I remember Mary and Joseph. They were a nice couple. It took Joseph forever to finally pop the question.
You see, they met at our church, a medium-sized un-affiliated Baptist, the only church in a nothing-special midwestern town of 1,277. Our town doesn’t have much time for church, or for semi-stable interpersonal groupings at all for that matter. It exists primarily as a pass-through for the cattle drivers; there are stables for the old-fashioned kind and truck stops for the modern ones. One of the stables bought some bleachers in 1953 and has since hosted a mid-sized rodeo that draws a statewide crowd in June.
You see, Mary and Joseph ho-hawed for quite some time, seeing each other in church when they both showed up on the same Sunday. There seemed to be this tension between the two that suggested that if they remained in the same physical proximity for too long, flammable objects located nearby would start to spontaneously combust.
So you see, it wasn’t much surprise to us church regulars when, soon after getting engaged, it turned out that Mary was pregnant. My wife and I had been trying to have a baby for years and grumbled about how it’s always the people that don’t want kids that have them, and the people that want them can’t. There was of course a church board meeting that, despite its agenda, was almost wholly devoted to the topic of Mary’s pregnancy.
For a while there you see, things became really difficult. We suggested that they go ahead with the marriage, and simply get it over with very quickly, or wait until after the birth. The problem was, however, that Joseph was insisting that the baby wasn’t his. We tried to assure him that he was forgiven and that we did not judge him for his actions, but that it was important that he take responsibility for them. After a couple weeks of this, Mary and Joseph finally decided to go together to her parent’s place back East to give birth to their son. They had a very simple, small ceremony at the church and left that very afternoon. There was still a slight hint of stress behind Joseph’s eyes.
But you see, upon their return some months later, things seemed remarkably different. The baby was a beautiful baby boy, one whose smile could light up the room; indeed just the presence of baby Jesus, as Mary and Joseph had so oddly named him, seemed to uplift all those around. But Joseph’s attitude seemed absolutely reversed. He was now a proud father, beaming about his son to any who would look like they were listening. Mary, too, had been somehow transformed into the most determined mother of the year award. We wondered if there was something magical about “back East” or if they had seen a vision somewhere on the road through Ohio, but for the most part we just shrugged our shoulders and moved on.
So you see, it wasn’t much surprise to me when a little stick of a boy, Jesus, showed up at one of our church board meetings last week…