Christmas has always seemed to be a magical time for children and for some adults who are still able to see with the eyes of a child. They whole world seems to be transformed. Here in Canada we usually have the natural transformation of a blanket of snow, then add to that all the Christmas lights on the houses. The inside of the house goes through some transformations as well, as things get moved around to make room for the tree, lights get added and various decorations go up. In some fortunate homes, the ones where mom's still bake, the house gets filled with the smell of Christmas treats. Add to that the anticipation of the gifts on Christmas morning. For some there will be a few great surprises.
Christmas has always been about surprises. Yesterday we considered how God surprised Mary and Zechariah with the appearance of angel Gabriel and the announcement of pending children. We have all heard of the possible risks to Mary, being found to be pregnant before the consummation of her marriage. The penalty was to be stoned to death but that is almost non-relevant. I don't even think Mary thought that God would do this and then not protect her from such a thing. Sometimes we are not always intelligent in our faith. Whatever God calls us to do he will equip us to complete. But have you thought about Joseph?
We know that when Mary told him she was pregnant he had in mind to divorce her quietly. That speaks much of his love for her, that he would not publicly denounce her but it also speaks of his pain to be betrayed in such a way. We can't condemn him for that. How many of us would have believed Mary if we had been in his shoes? Many people today still don't. But God was about to surprise Joseph too.
Just like with Mary, Gabriel paid a visit to Joseph and confirmed to him everything Mary had told him:
“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.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
Talk about a surprise. Hey buddy, you've been chosen to raise the Son of God. Some have considered the risk Mary took in saying yes to God but have you considered the hit Joseph's reputation took? He was the local carpenter, a righteous man according to the Bible. He was most likely well thought of, even respected. But here he rushed the betrothal and had sexual relations with Mary so that he had to bring her into his home before the year of engagement was over. At least that was how everyone would have seen it.
It's not that this manner of marriage had anything to do with Scripture but it is what developed in the Jewish tradition. The engagement was as binding as a marriage but the marriage was not consummated until one year had passed. After the year was over the bride would then move into her husband's home and the marriage would be finalized. This was the tradition of man but God is no respecter of man's traditions. Because of man's traditions there would have been a lot of gossiping going around, Joseph would not have been seen as so righteous any more and his business may have even taken a hit, but Joseph was the right kind of righteous. He was righteous enough to set aside concern for himself and his reputation to be obedient to the Lord.
Joseph's righteousness was like Mary's, but more importantly it was like Abraham's. These people received a promise from God and they believed him. They just didn't believe by the words they spoke but in actions as well. They acted upon their trust in God. Yesterday we looked at Mary's response to God:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
Now consider Joseph's act of obedience that came from his heart of righteousness:
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)
Who cares what the gossips are going to say; God said it and I believe it. The question remains whether we would have done the same. So many of us are shackled by the traditions of man that have nothing to do with Scripture. We worry more for our reputation than for our obedience. We say that we love God with our words but our actions are lacking. Few of us are prepared to be surprised by God; we lack the faith of an Abraham, Mary and Joseph. Yet it is that faith that has the power to see this world transformed. Jesus said it takes a child-like faith to see and believe. What better time of the year to have that faith renewed than at Christmas.