One of my favorite early signs of the Christmas season is the appearance of Nativity scenes in homes and stores and on front lawns. Despite the novelty of the cows and camels around a cradle and the foreign kings with their gifts of gold, my eye is drawn inward to the family at the center of the scene. Mary is on her knees, bending tenderly over the baby Jesus. Joseph stands guard close by, shoulders bent protectively inward.
It’s a scene that means even more to me this year as my husband and I prepare to celebrate Christmas with a baby of our own. When I look at Ben, I see the man who held my hand securely as I panted through excruciating contractions—just, perhaps, as Joseph did for Mary. I remember the mystery and the beauty of holding our daughter for the first time and the feeling of helplessness and inadequacy in the presence of this miracle. I see the two of us, still young and inexperienced, but believing there is a larger plan that guides our steps and gives greater meaning to our joys and hardships.
At the heart of the biblical Christmas account is a very human love story, frail and flawed and yet miraculous.
We aren’t told much about the relationship of Mary and Joseph in the account. It’s possible theirs was an arranged marriage; it’s probable that he was somewhat older than she. But the story makes clear that they were chosen, individually and as a pair, to bring the son of God into the world.
Joseph was a good, just man, and he must have loved Mary, because when he finds out she is pregnant, his first concern is not for his social embarrassment and disgrace, but for hers.
Joseph loved her and so he chooses to stay by her side, despite the personal cost.
Unlike Joseph and Mary, my husband and I weren’t told by angels that we would carry out God’s plan to save the world. We haven’t faced the hardship and isolation of social disgrace, and our baby spent her first night in a hospital bed, not a feeding trough. Our greatest challenges are surely still ahead of us.
But in my husband I see the same selfless willingness to care for and serve his little family each time he paces the floors at 3a.m. with a crying baby or works a weekend to help pay the bills. And because we believe there is a purpose to our unity, we talk often about how we can open our home to the lonely or give a little more to those in need. Even when it costs more than we feel we can afford or threatens our comfort and convenience, we want to give and serve and find our meaning in a cause beyond ourselves.
These days, romantic relationships tend to be seen as an end in themselves. The prince and princess find each other and live happily ever after; end of story. But the idea that you and your spouse might have a destiny to fulfill that is bigger than yourselves is at once thrilling and sobering. It reinforces the idea that love is a calling and an undertaking, not just a warm and transient feeling. It elevates the beauty of romantic love, making it even more profound and powerful.
This Christmas, I’ll look again at the serene nativity scene. I’ll see Joseph, afraid and uncertain but determined to protect his family. I’ll see Mary, heart bursting with the wonders she had experienced and full of faith and hope.
I’ll look at my little family, experiencing Christmas for the first time as mother, father and baby. And I’ll wonder what calling and what undertakings are in store for us. Whatever they are, I hope my husband and I can answer as well as Mary did when the time comes: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Flickr/ Waiting For The Word