The first Advent was rather private, rural, shameful. Nine months in the womb of a young girl. Angelic appearances. Hard to believe. Could it be true that this child is something more than a delusion or a miracle? Though a professed virgin, Mary’s story seemed a bold faced lie to her parents and her community. She was engaged to Joseph — a seemingly good man. And he buys her story, defending her shame. The waiting and watching biological processes emerging within her womb testify to the oddity and absurdity of such a possibility.
But before the two resolve to proceed, there were doubts and questions. There must be more is how I perceive it. Alessandro Tiarini presents one of the few moments of weakness potentially encountered by Joseph and Mary. The Repentance of Saint Joseph portrays the man in the midst of doubt, social pressure, fear, remorse. Joseph is bowed low before Mary and one can only imagine the thoughts racing through his mind:
“I am not the father. How could I be? There must be another. Immaculate conception, preposterous or not? Yet the angels confess. Mary does not blush. Her unblemished figure. Her passionate pleas. A miracle, perhaps? But who am I.”
The man Joseph surrounded by angelic advocates of Mary’s story has to face this most unlikely Advent.
Matthew’s Gospel records the reasoning of Joseph just before the moment Tiarini paints. His angelic appearance comes right in time to assuage his fears and foil his plans.
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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” […] When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. [1:18-20, 24 NIV]
With a heavenly visitation to Joseph and Mary, they concur to proceed with this most precarious plan from a God who risks the reputation, the social regard, the purity of the Holy couple. From the first Advent, this God risks. This God exposes. This God suffers. What is most troubling in this tale of two is their unresolved relationship to the world around them.
Such tension must mean more is coming. There must be more. And they waited.
Mary’s body changed as is natural to a woman with child. Could it be there is a natural labor for this unnatural conceived child? Mary must have hoped and prayed for a deliverance from the hours of birthing pains, of stretching her spirit, of increasing discomfort. This baby inside must come out unnaturally, please?
There must be more for Mary. Months of change. Social scorn. Unlikely testimony from her husband to be. The glares and stares. The looks of disgust and disregard. Is this child truly worth such?
There must be more for Joseph. Rejected by his peers. Slandered and defamed. How can he provide for Mary and the child? This God must intervene with wealth from above. I must not have to toil. There must be more for all that I have sacrificed to defend the dignity of my future bride and current mother to this child of another.
There must be more for Jesus. A bastard by birth? Filthy social status from the moment of entry into the world. This child of no natural birth treated like a mistake and a disgrace to his parents. There must be more for this child to be King as he will rule the Earth and reign like no other. He must have a royal future of splendor and fame where all detractors are put to swift justice.
Surely this curious God must intervene. For Mary. For Joseph. For God’s Child. Couldn’t this God defend his own Son, vindicate their names, and reveal to all the supremacy of this Christ Child?
There must be more our logic convinces. We could not be subject to such a God? If God did this to them, how must we be? How can we wait for the coming of One? Perhaps, these things and so much more will demonstrate one simple truth.
There is no more on this side of Heaven for fame, riches, well being, comfort have not been part of this God’s plan. For Mary. For Joseph. For Jesus. For we.
After all, the work of Salvation is not a noble affair. From the first Advent such has been so. A sullied virgin. A lying father figure. A bastard King. What others denounce, reject and defame do not detract from the ultimate plans of a God who risks.