Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Insights From Christmas Part 2

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

This insight is really little less than a ‘correction’ for lack of a better word, to what we typically see at Christmas time.

Let me start off with a question.

When did Joseph find out Mary was expecting?

Here is the typical story:

The angel appears to Mary and she becomes pregnant. She is stressed out over how to tell Joseph, but she does. He freaks out, throws his carpentry tools around, and wants to leave her. God tells him to chill out.

Then there is a census from the Government and Joseph and Mary have to travel to Bethlehem. Mary has a basketball sized belly as she sidesaddles the donkey and Joseph walks beside her. They arrive in Bethlehem, but it is almost too late. Mary had her water break down the road in Jerusalem and the last several miles have been horrible. She has been having serious contractions on the back of a donkey while riding sidesaddle down an ancient trail. That sir, is no picnic.

They arrive, and find to their dismay that there is no room in any of the hotels. They can’t believe it! Finally, one inn-keeper who is somewhat kind but still pretty selfish, lets them borrow the stable and minutes after the baby is born, the star shines on them, the wise men come and offer gifts, and the little drummer boy drums.

What is wrong with this story?

Well….almost everything, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why we thought we had to change the story to fit our screenplay. I guess the story of the infinite and holy God taking the form of a single cell and then growing into a baby in order to live a finite life among sinful people before going to the cross and dying for the sins of the world was just not exciting enough?

We will look at what really happened between now and Christmas, but today let’s go back to that question.

When did Joseph find out that Mary was pregnant?

Most of us say that it was there in Galilee. It was not. Look at Luke’s story, focus on verse 5, I will put it in bold font.

(Luk 2:4) Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,

(Luk 2:5) in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

(Luk 2:6) While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.

(Luk 2:7) And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Did you see that? On the road to Bethlehem, Mary was already pregnant. We all know that, remember the basketball belly on the donkey? But look at what it says again. She was engaged to him. On the road to Bethlehem they were not yet married.

Now go to Matthew 1. I will once more bold the part to focus on.

(Mat 1:18) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

Mary is pregnant and only engaged. The engagement was a permanent contract that could only be broken by divorce. It was a legal relationship and was practically a marriage minus sex and living together.

(Mat 1:19) And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.

We will come back to this after I make my point. He planned to send her away secretly.

(Mat 1:20) But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

(Mat 1:21) "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

(Mat 1:22) Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:


(Mat 1:24) And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,

(Mat 1:25) but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Did you see that? Joseph is going to legally break the engagement in private to avoid disgracing Mary, but the Angel of the Lord tells him to marry her. So what does he do? Look back at verse 24.

“…Joseph awoke from his sleep…and took Mary as his wife.”

As soon as he discovered she was pregnant, God gave him a vision in a dream, supported that vision with Scripture, and followed it with a command. Marry her. Joseph got out of bed and went to the Priest to be married.

But…on the road to Bethlehem they were still engaged.

So…lets put the pieces together:

Mary hears from the Angel the Word of God, which the Angel supports with Scriptures and signs. She believes and becomes pregnant with Jesus. The part of the story we have not yet read shows that she immediately went to Judah and stayed with her Aunt Elizabeth (see last Insight) for three months. After John was born, she returns to Nazareth, so she is now in her fourth month. No one other than Elizabeth and John know that she is pregnant. She returns home to her family and her fiancée.

At this time the order went for everyone to go to Bethlehem. I do not know why, humanly speaking, but Mary went with Joseph, but she did. He does not yet know that she is pregnant--because the day after he found out he married her.

How could he not know? I remember when Denise became pregnant with our first son. She was 21 years old. She did not start wearing maternity clothes until she was in her sixth month. She was young, and her body was slow to change and slower still for others to see the change. She actually started wearing maternity clothes because she wanted to, not because she had to.

Mary was younger than Denise when she became pregnant…probably in her teens…and she wore the long, loose, flowing robe of the day. No one would be able to see that she was pregnant until she was very late in the pregnancy. I actually knew a girl when I was in High School that got pregnant and did not tell anyone until her 9th month! No one knew...they just thought she was putting on a little weight. Mary would have easily been able to hide her pregnancy until very late in the game.

They arrive in Bethlehem. Go back and look. The Bible says that “While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth”. She did not go into labor five hours away from the city and desperately find a stable. It was normal custom in those days for people to stay in stables and barns when there was a large event in the city. Think about all the places people stayed for the inauguration of President Obama. Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, a small town, and like many others they had to stay in whatever offered them shelter.

I believe it was in this cozy situation that Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant. She was unable to hide it any longer. So, he was going to break the engagement secretly to avoid giving her disgrace.

How could he have done this in the small town of Nazareth? Everyone knew everyone else’s business. There was no way he could protect her from shame and disgrace, or divorce her privately or secretly. However, in Bethlehem no one knew her and very few knew him. Joseph could go to the priest, break off the engagement, and then send Mary back to Elizabeth or someone else.

But God appeared to Him and he obeyed. He awoke from His dream and took Mary to be His wife….right then and there. Matthew says this….and Luke says that it wasn’t before they were on the road to Bethlehem.

Okay…now so what?

You can’t judge a book by its cover. Joseph had every right to feel betrayed, lied to and used. Mary was pregnant and he knew two things.

1. You don’t get pregnant without having sex, and

2. He had not had sex.

He forgot the third and most important thing. God is at work in the world, and He does amazing things. Joseph did not even consider any other option that what His eyes were telling him.

We are to walk by faith, and not by sight. So…the lesson today? Two things: One—why change the story? I think the original history is way better than ‘based on a true story’ like most of our nativity plays are. Two—seek truth from God and His Word…not how you feel or what you think. God may just be doing something incredible.

IN Jesus,



Kathy W said...

WOW!! I had never even considered that scenario! But I totally think you are probably right. These two last posts are really amazing. Thanks for sharing them. You are so smart!

Kathy W

Stumbler said...

I often use this scenario when discussing abortion with my Year 10 students. (15 year olds).

"A young girl is pregnent. Her Fiancee isn't the father and it's in a middle eastern culture where the punishment for adultery is death. Should she quietly go and have an abortion?"

If the answer is "Yes" then I have to inform them that they have just killed Jesus.

To their credit most of my students have a Pro-Life attitude and respect unborn life. Which is kind of cool. There IS hope for future generations.

Anonymous said...

I found a children's Christmas story book where a wide-eyed Mary asks the Angel how she could get pregnant, as she isn't married...

woops! Sometimes it's better to stick with the whole truth. I know that the book was trying to do some censoring for children, but the fact of the miraculous conception is part of the reason that we know Jesus is God.