A beautiful poem read during our recent Carols and Lessons Service reminding us of what is important at Christmas time:
May the Stars…
May the stars
And the star of Bethlehem
Always be brighter
Than Christmas-tree lights
May our chimneys
Which are seldom too narrow for Father Christmas
Always be wide enough
To let God in
May the gifts we give
Which are common nouns –
Books and bangles and bikes –
Be wrapped in the abstract nouns
Of thoughtfulness and generosity and love
May our leaders and kings
Be wise men
With humble destinations
May the power we bear
Belong to paper crowns
And may the only weapons we wield
Fall out of crackers
May Man who is built
In the shape of the cross
(Built for suffering)
Take comfort in the rhythm
Of the rocking cradle
The simple company of beasts
The shining company of stars
And may the road ahead
Be less bumpy
Than the back of a camel
It’s that time of year once more. A special time for many, but for Joseph of Nazareth it was unforgettable. Of course, he’s long gone and in many ways, forgotten, but his story needs to be told.
Joseph was a good man, a simple man. He worked as a carpenter in the small town of Nazareth. No power drills in those days. Everything crafted by Joseph was done manually. Because of this he was strong. He had to be – wood is a heavy material – especially the olive wood, so plentiful on the hills around his home. He would help craft rafters for homes; simple doors; plain stools and benches. When he sat in the evenings outside his home, enjoying the coolness of the evening air Joseph would whittle away and produce spoons and wooden bowls. That was when he was not at synagogue, for Joseph was a devout Jew who knew the scriptures well: the prophesies of Isaiah and others; the poetry of the Psalms; the Wisdom of Solomon. He was a good man.
Everyone had a need at some time for Joseph’s skills, so he was not a poor man, but neither was he very rich. He had his own home, furniture, food to eat, clothes to wear and a donkey. Don’t forget the donkey! The only thing Joseph did not have, was a wife. Somehow he had not got around to finding one. However, all good things come to he who waits. There was a young woman in Nazareth who also was a good Jew. She kept to herself. I expect you know who I am talking about: Mary.
Mary was a young virgin and she came to Joseph’s notice. Talks were held with her family and Joseph was considered a suitable match for her. They became betrothed. In those days betrothal was very special, not like our more casual approach these days.
Joseph was so proud of his beautiful, pure Mary. Can you imagine how he felt, when Mary told him she was ‘with child’! Pregnant! The shame of it. It certainly was not his. Mary said she’d been visited by an angel who told her she would conceive of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, this had come to pass. Most men would have thrown Mary out there and then, but Joseph had a dream and knew this child was to be the Son of God.
And then, just as Mary was well over eight months pregnant an order came from Rome that ‘all the world should be taxed.’ It was bad enough in those days to be under Roman occupation; but Caesar Augustus needed more funds so wanted to implement a tax. To take part in the census, required for arranging taxation, each man had to go to his place of birth. For Joseph that was Bethlehem, a good nine-days’ walk away from home. Remember the donkey? At least Mary could ride on that all the way to Bethlehem, a town packed with all the others there for the census.
Of course, with Mary being heavily pregnant the journey took longer than Joseph anticipated; and by the time they reached Bethlehem everywhere was full! But Joseph was persistent and eventually Mary’s baby was born in the stable area of an inn – no ordinary birth for no ordinary boy. Indeed, as you know, the child was visited by shepherds, who brought the gift of a lamb. And Wise Men, dressed as Kings, who had travelled from lands far, far away by following a star, came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And then there was another dream of the horrors Herod had in mind. Once more Joseph did God’s bidding and fled with his wife and new-born son to Egypt until it was safe to return.
Joseph stood by Mary and brought the child up as his own, handing down to him his carpentry skills until the time Jesus felt it was right for him to start his Ministry on earth. Yes, in his quiet way, Joseph was a very special man.
It was a simple scene that first Christmas – a rough room, a young couple and nothing but a feeding trough to put the child in. It was probably quite cold and with family far away there was little help. Not exactly the “Hallmark moment” we like to show in Christmas pageants. And yet this rustic scene marked the greatest event in the history of mankind.
God's Son became human and came to earth to save us. God had promised to send a Messiah, one who would save His people. He could have easily burst on the scene as a full grown man, a seven foot warrior with fiery eyes and arms of steel. This was what many people were looking for, but it wasn't how God did it.
He arrived in the arms of a young girl. He was, as another author put it, "a very small package, wrapped in simple cloth, given from the heart of God: The perfect gift."
God sent His Son into a corrupted world to bring us hope. God gave His only Son so that we, in all our brokenness, could know forgiveness. He came so that we could know what love feels like: love that never leaves, never disappoints, never betrays.