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Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Biblical Christmas Divorce?

The Divorce That Almost Altered Christmas!

The biblical Christmas stories describe some of the most significant moments in life:  the opening of human minds to encounters with God, an engaged couple looking forward to marriage, the joy of learning one is about to become a parent, the welcoming of a new baby into the world, a divorce situation.   What?  A divorce? 

There are not that many references in the Bible to people who got divorced, but there are some.  And there are several that are implied, such as the woman at the well and her five husbands.  But did you ever consider that one divorce almost ended Christmas before it even started?  In Matthew’s nativity story in chapter one, there is the interesting account of the time when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, and as a result, was going to divorce her before they got married.  In that culture, the engagement had a more binding impact than here in the United States, and so the process of breaking an engagement was more formal as well, so he would have divorced Mary in order to break the engagement!  Could you imagine how the Christmas story would have been impacted had the angel not convinced Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy was a miracle of God, rather than the result of promiscuous behavior? 

Not only that, but in reality, Jesus was ALWAYS raised by his step-dad, anyway.   I think step parenting is tough enough already, could you imagine trying to be the step dad of God’s own Son?  Talk about feeling like the other parent is looking over your shoulder!  Although, it says a lot about what God must have thought of Joseph that he was willing to entrust the raising of Jesus to him, as well as Mary who we often notice as being such a quality person. 
But all in all, has it ever occurred to you that divorce IS a part of the Christmas story?  Granted, a divorce that ended up not happening, but there it is, right smack dab in the middle of this most celebrated of birth stories.

There is something I find very interesting, though, in the whole account, that might be very telling for those of you struggling with the guilt of divorce today.  Did you notice the description of how Joseph was going to pursue the divorce?  Matthew says that since Joseph was an honorable man, he was going to divorce her quietly.  That’s actually kind of an intriguing thing to say, don’t you think?  Consider the fact that Joseph was described as an honorable person affected HOW he was going to get divorced, not WHETHER he got divorced!  The scripture does not indicate that his plan to divorce was a stain on his character.  There is no moral or value judgment stated against his honor at all in the matter, even before he is counseled to go through with the marriage.  Just a simple statement of fact.  As if it was perfectly natural to understand that, given that Mary was apparently unfaithful, it was only to be expected that he was not going to marry her, that he was going to pursue divorce. 

Of course, once the angel explains the true situation, he is willing to comply with God’s desires.  But had it not been for that angel, or for the fact that Joseph was a man of great faith and honor, the whole Christmas story may have had an entirely different ending.  And yes, the divorce didn’t occur.  But the tone of the passage makes plain that in such cases, divorce was a real option, one which apparently was an acceptable choice for even the most honorable of people in certain circumstances. 

I don’t know if you ever thought about Christmas and divorce in this way, but even that first Christmas was one that brought with it memories of divorce.  We know this is true, because those memories are recorded right there in the story.  Every person whose family life has been touched by divorce knows what it is to have Christmas memories and celebrations colored, at least to some extent, by the experience of a broken marriage.  But, I would suggest that, also like the story of Joseph and Mary, obedience to God can change the story into one that brings glory to God and joy to the world!  

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