Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Luke 1:29-33 NIV
Most of the time, the news of a pregnancy is joyful. There are, of course, exceptions. When the pregnancy was not wanted or planned, if it was the result of violence, or if it puts the mother and baby’s lives at risk. These things do happen.
In Mary’s case the pregnancy would have been a scandal. She was not yet married. In her day, a pregnancy out of wedlock would have been one of the worst things that could happen to a woman.
I think what I love most about the story of Jesus’ birth is that it was also messy. Even the news of the pregnancy was tinged with the possibility of scandal, of real danger to Mary’s life (women were disowned or even stoned in those days for being unfaithful). The reason I like the messiness of this story is that it is so real. Life IS messy. Things aren’t often black-and-white. We live in shades of grey. Even good news is often tinged with uncertainty or risk or other difficult emotions in our world.
Jesus wasn’t born into a perfect world. He was born into ours. And so like all the stories God is writing all over the world, this story is a little messy. A little imperfect. Touched with tragedy and uncertainty.
But even in the midst of the mess, there is joy. Sometimes we think in order to experience joy, everything must be perfect. When it comes to Christmas, that’s what ruins a lot of celebrations: the unfair, impossible, unreasonable pressure we put on everything to be PERFECT.
Jesus’ story tells us that perfection isn’t necessary for joy to exist. Even as Mary hears the greatly troubling news of her pregnancy, the exultant words of the angel speak to the greatness of the child she will bear. There is both joy and trouble here.
This Advent, may you find joy in the midst of your troubles. And may you know that things don’t have to be perfect to be good.