All we know about the birth of Jesus is contained in two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke. Matthew wraps it up in seven verses. No mention of the trip to Bethlehem, nor of an angel talking to Mary, but just to Joseph.
The language in Matthew is interesting in that while Mary was “pledged” (engaged) to Joseph, he is referred to as her husband, and that he considered “divorcing” her as the law would have required. He did not because he was a “righteous” man. We are also told Joseph “took Mary home as his wife.”
Let’s notice a few things. The “pledge” was considered a marriage which would require a divorce to break. Mary is called Joseph’s wife and he is called her husband. He is called a righteous man because he was not willing to do what the law required with a public divorce. How he could have done that “quietly” I’m not sure.
The next thing Matthew tells us takes place maybe two or more years later. The Magi from the East arrive in Jerusalem looking for the Christ of the Jews. King Herod wants to put an end to this probability and orders all the boy babies around two years old in and around Bethlehem to be killed. An angel warned Joseph and he took his wife and son to Egypt until Herod died.
There is no mention of angels singing in the highest, crowded inns or mangers. That’s all in Luke. Historically, Luke’s account was accredited to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Luke alone has the visit with Elizabeth and the song Mary sings during that visit.
The details in Luke about the birth of Jesus are intimate and personal. The crowded inn, the manger, the shepherds and the angelic singing are all told as witnessed by Mary.
In Luke, her pregnancy is not a problem for Joseph. There is no mention of any distress on his part about the coming child. Luke simply says, “He (Joseph) went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” (Lk. 2:5) Even though nine months have passed, they have not yet married. Did they ever have an “official” marriage? If so, we are never told. But remember, the “pledge” to marry was as strong as the marriage itself, and Jesus is recognized as Joseph’s son.
The next thing we experience in Luke is the presentation of Jesus at the temple for his circumcision on the eighth day of his life.
Then he is twelve years old and even though the family has made the trip annually to Jerusalem for Passover, this year was different. Though not stated, there was probably a bar mitzvah- type event in which Jesus (now a man as far as learning and keeping the law was concerned) decided to stay and listen and learn from the teachers of the law. This four-day seminar got him in hot water with mon and dad. Again, Mary being the central figure in the story is the one who scolds him. Luke adds, “But his mother treasured (remembered) all these things in her heart.”
Eighteen years, more or less, pass until we meet him again at the lower Jordan standing in line waiting to be baptized by his cousin, John.
In Matthew Jesus returns from Egypt and the next thing we are told is he is about thirty and is waiting to be baptized. Both Mark and John begin with Jesus as an adult.
So what am I going to do with all this? It is Christmas, and all the sights and sounds of the birth of Jesus surround us. I want to place his birth in perspective. How many other children were born that night in Israel? How many around the world? How many died at childbirth? How many only lived a few days or weeks?
Mortality rates in the ancient world are hard to trace. In Greece many (mostly men) lived into their seventies. However, some studies say about 40% of both men and women would die before that age, not because of aging, but disease, accidents and war.
But on a night somewhere in Bethlehem, a baby boy was born. He had no idea what lay ahead. All he wanted was to be fed and to feel secure, and I’m sure he cried. He would grow into a little boy. Did he have friends who died? Did he get sick? Yes, even though there are those who would frown at that idea. Would the physician heal himself?
Did he and the other children play as all children do? Yes. He was one among thousands who were born on that same night around the world.
At what point did he feel a sense of his destiny? Some would say at that moment in Jerusalem at twelve years old. I don’t think so. Was there no other Jewish boy with the same attraction to learning the law of his fathers? Perhaps Luke hints at that when Jesus responds to Mary’s scolding, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” However, he may have been saying,”Where else do you think I’d be?” Luke says they didn’t understand what he was saying to them. He adds that he went home to Nazareth with them and was “obedient to them.” I suppose that meant the next year at Passover he didn’t hang out at the temple, at least without asking permission. Luke concludes this period of Jesus’ life by saying, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
At what point during these “in between years” did Jesus feel a sense of calling? We don’t know. I would take Luke’s “wisdom and stature” to mean as he matured. Like so many other meaningful people in history, it became stronger each day.
What we do know is by the time he came to John to be baptized, a decision had been made, and that decision would be tested, both by the voice from heaven and the temptations of power which followed. But the course was set.
From that holy night in Bethlehem, to a holy morning by an empty tomb, come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
CONCERNS: Continue in prayer for Jo Wagner’s sister, Judy Powell; Jamie Cole, Joni Beach’s niece; Alan Beach’s sister-in law has health issues, as do the aging parents of the Beach’s, Wayne Flora’s parents; Del Bolin mother; and Teryn Gaynor’s parents. Donte McCadden, a CF patient, is in UVA medical Center, and not doing well. Wayne Phlegar remains home-bound with circulation issues. Ray and Debbie Reiss’ son-in law is being treated for brain cancer. Others are Deanna McRoy, Linda Alsup and husband, Prentice; Bill Albert; Jim Hunter; Sheila Jansen and daughter, Amber Weaver, Marjorie Wilson. Melanie Gentry, Ray and Darnell Barns, Gil Richardson (ALS); Jim and Mary Smith and Tim Elder.
Today we will have our third Sunday special service.
Today is also Super Sunday. It is also the Sunday we enjoy being together during the Christmas season. The annex is all decorated and bright. The wood is in the fireplace for a nice warm fire, and there will be food on the table.
The annex looks especially warm and inviting with the new light s and Judy McWhorter’s quilts lining the walls.
The Christmas Tree has been decorated, so everything is ready. Come!
Also, the sign-up list was just a way for those decorating to know about how many table decorations to set up. If you didn’t sign up, don’t worry, there is plenty of room and food.
Our thanks to those who did the decorating. To Holly Wagner for setting up the tree and fluffing the limbs. To Judy McWhorter and Leena Bolin for decorating, and someone might have been overlooked, but thanks to all of you.
THE YEAR END
This will be the last bulletin in 2018. We are in a period of family, reunion, remembrance and looking toward the New Year. As we do so, we are grateful for this church family and how much we love and need each other. It makes the song “Lean on Me” a reminder of who we are and what we commit to each other with God’s love.
CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE
Remember the Christmas Eve service at the building. It will start at 6:00.