Like most preachers in Christian churches, I have been thinking about the Christmas story—a lot. I have been intrigued by the difference between Matthew’s version of the story and Luke’s. In Matthew’s version, the angel comes to Joseph and announces that Mary is with child. Joseph, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame” (Mt. 19), resolves to divorce her quietly. The angel sees through the mock concern and tells him, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife” (Mt. 1:20). Reading between the lines, it seems like Joseph’s deepest concern is not for Mary’s welfare but for his reputation. There are some parts of the Matthew story that I like, but this section is over the top misogygenistic. It takes an act of God to tell Joseph to grow up and get over himself. One thinks here that perhaps the Republicans in the House of Representatives need such a visitation after they appointed all white men to chair all of the committees in the House.
Luke, on the other hand, tells a different story. The angel comes directly to Mary and speaks to her. In a patriarchal society this is a radical break with the status quo. Then, instead of being embarrassed, Mary delights in the news. At first, understandably perplexed, she asks “How can this be?” but then she accepts the good news and declares herself to be “a handmaid of the Lord” (Lk.1:37).
In addition to reading these two stories, I also reread an article by Dorothy Sollee, a German theologian, entitled, “God and Her Friends.” In the article Sollee asks why should we want to worship a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and independent—a God who does not need friends?
What Mary “gets” and what Joseph seems to be unable to “get” is that we all need friends—even God. Going further, it is not that Mary wants to be Joseph, or become like Joseph. But rather, Luke seems to envision that a day will come when Joseph (who embodies patriarchy and misogyny) is no more. The basic image in Luke’s telling of the story is that God acts with the intention of empowering all people to lead fruitful and productive and healthy lives.