The incarnation of our Lord lies at the heart of Christian faith. When the arguments for and against virgin birth have been faithfully spoken and honestly heard, there remains a residue of truth, a core of mystery not amenable to explanation. A small part of that mystery is the faith of Mary who was able to say, 'Be it done according to your will,' and the faith of Joseph prepared to live with consequences he had no way of foreseeing. Clustered around the divine miracle of annunciation and incarnation are a number of smaller miracles of human trustfulness and openness to the coming of God. Perhaps we can be helped in our appreciation of such miracles of faith if we do a little reverent prying into the emotional rationale behind Joseph's reaction to Mary's own disturbing annunciation.
Joseph kept these things and pondered them in his heart.......
Every time one of our old Rabbi's conducts a betrothal, or a wedding ceremony he tells the joke about the angel who gives just one wish. He told it at our betrothal reception, when Mary and I got engaged.
One day a man did an act of great kindness. As a reward he is visited by an angel." Heaven has sent me to reward you. Whatever you want done, heaven will grant." After thinking carefully the man said " Build me a bridge from Jerusalem to Rome so I can visit my family whenever I want to without going the long way round."
" Wait a blessed minute ", said the angel. "Have you any idea what that costs? Fifteen hundred miles of bridge! Even angels have to stick to spending guide-lines and work within the constraints imposed on the miracles budget. Choose something else. Give me another option. " The man replied, " O.K. Help me to understand how a woman's mind works." After much thought the angel asked, "How many lanes do you want on your bridge?"
The rabbi told it as a joke. But hard as I've tried, and long as I've thought, I still don't understand the mind of Mary. What she thought, and what she felt about what happened to her, and what it did to us. I didn't understand why Mary disappeared for three months to visit her cousin Elizabeth. I didn't understand when she came back and said she was three months pregnant. I didn't understand when she said " I've never been unfaithful. The baby is God's gift."
I didn't understand why she, the woman, should be the one who got to decide on the name. I couldn't believe her story about being visited by an angel, who told her that, of all the women in the world, God had chosen her as his point of entry into human affairs, I didn't understand, and I don't understand, in fact, I'll never understand how a virgin can be pregnant.
What I did understand, was that the Mary, who was promised to me, now belonged to someone else. What I did understand, because I'm not just a man, I'm a just man, was the need to protect Mary, from public shame and legal penalty. What I did understand was that our future stops here. No marriage! No shared joy! No family! Just this unwanted pregnancy forcing us apart. And what I did understand, and felt fully, unflinchingly, was the sense of opportunity lost, grief at the wasted possibilities, the certainty our dreams had ended.
But the dreams weren't ended! I thought, just like the just, sensible, unimaginative man I am, I thought, I'll deal with this rationally, quietly divorce her, and get on with my life. Still, before doing anything I decided to sleep on it! But it wasn't a slumberland sleep. It was restless, anxious sleep; my mind and body tossing and turning. in synchronised uneasiness. Then through my confusion and hurt a shining clarity. Interrupting my scheming and dreaming, a voice, that shook my whole being awake. An angel, not like the one in the rabbi's joke. He didn't ask me what I wanted more than anything. Not that it would have mattered. I wanted the one thing I could no longer have...Mary, uncomplicated, faithful, understandable Mary. Mary before all this angels and God nonsense.But before I could think of what to say, the angel spoke. "Joseph, don't 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." I no longer doubted Mary. But what it must have meant for her, what it does to a woman to have others question her integrity as a woman,while all the time she is being faithful to God by receiving the gift of the Almighty. That I have not, cannot understand.
I don't understand how Mary, carried the burden of truth, that she would mother God's son. I don't understand her openness to God, her obedient humility, or her determined yes to the purposes of God. Like the child she carried, she nurtured and nourished the truth of God's loving purposesfor us and the whole world. I don't understand the ways of God, not even when angels tell me.
In my dream a deeper reality than I ever imagined had come close to me; And in Mary, the deepest reality of all was coming true. God coming close to the world in an inconceivable conception. God with us, love made flesh, borne and born through Mary.The Rabbi's joke about bridges and a woman's mind? To unimaginative, rational patronising men,perhaps understanding a woman is miracle enough. But when it comes to bridges, through the faithful intuition, the imaginative love, the trustful yes of a woman, God built a far, far bigger bridge than a Jerusalem to Rome flyover.; the promised bridge between heaven and earth, through the faith of a woman, and the birth of a baby. That's a miracle of love that exceeds all budgets, and like much else in this story, I’ll never understand it. But I’ll sleep on it.