Thoughts from Craig Hultgren, President of Relate 20/20, on relationships in a Christmas context.

This year I’m meditating on the relationship between Joseph and Mary in the original Christmas story. In Matthew 1 Joseph is introduced as a righteous man. His identity is found in moral and righteous principles. This more than anything is what he is guided by. The next thing we learn about him is that he is compassionate, because he does not want to disgrace Mary when he’s learned about her untimely pregnancy. The two are in conflict in his mind. He wants to do what is right, but he also wants to be compassionate. So he exercises his mind to come up with the best plan he can, to put her away secretly.

It is at that point that God intervenes, sending an angel to him to show him the deeper motivator for his plan that he may be unaware of. The first words from the angel were “Do not fear”. Fear was the underlying motivator that was guiding his decisions. But fear of what? “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”, said the angel. He was afraid of the relationship… that he could not trust her! And what is a relationship if it does not have trust? After all, she was most obviously pregnant and she saying that she had not had a relationship with a man. How could this be true? How could he know that she would not lie to him in the future or worse yet be unfaithful to him? So he was fearful of the unknown future with her lacking real trust. So he chose… against the longing of his heart… with agony in his soul!

It was at this point that God intervened. So often we need divine help to overcome our fear. Fear is our natural response to unknown situations beyond our control that could cause us pain. So we need intervention from someone who knows everything, can control everything, and whose love does not want to cause us pain. We need to take our fears to God! But often we can’t see the way there. So God takes the initiative and reaches out to us to take our fear from us. As in most angelic visitations, the first words out of the angel’s mouth were “do not fear”.

And then the angel declared what was unknown to Joseph, what he needed to know to overcome his fear, the truth he needed to see… that the baby was indeed as Mary said… from God! And so he did not need to be afraid to take her as his wife. How his heart must have leaped! He could indeed trust her!! The impossible secret that she had been entrusting to him was indeed true. “The child that is in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Moreover, as the angel said, there was a higher purpose of God in all of this and even a role for Joseph to play. He would name the baby Jesus. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

So fear was overcome and trust was established in the relationship between Joseph and Mary. And that trust between them was strong, divinely strong! Based on that trust, Mary left her family and all that she knew and traveled to Bethlehem with Joseph, despite being on the verge of giving birth to her first child! And again when she had just settled down as much as she could in that strange town, at Joseph’s leading she got up in the middle of the night and left town with her toddler for a foreign country! And later, again at Joseph’s leading, she left that foreign country to return to her hometown to face all of the shame that she had left behind. Such trust could only be Devine. And Joseph too, out of love for Mary and the baby that had been given, left everything he had time and time again.

Trust and faith are really two words for the same thing. And we know that God is love and is the author and perfecter of faith. We receive because of His love. And the faith he authors conquers all fear! Perfect love casts out all fear, but where could perfect love come from other than from God? And we need faith to receive it. Mary and Joseph certainly knew this, and overcame their fears with divine help to put their trust in God… and in each other!