Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

The Characters of Christmas – The Shepherds

December 16, 2012

Many people use the fact that the shepherd were in the fields watching their sheep as proof that Jesus could not have been born on December 25. Actually, since we are never told why the shepherds were in the fields that night, any reason proffered is pure speculation. Why were they in the fields at night instead of in the sheep folds? We are never told why. Perhaps it was because of all the Roman soldiers in the area. The Roman soldiers were known to take by force what they wanted so perhaps the shepherds were out in the fields to keep the sheep away from the soldiers. In that case they might have been in the fields with their sheep cold or not. At any rate the shepherds were in the fields watching the sheep. Each day was spent making sure the sheep got the food and water they needed; each night watching the sheep sleep undisturbed by thieves or marauding beasts. One day ran into the next with very little change to the routine.

Then came that special night. The shepherds were watching their sheep sleep keeping active sheep from wandering away from the herd. The night sky became as bright as day and a person appeared out of the light. Understandably the shepherds were terrified. Where did this bright light come from? Who was this person who stands before them? Is he friend or foe? The person spoke, “Do not be afraid…” After this speech the sky was filled with more beings like the first one singing and praising God. Then they disappeared and the light faded to night once more. When the shepherds found their voices they discussed what they heard. The Messiah, the Christ, has been born. They left their sheep and hurried to Bethlehem. They left their sheep in the hands of God and ran to behold the miracle of the birth of the Son of God.

We are not told how many stables with mangers there were in Bethlehem. The shepherds may have gone right to the one where Mary and Joseph were, or they may have had to search for it. When they found “the Babe lying in a manger” they told Mary and Joseph all that happened to cause them to search for the baby Jesus. We do not know how long the shepherds stayed with Mary and Joseph. At the time they left the stable, people were stirring in the town of Bethlehem; and the shepherds told everyone they met about their experience with the angels and going to see the Christ, the Son of God. The people marveled at the shepherds’ message possibly thinking the shepherds were going a bit loony spending too much time with their sheep. Mary, however, pondered everything the shepherds told her and kept their sayings in her heart.

The shepherds returned to their fields glorifying and praising God worshiping Him for letting them be one of the first to get the birth announcement of His Son. This was a sure sign that God sent His Son to the humble, the lowly, the common man.

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The Characters of Christmas – Joseph

December 9, 2012

There was a man who lived in Nazareth, a carpenter by trade, who, in another time and another place, might have had a very different occupation. This man could have been king of Israel. He was a direct descendant of King David through his son Solomon. If the Romans hadn’t conquered Israel Joseph may have been king instead of a carpenter.

Joseph was a godly man who knew God’s word and obeyed God. He not only obeyed God, but he also obeyed the government that God placed over Israel. He was a just man who took his responsibilities seriously.

Joseph was espoused to a girl named Mary, a virgin also from Nazareth. She, too, was a descendant of King David but not of the kingly line. He loved her deeply and was looking forward to making her his wife. He must have been devastated when Mary told him that she was pregnant. She must have told him that this baby was from God and not from a sexual relationship with another man. She must have told him about the angel Gabriel’s visit and what he told her. But Joseph’s mind was still in turmoil. How could she have done this? She knows the punishment according to the Torah for fornication was death. Should he divorce Mary or quietly put her away? After all, he had his own reputation to consider. Joseph’s sleep that night must have been fitful with much tossing and turning. Then an angel of the LORD, quite possibly Gabriel, came to Joseph in a dream confirming what Mary had told him. Being obedient to God, Joseph took Mary as his wife. We’re not told at what point in Mary’s pregnancy they got married.

Word came from the Roman emperor that all men were to go to their home city, the city of their ancestors, to be counted for tax purposes. Joseph knew that Mary’s time was near and probably would have done all he could to let her stay in Nazareth while he took part in the census. Mary, however, refused choosing to go with Joseph to Bethlehem, a very long journey for a woman about to give birth to a baby. The Bible does not say that Joseph had a donkey for Mary to ride, but Joseph’s concern for Mary was great enough for us to assume that he did something so Mary would not have to walk the distance. When they arrived in Bethlehem they were tired and needed a place to rest. The baby was coming soon, maybe even that night. Joseph went from inn to inn looking for a place to stay. But no place was available. No room could be made for the couple soon to have a baby. Finally someone said they could sleep in his stable. They gladly accepted. Joseph made a place in the hay and straw for Mary and him to sleep. Sometime while they were staying in the stable the baby Jesus was born.

Sometime after Jesus was born Joseph found a house for the family to stay. When Jesus was forty days old, Joseph and Mary took Him to the temple to offer the sacrifice redeeming the first-born male as required by Jewish law. It is safe to assume that the wise men did not arrive before this event because of what happened after they left. The Bible does not say how long Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem before the wise men visited. It could have been as long as two years, because Herod killed every boy baby two years old and younger, but not less than forty days. Sometime after the wise men arrived and quite possibly that same night, Joseph had another dream. In it he was told to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt because Herod would try to kill the baby. The little family fled to Egypt and stayed there until Herod died. After Herod’s death Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth.

We’re not told much about Joseph after he and his family returned to Nazareth. We do know that Joseph and Mary had a number of children together, a number of Jesus’ half-brothers being mentioned by name in the Bible. We also know that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem every year, at least until He was twelve years old, for the Feast of the Passover. After that time Joseph is never mentioned again. Some speculate that Joseph died fairly early in Jesus’ life. They say that Joseph was anywhere from twenty to forty years older than Mary and died of old age. However, it is not unreasonable to believe that Joseph and Mary were much closer in age. Carpentry can be a hazardous job, and Joseph could have died in a carpentry accident. Or Joseph could still have been living when Jesus died but was never mentioned because he did not factor in any more of the stories told in the Bible. It is impossible to say for sure because the Bible is silent on the issue.

Joseph, because of his obedience to and love for God, was given a very important job, raising the Son of God. It must have overwhelmed him at times, but God was with Joseph guiding him all the way and giving him the wisdom needed to do the job.

The Characters of Christmas – Mary

December 2, 2012

Mary lived with her family in the town of Nazareth. They were a poor family living in a town with a poor reputation. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was the popular sentiment of the day. They were descendants of King David through David’s son Nathan, but since the Romans were in control very few of the Jewish royal family were affluent.
Mary was a young girl, a virgin. We don’t know her age. Some believe she may have been as young as fourteen years old; others say she was older. The Bible, however, does not give her age. She was a loving, caring girl with a servant’s heart. She was a thankful, trusting person, too. She was obedient both to her parents and her God. She was a normal, young Jewish girl with dreams of being a good wife and mother.

Mary’s parents were godly people who made sure Mary also knew God and loved Him. They taught her the Holy Scriptures. Because of this Mary was highly favored by God.

Mary was espoused to a man named Joseph, a godly man who also loved God, when she entertained a special visitor. The angel Gabriel was sent by God to give a special message to Mary. Gabriel said that God was with Mary and that she was blessed among women. Gabriel revealed that she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary knew all the prophesies about the Messiah. She probably hoped that she would be the one to give him life, but she was still surprised and probably stunned to hear that she was the one chosen by God to bear His Son. She was willing to be used by God but questioned how this was to come about. She was a virgin. She never had sex with any man. So how was she to have this baby? Gabriel explained that God would take care of everything, and Mary understood that this impregnation would occur without the help of a man. Mary must have wondered what other people would think of her. Here she would be pregnant without a husband. Oh, how the gossip would fly. And what would Joseph think? Would he leave her? Would he divorce her? Would he make an example of her and cause her to go before the judges? She knew that God’s law said adulteresses should be put to death. But Mary’s faith and trust in God shone forth. She knew if God called her to carry His Son then He would take care of her even if the whole world were against her.

Mary was a loving, caring girl with a servant’s heart as evidenced by what she did when she heard that her cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Mary, being pregnant herself, left her home and stayed with Elizabeth and her husband for three months helping them with the housework, with the work in the fields, with everything imaginable. Elizabeth’s pregnancy, like Mary’s, was a miraculous pregnancy. Elizabeth and her husband were too old to have children; yet God intervened and caused them to have a child.

Mary was a faithful girl, faithful to her God and faithful to her husband. Instead of staying in Nazareth when the Romans made Joseph go to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, where she could have had her baby in a warm house, Mary went with Joseph on the rough, possibly even dangerous trip to Bethlehem; and she made this trip when she was nine months pregnant. Many believe that Mary made the trip riding on a donkey. The Bible doesn’t say that. She may have been walking. Not likely, but it may have happened. When they arrived at Bethlehem they were tired. Joseph spent a lot of time going from inn to inn looking for a place for them to stay especially since Mary could give birth at any time, but nothing was available. Mary was gracious. When a stable was offered she willingly took it, choosing to sleep on the straw instead of the hard, cold ground.

Mary was also a strong girl, strong spiritually and strong physically, too. She was tired from the long trip, tired from the search for a place to spend the night. All she wanted to do was lay down and sleep, but she could not. Labor pains began. The baby was born. And yet she still could not rest for a group of shepherds entered the stable asking, “Is this the place?” Then they explained why they were there. What an incredible, unbelievable story! Unbelievable to anyone who has never interacted with an angel. Mary believed. Mary knew why they were there worshiping her little Son. Yet Mary did not understand everything that was happening because she pondered in her heart all that she heard. She did not understand why her God would send His Son birthed by her to save the world from their sins. Only after the shepherds left could Mary get some sleep if her thoughts did not keep her awake.

Two other times we are told that Mary pondered things she saw and heard in her heart. One was about forty days after Jesus’ birth. She and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifices of purification as demanded by Jewish law and the scriptures. Simeon and Anna, two old people who were frequently found at the temple, came to them and worshiped Jesus and told Mary their story. Simeon even prophesied about Jesus’ death. This must have really puzzled Mary. The next was when the wise men knocked on the door of their house. We do not know exactly when this was as the Bible does not say. We can surmise that it was more than forty days after Jesus’ birth because Mary, Joseph, and Jesus left for Egypt the soon after the wise men left. It may have been as long as two years after Jesus’ birth. Why else would Herod have killed all babies in Bethlehem two years old and younger? The wise men worshiped her Son and gave him wonderful gifts. The gifts that were given to Jesus would have caused anyone to stop and think. Gold is a kingly gift, frankincense a priestly gift, and myrrh a burying spice.

Mary truly was blessed among women and highly favored with God and man. She was chosen by God to bring His Son into the world. She believed God and trusted Him to get her through the hardships of life and trusted her son, the Son of God, to take away her sins and be her Savior.

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