Recent studies show that more and more couples are opting to live together outside of marriage. In addition, the number of children born outside of wedlock has just exploded in recent decades. Today there is little shame or stigma attached to what was once known as the “illegitimate” child.
This was certainly not true in the nation of Judah two millennia ago. A child conceived and born out-of-wedlock was one of the greatest shames a person could bear. This was so far outside of the bounds of society that both parents could be put to death. The child would bear the stain and stench of being “illegitimate” for life.
Genealogy was extremely important to the Jewish people. Birthrights and property rights were well established, even being a part of God’s law as given to Moses. The “illegitimate” child did not have these rights. Instead, he inherited ridicule and being an outcast.
So it is truly a miracle that Joseph decided to go ahead and marry the mother of a child he knew was not his. It is also a miracle that together Joseph and Mary faced the shame and scorn of their neighbors to raise their son, Jesus.
Let’s look further at what this particular child faced:
Along with his parents, Jesus would always be recognized as “that child” in his home town of Nazareth. Nazareth was a backwater town in a backwater part of Judah called Galilee. As was later proclaimed, “Nothing good ever comes out of Nazareth or Galilee.” Jesus as a child was an outcast among outcasts. How much lower can you get?
Even as a baby powerful people sought to kill him. His parents were forced to flee to a foreign country to save him.
He lived in poverty.
His younger brothers and sisters and declared him insane and tried to have him removed from society.
Both religious and political leaders hated him and tried to have him killed.
The people of his hometown rejected him and tried to kill him when he showed he had much to offer them.
No, it was not easy being an “illegitimate” child, especially not this child.
What makes this even more incredible is that Jesus chose this position and situation for his childhood. He chose to leave his position as the richest and most powerful prince in the entire universe to live in poverty and shame. He chose to do this to walk in our shoes, to learn how we live. And he chose to do this knowing the painful suffering and humiliating death he would face later. God the Son chose not only to walk among us, but to BE one of us! To do this, he had to give up riches, power, majesty, comfort…. He truly became our Immanuel, not “God AMONG us,” but “God WITH us.”
This is the Miracle of Christmas, my friends. The Word became flesh not as a king or warrior, but as the lowest of the low. He came to live among us in poverty and humility in order to show us the way.