24 December 2011

The Real Christmas Story

I think way too many times we look at the Christmas story and it’s just way too squeaky clean. There are so many songs that have been written about the birth of Christ, and they sound serene, angelic like everything was so perfect. I wonder if it was always told as we know it. I think we get most of the facts straight, but the truth was that before our very eyes, lost in the basic facts about this story are two people – two human beings – caught in the same chapter of God stepping in to human history. And it just wasn’t that easy.

Click here to read Luke 1:59-56, So Mary has this incredible, life-changing experience and there’s someone that she really has to share this with…Her fiancĂ©. And I figure Mary thought about this situation in one of two ways: she was pretty idealistic meaning, if God was doing this miraculous thing then Joseph is going to be just as excited as I am that God chose us! After all, it is the Savior – the Messiah that we’ve heard about our whole lives.

Or the other place she might have come to, after the hair on her arm quit standing up, was that she had to tell Joseph the details of a supernatural difficult story, and she was nervous because she didn’t know how he might react.

So imagine with me as Mary goes up to Joseph, and she she says: “Joseph, I’ve got something I have to tell you. I’m pregnant. But the good news is I haven’t been with anybody. As a matter of fact, it’s the messiah. An angel told me. And now I’m pregnant with Him."

And Joseph is like: “Wow, that’s awesome.” And gives a thumbs up.

Do you really think that’s how this scene went down?

They’re engaged. Here’s Joseph this guy, most likely in his early twenty's, who the Bible says was a really good guy. He’s engaged to Mary. He’s totally in love with her. He’s ready to spend the rest of his life with her, and he’s just counting the days when she would be his.

And for Joseph, the words that came from her mouth shook him to the core. “Joseph, I’m pregnant.”

It was as though someone had just punched him off guard in his gut. When those things happen when you’re in love, you’re almost in a rage of hurt. I’m sure that a billion thought processes were happening at once. His life was coming to a halt and the questions in rapid fire started happening, sometimes overlapping each other: who? Why? When? Why? Who?

And Mary tries her best to relate the story to him: “An angel….the Messiah….”

And Joseph is livid: “This is the best you could do? An immaculate conception. I can’t believe you did this to me! How could you? And then lie to me with this ridiculous story!”

Joseph storms out. He goes back to his old bedroom. He feels betrayed, rejected. Can you get a sense of the depth of emotion in him? He has his face buried into his pillow. He pounds the bed and cries all night long. He is torn apart by images in his head of who this person might be that would have taken what was his.

Mary is at her home crying. Her stomach cramping because she’s violently cried. Her lungs are burning. Her eyes are raw from wiping the tears.

She wants so badly to believe that this was a blessing and she wants to hold on and follow God. But, now, is it going to cost her the man that she loves? Is she going to lose him entirely?

Joseph is heartbroken, but still very much in love. I can imagine him coming back and knocking on her door and telling Mary: “I want to know the truth. You tell me why and how this happened.”

Mary tells him the same story. Joseph storms out leaving Mary falling to her knees crying in the doorway.

Joseph comes back time and time again. Maybe a 100 times. He can’t come to terms with this. Sometimes he shows up at 2 in the morning. He’s unsatisfied in what he’s being told.

Think about this: Isn’t this the way that two teenagers in love really looks?

I can imagine one more time Joseph shows up at Mary’s house, and he’s a little more collected. And he says: “I just need to know who and why, and that’s it. I’ll never ask you again.”

Mary completely and visibly worn by the whole matter and the toll it’s taken on her says: “I’ve already told you. Just like I told you a hundred other times.” And Joseph leaves. He’s contemplated a lot of ways to handle this. He knows he’s got to do something. He weighs all his options. In fact, a very clear option in that day was stoning the woman to death – the penalty for adultery. He had that option to consider.

Maybe it was love that made Joseph say: “No matter what she’s done to me, I still love her. I’m going to break it off in secret, and we’re just going to part ways. That’s it. That’s how I’m going to handle it.” (Matthew 1:19)

It must’ve been a big enough deal to God. The situation had to be pretty serious. Mary was praying every night: “God, just make him see. Make him believe. Do whatever it requires for him to see past the confusion and the hurt and pain and know that this is real.

And God responded. It was such a big deal that God went to the trouble to send an angel to Joseph. Click here to read Matthew 1:20-24
Joseph goes to bed that night and God rocks His world. Joseph is so relieved. It’s like this incredible weight was lifted off of him. You could see it in his eyes: “She didn’t go out on me after all. She was telling the truth!”

I can imagine Joseph pulling on his clothes. He’s excited, but nervous as well. The thought had to have crossed his mind: “She was honest the whole time, and I didn’t believe her! What if she doesn’t take me back!”

Joseph runs to Mary’s house, knocks on the door, and when Mary opens the door, Joseph says: “I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you. Will you take me back? Can we do this thing? I want to raise this child with you.”

Grace and forgiveness happened in that moment. God showed His faithfulness to Mary. He answered her prayer.

But for the rest of that pregnancy, they had to endure the looks, the whispers, and the criticisms of people in that town.

Nazareth, a little no-nothing town. Nothing good had ever come out of it. And people knew it. They weren’t going anywhere. All they knew was drama and gossip. In little towns, everyone knows everyone’s business. They smile to your face and turn the knife when you turn your back. You know those kinds of people?

Mary would go to the market and endure the stares of people who would talk behind her back and call her names.

How difficult was it to go out of the house? How many friends abandoned her? How many people talked about how great a guy Joseph was and how pitiful he was going through with the marriage despite the fact that she’d had an affair on him?

Click here to read Luke 2:1-7
Mary has come full term and Caesar has made a decree for people to register who they are and where they are from because he’s planning on taxing the Jewish people.So Joseph loads up Mary who’s about to give birth at any time, and makes about an 85 mile trip through mountainous terrain back to Bethlehem.

When he gets there, the city is filled to the max. It’s full of Jewish people who’ve come home. It’s full of Roman officials who have taken available spaces to do the census.

They have family there, but apparently those places are full as well. There were places to stay in town – not like 4 star hotels. They were more like shelters. I can imagine that Joseph went in, looked at all of these families huddled together, while Mary had this urgency that she was going to be giving birth any time now, and they at least needed a private place.

Joseph looks everywhere, and then decides to bring Mary into a stable.

It’s most likely that this was a place that people who were staying in the inn placed the animals they were traveling with. It wasn’t this nice little nativity scene that we like to put in front of houses. It wasn’t a nice, clean covered place with angels playing harps. Animals didn’t bow down and sleep because the Savior was there. The straw in the manger wasn’t perfect laid out and clean.

It was a damp cave which brought it’s own aroma. But the truth is that in that place there was manure. There were noisy animals, bleating sheep. Animals who didn’t like each other.

I can guess that this is not how Mary planned out this thing. She was second-guessing God’s choice: “Was God really sure about this? I’m so sorry God! I know this isn’t what You wanted for your Son.”

Joseph was just as mortified. Here’s his wife that was in a stable. He tries to scoop up some droppings to make the air tolerable.

And in that night air, in the midst of the stink, the noise, and the mess, the Savior stepped in to the world. And when Mary saw Him, He didn’t come out saying: “I’m the Savior.” He didn’t say “Thanks for your help, I’ll be on my way now.” His lungs expanded with the foul, damp stable air and He cried. And Mary did what any mother would do, she wrapped Him up so that His limbs wouldn’t dangle in their weakness; so His fingernails wouldn’t scratch His face.

Two kids. Alone, with this child.

The Savior of the world comes in about as quiet of an entrance as you can have. He looks weak. His wrapped like any other child, and he’s got two young parents who’re meant to care for Him.

We’ve cleaned up the story and made it less powerful than what it really was. We’ve civilized it. We’ve even over-spiritualized it.

God put the Savior of the world into the most precarious position that He could. And there’s a lesson in that for us today.

When those two looked at that Child, they may not have really seen the Savior, but there’s no doubt that that’s who He was. They did the only thing that they could do at that moment.

They received Him. They received faith. They received hope that they would be saved by Him.
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