3. Joseph and Mary
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This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. …But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” …When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Finally, this is where our story as young Christians begins. This is the Christmas Story told to us as children: There is a couple traveling on a donkey. The woman is great with child and about to give birth. There is a baby born in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. He is wrapped in swaddling cloths and visited by angels and shepherds and surrounded by animals.
This is the story of the beginning of a new young family already in crisis: a couple engaged to be married, an unplanned pregnancy, a child born in less than desired circumstances, and the risk of social disgrace. The marriage of Mary and Joseph is broken before it has even begun. Let’s travel back to the first beginning of time and the first marriage:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them...God saw all that he had made, and it was very good... Gen. 1:26-31
Reread Genesis 1-3. The story of how man and woman are made has two versions from oral accounts handed down through the ages. Let us make mankind in our image. On the sixth and last day of creation, God created man and woman. God was pleased with his creation; it was very good. Of course, the phrase, “in our image” is a mystery that we can’t fully understand until we stand in God’s presence. We can’t know what the image of the Trinity looks like until we get to meet them face to face. We do know that the Hebrew word used here for “God” is “Elohim” which is plural for god. Strong argument for a triune God as the holy creator even before the Holy Trinity was understood by the authors of the Old Testament books. The second chapter of Genesis adds detail to the story:
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Genesis 2:18-25
The first children and also the first marriage, but listen carefully to the story. In the beginning, God is in the garden with Adam; he physically walks and talks with him. But it is clear that God knows that this new creation will fall away from him and be lonely; "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helper for him.”...
We all know the next chapter to the story. Man and woman, Adam and Eve, eat the apple and hide from God: Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3: 8-9
There is a deceptiveness in the action of hiding. It denotes an element of shame, something that these two had not felt before. Sin has entered the Garden of Eden through the serpent and temptation and somehow caused the very image of God to lose its purity. Adam and Eve receive their curse:
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” Genesis 3:16-22
These two made in God’s image have been reduced to dust now. The entire earth is now cursed because of them. So the first man and woman, the first husband and wife, must leave God. The first children must leave their family home. The first divorce in the story of the perfect holy marriage; the first broken family. Why would a loving God curse his children? Maybe Adam and Eve cursed themselves?
My older brother, Frank, is one of my favorite persons and one of my dearest friends. But when we were young, he was a torment. He was wild. By age 21, he had totaled 3 cars and gotten expelled from college. I hated him for what he did to our family. So much heartache. The day he came home from school, my parents kicked him out of the house. He said, “What will I do? Where will I go?” My parents said, “ That’s up to you. You can no longer live here in our home because you won’t abide by our rules. We love you but you have to leave. This will be hard but you will have to make your own way.”
When my parents kicked my brother out of the family home, they were not cursing him, their first born son; they were trying to help him understand the consequences of his actions and his choices. “You can come home for Wednesday and Sunday dinners.” In so offering, my parents were keeping the door to our family home open so that my brother could still be part of the family but we understood that there was a brokenness, a disappointment, and a sadness there.
The Old Testament is full of stories about couples that are broken because they forgot that God was absolutely integral to their marriage. They either failed to understand or they ceased to remember that it is God who desired to make their union into a truly holy marriage. God, the holy family, so desires to walk alongside us.
Job and his wife are blessed by God with wealth. Their marriage bed brings ten beautiful children. But Job, one of our most righteous men, has every cause to doubt God. Satan, with God’s permission, has destroyed everything he has except his wife. Job’s nameless wife has but one line in her husband’s story, which, let us not forget, is also her story, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job 2:9 ... And... ”After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.” Job 3:1
Abraham and Sarah are visited by The Lord and promised a child in their old age, but they doubt God and his promise, and take the servant girl, Hagar, into their marriage bed. Isaac and Rebecca’s marriage bed brings twins but Isaac loves one son over the other. His wife, Rebecca, raises her favored son, Jacob, to lie and cheat his father and his twin brother. Jacob brings two wives, two sisters, into his marriage bed but favors one over the other. David commits every sin outlined in the Ten Commandments in his bedding Bathsheba, another man’s wife.
But, here in the New Testament there is a huge shift. The curse is lifted with Joseph, the carpenter, and his betrothed, Mary. Through the angel, Gabriel, God asks permission to return to the union of husband and wife, to join with the man and the woman in a holy marriage. In accordance with the Old Testament law, Joseph should divorce her but in accord with grace, Joseph proved to be a suitable helpmate. After the first two chapters of Luke and Matthew, the earthly father, Joseph, will not be mentioned again. We do know that he protected Mary and his newly adopted son, Jesus, from Herod’s attempt to murder the Messiah born in Bethlehem. He gave Mary more children and lived at least until Jesus reached his early teens.
2000 years later, how do we as Christians shift? Paul was a hard man and a confirmed bachelor. But, inspired by God, he gives us our most touching glimpse into how to establish the righteous and holy union within the holy three person marriage - a man and a woman joined together by God, and with God, - in holy matrimony:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. ... “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33
This is a profound mystery... and good news: there is order in our chaotic broken world. There is a plan, a perfect plan, God’s perfect plan. The Trinity has called us to be in an intimate relationship with them. Every marriage on the earth, every family on the earth is but a poor reflection of The Holy Marriage and the Holy Family that is our God, The Holy Trinity. We are all created to be part of that divine union.
Couples, marriages, and their resulting families, make up humanity’s story throughout the Bible. We all suffer because of the original fall from the Garden of Eden. This is God’s Word and we are a critical part of it. But the fall has been arrested by the Angel Gabriel’s visits to the new couple, Joseph and Mary. In the fullness of time, that rescue of humanity will result in the upswing of God’s Story and will bring the creation home to the Father when, with his birth, Christ, the Son of God, submitted to become the Son of Man.
We, God’s wayward children, God’s failed marriages and broken families are promised a holy union through the church. We are waiting with the Holy Spirit for a new Heaven and new Earth. The kingdom of God will be restored.
The 29:11 Story
At the beginning of every 29:11 Story are two beads of God’s first couple: a brown bead of Adam and a pink bead of Eve. They follow the Holy Spirit, a white pearl bead, who is hovering over the new creation like a dove. But on the return home, on the upward side, the Book of Revelation, at the very end of time, at the very beginning of our new beginning outside of time, the two beads of the first children and the first marriage are now one bead. It is a beautiful bead, white and radiant, and it follows the Holy Spirit, also white - like a dove- as the new couple, humanity, the bride, and the Holy Spirit, are reunited to the Son, the bridegroom, in the perfect, holy redeemed Marriage, as they join the Father and the Holy Family.
Every 29:11 Story has beads that represent the couples, the marriages, the families, that make up humanity’s story throughout the Bible. This is God’s Word and we are a critical part of it. Every shade of brown, cream, pink, every possible skin tone we as God’s children on this earth possess, is represented in our 29:11 Stories. Adam and Eve are, of course, the first. They follow the purple-God, blue-Heaven, green-Earth, and white-Holy Spirit beads. They begin the downward fall of God’s Story that is the Old Testament. Can you find the beads representing Job, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and David? Is there a bead for Bathsheba?
Marriage under any circumstances is difficult. I challenge you to look around your orbit and sphere and find a perfect, easy one. Not all of us choose marriage and many of us have had failed ones. Those of you not in a marriage would make Paul very happy but I have been married for over 40 years.
Before William was diagnosed, my marriage was very traditional. My husband worked a long day, five days a week, sunup to sundown, in order to keep us in a big house, the children in an expensive school. I was a stay-at-home mother and I relied on him for everything that I needed. When our world was rocked by cancer, we managed to cope fairly well with God’s help during the time we believed that William would survive.
But when the cancer returned, our normal marriage was insufficient. I could no longer lean on my husband and he could not lean on me. Our grief was simply too huge for anyone to help us carry it much less share it. I had to learn to turn to my true Father and the Holy Spirit not only daily but hourly; every minute I was consciously in the presence of the Spirit. I clung to the suffering Son because I had a suffering son. Both my husband and I did everything within our power to hold our family together. We did our best but we, by ourselves, were not enough.
After our son died, as we dealt with our profound grief, I believed that my marriage was over. Neither my husband nor I could truly communicate with each other. Neither of us could supply what the other needed emotionally. I still loved him deeply. I never once thought of divorce; my little family had suffered enough. I could not imagine wounding my husband or my two remaining children any further. But my husband and I were so far apart. I could not help him, he could not help me, and we could not help our children.
That was 15 years ago. My little family still struggles with our loss. But I believe that we have come out of our grief into a new place. My husband and I have grown together into a new creation; we have learned how to be suitable helpers for each other. Neither of us doubt the existence of God although we certainly don’t understand him. I think we have grown well together as we have gotten more comfortable living in the mystery of God.