Seeing the title of this post might cause you to think the subject contains the high cost Jesus paid, but it isn’t. It’s about two well-known but underappreciated people who paid a very high price for Joy to the World. They carried the weight of shame, rejection, and misunderstanding so that we could celebrate the joyful season of Christmas.
I was driving to work yesterday morning, and I heard “Joy to the World” come on the radio. I love Christmas songs that proclaim the joy and peace we find during this season, but I’m forced to remember that the first Christmas had it’s turmoil.
We imagine the hardships of Mary and Joseph’s travels, the agony of Joseph’s decision to remain with Mary, and the conditions of our Savior’s birth, but let’s take our imaginations a level deeper in trying to understand what they experienced during this time?
Mary was pregnant before marrying Joseph, which was culturally unacceptable in that day. Though she did nothing wrong, there was inevitably shame associated with this pregnancy. We know, because of the biblical account, that Mary was carrying Jesus, and was able to do so through the power and miraculous working of the Holy Spirit. Now, imagine trying to explain that you are a pregnant virgin carrying the Messiah to a bunch of skeptical Jews who haven’t heard a word from God in 400 years. People were still skeptical of this story even as late as Jesus’ adult years. They still assumed he was the illegitimate son of Joseph (John 6:42)
In fact, Joseph didn’t believe Mary until an angel came to him and said her story was true. But for him to marry her, he would have to partake in the shame of having people look at them and assume they were fornicators. Everywhere they went they lived in the shadows of this shameful pregnancy, because people assumed the worst.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I truly believe what I am about to convey is a possibility. In Luke 2 we read that Jesus was laid in a manger because “there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, ESV). The word translated “inn” is translated elsewhere in Scripture as “guest room.” Notice also, the article “the” which implies it was a specific guest room (not like the stories we see or hear where they were walking all around Bethlehem looking for a place to stay).
Let’s also ask this question, “Why were they in Bethlehem?” Because the census required everyone to go back to their hometown. If this was their hometown, who would have been there? Their families. Which leads to another important inquiry, “Why would their family make the lady who is 9 months pregnant, go to the stable instead of allowing her to stay in the guest room?”
I imagine it was probably because this young, unmarried couple arrives at the door of a family member (perhaps siblings, parents, extended family), and she is about to have a child. In their minds, there is only one explanation -she is pregnant with Joseph’s child. So, they probably felt justified saying, “If you two are going to live like that, there is no place for you in the guest room. If you want act like animals, go stay with the animals. We’re not letting a couple of promiscuous people stay under this roof. We have to teach you a lesson -this behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. And you two are supposed to be devout Jews.”
Shamefully, they make their way to the stable to give birth to the Messiah. I can imagine Joseph feeling like an utter failure. He cannot provide a clean place for his wife to give birth. He can’t provide a warm house or proper bed for his son (who happens to be the Son if God). He cannot protect Mary from these untrue and shameful accusations. He feels the weight of this shame in so many ways.
Mary can feel the shameful looks as she wonders why no one would believe her. She wonders why people would assume she was “that type of girl.” She feels the unbearable weight of shame that comes from being falsely accused, slandered, and misjudged.
They didn’t ask for this task; they didn’t volunteer for it; they were chosen by God to undertake this lot in life. They were the special vessels chosen by God to pay the high price of a lifetime of shame so that through them, he could bring Joy to the World. This is true in our lives as well. Sometimes God allows us to undergo tremendous trials for no other reason than the glory of God (John 9:1-3) and the encouragement of others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
I hope you find joy in this magnificent time of year. I pray you know the peace that only the Prince of Peace can give. But while we rejoice in the joy of the season, let us never forget the price that was paid by this poor, obscure man named Joseph, and this innocent, young girl named Mary.