Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Christmas Cardology 2: Mary’s Scandal and Favour

Please read the short Introduction first.

Mary was a young woman, probably in her early or mid teens,[1] when the angel Gabriel visited her and brought this message from God:

Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you! . . . Don’t be afraid, Mary . . . for you have found favour with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.

He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end! . . .

The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will over-shadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God  (Luke 2:28-35).

Just as Gabriel had said, Mary miraculously conceived God’s son, Jesus, even though she was a virgin and not yet married. (See Luke 1:26-38 cf. Matthew 1:18, 20).

Mary had calmly and obediently acquiesced to God’s plan to make her the mother of the Messiah, and yet there can be little doubt that Mary would have suffered scandal and disgrace for becoming pregnant before marriage. There was also the risk that Mary could have been publicly accused of sexual immorality and even stoned to death (the penalty for such a crime in those days.) Perhaps Mary hurried to stay with Elizabeth (who was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist at the time) to receive some moral support before facing the gossip and censure of the neighbours.[2] (Luke 1:39-45.)

Mary was betrothed to Joseph.[3] Betrothal was the first stage of marriage, and the contract of betrothal was bound by Jewish Law. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he initially planned to break off the betrothal. Joseph suspected Mary of impropriety (which can’t have been pleasant for Mary); however, after having the situation explained to him by an angel in a dream, Joseph straight away took Mary home as his wife. But they did not consummate the marriage, have sex, until after Jesus was born. (See Matthew 1:18-25.)

In contrast to many Christmas card illustrations which depict scenes of snug security and domestic comfort, Mary’s situation was full of uncertainty and risk. Both Mary and Joseph were probably the subject of gossip and may well have been hurt by being misunderstood and maligned. They may even have been ostracised and shunned by family and neighbours. Apart from Elizabeth’s enthusiastic response in Luke 1:41-45, and Joseph’s initial concern, the scriptures are silent about how others took the news of Mary’s pregnancy.[4]

Mary's Scandal and Favour

There was little domestic comfort in Mary’s Christmas, which has nothing in common with the scene depicted in Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson, 1904. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Both Mary and Joseph were people of great faith and obedience (Luke 1:45-55; Matthew 1:24). It has sometimes been noted that when people are obediently following God, they may experience situations and trials that look difficult and unpleasant to onlookers, yet are experienced as gracious blessings by those who are actually going through them. Mary was conscious of being favoured by God (Luke 1:28 & 30). This knowledge of being favoured must have been a tremendous blessing which buoyed her through difficult days.

Mary also pondered the amazing events that surrounded the birth of Jesus. She treasured their memory  (Luke 2:19 & 51). These memories would have been another source of reassurance, strength and comfort.

If there had been some sense of scandal and disgrace over the holy family, it did not last. Luke states that the boy Jesus grew in favour with God and with people (Luke 2:52).   Part 3 »


Endnotes

[1] I have personally baulked at the young age scholars have given to Mary, but the more I study about first century Jewish (and Roman) woman, the more I have come to see that it was common for girls to be married by 14 or 15 years of age in the first century.

[2] Why did both Mary and Elizabeth stay in seclusion during the early months of their pregnancies and not during the later months when their pregnancies were most obvious?

[3] The Protoevangelium of James (also known as the Infancy Gospel of James) claims that Joseph was an older man, a widower with children, when he married Mary.

[4] Perhaps there was no proper accommodation made available to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem because of the scandal (Luke 2:6-7).

© 8th of December 2010, Margaret Mowczko


Christmas Cardology Series: 

(1) Introduction
(3) Nazareth to Bethlehem
(4) Was Jesus born in a barn?
(5) When was Jesus born?
(6) The Virgin Mary
(7) The Wise Men from the East

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Posted December 1st, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Christian Theology, Christology, Church History, , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

7 comments on “Christmas Cardology 2: Mary’s Scandal and Favour

  1. Paul Cohen says:

    Thanks Marg
    Just some ramblings:
    I) The seclusion of Mary is not so hard to understand, for Elisabeth we can guess but no more.

    Chronologically
    A) For Elisabeth there is no reason stated nor is there anything we know that proves one way or the other why she wanted to stay at home. My wife thinks that because Elisabeth is older and this will be her first child she might have been extra cautious. It makes sense but still its a guess.

    B) For Mary we do know why she went into seclusion,
    First under the Law of Moses she would have been stoned to death,
    This punishment is in the Law of Moses twice, first in Leviticus, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife-with the wife of his neighbor-both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10), and restated later “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” (Deuteronomy 22:22).

    Secondly, Mary would have had to trust that God would work out the reaction with the community; because who would believe her?

    Thirdly, Mary would have had to trust that God would work out her relationship with her fiancée Joseph, because Joseph would naturally assume the obvious; that Mary had been unfaithful.
    Three reasons to withdraw from society.

    II) Regarding the accommodation, we must remember that ‘hotels’ in those days were made up out of ONE room.

    A) If Mary had the baby in that room that night, the room / whole hotel would have been defiled based on Leviticus 15.

    B) All the people in the room would have been defiled. And would have to undergo a ritual bath and make a sacrificial offering (Who would pay for the expense? The inn-keeper, the people sleeping there?).

    Bottom-line it would have been a bad business decision for the innkeeper. Yet God for knew what would happen and kept them all safe.

    God Bless
    Paul Cohen
    Ariel Ministries Australia

  2. Marg says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for this! I always appreciate your perspective.

    So, Mary may have gone to stay with Elizabeth in order to lie low for a few months and see how things would pan out. This could well have been the case. It certainly makes sense.

    I appreciate your comments about the defiling affects of childbirth. This is a real consideration.

    I hope you will have a look at my 4th instalment about where in Bethlehem Jesus was born. This is something you would know more about than me, so your comments would be very welcome.

  3. Don Johnson says:

    The life of Jesus was filled with scandalous things. And of course, the first was how he was conceived.

  4. […] (2) Scandal and Favour  Christmas card illustrations frequently depict scenes of snug security and domestic comfort.  These images are in contrast to Mary’s scandalous predicament of being pregnant and unmarried.  Her  situation was full of uncertainties and risk. [600 words] […]

  5. I think Scripture might give us a glimpse of the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy. In John 8:41, the Pharisees, while talking to Jesus, declared that they are not sons of fornication. Were they talking specifically of their Jewish heritage or were they taking a jab at Jesus because they considered him a son of fornication? Just a thought.

    • Marg says:

      Interesting!

      If the Pharisees hadn’t included, “The only Father we have is God”, it would be easier to think they were alluding to physical birth, both their legitimate birth and Jesus’ more suspicious birth.

      Also, since much of the passage is about Abraham, I’m thinking it is more about Jewish heritage.

      The CEB translators think it is about heritage: “Our ancestry isn’t in question! The only Father we have is God!” (John 8:41 CEB).

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