How Would You Write the Story?
A lot has been made about how the Son of God was born in a crude feeding trough in a cave being used as a stable, and all that entails. But that level of divine humiliation is just one in a series of truly counterintuitive and exceedingly inconvenient points of the story.
Let’s start with the annunciation. Gabriel doesn’t appear to Mary in the town square in front of the entire village. No, he apparently appears to her alone, in private, with no witnesses. So, this very young woman, likely a young teenage girl comes to her family to lay the most improbable story on them, in a culture where women have no legal voice, no credibility.
This is such a problem that her fiancé decides to dump her, although quietly to save her as much shame as possible. Then, Gabe shows up in a dream to tell him everything’s cool. He doesn’t appear to him when he’s awake, like Mary, and certainly not in public to reassure the town. I can see his buddies asking if he ate something unkosher the night before that addled his sleep.
They have to walk the town for nine months with growing public evidence that something is awry. We call teen pregnancy a problem today, but the scandal back then must have been unimaginable.
Just when it couldn’t get any worse, Rome calls a census near the end of that nine months, forcing Joseph to load up a mule, and take the full to bursting Mary on a 50 mile road trip, walking or riding a mule. (One thing Scripture doesn’t address—was it just the two of them? Seems that Joseph’s whole family at the very least would have to come too, and what impact did that have on lodging?)
Keep in mind that they aren’t exactly rolling in coin. They are virtually destitute, even though he’s a craftsman. This journey makes that even more perilous as they are having to spend money they don’t have and he’s not able to make it very easily while walking the rough roads.
They get a reprieve once the Magi show up and give them gifts, including gold, which helps sustain them, but the interlude is short-lived. Now that Herod knows about the Boy, and is less than 10 miles away, they have to get up in the middle of the night and flee the country, on foot, with a newborn, in a perilous political and law enforcement environment.
What kind of God treats people dear to Him this way? This is the hardship that He pours over she who is called “most blessed among women!” Poor Joseph is just minding his business, preparing financially and professionally to get married and start his family, and everything is rushed ahead of schedule because of God “blessing” them.
God is notoriously hard on the people He works through most. No wonder folks look at things and turn to run as fast as they can in the other direction. This is the kind of behaviour one would not put on a glossy recruitment flyer. Although, come to think of it, I’ve seen some rather slick ads for the military, especially the Marines, that come pretty close.
Perhaps God is doing the same thing as the Marines—seeking only those committed to the larger cause, and knowing that in order to become effective, a lot of things in one’s life must be transformed—old things worn away with the new and better brought forth, and the more important the mission, the more rigorous the training.
Makes me wonder about the implications of my effectiveness compared to the ease of my life…