The First Miracle of the First Christmas: A Marriage Able to Survive It

By Rich
If there’s anything I think we can say for certain about the night Jesus was born in a stable it was that 1) it was much more dirty and smelly than we’d like to imagine and 2) it was very likely the low point of the up-to-that-point short marriage of Joseph and Mary.

Everything about the Christmas story tends to gloss over the stark and unpleasant realities of what giving birth to a baby in a stable/cave/barn must have been like.  I think it’d debatable whether or not “the little Lord Jesus” did indeed “lay down his sweet head,” rather than acting like a normal infant and screaming that sweet little head off all that night.

Of course (and this is the whole point I’m going to get to) that doesn’t mean that wonderful, holy things didn’t ALSO happen that night. Angels, historically, have had not a problem appearing to filthy people. God has a long history of dealing with unpleasant physical circumstances. The point is, we don’t need to be afraid of recognizing how unpleasant that night must have been for poor Joseph, Mary and her baby.

Picture

Not pictured: smells, sounds, marital stress.
It’s worth considering just how much of a strain the events of that first Christmas night were on the relatively untested marriage of Joseph and Mary. If it’s stressful for you and your spouse to afford presents for your family and plan and execute a Christmas Eve in your home, please know that it could not be anywhere as hard as helping your spouse give birth to a baby in filthy hole with animals.
The Bible doesn’t really ever talk about the marriage relationship between Joseph and Mary. In fact, it doesn’t really talk about Joseph much at all. We know that when Mary was found with child, Joseph was (happily) not going to make a public example of her, but would have canceled the engagement had an angel not intervened. (Matthew 1:18-25) We know that he loved his family (when, as a boy Jesus was found teaching in the temple, Mary says that she and Joseph had “sought [him] sorrowing.” (Luke 2:48) And, it’s probably worth mentioning that, besides the fact that it wasn’t even Joseph’s baby, at the time of the birth of Jesus, we are specifically told that Joseph and Mary had not had sex/consummated their marriage. (Matthew 1:25) That can be a stressful way to begin a marriage.
At Christmas time so many of us send out the very best photos we’ve taken of ourselves that year, when we write newsletters and updates that paint our lives and marriages in the very best light, it’s very easy to realize just how difficult the act of supporting your spouse through the difficult circumstances of life can be. We look back at our year and, for the sake of putting on a good front, we gloss over the painful, ugly struggles in our marriages. Just like we are probably glossing over just how terrible a night that must have been, at least at first, before the miracles, for Joseph and Mary.
Here are some things that Joseph could have very justifiably said that night:

  • “I didn’t sign up this.”
  • “None of this would be happening to me if I hadn’t married Mary.”
  • “Why is this happening to us? I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

 
Here are some things that Mary could have very justifiably said that night:

  • “Why couldn’t he have found us somewhere else to stay?”

 

  • “I didn’t know it was going to be like this.”
  • “Why is this happening to us? I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

 

I think that it’s an often unnoticed miracle of that first Christmas night that Joseph and Mary’s marriage was able to survive it. Yes, there were angels (although they never came to Joseph and Mary that we know of). Yes, there was a star (although we don’t know if Joseph and Mary ever saw it). The wise men wouldn’t show up till years later. For all we know, Joseph and Mary had no idea what miracles were happening around them till the shepherds showed up. But despite the overwhelming lack of evidence of these miracles, Joseph and Mary made it. They had their child. They raised him “in favor with God and man.” They stayed together. They kept their small family safe together. After such an difficult beginning, it’s fair to call their family, their relationship, a legitimate miracle.
Christmas is a time to focus on important gifts: the gift of Jesus Christ to the world, gifts we give to each other, gifts from Santa. On a daily, tangible, basis, there is really no greater gift than my marriage. It’s the thing that has gotten me through trying times and will get me through much more. And the best gift i can give in turn is my commitment to not give up on it, even when I might wonder, “Why is this happening to us? I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

Remembering how tough marriages can be sometimes, and facing the sometimes ugly realities of life and marriage, shouldn’t keep us from recognizing that miracles really can happen. It can only help us appreciate them more.

4 thoughts on “The First Miracle of the First Christmas: A Marriage Able to Survive It

  1. I’ve thought about this a lot since becoming a mother and giving birth. The smells, oh the smells, that would have been absolutely miserable. I think that something that makes the nativity story so much more endearing is that it is a story of such sacrifice. Maybe Mary didn’t want to have a baby. Maybe she was in her late teens and didn’t feel she was ready to handle pregnancy or a newborn. Maybe her pregnancy was super hard. Even if she felt well, having to travel that late in pregnancy must have been super hard. And Joseph. Technically, it wasn’t even his baby. I’m sure he didn’t think that he would have to be caring for a pregnant wife so soon in their marriage. Jesus. He knew before He came down to Earth that His was to be the ultimate sacrifice. An eternal sacrifice for all of the children of men. Heavenly Father sacrificed his own begotten Son because He loved the world that much. Each sacrifice makes this story so much more real and relate-able. But Mary and Joseph and Jesus all made such incredible sacrifices because of their desire to be obedient to the Father’s will.

    1. Wow Eve, that’s so beautiful. I love your thoughts on highlighting each person’s sacrifice. I have thought before that that donkey ride to Bethlehem while 9 months pregnant must have been awful. But I’ve never thought that maybe she didn’t want to be pregnant before. I’m sure it was quite a shock- not having planned that out. Good thoughts.

  2. I love this — it’s so true, we have this romanticized version of that night when in fact it was probably hard and gritty and messy — but beautiful. Sort of like childbirth, eh?
    I’ve thought a lot about Mary’s pregnancy in recent years. It’s got to be a HUGE sacrifice to agree to be impregnated like that. I believe she had agency in it — preordination and all that — and she says “behold the handmaid of the Lord,” but it’s still a huge deal! She definitely didn’t expect her first child to come to the world in that manner.

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