He must have been devastated. You’re planning the wedding, planning your new life, planning for a family. Then your fiance comes to you, deflated, and says, “Honey, we need to talk.” What? Pregnant? “But we agreed to wait until the wedding!” Pregnant . . . with someone else’s child. What do you do?
He was going to break off the engagement, obviously. “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”
But things were not as they first seemed to Joseph, as the book of Matthew tells the story. “Just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
At first Joseph thought that Mary broke faith. But she didn’t. And so he kept faith with her, married her, and raised Jesus as his own son.
A person doesn’t need to believe in the literal truth of this story to draw lessons from it. As Bible scholar Bart Ehrman reviews, the “virgin” birth described in Matthew probably stemmed from a misunderstanding of a term better translated as “young woman.” The author of Matthew wrote the story to have Jesus fulfill prophesy, and he thought that Isaiah prophesied a “virgin” birth.
Regardless, we can abstract away from the details. Maybe it’s also a general story about a woman who gets pregnant right before meeting the person she really wants to settle down with. Maybe it’s a story about a woman who does break faith but then is sincerely sorry for it. In either case, her fiance agrees to raise the child as his own. Such is faith remended.
This is not, as I read it, a story of blind faith. If I were visited by an angel of the Lord in a dream, I’d think it was just a dream. If the dream were especially vivid, I might think that someone had drugged me or that I had a brain tumor or something. But in the universe of Matthew, an angel visiting you in a dream counts as reliable testimony. In secular variants of the story, Joseph has good reason to trust Mary’s word. In any case, Joseph is faithful to Mary because he reasonably thinks that she will be faithful to him. So here we’re talking about faith in the sense of deserved fidelity.
What does any of this have to do with Colorado politics, you might be wondering (and my editor surely is wondering). This is my Christmas column, after all. And the story of Joseph really does offer some important lessons for us as we finish out this very strange and challenging year.
Imagine this variant of the story. Joseph and Mary share a drink too many one evening and get an early start on their marital bliss. Then, “honey, we need to talk.” But, rather than reach the obvious conclusion here, Joseph explodes in irrational anger and baselessly accuses Mary of cheating on him. In this story, Mary doesn’t break faith but Joseph does, just because he finds the outcome irritating.
At this point I don’t think certain Colorado Republicans need an angel of the Lord to tell them that their presidential candidate lost the election, there was no substantial voter fraud—early voting notwithstanding—and it’s well past time to stop trying to throw the voters under a bus.
Some people also are breaking faith with vaccine producers, going so far as to spin outrageous conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and others. I for one am ecstatic that several of my friends who work in medicine already have received their vaccinations, a wonderful early Christmas present. I heard reports from one hospital of tears of joy and ringing of bells with each delivered dose. Joy to the world!
Congressman Ken Buck initially seemed to be unfaithful to the vaccination program, worrying publicly about possible safety. Maybe he was initially unclear or maybe he did some after-the-fact revisions, but anyway he soon said, “My point was at-risk individuals should be prioritized before members of Congress.” He added that the approval of the Moderna vaccine “is great news. I encourage our frontline workers, healthcare professionals, and at-risk individuals to get the vaccine immediately.” In my book, this counts as faith restored.
Of course politics is politics, so various Democrats insisted on the worst possible spin of Buck’s remarks. I suggest that we try to give partisan politics a rest more often and, with Joseph, err more on the side of forgiveness and understanding. In that spirit, I hope the devout will forgive me for writing Congressman Buck into the Joseph and Mary story.
Sometimes I write with an undertone of humor. Not in this paragraph. Here I want to proclaim that, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or other, whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or whatever, whether you live in the metro area or the Eastern Plains or the mountains or the Western Slope, we are all Coloradans, and for the most part we deserve each other’s faith. This has been a hell of a year. And, by keeping the faith, we can overcome.