Wise Men HeaderNativity.

By Rev. Phil Greetham. © Copyright 1996. This Version, 2012.

1: Mary, Joseph and the baby.
Mary lived in a village called Nazareth, in the northern province of Galilee. Some versions of the Bible call Nazareth, 'a city'. This is because for some reason the Greeks had no word for 'Town' or 'Village'. Nazareth was definitely not a city. It is situated in a high valley, and therefore was a bit of a back water as far as the rest of Judea was concerned. Despite this, important trading routes from the north into Judea lay just a few miles from Nazareth along with the gentile city of Sophorris. Therefore it would not have been isolated from traders and the occasional Roman soldier.
Mary was, when Matthew first mentions her, in the first stage of marriage to a man named Joseph. They had not yet been allowed alone together, for any purpose, but they were solemnly bound together in Jewish law. At a later date the marriage would be completed and consummated. Mary is described as 'a virgin', a term in the Greek which not only implies what it says but also that she was a young woman in her mid to late teens. We know nothing of her family or her background. It is sometimes said that she was descended from King David, but nowhere does it specifically say so, nor is her lineage traced. However Mary was told that her son, Jesus, would be given the throne of his 'father' (ancestor?), David. (Lk 1: 32) However, this could be alluding to Joseph's adoption of Jesus later on.
Joseph Joseph, we are told in both Matthew and Luke, is descended from King David, albeit by forty or so generations. We know nothing about his age, save that he is never mentioned again after Jesus attended his Bar-Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. (Lk 2: 41 - 52) It is supposed from this that he died sometime during the twenty years after the Bar-Mitzvah, when the gospels takes up the story again. From this it is deduced that he was older than Mary, perhaps in his thirties. In some traditions he is much older, even than that.
An unmarried Mother
Mary, her marriage not yet consummated was placed in a difficult position when she realised she was pregnant. The Bible says that this was an act of God. An explanation not likely to be believed by her family or community. They would come to their own conclusions. The choices were obvious.
  1. She had been raped.
  2. She had sex with another man willingly
  3. She had met Joseph secretly, and they had succumbed to temptation.
Luke does not mention Joseph's reaction to her pregnancy but Matthew does. In Matthew 1:19 he clearly has in mind a divorce, which was the right and proper thing to be done in these circumstances. The usual way of doing this was by public trial, causing the utmost humiliation and shame to come upon the fornicating woman. It is to Joseph's credit that he chose the second option of a private divorce, which could be undertaken with just two witnesses. The situation would have been extremely embarrassing and hurtful for him, and he could easily have used a public divorce as a way of hitting back at his apparently unfaithful bride.
However, that night, the situation was explained to him in a dream by an angel. The angel asks Joseph to do two important things.
First he is to take Mary home with him; in other words to complete the marriage.
Second, he is to give the child its name.
This would formally acknowledge that the child was his son. Not in actual fact because the angel explains that the pregnancy is an act of God, but that Joseph, in the eyes of the world will accept the child as his son. This also legitimises the child as a descendant of King David, even if Mary herself was not a descendant. Joseph did as he was instructed the very next day. We might consider this a very noble and considerate thing to do, but the community, if they found out about the pregnancy, would have narrowed the three probabilities to just one. They would have concluded that the child was in fact Joseph's. The strict provincial backwater community would not have tolerated this. It may be however that knowledge of the pregnancy was delayed or even kept from the community altogether. If this was so, then a lot of things could be explained.
Coping with the pregnancy.
Mary spent the first three months of her pregnancy at her relative, Elizabeth's house. This would have hidden those tell-tale signs of morning sickness etc. It was only after she returned to Nazareth that Mary did the decent thing and told Joseph about the pregnancy. We have already seen that Joseph had already decided to keep the divorce proceedings private so the pregnancy may not have been common knowledge at this time. It may have been possible that wearing the voluminous clothes of the day, the pregnancy may never have come to light. This would have been fine, but the birth of a full term child after just six months of married life would immediately give the game away. When the strict northern provincial community learnt about the supposed unchaste behaviour of Mary and Joseph, they would not have been kind to them. It would have been easier on them if they could legitimately leave Nazareth a little while before the child was born. They might be able to return several months, preferably years later, and the community might never know that the child was conceived three months before the marriage was consummated. If such thoughts ever crossed the minds of Mary and Joseph, we do not know, but circumstances were taken out of their hands. Amazingly an imperial decree was issued through Governor Quirinius which demanded that Joseph return to his home town of Bethlehem for registration. This meant that the child would have been born while he was away. After realising the apparent unchaste behaviour, what might the community have done to Mary and the child while Joseph was away? This could explain why Joseph decide that he must take the heavily pregnant Mary on his journey to Bethlehem. If the community had not yet found out about Mary's early pregnancy, the perfect opportunity had arisen to make sure they never did.
This explains why it is that a heavily pregnant Mary made such a difficult journey, and it also explains why Mary and Joseph would not wish to return to Nazareth for a few years. This explains why they were still in Bethehem a couple of years later when the Magi visited them.
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