The Road to Bethlehem

The road to Bethlehem, like it was for Joseph and Mary, demands both a willingness to obey God and the courage to do the RIGHT thing. It must have been difficult for Mary (a young unwed mother) and Joseph (a surrogate father). It was not just the long journey on a donkey undertaken during Mary’s advanced stage of pregnancy but the entire sequence of events before it.

Mary had become pregnant being filled with the Holy Spirit. An ‘unwed’ pregnancy is obnoxious within the Asian cultural backdrop. Mary’s story in all probability must have been everybody’s favourite waste of time. Her story must have provided fodder to neighbourhood gossip. Every stare, every careless comment must have hurt her.

Most of all, the silence of the immediate family must have hurt her the most. She must have felt the pain of being misunderstood. An engagement within the Jewish context had the same binding as that of a marriage. How could she explain this to Joseph? For Mary, obedience to God meant the loss of family (Joseph included), friends and worse – loss of face.

Submitting to God’s Will

Perhaps, the easy way out for Mary was to back out. That would have been a smart thing to do. You shouldn’t bite more than what you can chew. It may have easily secured contemporary peer group approval. Taking the easy way out would have been the right thing to do. But, sometimes doing the right thing is not doing the RIGHT thing.

Mary submitted herself to God’s will at the risk of embarrassment, public disgrace and ridicule in order to do the RIGHT thing. She willingly went through it all.

It may not have been easy for Joseph too. True, Joseph was unlike most men in that he did not want to publicly shame Mary. But, that doesn’t mean he had a big halo around his head. He, like all men, did not want to accept Mary and even wanted to quietly call off the engagement. Joseph fought hard to wriggle out of this discomfiture.

Perhaps, that would have been the smartest thing to do. For most people, that would have been the right thing to do. But, Joseph had his moment of Truth. He listened to the Word of God that came to him through an angel. He willingly accepted Mary against all odds. His willingness to obey God is demonstrated in taking Mary to Bethlehem to register her name alongside his in the official records.

The Cost of Obedience

Sometimes, doing the right thing is not doing the RIGHT thing. What did his obedience cost Joseph? It must have taken a lot of courage to agree to become a surrogate father and to later deal with suspicion, ridicule and neighbourhood gossip.

Both Mary and Joseph saw the value and worth in believing God’s Word even if it was not the easiest thing to do. Both sensed a divine stamp in the sequence of events and were willing to yield themselves to God’s will against all odds. God’s will does not always promise a ‘pain-free’ experience.

Obedience to God might take us through embarrassment, ridicule and public disgrace. And doing the right thing is to look for an easy way out. But that may not be the RIGHT thing to do. The strength of what we believe in is measured by how much we are willing to suffer for it. “O come all ye faithful”, O come to Bethlehem and come let us adore him – Jesus is born in Bethlehem for us.

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Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.