Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sermon--12/10/06--Joseph Monologue--Perspectives from the First Christmas

This message may containt somethings you've never seen or heard regarding the Christmas story. Please let me know what they are and ask good/challenging questions!

Perspectives on the First Christmas

Matthew 1:18-24—Announcement to Joseph

Luke 2:1-7—Travel to Bethlehem

Luke 2:22-24, 39—Proof that Joseph Treated Jesus as his own

Testimony of Joseph

I’m just a simple man. I like to work with my hands, to transform a piece of wood to something my friends and family can use. I want things real that I can see and touch. That’s what made what you call the “First Christmas” difficult for me.

See, Mary was something special. You would not believe how excited I was about our engagement. In my culture… I was 10 years older than she was and that gave me time to get my business established so I could provide for my family. And I was looking forward to providing for her happiness.

Then I found out she was pregnant… you’d understand if I told you I was more than a little upset. My dreams had come shattering down in that one moment. All I could think of was getting my hands on the guy that did this. So I demanded that she tell me what happened, and who did this to her so I could make it right. But she couldn’t tell me what I wanted to know. All she would tell me was that God told her she was going to have a baby. She actually claimed that she had never been with a man before. Now come on, I’m not stupid—I know how the process works. How could I believe that?

I figured she was lying to protect someone or maybe someone attacked her and she was afraid or ashamed. Another man I can understand, I can touch that, fight back. But God… what do I say to that???

After a few days, my anger went down and I remembered how much I already cared for her. So I decided to break our engagement quietly. See, in my culture, even though it doesn’t happen very often, a woman in her position, pregnant before marriage, could be stoned to death. She would be labeled an adulteress. I didn’t want that to happen. So I was going to make sure she was taken care of without everybody knowing about it.

Now comes the interesting part. You know how I couldn’t handle Mary’s answer about God because I have a hard time understanding what I can’t see or get my hands on. I guess you could say God took care of my shortcoming. See, that night, God sent an angel to let me know that Mary wasn’t really lying after all.

He said to me, “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.”

Let me tell you, when an angel of God visits to give you a message, you don’t have to wonder whether you were dreaming or not. This angel was more real than any dream I’ve ever had, before or since. Even with this angel coming to me, it wasn’t any easier to understand what was going on. Why would God do something like this? What would He hope to accomplish? How would this baby save our people from all our sins? Why would God use a girl like Mary… my Mary?

As soon as I woke up, I started trying to make sense of it all. I realized quickly I couldn’t. All I did know was that I had a decision to make, should I do what the angel told me to do and take Mary as my wife and face that scandal or do I not.

And then it hit me. As much as God chose Mary to be His instrument in this process, he must also have chosen me. Me, a simple carpenter. He expected me to play a part in this process too. He expected me to care for Mary and be her husband. He expected me to be a father to this boy. And suddenly I felt the weight of what was being asked of me. This special child was going to grow up in my house under my care, with my family name. Everything I did in life he was going to watch. These Hands were going to hold the Son of God!

I don’t know if it’s changed for your time, but just thinking about being a father was intimidating enough, but Jesus was going to be a more than just a special boy.

It was going to cost me to do what the angel told me. I had to ignore the stares and comments from other men and women in town who figured out Mary was pregnant before we were married, just like she would have to. Some people, people I thought of as my friends, stopped talking to me, I even lost some business because of it. My hands are good at fixing things, but this… I couldn’t fix.

But even despite all the glances and whisperings, trusting that God knew what He was doing and being obedient to Him was more important to me than anything. I don’t know how He could use a man like me, especially b/c it didn’t all make sense to me, but He did. I just hope my life through it all was pleasing to Him.

I wish I could say this situation was easier after I decided to go along with the angel’s announcement. But it didn’t. Mary was nearing the end of the pregnancy when our hometown of Nazareth received notice that everyone, had to register in their hometowns for the Roman Census. For tax purposes of course. I hear you have the same trouble today… does nothing ever change?

Fortunately, as a Jew, I did not have to worry about military service to Rome. We were exempted because our culture and religion is older than they are.

Let me tell you though, that posting caused a major uproar in town. Most Jews hate the fact that the Romans are in Israel. Most are waiting for the Messiah to come and restore the Kingdom to Israel and get rid of the Romans. Others are glad because they like the commerce and riches the Gentiles bring. Both groups started arguing about it. I had to see and hold the notice for myself because I didn’t like what it required of me.

I had to go to Bethlehem, the city of David in order to register. Mary came with me; both hers and my family are descendants from David. We would have to walk for over 3 days just to get to Bethlehem from Nazareth. What really complicated things was the fact that Mary was getting much larger. Walking around town was getting difficult for her, much less a long journey on difficult roads. So the trip had to be even longer so she could rest from time to time. We would have to sleep on the ground of course. That is never comfortable. I eventually settled on bringing a donkey so she wouldn’t have to walk the whole time. Even so, I still didn’t like it. Travel was going to be hard on Mary and on the baby.

What’s worse is the fact that we would be exposed to robbers and bandits on the road. That’s putting her at risk too. And, I’ve heard many stories over the years of large groups and whole families being killed on the roads by bandits. I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to Mary and the baby. I don’t think I could protect her by myself. These hands may be strong and calloused, but there are only 2 of them. I thought, surely God will keep us from going and risking this baby of His. What could be accomplished by our travel to Bethlehem just before the baby is born?

I was fully prepared not to go because I sure don’t want to take my pregnant wife on a jarring, tiring, dangerous trip like that. But the Romans can be sticklers about things like this. So we had to go. We prayed before we left and every day that God’s guiding hand would be with us. And it was; we eventually made it to Bethlehem though it was very hard on Mary. I could tell she was exhausted. We really needed to find a place to stay so she could rest with some privacy.

But we couldn’t find any place that wasn’t full already. Even our relative’s home, their guestroom was full of people I hadn’t seen in years. There was no place for us and I was getting more anxious.

It was actually a blessing for us to stay in with the animals—since there was really only one large common room, the stables meant privacy—would you want to have a baby in a crowded room?. Mary looked it over and said it would be fine.

But I did let her make that decision. I let her look it over because I’ve made the mistake of picking something that didn’t meet her standards before. I would pick some furniture for the house and say, “this is nice” and she would say, “we are not putting this ugly thing in my house”. At this point though, I don’t think she really cared. She needed a place to lay down and get off her feet. They were very swollen at this point.

I noticed that she started breathing harder and wincing from time to time. I asked her if she was OK and she said she wasn’t sure. Mary was only about 15 years old and had not seen too many babies born, so she wasn’t sure what was happening. Being a man, I didn’t know anything either. I was out of my element.

For all the skill of my hands, I didn’t know the first thing about delivering a baby much less how to hold or care for one afterward. We were both scared. She didn’t have her mother, everybody else seemed too busy--we felt like we were completely on our own.

I felt like an awful husband. How could I let this happen to her? Why wasn’t I taking better care of her, seeing to it that she was safe? What if she died? What if the baby died? I questioned why God would let this happen now when we were most vulnerable.

Fortunately, not all of my relatives had moved away from Bethlehem, so they helped us and even found a mid-wife to help us with the delivery. I was relieved at this point because neither of us knew what to do. I stood around pacing and getting whatever they needed to work off my nervousness.

Finally the baby came. He looked so helpless and small. The angel said this baby was supposed to be our salvation. How is that possible? What is so special about this child? I know I didn’t feel that special. Just as I was beginning to relax, Mary asked me to come closer. When I got to her side she held the baby up for me to hold. He looked even smaller in my hands.

Even though I had spent years working with small tools and delicate things, I felt so clumsy trying to hold him. I was so afraid of dropping him, or hurting him somehow. At that point, I’d bet I looked more helpless and awkward than the baby. He looked perfectly at peace sleeping in the soft cloths we had to wrap him in. I was so proud I almost cried, but don’t tell Mary I admitted that. . Fatherhood makes you realize your weaknesses and new responsibilities. It was a little overwhelming.

As morning neared, I heard voices near the door. “I’m going back to the flocks if we don’t find the right place soon,” I heard a voice say. That told me they were a group of shepherds approaching the stable—practical outcasts for the city. That was unusual because it meant they were leaving their herds unguarded.

I was afraid they may have been coming to steal the animals. So I put Jesus down in the manger and stepped in front so I could fight if I had to. They stuck their head in and saw us there and immediately asked if we had a baby with us. I was nervous about their arrival so I said, “Why do you want to know?”

“An angel,” they said, “appeared to us in the fields telling us that a Savior has been born this morning.” That caught me by surprise, but they weren’t done. Another spoke up and said, “The angel told us that we would recognize the child of promise because he would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Mary and I exchanged a look of wonder and I stepped aside. There lay Jesus, wrapped on cloth and lying in the manger just where I had laid Him a moment before. “What’s His name?”, they asked me. “The angel told us to call Him Jesus”

“The LORD Saves,” they marveled. “Truly that is the right name for the Savior.” and they fell on their knees beside the manger and began to worship. Let me tell you, I was stunned; these grown men worshipping God because of our little baby.

I say “our” little baby because I quickly came to see him that way. Technically he wasn’t mine, but I remembered that God had chosen me for this task as much as Mary. God wanted me to be a part of this baby’s life. To be a father for Him. I felt honored to be a father and I prayed that God would give me the wisdom to be a good one.

The first thing I had to do as father was make sure Jesus was right before God according to our traditions. I understand things have changed a bit since then. On the eighth day we had him circumcised to declare Him among the covenant people. After Mary’s time of cleansing we took the boy to the temple to offer the appropriate sacrifices. I treated Jesus as my own son and legally, he became my son and took up my family line.

Realize, I didn’t have to do this. I knew He wasn’t my son, so did Mary. But it was the right thing to do and I know I loved Him already. I was honored to be the one holding him before the priests in the Temple.

I hope all of you who are fathers today realize the gift that your children are. Jesus was the greatest gift on that first Christmas. I still don’t understand everything. I still don’t understand how God would choose to use Mary and I to accomplish His Purposes. We just had to be obedient to what He expected. It never got any easier, we had other troubles because of other people who were threatened by Jesus’ birth—we stayed in Bethlehem for a while so everyone could recover and the baby could be old enough to travel. Almost a year later, Magi—Wise Men visited us bearing gifts fit for a King. Unfortunately, they visited King Herod first, thinking he had a prince and heir to the throne. Jesus was a threat to him—anyone claiming the throne of David would be a threat to him. So we had to leave for Egypt.

I was able to see Jesus’ entrance into this world and hold Him with my own hands. It is my understanding that you know how things resolved; how Jesus really did become the Savior of the world and cleanse the people from their sins. Even though, for all practical purposes, He was my son, I believe in Jesus as my Savior.

Let me rephrase that, especially because He was my son, I believe in Him, I believe in what He came to do, I believe in what He accomplished even though I didn’t get to see it all. I hope that my testimony of the First Christmas will encourage you to consider Him as your Savior as well. Thank you for allowing me to share with you today.

Pleae post your questions or comments.

1 comment:

pastor.stephen said...

Hello, Kelly.

I'm a pastor working at home today: due to a bad cold I'm not able to start the shut-in visits for Christmas, so I thought it best to work ahead a bit.

I'm hoping to do a monologue sermon on Dec 23, and so came across your blog.

It will be terrific "food for thought" and "priming for the pump."

Many thanks!

Pastor Stephen, Ontario Canada