The Disnification of Christmas is almost complete. I don’t want to be rude to the Disney franchise – I like being entertained, but you know what I mean. The Nativity story has become a fairy story, scrubbed clean, with cute angels, a baby, and all the editing to suggest that it belongs to the world of make-believe to be fed to small children and left behind by grown-ups. It’s not real, it doesn’t belong in the world of work, politics, adult relationships, or anything serious.
But Matthew insists on telling the story as happening to real people, with difficult decisions and painful moral battles to fight. His nativity focusses on Joseph, (Matthew 1:18-25), a man with a problem. He is betrothed to a girl, Mary. Betrothal is a serious commitment, yet she has become pregnant, and not by him. We are not told of his feelings – we could imagine a roller coaster of anger, betrayal, doubt, compounded by a story of an angel visiting her. What we are told is that, despite this upset, he decides to do the “right” thing. He will divorce her (betrothal was that serious!), but without making a big fuss.
He has just made up his mind when, in a dream, an angel appeared to him. The angel is no comic figure, nor even a romantic support, but a messenger with instructions. He is to go ahead with the marriage, and support and protect the child who will be “Saviour”. Does that make everything all right? Again, we are not told of his feelings. He does as he is told. No doubt he endures many snide comments, unfair allegations about his behaviour. He may even have been glad to leave Nazareth, though the journey to Bethlehem was a serious challenge.
The gospel writers do not record in detail how Joseph, or even Mary (who carries more disapproval), react to this. What effect does it have on their relationship? How do they deal with the burden of unfair criticism, innuendo, exclusion? We don’t know. Or rather, we aren’t given a dramatic account of their struggles. What we do know is here: Joseph was a righteous man (v19), and he did as the angel of the Lord commanded (v24). Jesus was born, and protected as a child, and learnt love, and faith, and the ways of God from his parents first. I cannot believe he was brought up by people bitter at their past, untrusting of each other, with a permanent grudge against society.
So perhaps we need to listen the the story Matthew tells with such restraint. As a story for grown-ups, who struggle with injustice, and being judged, and having a hard time – a story for real people, a little like us. We may wonder why God doesn’t make life easier for us, but here it seems there was a reason. Perhaps there will be more reasons when we look back.
Entertainment for the young? Looked at like this, it seems almost unsuitable.