.  The angel appears to him and tells him to take Mary as his wife and he does so.  Though this view isn’t without some issues (as all reconstructions of these events are), it is the least problematic and I think there is much to commend it.

The trip to Elizabeth’s becomes their wedding trip/honeymoon, though not a conventional one as they remained celibate (Matthew 1:25).  And that’s what makes their trip to the hill country of Judea so appropriate.  If anyone in the world would understand their situation, it would be Elizabeth and Zechariah!  That this is so is witnessed by Elizabeth’s reception of Mary (Luke 1:40-45).  How good was that for Mary to hear?  Communicating with Zechariah would be harder for Joseph (Luke 1:20), but maybe they were able to work something out.  (It couldn't have been a bad deal for Zechariah to have a carpenter there to help furnish the nursery).  All in all, Joseph and Mary could be nurtured by the older couple and away from well meaning but prying friends and family.  And for their part, I imagine they would be quite a help to the aged couple in preparing for the birth of John.

Why doesn’t Luke tells us that Joseph was with Mary on her trip?  I think the answer is that Luke doesn’t mention anyone accompanying her because his attention is on Mary.  Notice that he also makes no mention of Zechariah being there. Why? It’s his purpose to focus on these two chosen women.  It’s no secret that that throughout his gospel Luke makes it a point to feature women.  

The other strength of this view is that it means Joseph and Mary marry almost immediately after her conception.  Why does that matter?  Later on, when Jesus is criticized by the people from his hometown of Nazareth, there is never any question raised about the legitimacy or time of his birth.  In fact, there only criticism is that everything about His family was so ordinary (Matthew 13: 53-58; Mark 6:1-6). Since people could count to nine then as well then as now, it’s hard to believe there wouldn’t have been tongues wagging if Jesus was born six months after their marriage.  All of this suggests that to the people of Nazareth, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the birth of Jesus. 

What a marvelous paradox as well as a sobering truth.  None of the shepherds of Bethlehem or wise men from the east would have thought there to be anything common about Jesus.  Yet to the people of Nazareth, His own people, common was all that He was. 
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