Now the generation of Christ was in this way. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.
St. Matthew’s simply worded narrative belies the truth of Mary’s fiat-“Be it done onto me according to thy Word” -to the archangel Gabriel when he appeared to announce the Lord’s decision. She would become the Theotokos-while betrothed, but not yet living with her husband, Joseph.
Few-if any- women of the time were as well educated as Mary. At the age of three, the child Mary was weaned from her mother and was presented to the Temple where she was raised and where she pledged her virginity to God.
Leaving the Temple only after she had reached the age of thirteen or fourteen, Mary was schooled in the Torah and would have revered the words of Moses in Deuteronomy:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
The Lord said to me: “What they say is good.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him…
She would have studied the eight books of the prophets (the Neviim) as well, and known Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz:
“Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.”
Mary also knew the Law and the consequences of an illegitimate pregnancy.
These were very small communities where most of the villagers knew one another, where the pace was slow – slow in the sense that other neighbors had adequate opportunity to attend to the affairs of others…and to talk with one another about them…particularly when those affairs are salacious.
Mary, would have been cause for extended and repeated conversations; conversations which eventually reached Joseph’s ears. Explicitly, we are told that before they lived together, Mary was found with child by unnamed others.
We can imagine the devastation of Joseph as he comes to his decision about Mary, he will quietly “put her aside”,”unwilling to expose her,” aware he is breaking the Law. The profound depth of his confusion about the infidelity of the young virgin pledged to marry him. And we can clearly picture the derisive looks and hear the wagging tongues as he walked through the streets of the small town. Gossip that surely would have continued throughout the life of Mary, and Joseph, and the child, Jesus.
These are the facts of the method chosen by God to enter time and change the course of human history. One which simmers under the tender, peaceful, and magical scenes of the small family under the star or Hallmark cozy images on Christmas cards.
We know very little about Mary from the Bible.
She speaks rarely. Mostly we read that she ponders: Simeon’s words in her heart, then later, those of her son. From the very beginning, Mary has been slandered, misinterpreted, and vilified. Chosen from the beginning of time to be the God-Bearer, she is a woman of profound silence and mystery. Strangely fitting, for what words or language could be used to describe a faith and trust no other human has ever known?
Amidst the holiday music, the Christmas lights and the relentless commercial cheer of this season, I think of this impossibly young woman-Full of grace-traveling the ninety mile or so journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Mary lived the truth of what seems wholly absurd. She trusted that the impossible was reality.
On these last days before Christmas Day, I am full of wonder at the paradox and contradiction of God. And am bathed in His mercy and love for humanity.