Monday, December 25, 2000

Christmas story

Who needs Joseph anyway?

        Canceled flights. Slippery roads. Cold. Christmas travel has never been easy. Beginning with the first one.

        Mary and Joseph must have been exhausted. Joseph was not a young man, and Mary, of course, was very pregnant. Biblical scholars can't really figure out why she made the trip. For Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth was mandatory.

        Census-takers then didn't beg everybody to send in their form with a chipper “everybody counts.” The Romans were considerably more insistent. Everybody had to register in their place of birth. Or else. Mary could have stayed back in Nazareth, but Joseph was obliged to travel 100 miles over brutally rough ground to register in his hometown.

An unwed mother
        Surely this couple had also covered some rocky personal terrain. Mary was Joseph's fiancee, and she was pregnant. Not by him. What would the neighbors say? This was no small consideration in a culture where women were stoned for such things.

        But angels whispered in everybody's ears. Joseph's. Mary's. The shepherds'. The Wise Men's. Then they all gathered in a stable, where the Savior was born.

        At least, that's the way I remember it from Sunday school, colorized and romanticized by Hollywood, by years of Christmas carols and school pageants.

        Silent Night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin, mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace.

        But what about Joseph? In our plaster creche scene at home, he's the one in the brown robe, the one who fades into the background. Do we really think once he located lodgings and fed the donkey, his job was finished?

Hallmark time warp
        Joseph has been much on my mind lately, not just for the obvious, seasonal reasons. In Sunday's Enquirer a week ago, Tempo reporter Richelle Thompson began her series on marriage by noting that in Hamilton County: “More than half the women who had babies in 1998 did it alone — forgoing marriage altogether.”

        Half? Half? I must have been living in some sort of Hallmark time warp. But, to me, that was a staggering figure. Some of these babies, of course, will be born into families where there are committed partners for the moms. Or grandparents, aunt and uncles, brothers and sisters ready to throw themselves into the lives of the babies.

        I am not saying that families don't come in all kinds of combinations.

        But what if the mothers of these children don't have volunteers lined up? Many of them, like Mary, are teen-agers. What if there is no Joseph, ready to take on the responsibility of a child who doesn't, technically, belong to him?

        These babies are going to need help. So will their mothers. So do the mothers of babies born in wedlock. Dad plays a lot bigger role than just putting his name on the mailbox.

        Thomas D. York, pastor of Hyde Park's Knox Presbyterian Church, says of the Christmas story, “This was a difficult birth followed by a very difficult life. Every child needs structure, love, care. A home. I think that's what Mary and Joseph provided to Jesus.”

        Maybe Mary could have found an empty manger by herself. And maybe, alone, this young girl could have raised the boy, fed and clothed him, taught him a trade. But God must have thought she needed help.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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