The Christmas Story: Marriage By Mission

A Strange Intrusion



I find it amazing that God chose to send Christ in the midst of a dating relationship of sorts. In fact, the Christmas story in Matthew (Mat 1:18-25) tells us that Messiah arrived in the middle of a marriage engagement. It was that special time of life for Joseph and Mary:


18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.


A Time of Stress

I have walked with many young people exploring dating and getting engaged. They find it stressful enough, just trying to navigate this biggest transition of their lives. Imagine layering this other thing—ushering in the Messiah—on top of the process. God knows the stresses of setting up a new life with another person. Why do it just then, that way?


In the Bible’s Christmas stories (Matthew 1-2, Luke 2), Mary and Jesus are clearly the stars of the show. But notice how God gives guidance for holy family through Joseph every time.

It is to Joseph whom God must send an angel to move the relationship forward. He tells the troubled man to proceed with the marriage, to take care of this woman and the child to come (Mat 1:20). It is Joseph who must return to Bethlehem for the census (Luk 2:1-5). Because he brings pregnant Mary with him, the son of David is born in the city of David. It is to Joseph whom the Almighty speaks to whisk the mother and child off to Egypt (Mat 2:13). And it is Joseph God later instructs to return to Nazareth (Mat 2:19-20).

God guides the family through Joseph’s leadership, securing, protecting wife and child. Each of these steps took tremendous faith on Joseph’s part. And Mary saw it.


Mary, for her part, bravely yielded to the dangerous journey to Bethlehem while nine months pregnant. That journey allowed a key moment for her life. She heard the prophecy over Jesus at nearby Jerusalem when presenting Him at the Temple (Luk 2:25-38). It is a testament to Mary’s submission to the Lord (Luk 1:38) that she was able to handle all of these harrowing happenings. Although, at moments, I bet she felt like she wasn’t handling it. And Joseph saw it.


A Dedication to the Kingdom

These accounts show us what bound this fiancé and betrothed together. Two words: Same mission.  In responding to the mission God thrust upon them, they responded to each other. And each saw the other’s dedication to the unfolding plan of God. The mission bonded them in their engagement. In fact, the imposition of God’s call on this couple wasn’t something extra. The mission made their marriage.


And so, the Christmas story is a story of intergendered love. Joseph and Mary welcomed the Lord of Love into the world through the gendered image of their love. Because they came together around the Kingdom, the Kingdom came. May you similarly respond to the Lord’s coming and know His love this Christmas.


  1. Keith Gallagher

    “Why do it just then, that way?”

    Sam let me give one answer to your question from the perspective of a man that will celebrate 40 years of marriage in 2023.

    Answer – this is to serve as a model for those called to marriage, a model on laying the proper foundation even during the ‘planning phase’ (engagement period) of this house (marriage) to be built. This foundation is the bedrock that is Jesus Christ. He is and always has been the bedrock of our marriage, much in the way He is the keystone of his church and we living stones of that church.

    You must have been caught up in the Christmas spirit for this post Sam, as I only had to read through it once to understand it. Usually, your posts are like reading Chesterton (reading Orthodoxy right now and loving it)! 🙌

    1. Congratulations on 40 years of marriage! I think that a glorious understanding comes after the 30 year mark in the marriage that is hard to understand beforehand. I think that your kind comparison of me to Chesterton is not quite right though. Some writers are sometimes hard to understand because they are brilliantly deep (e.g., Chesterton). Others are sometimes hard to understand because they are simply hard to understand (e.g., guess who).

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