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.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
What can be overlooked in the traditional Christmas story is how vulnerable Mary was – physically, socially, spiritually, and financially. In ancient middle-eastern society, Mary would be assumed to be an adulteress because her pregnancy was not a result of intimacy with her fiancé, and her betrothal to Joseph would be considered practically a marriage. Joseph would naturally assume that his fiancée had cheated on him. He had every right by law to publicly disgrace Mary, but instead chose to divorce her quietly. He hoped to spare Mary in some way. But the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph and led him toward the right thing to do. Verse 24 indicates that Joseph did not use his legal rights and instead chose to obey the message from the Lord. Joseph laid down his rights in order to do what was right! We see in this story Mary’s courage as well and her incredible bravery in carrying the unborn Jesus. She willingly took all of these risks and took on this vulnerability in order to obey God. Joseph partnered with Mary in this courageous journey.
Advent is a time for us to find the courage to protect the vulnerable as Joseph did with Mary and Mary did with Jesus. Advent offers an invitation to all of us to individually and corporately protect the vulnerable.
Just last week I was privileged to wrap gifts for some very special children. The Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles shelters over 700 women and children from Skid Row. These vulnerable families have the opportunity to “shop” in a special Christmas store so that the parents can present beautifully wrapped, brand-new gifts that are being given by the parents themselves. URM provides a dignifying experience for the vulnerable through this process.
Nationally, a new Matthew 25 Movement is forming among Christian leaders to protect and defend vulnerable immigrant and refugee communities through training rooted in Jesus. This training promotes just and merciful treatment for immigrants. It connects them to legal services, pastoral care for people living in fear, and emergency support for individuals and families in danger of sudden deportation. In many ways, the journey of Mary and Joseph should remind us that vulnerable travelers — men, women and children — are crying out today for Immanuel to make himself known.
As leaders in God’s kingdom, let’s reflect in this season of Advent on the goodness of God, who chose to reveal himself in amazingly vulnerable circumstances so that he could ultimately protect the vulnerable. Let’s see Mary and Joseph as mentors to us as we seek to courageously protect the vulnerable in our sphere of influence.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Who do you know that is vulnerable right now? How can you protect them? What resources has God given you to share? Is there some kind of training your church or organization can participate in to help a vulnerable group?
Are there any “rights” you think you have that you would need to lay down in order to protect someone?
Do you find yourself naturally “courageous” when it comes to helping those in need or are you more inclined to be afraid in some way?
How can our help actually “hurt” if we don’t consider the dignity of the person we are serving?
Father, we long to see your goodness this Advent, in our lives and in the lives of the people we encounter each day. Make us courageous like Joseph who laid down his rights and comforts, in order to do what was right and bring comfort to others. Make us courageous like Mary who chose vulnerability in order to bring the Savior into our world. Amidst all the distractions that can blind us to those you want us to serve, give us the eyes to see the vulnerable around us, and the courage to take a small step to help. Amen.