The holidays simply did not go as I had planned.
We had dreamed of a great family gathering.
Only one year earlier we had announced our engagement.
Mary’s mother was so excited. She couldn’t wait to tell all her friends. Sure, I was only a carpenter. But that didn’t matter. She knew I LOVED Mary and I would provide a good home for her.
Mary’s dad, the true business man, began the wedding plans for the next year. His prayers had been answered. He knew that I feared Jehovah and would bring up his grandchildren in the ways of our God.
BUT that was a year earlier.
THIS holiday I should have been the bridegroom setting out to take my bride to the happiest banquet of our lives - our WEDDING banquet.
Instead we were trudging towards Bethlehem, tired, dust and sore -- and Mary was due to give birth to her child at any moment!
We had waited in Nazareth as long as we dared - hoping Mary would give birth there.
But the baby waited.
And the government decree wouldn’t.
Once again the Roman government had forced its hand upon our lives.
How we longed to be free:
Free to be our own people.
Free to be God’s people.
We looked for that day when God’s Messiah would shatter the yoke of bondage and set us free.
Is it possible that the Messiah was about to be born?
Is it true that the child Mary is carrying is truly our Savior?
Are the Romans pushing us to Bethlehem so that God’s Son would be born in King David’s town?
Once in a while Mary and I would talk about these things.
But we had many more questions than answers.
I simply knew that I loved Mary
and that somehow God was controlling our lives.
I adored Mary for her simple faith.
The past nine months had not been easy!
I was shocked into numbness when Mary told me she was pregnant!
I seemed riveted to the spot as my mind raced round and round in maddening circles.
How could you do this to me Mary?!
Don’t you know I love you?
Who is the man?
I know he raped you.
I’ll kill him!
What will my friends say?
They knew I was supposed to be getting married.
How can you look so calm?
She dared to say that this was God’s will!?!
I had long learned not to make rash decisions.
Quietly I told Mary that I needed time to be alone.
What should I do?
It certainly wasn’t right to go ahead with the wedding - with May pregnant with another man’s child.
But I love her so.
How could she do this to me?
All our dreams - shattered.
What would God want me to do?
That was the hard question.
It should have been simple.
The Scriptures say I could even have Mary stoned!!
Not my Mary.
How could she say that this was God’s will?
Could it be?
Could God - be(?) - the Father?
No way. Mary was simply out of her mind.
Finally I had decided: the proper thing to do was to break the engagement.
There simply was no other choice.
And I would pay for Mary to leave until after the baby was born.
That would spare her of some of her embarrassment.
Where should she go? I decided her cousin Elizabeth would welcome her.
Elizabeth and Zechariah. Now that’s a story in itself.
They had been wanting a baby for as long as I had known them.
Finally, when they had accepted the fact that they were too old and God was not going to give them a child, Elizabeth became pregnant. And Zechariah - strange - Something happened when it was his turn to serve as priest in the temple. When he came out, he couldn’t speak.
Everyone believed he had seen a vision.
This type of thing hadn’t happened in years - actually several hundred.
Is it possible, I wondered, is God breaking His silence?
The decision had not been an easy one. After days of my mind doing battle with itself I had decided. Now I could sleep. I would tell Mary in the morning. I knew she would accept my decision.
That night - the strangest, most exhilarating thing happened.
I don’t know how to say it.
I won’t blame you if you do not believe me.
I sometimes find it hard to believe myself
But in some strange way it seems more real than talking to you today.
An angel spoke to me!
I still shake when I think of it.
To a priest, yes.
But I am just a poor struggling carpenter;
an “average commoner” you might say.
Yet I tell you, God spoke to me.
I’ll never forget his words:
“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.”
I could hardly wait until morning to tell Mary.
Now I knew too that the baby growing in her was God’s voice to His people. Our emotions are hard to describe:
Awe, fear, wonder, joy, bewilderment, humility
But now we had each other.
We planned a quick, simple wedding. We would still have to tell our parents.
That began our hard, difficult journey.
Let me tell you - living in the center of God’s will is NOT easy.
Strangely peaceful - yes - but not easy.
Our parents were devastated.
My parents couldn’t believe I was still going to marry Mary when she was pregnant!
I think Mary’s dad wanted to kill me. Her parents were furious at us. They couldn’t decide whether they wanted me to marry their daughter OR to disappear from their lives altogether.
It was obvious, to them, that I had violated their daughter.
But time marched on.
We did get married.
Mary did visit her cousin Elizabeth for a couple of months.
But I never realized how cruel people could be - friends, neighbors,
even church people!
I lost some of my customers.
Even when someone did come into my shop to pick up a new table or a mended chair, conversation was short and uncomfortable.
When we went to the synagogue, to worship God, everyone made room for us
- heads turned our way,
- knowing looks at Mary’s growing abdomen and back to me.
I guess what hurt the most was the children.
No longer were the children allowed near us.
We were “sinners” you know.
I was forced to give up my class of boys and no longer allowed to read the Torah.
And yet, somehow, Mary and I were happy.
We knew something that others simply could not or refused to hear.
God was working in our lives.
He was using us.
We were learning that nothing, nothing, matters more.
Business, family, friends
- all these are less important than
being in God’s will.
But God’s will is often hard to fathom.
Why would God want Mary to travel to Bethlehem?
Could he not have made Caesar’s decree a little later so that she did not have to travel, wondering if she would give birth at the side of the path?
Wouldn’t the travel place the baby’s health in danger?
Wouldn’t it have been better to have Mary’s mother help her with the delivery?
No, this holiday did not go according to my plans.
Ostracized from friends, misunderstood at church, now separated by miles from our family, - we would be alone among strangers
as Mary gave birth to God’s Son.
That night we learned that to be alone with God is far greater than anything in all the world.
With my carpenter skills, the cattle shed was made comfortable.
We were soon able to get used to the smells and sounds of the barn.
At the first sound of the baby’s cry, Mary’s pain seemed forgotten.
Together we praised God as we realized His presence in that stable.
Silently we witnessed as God sent His friends to see the birth of His Son.
SHEPHERDS, of all people! I smiled inwardly.
These people were not accepted in the synagogue
- unclean they said.
Here they are kneeling as first visitors to see God’s Son.
Later WISE MEN - astrologers - scientists - Noble men from another country.
Again I smiled. Not even Jews! - yet they were brought by God to worship Him - a king they said.
As I looked at their extravagant gifts I wondered how God would ever have us use them?
My plans for CHRISTmas? They vanish into insignificance in comparison to God’s plans.
I encourage all of you here today to place your lives at the center of God’s will so that God’s will will be at the center of your Christmas, and my wish for you may come true.
May you know God’s peace this Christmas - SHALOM.