Doing the Math
People like to do the math.
With every birth announcement there will be one person who counts back nine months and chuckles inwardly. Hence the well-known nine month holiday. When I was a teen-ager in high school, some girls would suddenly vanish mid-year. The story would surface that they had gone to help out an ailing “aunt in England”… for nine months.
It’s what people do with those hard-to-explain situations… I had an elderly friend who discovered late in life that his “aunt” was actually his mother. At the time of his birth, the family came up with a story to shield themselves from prying eyes.
Shame is the backdrop to the nativity story. You can do the math yourself. I bet a lot of tongues were wagging about Joseph and Mary.
The Gospel of Luke says that Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth and stayed there for three months. That’s a long visit. The official line was that she was caring for her pregnant cousin, but it was no doubt a great place to hide out once Mary started to “show”. The family had to put together a game plan while they waited to see how Joseph would react. Mary’s mom and dad likely had a few frank discussions about who let that kid out from under their eyeball. Joseph decided to cancel his engagement quietly and discreetly to avoid the winks from passersby, until the Angel advised him otherwise.
That’s when Joseph decided to face the gossip head-on. When called to Bethlehem to be numbered for tax, he took his pregnant fiancé along with him. This is a great picture of tenderness - Joseph already caring for Mary in her conspicuous and vulnerable state. Joseph would look forward to standing in front of some jerky Roman tax official to explain that he and the “great with child” maiden beside him were not duly wed... yet. There would be a few guffaws and “way to go stud” comments in the tax office before they stamped his papers.
Hence, Jesus was actually born out of wedlock. Joseph and Mary would return home to their parents and start to plan a wedding. With a crying infant in tow, it was likely a smaller and more private event than originally planned, and you can bet a few neighbourhood scolds and whisperers were kicked off the invite list. Regardless, the new couple gets duly wed, they start up their family life without skipping a beat and the threat to the family reputation is averted.
You can do the math on other things as well. Jesus would have been first in line for the family business. I doubt his dad had a “Joseph and son of God” sign planned for the shop door. Jesus defied public expectations on the day he exited the carpenter shop and launched his ministry instead. Some people thought he was nuts. Hence in Mark 3:31 we find his family gathered outside with the crowd, at a home where Jesus was preaching. I wonder if there was an intervention planned. They likely wanted to take him home for a good home cooked meal and some well-intended family advice.
Doing the math on Christmas tells the story of a vulnerable young woman who was shielded and supported by family. This kind of family math makes the Christmas story most beautiful to me. If you have kids you will be acquainted with this notion: “I won’t always agree with you but I will always support you.” It’s what family does. The retelling of the story set against family life makes each Christmas better and better, because Christmas is a story about family, like no other. It’s a story about sticking together, because the truth is none of us will be ok until all of us are OK.
It follows, that someone would have recounted the facts of Jesus’ birth to the apostles who later wrote it down in the gospels. I wonder if Jesus himself told the story. It would have been a miraculous tale about a virgin with child, as the prophets foretold. But on a personal note, you can also do the math... I’m sure the telling of the story would end like this:
“Yeah, that’s my family. I never would have made it without them.”