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Family Photos

It’s that time of year when the family photos start arriving in the mail. Everyone always looks so nice.

Last autumn, our church offered free family photos. Anyone who signed up, got a few minutes with a photographer by the pond. The pictures turned out great, but I couldn’t help noticing that every parent out there looked like they were about to throw their kids in the water. The day was unseasonably warm and the fall clothes we all picked out for the occasion were making us all sweaty and short-tempered. And the kids wouldn’t all smile at once. The madder we got, the more unruly the kids were. Conversations before and after in the waiting area were terse and unnatural. Like we were all embarrassed that everyone saw what happens behind the camera for every family photo. Bribes that turn into threats all under our breath with a smile on our face.

I thought about these family photos when I read this passage:

“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. “

Matthew 1:18-19

How many times have we seen a nativity scenes with a beautiful Mary (usually dressed in blue) holding a baby and a proud Joseph by her side? The nativity is basically the “family photo” of the holy family. They look all clean and perfect. But here’s the thing. They wouldn’t have been clean and only one of them was perfect. Mary and Joseph made an 80 mile trip in the desert on a donkey and then she gave birth to a baby in a stable. I probably don’t have to mention that nothing about that is clean. And about them being perfect? Think about Joseph. Although Mary says the baby is from God, he’s worried about what people will think.

He loves Mary, but the easiest way out is for him to divorce her privately, to save them both from public humiliation. Now, imagine that nativity scene again. Does Joseph look like a man who, a few months ago, planned to divorce Mary? Remembering that changes things for me.

It doesn’t make me lose respect for Mary and Joseph. I can’t imagine what they were going through. On one hand, Joseph wanted to believe Mary, but what would people think? Surely they were going to talk. Who’s baby is it? Why is she going away to visit Elizabeth so close to the wedding? Is she actually claiming to be pregnant with the Messiah?

It reminds me that they were people, just like us. They were flawed. They were probably in need of a bath and good night’s rest. They were probably cold, and hungry, and scared. But that didn’t stop God from using them to be a part of the greatest story ever told.

Once they said, “Yes” He took if from there. He sent them to Bethlehem (by using a census of all things) to fulfill prophecy. He sent a star so others could find the baby and worship him. He protected Jesus from Herod. And in the midst of all this, a perfect Savior was born.

The next time I feel like I need to be perfect to do God’s work, I’ll think again. He could have chosen anything in creation to do his work, but he chose people. Flawed, tired, in need of a bath people. All He wants is someone willing to say, “yes” and He’ll take it from there.



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