This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent (“coming” or “arrival”), the beginning of the church year, when we celebrate Jesus’ first coming as a baby and anticipate his return as King. For two young people in Israel, this season was nine months long instead of four weeks, as it is for us, and what happened during in those months is a beautiful lesson for our teens today.
Mary and Joseph were happily “betrothed”, meaning that they had the status of marriage but not yet the rights of marriage – they were not to live together or be sexually intimate. For Mary to become pregnant during this time would be a disgrace. When this happened to a young woman in Galilee it was considered a moral and legal offence.
Mary did become pregnant, and Joseph knew the child was not his. Because he was a “righteous” man, he needed to back out of the betrothal. In Israelite culture that meant he was obligated to divorce Mary, and to do it publicly. His reputation was at stake.
Joseph knew it was right to divorce Mary, because she must have had sex with another man. But because he had compassion on her, he would do it quietly instead of publicly. Even though by so doing he would forfeit his reputation and the dowry his family had paid. (Matthew 1:18-24)
Mary, probably still quite young, was at first troubled when the angel Gabriel told her she would have a child. She was also puzzled, because she was a virgin, but bold enough to ask “How can that be?” And, even though it seemed impossible, she believed Gabriel’s answer and willingly accepted what she knew was a huge honor – to become the mother of the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting. (Luke 1:26-38, 45)
Mary knew that she risked rejection, possibly from Joseph, most certainly from the neighbours in Nazareth, who would not know what was happening – or believe, even if they did know. But her response was, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me as you have said.” Joseph, told in a dream that he should take Mary to be his wife, did so, also risking condemnation because the required twelve months of betrothal were not yet finished.
This is a true story of teenage faith, love, and responsibility – of following God’s directions and considering the welfare of the other. These are the building blocks of healthy sexuality.