Happy Ever After?

Recently I attended a wedding with 900+ guests. Every aspect of the ceremony was regal and yet deeply meaningful. Tears, laughter and applause spontaneously erupted. God was honored and it was clear this couple love each other. Surely this will be a “happy ever after” marriage. Our American-acculturated minds typically are assured this will be the case. Isn’t “bigger always better?”

I couldn’t help contrasting this with another marriage.

This one took place many years ago within two families that had meager earthly possessions. It’s actually not clear what the public declaration looked like, but we simply read these words, “Joseph…took Mary home as his wife.”

This of course was after the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do so. It wasn’t that Joseph didn’t want to. In fact this man Joseph was one to be admired for several reasons.

The cultural traditions of this family demanded a year of engagement or betrothal before marriage. This betrothal period was both demanding and revealing. The couple did not live together during this time. They were to remain virgins. If there was sexual activity it would likely be exposed by either family or the closely knit community and the law demanded stoning the adulterers (Deut 22:23-24). Some believe the year parameters were set specifically to test the validity of each partner’s virginity. A pregnancy would certainly expose a violation of the betrothal agreement—which was as demanding as a formal wedding vow.

And yet, here was Joseph’s young bride-to-be “with child.” According to the law, she should be stoned. And who would believe Joseph was not the father of the child? Surely he would be implicated—especially if the name of another man did not surface. Did Joseph believe Mary’s story of impregnation by the Holy Spirit? Who would believe a story like that?

Although Mary and Joseph were likely aware of the prophecy, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us’” who would believe it would be now, it would be me or my fiancée.  Because Joseph was “a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  The normal procedure would be to create a public scandal by exposing her condition to the judges at the city gate, which would then result in Mary’s death by stoning.

After he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and confirmed he should not be afraid to “take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph violated all custom by taking Mary immediately into his home, rather than waiting out the one year period of betrothal. And the Scripture says, “He had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.”

Would Joseph’s decision be seen as a cover-up for his own participation in her pregnancy? In New Testament times pregnancy outside of marriage was not only seen as a major sin, it was a huge cultural shame that would continue throughout the life of the mother and child—and beyond. It might have been asked, “Is this not the son of a harlot?” rather than, “Is this not the son of a carpenter?”

What kind of marriage and future life together did these two hope to experience? What were the odds of a “happy ever after?”

Who would have guessed the circumstances around which this baby arrived on planet earth? It seems on every front, it was neither regal, luxurious nor predictable from a human perspective. Yet this marriage and the birth of the Christ child changed our lives forever. God so often works in ways we don’t expect. The birth of Jesus is one glaring example.

I believe the lives of the couple married recently that I was privileged to witness will also be changed forever. And because we know this couple we believe God indeed has called them to a life of eternal impact—one in which they will serve the Kingdom more fully as a married couple.

Similarly, Mary needed Joseph.  More next blog…