God is in the details

God left out so many details of the Christmas story. The two key people in this story were Mary and Joseph, and we know so little about them. Where was Mary’s mother? Was she dead or just difficult and unlikely to believe the whole “divine conception” thing? Why would Mary travel to another city to see her cousin? Did she not have friends or family in Nazareth with whom she could share this? How had she and Elizabeth established such a trusting relationship when they didn’t love close to each other and travel was rare?

Why did Joseph originally choose Mary? Was he friends with her dad? Was he really so much older than she? Did he love her or was this betrothal something he did out of obligation to his culture? Did he love his work and his wood? Was his workshop his place of escape? What was it about Joseph that made God choose him? Did he have a deep relationship with God before all this happened, or was it kick started by the angel in his dream?

Both of them heard impossible truth from God, and both of them chose to obey, rather than trust their own judgment. Mary’s first response was “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38 Her second response was a song of praise. Joseph’s response was “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matt 1:24 Without hesitation, both gave up the plans they had for themselves and trusted God with the details of their lives.

And God, in his mercy, gave them a critical detail that would help them have faith. Their angelic visitations were separate, but both separately were told the name they were to give this son they would raise together. (Matt 1:21 and Luke 1:31) Even after an experience like that it must have been reassuring to hear that same name coming from someone else’s angelic experience.

Most of the time we have to step out in faith before we see the blessing. John Burroughs’ quote, “Leap and the net will appear” reinforces the biblical precedent that obedience precede the realization of the blessing. Mary and Joseph spent 9 months living “normal” lives before they held that promise named Jesus in their arms. I suspect that they were both the subject of town gossip and speculation. I wonder if she had morning sickness? Was it an easy birth? We are not told of any more angelic visits or divine visions….until the angels and shepherds showed up the night he was born. Did she ever doubt the angel or her ability to raise the son of God? Did her discomfort on the back of that donkey put her in a bad mood? Did the unavailability of a decent room make them angry or afraid? Did Mary learn what to expect and do during birth because of her time with Elizabeth? Did Joseph help her during the delivery, or did he pace outside the stable, praying and worrying?

God is absolutely in the details: the ones we’re told and the ones that we’re not told. In his incredible mercy, a stable was actually not such a bad spot for a birth. It gave them privacy and shelter that they wouldn’t have had if she’d given birth on the trip to Bethlehem. Hygiene wasn’t an issue then, but anyone who has ever given birth or witnessed it knows there is a mess. In the stable, that mess was easy to remove with a pitchfork and replaced with fresh straw. The Lamb of God was born in a stable in Bethlehem, fulfilling Old Testament Prophecy and beginning God’s incredible effort to teach us about who he is. Joseph was looking for a room; God had reserved them a stable. The birth of a child contains such incredible joy and wonder. God brought them shepherds and angels to help them celebrate.

Mary’s response to the months of pregnancy, public speculation, uncertainty, and less than ideal birth conditions was to treasure all these things in her heart. Let our obedience depend on our faith, not our understanding of all the details. May our awareness of his presence so overwhelm us that our words can’t contain our thoughts, and may what we treasure in our hearts lead us to see the face of God.