Reconciling Divorce with the Holidays
How The Christmas Story relates to Divorce
Many of us associate the holidays with certain fond memories or warm feelings. It’s a time of year when many people make an extra effort to get together with family and friends. We often reconnect with relatives, spend extra time with our children, open presents, share great meals, sit around a fireplace, laugh, return gifts, watch football, nap, and hopefully get to see it snow.
Whether we attend church regularly or not, statistics show that the majority of us also make sure to attend a church service at Christmas time. During most Christmas services we sing hymns and carols, light candles, smile and say hello to lots of people we may not know, and we are reminded of the “reason for the season”…the birth of Christ, or The Christmas Story as we sometimes call it.
The Christmas Story.
When we hear those words, I am sure that many images quickly come to mind. First and foremost was the star of the show, baby Jesus himself. We are told that his mother wrapped him in “swaddling clothes” and laid him in a manger because there was no room for his parents at the inn. Then there was Mary, the beloved mother of Jesus. She was chosen above all other women to give birth to, and raise, the person who was sent to be the Savior of the world. We recall the Magi from the east who had followed the star for many months. When they finally found the place of Jesus’ birth, they presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child as they fell to their knees and worshipped him. Finally, we can’t forget the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night as they were startled by the host of angels who told them, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Remember the location where most of that took place? It was just a simple stable. Most of us started coloring that nativity scene when we were just young children, and today, our live re-enactments even include cows, donkeys and sheep. The point is that we all know The Christmas Story and those images very well.
As I recently re-read The Christmas Story in Matthew and Mark for the hundredth time, a word, an image, jumped out that I had not really noticed before…a painful, ugly image…the word DIVORCE. It caught my attention because as a “family law” or “divorce” attorney, I had never associated something as hurtful, traumatic and devastating as divorce with the beautiful gift that I know as The Christmas Story. As I read the complete passage again, I saw how Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, approached his decision on whether, and how, to divorce the pregnant Mary. Once Joseph found out that his fiancé was pregnant with a child that was not his, he certainly must have been embarrassed, confused, and really angry. His response, though, is an important part of The Christmas Story that should be remembered, admired, and modeled by people today.
In Matthew 1, we are told that Joseph was engaged to Mary, and the Bible actually uses the words “husband” and “wife” to describe Joseph and Mary before they were married. This was important because during a Jewish betrothal period, although there were no sexual relations, it was a much more binding relationship than a modern engagement and could only be broken by divorce.
Matthew states that before they had married or been together as man and wife, Mary became pregnant – not by Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit. Now can you imagine what Mary’s neighbors, friends, relatives and especially Joseph had to say when she tried to explain her pregnancy? I would think that words like “unfaithful,” “adulterer,” “liar,” or even “crazy” were thrown around. I still hear those words with today’s divorces. Can you imagine what Joseph’s neighbors, friends, and family had to say about pregnant Mary or about Joseph himself…especially once he wanted to divorce her before the marriage? I would think words like “deadbeat,” “loser,” “liar,” or “coward” were thrown around. I hear those words, too, with today’s divorces.
Matthew 1:19, in the New International Version (NIV) states, “Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
If Joseph had come to me for legal counsel, I have no doubt that I would have informed him that he had every legal, moral, and religious right to divorce Mary. In regards to Joseph’s notion of obtaining a divorce from Mary “quietly,” as we are told he wanted to do, I would have advised him that he was actually making himself look worse publicly by proceeding with a quiet, low-key divorce. I would probably have advised him to divorce her in the open, if only because it was his legal right to do so and in order to protect his own reputation.
Isn’t it a good thing, though, that Joseph did not take the legal and moral advice of those counseling him to divorce Mary? Remember when God spoke to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Aren’t you glad that when God spoke Joseph listened and he did not divorce Mary, which meant we could receive the best gift we could ever ask for? I sure am.
Fortunately, as we see in the rest of the story, just because someone has a legal right or religious justification to do something (such as divorce), it does not always mean someone should exercise that right and proceed with legal action.
I think Joseph is a great example for us today. He was a righteous man who did the right thing even though he didn’t have to. He was obviously kind, loving, gracious, gentle, and forgiving in his dealings with his wife. What sets Joseph apart, though, is that he was open to God’s leading and willing to make a very difficult decision once he felt God directing him.
Because Joseph was humble, checked his pride at the door, and listened to God’s guidance, that simple carpenter was chosen to be the earthly step-father for God’s only son, Jesus Christ. How can we not think that good things will happen when we, too, are receptive to God’s leading in our own lives?
This holiday season don’t think just about family, fun or food, and don’t simply focus on the better known individuals in The Christmas Story. This year think of Joseph, the father of Jesus. Remember, that because of his humble and godly character, he was open to God’s direction at a time when he was faced with the toughest of legal, moral and ethical decisions. Because he listened to God and was willing to do the right thing, and not divorce Mary, which was not necessarily the easiest or most popular thing, Joseph did his part in making sure that mankind could receive the ultimate Christmas gift from God…baby Jesus.
To view more information about John Meehling, an attorney in Dayton, Ohio, or if you are faced with legal, moral and/or ethical decision, that may result in the need to file for a Divorce, please click here on the word Divorce.
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John C. Meehling
Attorney John C. Meehling is a Family Law Attorney from Dayton, Ohio, and contributor to the Ohio Family Law Blog. Attorney Meehling recently joined the Dayton law firm of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues on November. 1, 2010.