Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas story thoughts...

My thoughts have still been with the Christmas season and the Christmas story. I thought I would share a few of the thoughts I pinned.


So many times at Christmastime, I find my self overwhelmed as I think of the sacrifice of Mary. To be living in a time where being pregnant without the benefit of marriage was quite reasonably shameful, to know in reality that no one would believe that you were carrying the Son of God, and to still be able to answer the angel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word”, is nothing short of amazing. Oft-times in life we say we don’t care what people think, but we DO to a certain extent. The commitment of Mary is fantastic in such a young girl, and I would not take away from her one bit; however, God never leaves us to carry a burden alone, and she certainly was given a load. She was such a young girl, probably of the tender age of 14 or 15 years of age. She was pregnant, perhaps sick some of the time with some of ailments that come with pregnancy, and mostly certainly facing the scorn of those around her—she needed a shoulder to lean on. She needed someone strong to take pressure off her, to make decisions for her. I am sure she thought she had most certainly lost her chance at marriage, and her chance for a traditional family life. However, God had a man for the job, and he did not choose this man lightly. Joseph, I see as a man of probably close to forty, with probably red or brown hair, and most likely, the distinctive,often long, Jewish nose. He was a hard working man, a successful carpenter, who had built up a business and a reputation for himself. “Now here is a man who is honest in business, and will make you a decent piece of furniture”, his customers would tell others. It takes years to build a reputation such as his.
As a boy, he studied the Torah with the rabbi as all Jewish boys do, and knew well many passages by heart. Finding himself amazed by the many miracles that were performed by God Himself, and through people in the history of the Jews, he often found himself hungering for more of this God that never seemed to give up on the nation of Israel, although they turned their back on Him over and over. It became a practice of Joseph during the days as he sanded and formed quality pieces of carpentry to talk quietly to Jehovah in the quiet of his workshop. Thus, as follows those today who seek the face of God, there was a peace about Joseph that caught people’s attention. Here was a man of strength and character.
Joseph was now at the time in his life that he would soon be bringing home his wife. It had been understood in their family for years that he would marry Mary. It was an arranged union after the custom of the day, but Joseph found himself strangely pleased by it. He had seen Mary here and there through her growing up years, and found her to be a child of a sweet disposition, but the woman Mary was becoming, thrilled him even more. Her features were pleasing to Joseph’s eye, but her spirit compelled him even more. He was convinced they might indeed have a meeting of minds. Yes, he was finding himself ready to bring her home.After the custom of the day, the marriage ceremony had already taken place, and now the bride had 12 months in which to prepare her trousseau and herself for life with her husband when he came to fetch her. He would come to fetch her at night, and bring her back to his place. She would enter the bridal chamber with him, and there their marriage would be consummated. The bride groom would then announce to the guests that the marriage was consummated, and the party would begin, and go on for 7 days. However, the bride would stay in the chamber for those days, but at the end of the 7 days, the groom would bring her out, and unveil her before the well-wishers, and then married life together would begin. Joseph was anxious for the day he could go and get her, and bring her to himself. Or should I say, he had been until she arrived home the other day from her cousin’s house?
She had been staying with her older cousin, Elizabeth up in the hill country for 3 months. Joseph had assumed she was preparing for their big day just as he was. He had indeed had no objection to her staying with Elizabeth as indeed Elizabeth had always appeared to be a godly, sober, older woman, and her husband had been always faithful in his Temple duties. What would there be to object about? Elizabeth could indeed offer the same good guidance, and help with preparing her trousseau as Mary’s own mother would have provided surely. He was sure Elizabeth and Zachariah would watch over his bride with care.
However, when he met Mary on her return, she had news that could crush a bridegroom’s anxious hopes. She was pregnant, and her belly was indeed starting to be discernable beneath her robes when the wind blew them against her. Soon those in her neighborhood would know too. Although she did give an explanation with that sweet, pleading face and those very honest-looking eyes, how he could he believe such a thing? She carried the Messiah? And angel came and spoke to her? It had not been in his lifetime that he heard of angel appearing to anyone, nor God speaking to someone, and he had even more rarely ever read in Jewish history of this thing happening to a woman—much less, a girl! As much as he would have liked to believe her, his maturity and years would not allow him to trust such a wild story. It seemed to be much more likely that she had met someone else and let down her guard. Maybe she had not been as excited about their wedding day as he had been. After all, he was so much older. Did he appear boring to her? And perhaps she was not as deep as he had thought?
She had pleaded with him to trust her, and give her chance, but she was also asking him to give up his reputation. He inwardly cringed as he thought of what his neighbors and friends would think about his lack of self control if he took Mary into his house. Everyone would be sure it was he that had impregnated Mary—it would be the same as claiming the child. As much as he would like to forgive her, and hated the scorn that would be hers, even the kindness and justness of his character did not want to stoop to her incrimination. He did not want to share her shame. He was a kind man, and maybe that kindness and gentleness could forgive her youth, but to have to be looked down on, and snickered at behind his back—no, he just couldn’t. Yet that evening was one of agony of soul, “Mary, Mary,” he cried out again and again. Years of dreams and hopes were flushed away in one moment. He had dreamed all of his life of a wife and family, having someone to talk to and worship God with, someone to share his thoughts with, and yes, he had dreamed of living a life of integrity and honesty with his Mary. He had dreamed of her soft lips on his, and those lovely gray eyes looking at him with love. Love had never been spoken of between them, yet he had been sure he could earn her love, and was sure she had at least thought of him fondly to this point. And now, he could not trust her, not even to tell him the truth of the circumstances of her indiscretion. Hot, bitter tears flowed down his cheeks, and deep, guttural sobs wracked that sturdy frame. The cries of man are so rarely heard that they are such a heartbreaking sound, and Josephs cries would certainly have tugged at your heart strings if you had been there. Agony of soul tortured this good man.
Maturity prevailed at last. He arose, washed his face, and prepared for bed. He doubted he would be able to sleep, yet he had to try to present a normal face to his neighbors tomorrow, and to do this he needed rest. Yet his mind still whirled, and he knew he did need to make some decisions. He needed to decide what to do with Mary. God’s law dictated that she should be stoned, for God did not deal lightly with adultery. He had seen a few stonings in his day, and they were not pretty sight. He could not stand the thought of this happening to Mary in spite of her unfaithfulness. He found himself shuddering at the thought of that young body crushed by stones, and that lovely face marred, bleeding, and then lifeless. As much as Joseph loved God’s law, he could not bear in his soul to do this thing to Mary. Mayhap he could just quietly divorce her, and maybe she could go back and live with Elizabeth til the babe was born, perhaps give it away, come back, and start her life over. “God,” Joseph began to pray, “You are a God of mercy, and how often you have forgiven your people and given them second chances. I know even now in the midst of this Roman tyranny, you would deliver us if Your people would turn back to you. I plead for your understanding with this situation with Mary.” Here a sob broke loose from his soul. “I have always tried to serve you and to be a good man, and now I just do not understand why this has happened to me. I know you are not responsible for our own foolish decisions, and I do not blame You; hwever,my soul cries out to know why….? I hate to add disobedience to your law on top of her sin, yet God, I feel that you would understand my reluctance and my weakness in this matter.” In like manner, continued Joseph’s communion with God until at last exhaustion prevailed, and his body began to relax, and his mind stilled.Often times, even now this is the only time God can get through to us—when we become still before him. It was only when Joseph was in this state, and ready to listen, that something happened to him that he had begun to think did not happen in the day and age he was living in—an angel appeared to him with a message from God. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” What a message for his troubled mind! Strangely enough, the scorn and shame of his neighbors did not seem to bother him quite as much now. Joseph had a choice—his choice was not taken away, he could have still turned Mary away. He could have not been willing to bear her shame even now, But yet, something had happened to Joseph that was to drastically change his life—he had an encounter with God. It changes folks even today. The Bible does not record him continually battling the decision. Perhaps he did, but I almost think knowing the truth set him free, and now that he also knew what God wanted in the matter, he just said, “Yes, Lord.” I am sure there was a lot of pondering that night and very little sleep, yet what a difference from the hours before. He was so glad Mary was really the girl he had originally thought her to be. He was thrilled to know his dreams were still intact, yet with such different perspective! He had a lot of responsibility on his broad shoulders now. He had to protect Mary from all the scorn and snickering he could. Just because the angel had now spoken to him, it did not make the story any more believable. Now his neighbors and friends would think he was making up wild stories to cover up the lack of discipline in his life—if Mary and he even told anyone. She would need protection, direction, cherishing—oh, how his duties had increased!! He had to raise the Son of God. Joseph knew his reputation would probably never be what it had once been, but somehow his reputation was not quite as important as it had once been. Joseph was starting to have a relationship with God that made the things of this earth seem “strangely dim.”
I wonder if he waited the night out to go get Mary. Can’t you see him knocking at Mary’s door while it is still dark? Heli, the father of Mary stumbles to the door to see what emergency or what crazy person was knocking on his door in the early, dark hours of the morning.
“Joseph!” says Heli, rubbing his hand through sleep tousled hair, “I am afraid for what brings you here in the night. I am so sorry for the shame that has come upon our contract, yet Mary is my daughter, and I do love her. Nevertheless, can I help you, son?
”“Heli, my father,” said Joseph with a gentle smile, “I’ve only come to take my bride home with me.”
Heli’s mouth drops and his eyes widen. “Joseph! I-I can’t believe my old ears. Mary said she spoke with you, and-and you knew! Surely you believed her no more than I. I would not ask any man to take this shame upon them.”
“Then, Heli, my father,” smiled Joseph, “you would probably not believe me either. The angel spoke to me too. I am willing to take on her so-called shame.”
Perhaps at this point even Heli began to bristle, beginning to wonder if somehow Joseph was the one that had not been able to wait and follow through with their customs. “Well, Joseph, I see you are trying to spin the wild tales too. The customary 12 months are not up, but take her and be-gone then. I sure hope you are not planning on feasting on this fiasco?”
“No, probably not,” replies Joseph, “You all would probably not understand, but my heart is feasting for joy. It is not our shame that stops me!”
Heli and his wife probably shook their heads in amazement as Joseph left with their daughter that night. What an embarrassment the two of them were to their family! And both of them a bit touched in the head!
Joseph’s in-laws did not trouble him a bit. The glorious smile Mary gave him when she realized he doubted her no more, that he believed in her, was all the reward he needed. There was also a sense of relief and peace spreading about her countenance. He could see she trusted in him, and to think, he almost forsook her. He almost thought she cared nothing for their relationship, and had thought that she thought he was boring!! He was determined to carefully nuture and tend this precious flower given to him truly by Jehovah! And as for the Child, he knew he already loved Him!
We read in the Bible that he did not consummate the marriage until after the birth of her Son. He only tenderly cared for her. Could this be why he took her with him on the journey to Bethlehem, to get her away from the jeers, to keep an eye on her, and protect her? There is little recorded about the love story of Joseph and Mary, but it is there unwritten between the lines. There is also a story of commitment to God in the life of a man. Have you ever noticed that through the rest of the story of Joseph that it is only Joseph that God speaks to? He speaks to him a total of 3 recorded times, and each time Joseph immediately obeys. He is not praised much or talked about much, but he was so important. He was so necessay to the safety of Mary and Jesus. He was put in charge, he had to shoulder so much, and he had to give up so many things that were important to him. He was put in a place of great responsibility by God, and I think he made God smile.
Don’t forget the story of Joseph, the man who loved God, and lived with God!