Passing the character test.
Mary has just returned to Nazareth from visiting Elizabeth. While she was away, the Christ child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, has grown. Now that she is back, there is no hiding her pregnant belly. Others in the town, ignorant of the cause of Mary's pregnancy, are shocked.
Mercy, truth, Persecution, Birth of Christ, Sacrifice
As Mary steps down from the cart it is obvious that she is pregnant. A child comes and touches her belly -- interested in the child that lies within. But the adults in Nazareth are shocked, and some show their disapproval on their faces. Mary quickly walks into her parent's home, where they confront her. They want to know why Mary expects them to believe that the child she is carrying is from God. Mary points to Elizabeth's pregnancy in her old age, but her father explodes, "Elizabeth has a husband!" Mary's mother says, "You could be put to death for this. They could stone you in the streets." Mary responds, "I have broken no vow." But her father is not convinced, "You have broken every vow, Mary." He wants to know if a Roman soldier is the father. Mary is adamant, "I have told the truth. Whether you believe is your choice, not mine." Mary's mother is now worried about the shame Mary is bringing on Joseph, and whether he will accuse her, but Joseph interrupts and demands to speak to his betrothed alone. Joseph says to Mary, "Do you know why I chose you? I believed you were a woman of great virtue." Joseph sees choices before him, but none of them are good. He says that he could name the child as his own, but that would be to lie before God. He also knows what will happen if he accuses Mary of adultery -- she will be stoned to death. Bravely, Mary looks at Joseph and says, "There is a will for this child greater than my fear of what they may do." Joseph looks upon Mary, and it is clear that he still loves her. He says, "I will make no accusation. Without that there can be no trial." Mary replies, "You have shown great mercy, Joseph. For that I will be thankful."
Once we recognize that none of the people in first century Nazareth had the benefit of hindsight that Christians have today, Joseph's act of mercy takes on new weight. Even though he is not yet sure that he believes the story Mary tells of her pregnancy (the angel had yet to visit him), out of love for her he protects her from the impulses of the townspeople to exact justice. He is willing to be wronged rather than cause pain to his beloved. His love is sacrificial. Mary demonstrates trust in God. She recognizes that God is with her, and so refuses to back down in the face of opposition from her parents, or to fear the unjust punishment of the crowd. She knows that she is speaking the truth, and she stands by God's revelation, trusting in Him to preserve her. This scene illustrates the truth that God will always be found true, no matter what people may say about His Word. Our safest ground is to stand with God, for He knows things we cannot. It also is a stirring example of self-sacrifice in the interest of others. Joseph's decision, made in ignorance, to show mercy and spare his betrothed reflects in a small way the unfathomable sacrifice that Jesus made, fully aware of the reality of our sin, on behalf of us all.