Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

How Well Do You Know the First Christmas?

How Well Do You Know the First Christmas?

There is so much in these birth narratives of Jesus that we miss or read over because we think we know the story already or because our mind has been so cluttered by the popular depictions that we don’t study carefully what the text actually says. These questions show my thinking behind the non-traditional elements described in the Joseph Monologue from the previous post.

1. What is the traditional biblical story of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

The traditional picture has a tired and desperate Mary & Joseph trudging/rushing into Bethlehem. They are all alone, there’s no AAA Roadside Assistance, there’s no hospital, they know no one. All the Inn’s or Motel 6’s have No Vacancy and so thanks to the backhanded generosity of a sour innkeeper, Mary & Joseph are banished to the barn where she is already in labor and almost immediately has the baby Jesus. Then the Shepherds appear following a star because not far behind them are the 3 Kings bearing gifts. They all form a nice little huddle around the Manger and the baby Jesus.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this picture—it’s the most popular—but is it the most accurate to the biblical texts?

2. Were they traveling alone? What biblical evidence do you have to support this?

We get a few clues to suggest they were not traveling alone.

First, in Luke 2, since everyone had to travel to their own hometown to register—it’s safe to assume that other people had to do some traveling to register as well—including their family who also would have to go to Bethlehem.

Second, Bethlehem was full of travelers—they had to get there somehow—they would have used the same roads that Mary & Joseph used.

Third has to do with the time of year the events actually occurred which we’ll get to later—let’s just say that in order for them to get to Bethlehem, Mary & Joseph had to pass through Jerusalem (Bethlehem is about 5 miles South of Jerusalem whereas Nazareth is considerably north of Jerusalem)—Jerusalem was the center of political and religious life in Israel so pilgrims of all sorts were on the roads to Jerusalem all the time.

Fourth, most people traveled in family groups or with friends whenever possible. You see evidence of Joseph & Mary doing this just a few verses later (Luke 2:41-44) when Jesus was 12 years old. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem when J & M left for home. They were traveling in such a large group, they couldn’t see Jesus and assumed He was running around with someone else.

3. When was the baby born?

a. Mary barely made it into town
b. The first night
c. Some time later

Luke 2:6 says “while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born”. The implication of that statement is that M & J arrived in Bethlehem and sometime before they went home, Jesus was born. Luke was a very precise writer—and even though he’s giving a quick summation of some things—if there was a panicked rush to get to Bethlehem, he could have said so. The language is of a much slower series of events. So the idea that she was in labor as they ran into Bethlehem, desperately pounding on doors is not particularly accurate. So they may have been there for a few days or even weeks before she went into labor.

Given the later accounts of the Magi in Matthew—it’s obvious that J & M stayed in Bethlehem for a long time.

4. Does that change the nature of the location of Jesus’ birth if it happened some time later—in other words, couldn’t Joseph had found some other place after a while?

If they had been there for a few days at least, then the likelihood that Joseph couldn’t find any place to stay is a stretch. After some time, he would have been able to find something and they would not have been cast out to the animal pens. Why would they go there then? We’ll talk about that later.

5. Were Mary & Joseph alone while in Bethlehem? What is the likelihood that they knew anyone in town?

The traditional picture is them alone and afraid. But why were they going to Bethlehem in the first place? It was their family home. They both were of the line of David. Not all of the family would have moved away from Bethlehem. Some of them stuck around—and they would have had some good records or tradition of who is related to who and where they are in the line of potential successors for David’s throne. Family relationships and connections were important for that culture and Joseph or Mary probably had relatives that still lived there that they could have gone to and asked for a place to stay or help with the pregnancy. With annual pilgrimages, they would have visited family often.
Yet if that were the case, why would they have to go out to the animals? That would be affected by several things one being the nature of the place they were staying.

First, let’s look at something that isn’t obviously related, but it is.

6. Luke 22:10-12—What was this room like?

In this passage, Jesus is preparing for the Passover feast and He sends Peter & John in to find the right place—He says—“He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, `The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."

This “guestroom” was a large room that many houses had for family gatherings, meals, or visiting relatives—it was big, generally open and several families could sleep there at the same time.

If you didn’t know, Luke uses some of the best Greek in the New Testament, fitting for his life as a physician. He is precise in his words and this is important.

7. Back in Luke 2, what is meant by the word “Inn”? Is there any other possible meaning?

Interestingly, the word that Luke uses in ch. 22 translated “guestroom” is the same one used in ch. 2 translated “inn”. The problem is that “inn” carries many different connotations—our mind pictures something like a Motel 6—large building with many small rooms that you can rent for the night. If Joseph was there for an extended stay—at least 33 days according to Leviticus 12 for Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22) this would quickly become an expensive venture.

As shown by their sacrifice of 2 small doves in the temple and not a lamb—they may not have been well off financially—much less able to stay in a Bethlehem motel for several months.

But if the word is not translated “Inn” but guestroom, then the situation changes. If they really had family in town, then that would have been the place they would have gone for lodging. And if the family’s upper room/guest room was full—it was probably full of other family. There’s a reason why all those family members would have been there in Bethlehem, which I’ll get to in just a moment. But it’s very likely that these people were not strangers but cousins, aunts, uncles, and others who would be traveling to Bethlehem.

8. Typically we see Mary & Joseph as being banished to the stable. How could it have been a good thing for them?

The problem wasn’t that they were alone and desperate, or that there were cruel, heartless innkeepers who wouldn’t bother to find them a spot—the greater problem was that there was a lot of people—and even a lot of family and friends is no place to have a baby!

How many women do you know that want to have a baby in a crowded room where everybody and their dog could watch. Sure, some have given birth on a plane, in the mall, but certainly that wasn’t their first choice!

So going to the room for animals—likely something built onto the house itself or even under the upper room—was a good thing, a helpful thing, a privacy thing. There, they won’t have to worry about people watching, kids tripping over them or all the other inconveniences a woman in labor would want to avoid. Not to mention all of the ceremonial uncleanness that a birth brings with it (I don't have time to look it up right now)

Similarly, since the birth didn’t happen the moment of arrival, I’m sure they had the opportunity to make sure the place was cleaned up or prepared for Mary to have a baby down there. Going to the stable was a good thing for Mary.

The stable would have given privacy, if they were really around family, then Joseph would not have been the only attendant Mary had, but other related women who had been through the process before themselves. They may even have known a local mid-wife to assist in the delivery.

9. Was Jesus really born on December 25th?

The likely time that shepherds would be out in the fields at night is springtime, while the lambs were being born. The shepherds were out to guard and assist their flocks in their deliveries. That would put Jesus’ birth closer to Passover.

In which case—the reason that Bethlehem was crowded would not have just been because of the census—but because of all the travelers going to Jerusalem for Passover. It would have made the roads packed with faithful Jewish men and women who were required to go to Jerusalem for the observance. So the image of the lone travelers is even more unlikely. It also makes the ceremonial uncleanness of the birth all the more significant--perhaps even excluding Joseph from assisting her if he intended to participate in Passover.

The census was taken over a period of time (even years from its issuing) so there was not a hard deadline for Joseph to meet—so presumably, he combined his registration in Bethlehem with his regular/annual trip to Jerusalem.

The other interesting imagery is the fact that one of the titles Jesus is given in Scripture is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. To participate in Passover, Jewish family had to sacrifice a year old male lamb. These sacrifices were to Atone for the sins of the family. The sacrifice only covered the sin—the unintentional sins. There was no sacrifice for deliberate sins and they certainly didn’t take away sin or it’s consequence. But that is what Jesus, the Lamb of God was promised to do.

The very lambs that the shepherds were watching born in front of them would be next year’s offering—but they were able to bear witness to an even better Lamb, that could do even more.

10. Why is it unusual for shepherds to be witnesses to this event?

Ironically, even though the shepherds provided the most important element of the festival, by this time, shepherds were not high on the social ladder in Jewish society. They were the fringe elements, not a part of the upscale, city community.
These were the elements called to be the first witnesses and first testifiers to the Messiah. Why them? In many ways, it was a call back to or a reminder of their roots. Shepherds may have been outsiders to the community, but they were the original foundation of the community. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob were all shepherds. As was Moses—as was the great King David.

To reject the shepherds was to reject their roots. The community had not grown past them, they still needed them and in many ways, needed the simplicity of faith and trust in God they represented, which the Jewish community had once had, but had in many ways lost.

11. How did the Shepherds find Mary, Joseph & Jesus?

The traditional nativity scene has M & J, the shepherds and the wise men all gathered around a manger. Often, when you ask this question, many will say the shepherds were guided by the star, just like the wise men. But as we’ll get into in the next question—they didn’t get there on the same night of the birth (for that to happen, the “star” they saw would have to have appeared months before Jesus’ actual birth—God could have done this, btw).

The shepherds were just told about the 2 signs—wrapped in cloths & lying in a manger. They didn’t get an address, a street name, or a general vicinity of where they would actually find the baby. There was no star mentioned in Luke that guided them to the right house.

So, how did they know where to go? At most Bethlehem was a few thousand people—maybe they listened for the cries of a newborn. Maybe they looked for the only ones with a fire still lit. Maybe God picked them on the side of the town that they would reach first. Maybe they tried several places before finding the right one.

Or, speculatively speaking, since this was M & J’s family town—what if these shepherds were relatives and merely went home first, or relatives who already knew they had a visitor who was expecting a baby. Shepherds returning from the fields probably would go into the animal’s room first. Interesting possibility.

12 How many Magi were there?

We sing, “We Three Kings” so it must be three, right? Tradition even gives us names. But Scripture never says how many Magi came, just that they brought 3 different types of gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Ancient depictions, stained glass and such—teaching tools with limited room depicted one person to hold a gift each representing the different types.

But again, by custom, most traveled in large groups. These were practically ambassadors and political representatives, as evidenced by the fact that they first went to Jerusalem and sought Herod. A small entourage, would not do for such dignitaries.

The amount of their gifts was not necessarily something one man could carry despite the many inescapable pictures that suggest otherwise.

I’m of the mind that there wasn’t only 3 representatives, but more.

13. When did the Magi arrive?

As mentioned, unless the star appeared months before Jesus’ actual birth, there’s no way they could have been there the night of. In the east, the wise men saw a star that pointed them to a King being born to the kingdom of the Jews. They would have to see it, interpret it, decide what to do about it, prepare for the journey and then make the trip up the Euphrates river, west along the fertile crescent, then south through Syria and the coastal territories—a several month long journey.

This would put Jesus a year old or more by the time of their arrival—they had to wait for circumcision, they have to wait 30+ days for Mary to be purified so they could offer their sacrifice. When Herod later gave the orders to kill any boy under 2 years—you’ve got to figure that this is an effort to cover His bases and not miss anyone.

14. Why Magi and why would they care what was going on in Jerusalem?

For some reason, these Magi—practicing astrologers, interpreted their signs to point to the Kingdom of the Jews. But why would that sign have sent them off on such a long and uncertain journey? Hey, a new king in Israel… that’s nice… somebody hand me the remote. Why would they care so much about the goings on in Israel that they would go there?

It’s important to remember where they were supposed to be from. It is generally understood that these men from the east were in the Mesopotamian river valleys… between the Tigris & Euphrates rivers. What would have been prominent territories in the biblical kingdoms of Assyria, Babylonia & Persia. In other words, modern day Iraq and Iran

This is the general area and territory where the Jewish exiles were taken by different governments. Most of the Jews never returned home even after they were given special permission by King of Persia. They didn’t leave, but stayed with many keeping their faith, their traditions and even Scriptures. So there was an Old Testament witness and community where these Magi were from. If I’m not mistaken, even today some of these countries have a small Jewish population.

So if nothing else, these Magi would have had access or awareness of Jewish teaching and Scripture—making the homeland important. With the influences of people like Daniel or Esther in high government—some may have begun to take them very seriously.

Of course, another powerful possibility is that these men were themselves Jewish or had some Jewish heritage. In other words, their ancestors had watched other Jews pack up and go back to Jerusalem because they had a desire to be restored to God. I’m sure there were many who talked about it for generations, many who wondered what it would have been like if they had returned. In reading the scriptures, the psalms, the laments, the prophets and their heart for the land, the Temple, the Promise of God—even these Wise Men may have had their hearts wondering about the glory of the Temple.

If they were themselves Jewish—it is an awesome reminder of God’s call to come home.

Even though most stayed behind and didn’t return with the remnant, God still found a way to reach out to them—that hope that they had heard of, the promise of a Messiah for their people—was still something God would remind them of.

And so their hearts—longing for the fulfillment of God, longing for the homeland, wondering if God would still be faithful to His promise, wondering if God would still allow them to be a part of it—drove their hearts to make such a long and uncertain Journey.

15. Why did they go to Herod first?

It’s no wonder they went to Jerusalem first. Jerusalem was the center of religious and political power. A future king would more likely be born to the current king. But God doesn’t work the way we think He should—the obvious is rarely what He uses.

So they went to Jerusalem, alerted King Herod, gained further specifics from scripture—Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and continued.
But there’s something else interesting here. It seems the star that started their journey did not guide them all along the way. If so, they would never have stopped or turned aside to Jerusalem. Maybe they couldn’t interpret what a stopped guiding star would look like. But in any event, they were asked by Herod to make a careful search for the child. If they were relying on the star at that point, then why would they have to “search”.

But upon leaving Jerusalem, something changed—now the star was much more specific. In fact it led them and hovered over a specific house. This is no longer something high up in the sky unless it is using a powerful spotlight—but gently hovering over the exact place where they were staying.

Again, Mary & Joseph had to stay for a while in Bethlehem. This would be an expensive venture if they had to “rent” or buy a place to stay, but would be easily accommodated by family. But the star directed them directly to their destination.

This was the guidance of God they had hoped for.

But I’ve always wondered, were they the only ones who could see the “star”? Wouldn’t Herod or his officials seen it and followed it to the baby Jesus?

Which leads me to consider whether, at least this second, localized guidance was not a literal “star” but a manifestation of the Glory of God, perhaps the Holy Spirit alighting on the place like He did later at Jesus’ baptism, or possibly an angel. The original sight that started the journey could easily be too.

Which could mean that only the Magi saw it. They eyes of faith were needed as well as the choice of God and whom He chooses to reveal it to. There's a common phrase--some say they have to see it to believe it--but some things have to be believed to be seen.

Remember, those on the road to Damascus with Paul had a vague sense of something happening, but couldn’t really tell you much about it, whereas Paul’s awareness was very acute and specific.

But the Wise men were called home to Worship just as the Shepherds had been called. Both great and small were bowing before Jesus—God drew both the heritage and the remnant back to their Savior, the Messiah.

16. What is the significance of the gifts?

While I have seen several possible meanings of the gifts, I have a preference. This doesn’t mean the others are wrong or should be written off—after all, since the Scripture doesn’t itself assign meaning, it’s all an educated guess.

Remembering also that we don’t know the amounts of the gifts involved—the depictions of the men carrying a small box doesn’t seem to fit with travelers from such a great distance. I’m of the mind that 2 of the gifts declare WHO Jesus, and His role is and the third declares What He will do to accomplish the will of God in those roles.

Gold—a gift fit for a King. Jesus is called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in the New Testament.

Frankincense—incense in the Old Testament was used in prayer and worship in the Temple—the smoke represented the prayers of the people. The one who administered this incense and smoke was the Priest. This is another aspect of His identity and role in the world. The book of Hebrews tells us Jesus is the Great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek—greater than the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood—and able to enter the very Presence of God and grant us access in His Name.

Myrrh—was a burial spice. Many ancient cultures began preparing for their eventual death very quickly. The Pharaohs of Egypt began building their monuments immediately. But for this gift to Jesus, it signifies the death and burial that is in Jesus’ future in His role as Messiah—He will lay down His life on the Cross, shed His blood, take away our sin, and prepare a place for us in eternity. His death and subsequent resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s plan in sending Jesus in the first place.

Again, there is so much in these birth narratives that we miss or read over because we think we know the story already or because our mind has been so cluttered by the popular depictions that we don’t study carefully what the text actually says. If you’ve made it this far, I hope that you have benefited from this breakdown of the text and related cultures.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New Joseph Monologue - Perspectives from the First Christmas

If you have any questions about points I make in this presentation, I'll be posting a reasoning of it shortly.

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—to be acted out in costume

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 had great dreams of providing for her happiness.

But all those dreams came crashing down when I found out she was expecting a baby. 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???

I was still pretty mad… 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. A girl in her position could be in a lot of trouble in our culture. 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.

You also need to know that 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. It didn’t take long, but my happiness returned, and so did my dreams.

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?

Let me tell you, 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.

It required me to go back to my family’s hometown. Both Mary and I can trace our family tree back to David. That meant we had to go back to Bethlehem. I hear you can just put your taxes in the mail—we had to travel.

We decided to time our trip for taxes with a religious festival in Jerusalem we were required to go to. So the whole family (who also had to be counted and pay taxes) came with us. And the roads were crowded—because others were going to Jerusalem for the festival too.

We would have to walk for over 3 days just to get to Bethlehem from Nazareth. We had to pass through Jerusalem to get there.

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. I really 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. These hands may be strong, but there are only 2 of them. The whole time 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?

We prayed before we left and asked 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.

Since Bethlehem was our family home, we actually had family still living there. But with everyone coming in for the Festival, everyone traveling for the Census… even our relative’s home, their guestroom—which you translate as Inn— was crowded with family we hadn’t seen in years. “When the Time came for the baby to be born” that guestroom was no place to have a baby.

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 private place to have a baby

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 young 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.

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 at home? What if she died? What if the baby died? I questioned why God would let this happen now, so far from home, when we were most vulnerable.

Fortunately, we did have our family—we weren’t totally alone. I was relieved at this point because neither of us knew what to do. I stood around pacing, wringing my hands, feeling useless and getting whatever they needed to work off my nerves.

Finally I heard the baby cry. Mary was OK and I was able to take a peek at Him. 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. She too Him out of the manger—that was the best we could do for a bed, and 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. Those dreams I had changed in an instant. It was a little overwhelming.

As morning neared, I heard a group of voices near the door. They sounded like they were arguing. I did hear one of them say…“I’m going back to the flocks if we don’t find the right place soon,”.

I was afraid they may have been coming to start some trouble or to steal the animals. I started praying that they would just keep on going—take their problems somewhere else.

Mary was not on her feet yet so I put Jesus back down our makeshift bed. A feeding trough for the animals, a manger, and looked around for something to defend my family with if I had to.

Of course, as soon as I put Jesus down, he started crying. Oh great—sshhh—it’s OK--

Then they stopped… “Do you hear that?” one of them said and I could tell they were coming toward the stable. Now I was really nervous. I put on the meanest voice I could and called out, “You’d better keep moving if you know what’s good for you!”

“We are looking for a newborn baby,” one of them called out. “May we come in?”

“What do you want with my baby?”

“An angel,” they said, “appeared to us in the fields telling us that a Savior has been born this morning. We’ve been looking for Him ever since.”

Mary and I looked at each other, she nodded, and I said, “Come in”. 6 of them came in from the outside. They were a rough looking bunch. The first one that came through saw Jesus in the manger and fell to his knees. “It’s true” said one, “just where the angel said he would be, wrapped in cloths lying in a manger”

I looked at Mary, then down at Jesus. I didn’t think much of it when I put Him there, but apparently that seemingly insignificant moment had been foretold by God’s messenger. God’s miracles so often work that way… they’re usually not flashy—how could they be, when so often God wants us to play a part in them?
“What’s His name?”, they asked me. “The angel told us to call Him Jesus”, I said.

“The LORD Saves,” they marveled. “Truly that is the right name for the Savior.” Suddenly all of them 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 already saw 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.

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 wanted us to do.

You know, He wants the same thing from you. Miracles were happening all around us and we would have missed it all if we hadn’t obeyed His word to us.

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.

I wish I could have seen that. I’ll bet it was glorious, I’ll bet it was beautiful. “Lord God, You sent Me to save the people from their sins. Forgive them!” I’ll bet the Temple was rocking that day. The priests were so amazed at Him when He was a boy, I’ll bet the Priests were so happy to know that sacrifices for sins would no longer be needed.

I’ll bet it was beautiful (holding arms straight out to sides). Knowing my Son, there was nothing He couldn’t do—I was always so proud of Him.

But I’ve been wondering something since I came in. Everything in this room is so beautiful, so nice. I can tell you are very blessed. But I have to ask…

What is that doing in here? (pointing to the cross in the Baptistry) Where I come from that’s not something you want to see, it’s not something pretty for decoration. It’s how the Romans execute criminals.

What does that have to do with my Son and how He has saved us from our sins?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Nick Saban knows who will win the BCS

Here's proof! And no, it's not Photoshopped

It's just Vince Young's Pro Day when Saban was with the Dolphins.