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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?