Mary and Joseph at the First Christmas

In the beautiful Christmas carol “Silent Night” we sing these words about the first Christmas: “All was calm, all was bright.” But the truth was: All was NOT calm. All was NOT bright. For Mary and Joseph, the first Christmas was filled with anxiety and ambiguity.

First of all, consider the conception of Jesus. Was there ever a more unplanned pregnancy? Mary’s pregnancy threatened to put a permanent wedge between her and her fiancé, Joseph. After all, he knew the child was not his. As he tossed and turned at night trying to decide what to do—have Mary publicly stoned for infidelity or divorce her quietly—an angel broke into his turmoil and gave him a third option: marry her and claim the child as his own. This he did. Like Mary and Joseph, we too experience considerable distress at times while trying to decide the right thing to do. Like them, we too are asked sometimes to alter our carefully-made plans in favor of God’s confusing and challenging designs.

Then there’s the trip to Bethlehem. Mary, nine months pregnant, had every right to be upset. Caesar’s decree came at precisely the wrong time for the young couple. We don’t know what their thoughts were as they made the long trek to Bethlehem. The truth is Mary and Joseph probably had little choice in the matter, for they were at the mercy of forces greater than they were. Their only choice was how they would accept this terrible inconvenience, while trusting that God was still with them. Sometimes we have little choice in situations beyond our control too–except the spirit in which we accept the inevitable.

And then there’s the, “Sorry, we have no room in the inn.” Poor Mary! And poor Joseph! How totally incompetent he must have felt. How scared he must have been. After all, this was his first baby too. Eventually he finds them a place—a stable. This was a real stable—with smelly animals and real manure–not a stable you’d see on HGTV. The place of Jesus’ birth was far from ideal–but life seldom presents us with ideal circumstances either.

And soon after the birth, an angel tells Joseph to grab Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt, because some maniacal king was killing all the male babies in the area. What did this mean for Mary to flee into a foreign country, leaving parents and family just when she needed them the most? And how did she and Joseph feel in a country where they didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t know the customs? Only those who have been refugees or immigrants can fully appreciate how difficult this time must have been for them.

It is easy to romanticize the story of the first Christmas. We can also idealize Mary and Joseph, saying they were saints and therefore very different from us. But the truth is Mary and Joseph were very much like us as they, with great faith in God, negotiated the very real challenges and ambiguities of their lives. Perhaps our prayer this Christmas could be: “Mary and Joseph, you who are so much like us, help us to become more like you.”

Merry Christmas!


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  1. Shauna Bankemper on December 19, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Merry Christmas to you too, Melannie! Thank you for your weekly gift of words of wisdom and insight! I look forward to “unwrapping” each week’s nugget of goodness! Many “nuggets of goodness” be yours throughout the New Year! Shauna

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 19, 2012 at 6:47 am

      Thank you, Shauna! And Merry Christmas to you too! Keep looking for those “nuggets” throughout 2013! Melannie

  2. David Batsche on December 19, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Merry Christmass to you Sister Melannie . Thanks you for your words of wisdom .Dave

  3. Dion on December 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Thank you…I will hold your reflection as I behold the Nativity scene this Christmas.

  4. Laura Kuhn on December 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Christmas blessings and clarity to you, Sister Melannie. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 20, 2012 at 6:09 am

      Dear Laura, I liked your wish for “clarity.” Most times clarity comes slowly, doesn’t it? Merry Christmas to you too! Melannie

  5. Georgia Auckly on December 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    All the unknowns, the challenges, the worries–real life situations in their time, just like in our time! We can learn much by following the example of the Holy Family and how they met their challenges with faith and put their worries in God’s hands. As you so aptly put it, “Mary and Joseph were very much like us . . .”

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 20, 2012 at 6:08 am

      Georgia, I like your words: “to put our worries in God’s hands.” Thanks for the reminder. Melannie

  6. Patti Shea on December 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Merry Christmas! Thank your sharing your gift of eloquence with us.

  7. pjnoga on December 19, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Melannie! Merry Chrisrmas to you! I just wait weekly for these seeds to come from your heart room. I call them “Rubies” this year. May God Bless
    You with every good gift as you are “gifted-ness ” to us.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 20, 2012 at 6:05 am

      Dear pj, It’s readers like you that make this blog worthwhile for me! Thank you! Melannie

  8. Karen Sedmak on January 14, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Dear Sr Melannie,
    Thank you for the Seeds that you scattered the last few weeks. I attend church at St. Joseph’s Church in Corapolis, PA & Fr. Rich Jones read a page from one of your books & then gave us the website. I need those seeds every week!
    Have a great Week!


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on January 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      Dear Karen, Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you come often! Fr. Rich is a wonderful priest and a good friend of mine. Thanks again! Sr. Melannie

  9. Gayle Cilimburg on February 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm


    I have just discovered your weekly writings and the blog and although Christmas, 2012 has ended I had to share my experience of being in the Holy Land in November with you. We were fortunate enough to be able to have mass at the Church of the Nativity in that very small space that is referred to as the “site” of the crib. Since our daily masses were celebrated based on the “site,” not the actual day we were there, we celebrated Christmas Mass that included singing Silent Night. What an awesome experience and a real Christmas gift! I knew this pilgrimage would be a once in a lifetime experience and it was that and more!

    Blessings in 2013.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on February 2, 2013 at 8:17 am

      Dear Gayle, What a wonderful experience you had! Wow! As you said, it was a “once in a lifetime experience.” Thank you for sharing it with me and us! Melannie

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