God is With Us (a Christmas Story based on Matthew 1.18-2.12)

 Gerard David.The Holy Family

“What a day it had been!” thought Joseph as he laid his head back and closed his eyes.  He could not get her out of his head- Mary, his fiance,  the one he loved – the one to whom he had pledged his life.  Visions of Mary danced in his head- beautiful Mary with that sweet, innocent gaze turned bitter by the words she spoke that day.

 

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     “Joseph, I’m expecting.”

“Expecting what?” he asked, not wanting to believe it.

“Expecting a child, Joseph.  I’m pregnant!”

No way, thought Joseph.  It’s just not possible.  You and I, me and you, we haven’t…you know…we haven’t known each other…we haven’t…been…intimate.

Mary, her head bowed, her cheeks flushed, waited patiently as Joseph searched for the right words, the right thoughts to make sense of this unexpected news.  Joseph turned away from her and looked up, as if calling on God for answers or to wake him from this awful dream.

“Who is he?”  asked Joseph, his back to Mary.

“No one, Joseph.”  Mary said.

“WHO IS HE?”  Joseph demanded.

“No one.”  Mary repeated, her voice trailing off to some distant place.

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“What will I do?”  Joseph asked the ceiling as he lay in bed.  “If I break off the engagement, I only hurt Mary and embarrass myself.  Lord knows I can’t go through with it.  I couldn’t raise the child knowing he wasn’t mine.  I couldn’t live a lie.  It wouldn’t be fair to the child.


    Joseph took a beep breath and remembered the day he fell in love with Mary.  She was walking with her family to the marketplace, a flask of water balanced on her head.  Joseph sneaked up behind her like a bandit and jumped out, “Hey!”

The water drenched her father, who was not amused.  Mary laughed and Joseph started to run, but stopped, turned around, and noticed for the first time how beautiful Mary was- her face glowing like an angel, her eyes lit up like stars.  It was as if heaven had come to earth.  He vowed to himself that one day she would be his wife.

Now this!  Joseph shook himself from his memories and said to the ceiling, “I’ll dismiss her quietly.  No one will have to know.”  Then he tossed and turned until, exhausted, he fell asleep.

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     “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.”

The voice had come from nowhere, like a bolt of lightning on a clear night.  Was he dreaming?

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”

“What is this?  Afraid?  I’m not afraid.  I’m upset.  I’ve been the faithful one, looking forward to our wedding night and our life together and she winds up pregnant with another man’s child.  Afraid, no way, I’m angry!”

“The child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph sat up and opened his eyes.  Was it possible?  Had Mary been telling the truth?  Could it be that God had chosen her for this special purpose- to bear a son who would save the people from their sins?  Joseph remembered a line from the prophet Isaiah he had learned as a child.


     “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel.”

Good God, thought Joseph, could this be!  Mary- sweet, innocent Mary with a face like an angel and eyes shining like stars.  Isaiah spoke of Mary!  I will not dismiss her quietly.  I will not break off the engagement.  Who cares what people think!  I will marry her and raise the child as my own.  Thank God for this angel who spoke to me in a dream and saved me from making the biggest mistake of my life and losing the woman I love.

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     Outside, a rooster crowed.  It was dawn.  Joseph jumped out of bed and ran straight to Mary’s house to tell her the good news.  The good news that comes to you when you least expect it, like a dream that lights up the darkness of reality.  The good news of a child, born of a young woman, an unwed teenager, sent to save the people from their sins.  The good news that heaven has come to earth in the birth of a child. Emmanuel- God is with us.

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    It was barely light outside when Joseph ran into Mary’s house, all out of breath, bubbling over with joy and shared his dream with her.

“Mary, Mary, an angel spoke to me in a dream and said the child is from God!”

Mary smiled as she heard this, “Yes, yes, that’s it!  God has chosen me.  Why, I don’t know, but this child is from God!”  The fear that she would have to face the birth alone gave way to a deep joy that Joseph, the one she loved, would be beside her.

Joseph and Mary held each other and laughed out of sheer joy at the unpredictable grace of God.  The very thing that could have torn them apart had brought them closer together.  They spent that day and the next several months preparing for this special child.

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     But in spite of all our plans, God continually surprises us.  When the day finally arrived, Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem to take part in a census.  King Herod had caught word of conspiracy- rumors of a Messiah, a King, soon to be born who would liberate the Jews.  Herod’s advisers had searched the writings of the Hebrew prophets and speculated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Herod, fearful that this prophecy might come true, that his own children might be stripped of the power that rightfully belonged to them, sent men out to search for this child.  He told them not to come back until they found him.


     Meanwhile, Joseph and Mary had arrived at Bethlehem only to find the city overcrowded with people gathered for the census.  Mary, bursting with life, needed a place to lie down and rest her tired and aching body.  They found an innkeeper willing to put them up for the night in his stable.  Joseph made a bed of straw onto which Mary eased her body, just as she felt the surging pain, starting in her back, moving quickly forward, and grabbing her large stomach like a vise grip.

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     I should pause here in the story and confess that no man could properly describe what it is like to give birth to a child.  While I was fortunate enough to be there when both my daughters were born, there is no way I can even begin to imagine the depth of pain my wife experienced giving birth.

Even though we talked about them as our pregnancies, I know that when it came down to who endured the fist-clenching, gut-wrenching, blood-curling, scream-till-the-next-one-hits pain, it was all hers.  I was safely protected in the coach’s box, on the sidelines.

The miracle of birth came only through the pain of labor.  It was hard work and yet even this deep pain gave way to the burst of joy as these beautiful girls entered the world.  These beautiful girls who really look more like shriveled-up foreign objects, but in our eyes, they were more beautiful than I could possibly describe in words.

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     The child, Jesus, came into the world.  They wrapped him in swaddling clothes, bands of cloth, to protect him from the cold.  Mary held the child to her breast as Joseph held her and together they marveled at what God had done through them.

     Above them, a light was shining brightly in the sky, a star that brightened the darkness.  Herod’s men, guided by the star, entered Bethlehem, and found their way to the stable where, asleep in his mother’s arms, was the baby Jesus.  Mary and Joseph, still lost in their joy, looked up and saw these strange men, dressed in foreign clothes, carrying gifts.

“What is this?”  asked Joseph.

“We come bearing gifts.  Frankincense, God and Myrrh.”  They knelt down and laid their gifts beneath the child.

“That’s nice, but why?”  Joseph wondered, as he held Mary with the baby tightly in her arms.

“This child is from God, born a king, a ruler for all nations.”

Joseph looked at Mary with a puzzled expression.  They knew this child was special, that he was sent by God to save his people from their sins.  But these were not even his people.  These were strangers: Gentiles, belonging to a different place altogether, a different race, worshiping a different God- they thought.  This plan of God’s was getting bigger by the minute, including more people and places.  A ruler for all nations?”

Mary and Joseph looked at the child fast asleep in Mary’s arms and again at the men kneeling before them.  They smiled at each other and shook their heads.  The miracle of birth was only the beginning.  This special child, born of Mary, would shine like a light in a dark world for all to see.

Outside, the dark night had given way to the light of dawn.  The wise men had left.  Joseph had fallen asleep.  Inside the stable, the animals began to stir.  Mary picked up the child and held him to her breast, knowing that one day she would have to let go, one day she could no longer nourish him or protect him, one day the darkness of the world would surround him and she wondered, “What would God do then?”


     For now, she held him close as a light dawned on the horizon, trusting that even in the darkness, there is light.  No darkness could take away this light God had sent into the world.

God’s light always outshines our darkness.  We are never so lost in darkness that God can not find us, that God could not shine a light for us to find our way home.  Like the star at Bethlehem, God shines a light that we might follow our own path to a special place where we find new life, new hope- where we discover Christ in the most unlikely places.  In Christ, this light shines through us; the darkness can never overwhelm us.  In Christ, our pain gives way to a deeper joy; the pain of labor becomes the joy of birth, new birth in Christ who sets us free from our sins.

Jesus Christ is born today!  God is with us.  Alleluia!  Amen.

(image of Gerard David’s “The Holy Family” from  jimforestsome rights reserved)

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– Introduction to – “The 12 Posts of Christmas

– In the second post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Assaulting a Felon with a Fruitcake

– In the third post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Some of the Best Christmas Blogs for 2012

– In the fourth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “I Wonder as I Wander

– In the fifth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Be More Like a Child at Christmas (and beyond)

– In the sixth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Five Favorite Movies for the Christmas Season

– In the seventh post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “From India to Indiana: My New E-Pal

– In the eighth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “What Sam Found in His Backpack After Break (A Prompted Poem)

– In the ninth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “The Precise Dilemma: A Book Review

– In the tenth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Potentially Praiseworthy Poems Posted on WordPress

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