You’d never find me reading a newspaper problem page, but my wife Jo tells me that even in the Guardian newspaper they have one. But this isn’t your usual agony aunt column, it’s a problem page with a difference. Each week the Guardian publishes a letter that someone has sent in and they invite everyone to send in their answers to the problem. The following week they publish people’s advice.
We might perhaps try this in our Parish Magazine – what do you think? Each month we could publish a reader’s letter and the following month publish advice from our readers. So, here is our first letter. It is from a Mr. Joe Davidson:
“I really love my girlfriend and we have been planning our wedding together for some time now. But I’ve just found out she’s pregnant and I’m not the father. What should I do?”
What might your answers be? Perhaps one of the following:
Get rid of her – she’s clearly not to be trusted
Tell her to get rid of the baby if she really loves you
But what about this one?
Don’t jump to conclusions – it might not be what you think. Go ahead and marry her and bring the baby up as your own.
Joseph, in Matthew 1, faces the same dilemma. The woman he loves is pregnant and he’s not the father. What should he do?
Get rid of Mary on the quiet? That’s his first thought.
But then he is challenged to change his mind: “It’s not what you think – Mary’s not been with another man – this baby is from God. Marry her, love her and bring up this special baby as your own.”
My wife Jo tells me that if you’re an East Enders fan with a good memory you’ll know of a similar storyline being played out 10 years ago between Little Mo and Billy Mitchell. Little Mo was raped and became pregnant. She was adamant that she’d keep the baby and so she and Billy split up because Billy couldn’t handle the idea of bringing up another man’s child. Little Mo disappears from Albert Square for a while and has the baby. In time, the rape charge comes to court and she and Billy have to meet up. They realise that they still love each other. Billy talks to other men on the Square who’ve faced similar problems and begins to change his thinking. Perhaps, because he loves Little Mo so much, he can be a dad to someone else’s child. And so they get back together and try to make a go of being a family. But it doesn’t work – at first there’s just Billy’s worries that he doesn’t feel like a dad and his fear of what it will be like in the future. In the end he cannot accept Freddie as his own.
I guess Joseph, too, must have struggled bringing up Jesus. How did he cope with the knowing looks of others? He must, also, have wondered what he was taking on being a dad to God’s child. How would he feel as the child grew up? What would he say when the child asked questions about his real dad? And what would happen when Mary had more children with Joseph as the real dad?
We don’t hear much more about Joseph in the Bible – we know he was still around when Jesus was twelve and that Jesus learned the family trade of carpentry. This would suggest that Joseph did stick around and do as God had asked him to do.
Taking responsibility for something that’s not of our own making is hard. But God asked Joseph to do it – to love and nurture Jesus. God asked him to stay with Mary however tough things got. God wanted Joseph to look for God’s way through the mess and the pain of the situation he found himself in.
Life, for us, can get messy, painful and confusing. Walking away, turning our back on such situations, is not an option that God wants us to take. Instead he wants us to get involved, to put aside our fears and worries and listen for his guidance.
There was a lot of mess around that first Christmas. A heavily pregnant woman; a dirty stable to give birth in; noisy smelly animals and visiting shepherds; Gentile visitors from the East; evil intentions of Herod and his murder of innocent children.
In the mess of that situation, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wisemen all saw God’s glory in the form of a baby.
In our churches each Sunday we celebrate Holy Communion, the memorial of the messy, shameful and disgusting death which ended Jesus’ earthly life. The breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood – which was God’s saving act.
In fact, all through Jesus’ life we are asked to see God’s power and love not in clinical and awesome isolation, not in some abstract way, but in the mess and muddle of everyday life. And, Jesus himself promises that when we get involved in the lives of others, when we go where God calls us to go, then we will experience his power in just the same kind of way – in the midst of everyday life. And later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promises to be with us in just these situations. He also makes it clear that when we walk away from difficult situations, …. we turn our back on God.
Back to our problem page? What would you do presented with Joseph’s dilemma?
Joseph swallowed his pride, set aside that decision to abandon Mary and instead to took on the challenge that God set him. He could have walked away, but he didn’t. Instead of taking the easy course, he got involved in the mess that life presented to him and in doing so he experienced, he encountered first-hand, the power and love of God.
Joseph challenges us to chose to stick with life at it really is. In doing so, we will find that through the struggle, through both difficulties and joys, God will draw closer to us.