THE MORAL DILEMMA OF CHRISTMAS
The Christmas season is one of great hope and promise. As we approach the day we find our thoughts turning more and more to how this time can reflect the love, peace, joy and hope that we find in the story of the baby born in Bethlehem. And as we do so, we probably have given thought to Mary and Joseph. We have probably also given thought to the miracle of the way in which Mary conceived the child; but have you ever paused to consider how the couple supported one another through this whole episode in their life.
True enough, this was the will of God and who would even think of going against the will of God. But stop for a moment and ponder what was being asked of a young couple planning to be married and start a family. They were engaged and they were preparing to start a family but not until after the marriage itself. Suddenly their world changed. Mary needed to come to grips with the fact that she had been chosen to bear the Messiah – the one to be sent from God to save the people from their sins and restore the people’s relationship with God. But God was not going to wait for the social convention of marriage, for this child was to be conceived with the seed of God. The man whom she had agreed to marry would not be the biological father, but he would be expected to accept, love and care for this child as if he was his own. Joseph would be the role model for this child of what it meant to be a father and a man and yet always know that this child was not really his own. The features of this child’s face, many of his mannerisms would come not from Joseph but from God. Every time he would look on this child, he would not see himself as much as he would see the face of another.
For Mary the experience was different. She would see in Jesus features of herself, she would find in him mannerisms that he would pick up from her but she would also clearly see the features of another, one with whom she would share this child and yet one that she could only imagine through her interaction with this child.
The Scriptures tell us the story and they do hint at the moral dilemma that both Mary and Joseph faced each in their own way; but the Scriptures really do not plumb the depths of the struggle nor do they really highlight just how important the decision of Mary and Joseph was to the birth of God into this world in human form. For God had decided that he would seek for the assistance of an ordinary human couple in order to accomplish his purpose and he counted on them agreeing to be part of his plan.
But here’s another angle to this story. What of the parents of Mary? How did they respond when they found out that their daughter was pregnant but not by the man to whom she was engaged? Could they really believe her when she told them that an angel had visited her and that the fetus within her was truly a union of God with her? And what of Joseph’s parents? What would be their reaction? Would they be supportive of Joseph in his decision to still marry Mary or would they be feeling that Joseph was a fool for believing her story?
Of course the Scriptures are not going to give us a long drawn out description of the dilemma that each of them faced but if we read between the lines, we can begin to appreciate what it meant for them and their families to accept what was happening to them.
I call this message the moral dilemma of Christmas because the decision by Joseph and Mary to accept God’s plan to come into this world as a baby born of human and divine parentage was not the plan that either of them would have chosen for their life. The stigma that would be felt by both Mary and Joseph and by their families would have left them with feelings of shame. Such behaviour was not expected nor encouraged. To the others in their village, Mary would be a fallen woman and Joseph would have been fully within his rights to refuse to take her as his wife.
But in the end the decision is made and Joseph is determined that he will proceed with his marriage to Mary in spite of the social stigma it might bring and he determines to accept the child growing inside of her and that he will love him as his own.
We can be thankful to both Mary and Joseph that they faced their moral dilemma and that they made the decision they did. Their decision not only assured that the baby would have a home in which to grow but also assured that the child would grow without the stigma that could have been attached to him. To everyone who knew him, he was the son of Mary and Joseph. Only when he began his ministry did the full story come out of who he was and how he came to be. Certainly, Mary and Joseph knew the truth and so did their families but the secret – as with so many other things – remained in the heart of Mary.
While certain aspects of Jesus’ birth are certainly unique, there are ways in which the birth reflects the reality for so many children in this world. In the gospel of John, the author reflects on the many ways that people can be born in this world. He recognizes that not all of us are born into a home with two parents who are married to each other. Yet he reminds us that however we come to be in this world, whatever the circumstances of our birth, whatever the moral implications of our birth in the eyes of the world or our society, each of us is a child of God; each of us is loved and cared for by God. Each of us is of great value in the eyes of God.
The Celtic view of our faith is highly influenced by the apostle John. And as we learned while studying the Celtic tradition there is a strong belief that every child born bears the mark of God himself and that to gaze on a newborn baby is to look on the face of God.
None of us chose how we came into this world and people can’t always control the circumstances under which children are conceived but we can make the decision to support and care for all children.
Let us be thankful that the moral dilemma of Christmas in which the fate not only of one child but indeed of the whole world rested on the response of one young couple was answered with faith and love. May their response encourage us in our own moral dilemmas – whatever they may be!