Every Christmas I have the privilege of working with my friends at Trinity Arts Center to create a ballet that tells the story of the nativity through music and dance. We call it God With Us and though the story, of course, remains the same from year to year, it impacts me differently each time we bring it to the stage.
This year there is one particular moment in the ballet that is reaching out and grabbing my heart. It’s not when the angels proclaim the good news or when Mary rocks baby Jesus in her arms for the first time. It’s not the beautiful partnering lifts of the angel Gabriel or the soaring music of the finale. This year, it’s a simple touch on the shoulder.
We begin the story with Mary when she discovers she has conceived a baby, a divine baby who is the Son of God. She feels so many things at once… a strange mixture of shock, humility, honor, and fear. The Scriptures tell us that Joseph, who was a kind and just man, was unwilling to have Mary stoned to death, though that was certainly within his rights under the Mosaic law. Instead, he mercifully resolves to divorce her quietly.
So the music begins with Mary, alone and afraid from a human standpoint. She dances out her anguish and fear, though at the same time resolving to trust in her God. (If you’re imagining this on the stage, add the beautiful song Hiding Place by Selah.) It’s just as she is pouring out her lonely heart to the Lord that the moment happens.
Joseph enters, sees Mary on her knees in anguished prayer to God, walks across the stage, kneels behind her and touches her on the shoulder. Mary looks up, and everything is written on her face because everything is written in that touch. He came for her. He, too, had heard from God and was determined to marry her. He loved her still, he wanted her still. She was his, and he would take care of her. God, through Joseph, was giving Mary a hiding place.
I think what gets me about that touch on the shoulder is the realization that he didn’t have to. He could have had Mary killed. He could have at least divorced her and gotten on with his life. But he didn’t. He listened to God over every other voice and took Mary as his wife. He didn’t have to, but he did.
Joseph’s gentle touch on Mary’s shoulder makes my heart sing because that is the heart of God. He didn’t have to, either. He didn’t have to come. He didn’t have to make himself a vulnerable baby, wrapped in our human flesh. He didn’t have to walk the path he walked, straight up the hill to that Roman cross. He didn’t have to rescue us. He had every right to leave us in our well-deserved misery. But he didn’t. He loves us so much that he went to impossible, unbelievable lengths to save us. To marry us. To make us his. To be our hiding place.
God With Us. He didn’t have to, but he did.
If you’re in the area, come see God With Us tomorrow at Seeger Chapel at Milligan College. Shows are at 2pm and 6pm. For tickets, go to www.trinityartscenter.com.