My family loves Christmas movies of all types, but our favorite movie to watch every Advent is The Nativity Story. It so humanizes the experience of both Mary and Joseph, and makes us feel like we are there, witnessing their journey.
I first saw the film 9 years ago. I was 8 months pregnant with my son and 8 months into leading a Christian pregnancy counseling agency. I cried with empathy for Mary during so many parts of the film. She’s a teenager when she finds out she’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit. I kept wondering how she would even have had a framework to process that information.
She has to tell her parents, who of course didn’t believe her. In the movie, you can read the shame all over their faces, their disappointment in their daughter. Then they have to tell Joseph, and you can feel his shock and devastation.
But the whole story shifts with the dream the angel gives to Joseph. In the dream, he is walking toward a scene of confusion and chaos when someone hands him a stone and they ask him to be the first one to throw it at Mary. The scenario is not unrealistic, because under the Law, that would have been her punishment for becoming pregnant before she was married. As Joseph hesitates, the angel takes the stone from his hand and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary for his wife. He wakes up knowing he has heard from God.
From that point on, Mary’s public shame doesn’t go away, but Joseph enters into it with her. By doing so, he not only protects her and saves her life; he claims the child as his own. This meant that people would look upon him with the same judgment as they did Mary for breaking the law about sexual purity. Even knowing that, Joseph says yes to God’s plan, just like Mary did.
There is always so much for me to contemplate around this aspect of the Christmas story. But what is hitting me this year is this: Joseph entered into the shame with her. They were in it together. And think of what shifted for Mary because of that.
I can’t help thinking about how this relates to women in our community who are continuing with an unplanned pregnancy.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Joseph tells Mary that he will claim the child as his own. Mary asks him if he is sure, because “they will never look at us the same again.” Joseph smiles at her and says, “Let them talk.” The love in his eyes, the joy of being able to be part of God’s great plan, gets me every time.
I’ve heard many Christians express concern about our churches reaching out to women facing unplanned pregnancy, because there was sin involved in the woman getting pregnant. But when you think about it, any of us could be called out and shamed for our sin at any time. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) As Christians, we can get really good at hiding these sins, then pointing the finger at others with “bigger” sins to make us feel better. It’s legalism that keeps us from coming alongside women facing unplanned pregnancy.
But the Gospel upends all this. Maybe that’s why God had his Son come into the world under the accusation of a sin that would have resulted in the death penalty. Because the truth is, all of our sin deserves the death penalty. That’s the beauty of grace, God taking on our sin and giving us his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Through grace, Jesus steps into our shame, absorbing it, forgiving it, and giving us hope. And just like God prompted Joseph to enter into the journey with Mary, he has given us a way to enter into the journey of women facing unplanned pregnancy.
The ProGrace movement is all about changing the Christian response to unplanned pregnancy and abortion to one of grace. And we have many dreams and plans o expand the movement.
If God is stirring your heart this Christmas season, I encourage you to ask him how he might like you to be involved in the ProGrace movement. We are looking for people who will pray, give financially, and help with such things as strategic planning, fundraising, and marketing. If you want to be a part of that, let us know.
Angie Weszely, CEO & Co-Founder of ProGrace