x Joseph’s obedience

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His fiancée was pregnant and it wasn’t his doing.  We can see how much this must have hurt him when we understand that, though he had every right to have Mary stoned to death, he opted to divorce her quietly and out of public view.  He loved Mary.  To see her pregnant by someone else must have hurt tremendously.

His decision to divorce is also an indication of his love for God–for no righteous man could rightfully marry such an “unclean” woman and still be considered a man of God.  But then the angel Gabriel fills Joseph in on the plan and Joseph faithfully takes Mary as his wife just as God requests; even though he too, along with Mary, will face the scorn of the community.  Joseph loved God.

Throughout the story of Christmas Joseph, time and again, is faithful to carry out the will of God.  He takes Mary as his wife, he moves his wife and young child to Egypt and then later to Nazareth (where Jesus became known as a “Nazarene”).

It’s striking to me the parallels between Joseph’s treatment of Mary and Jesus’ actions toward the woman caught in adultery, as well as his other response toward women.  Both responded with compassion and concern for the woman above and before the letter of the law.  Both raised the women around them up above what the surrounding culture practiced and, perhaps, what was thought to be appropriate.  Perhaps both were looking to the God of the law and understood the law of love as above and before any other law.  Perhaps Jesus, as a young boy, learned a thing or two from his father, Joseph.

Nicely done, Joseph.

Mary’s surprise response

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So here’s Mary, probably 14-16 years old; not yet married but engaged to Joseph, a carpenter.  Ordinary girl.  Ordinary life.  Engaged to a very ordinary man.  I’m sure that together they were looking forward to living a very ordinary life together.

Then an angel appears to Mary and gives her some surprising news.  First, the angel tells her that she is highly favored by God.  Mary must have been surprised because I’m sure she did not think of herself as anything special.  You have to wonder if in her mind she was thinking, “Who?  Me?”

Second, the angel tells her that she will be pregnant.  This time Mary voices her concern–“Who me?  But I’ve never been with a man!”  The angel them explains that Mary has been chosen for a “special assignment” of sorts.  That is, she would be a surrogate mother for the child that God was going to send to earth.  The Bible gives Mary’s immediate response, though I can’t help but wonder if she spent a moment or two considering the implications of this task.  Regardless, though, in the end Mary’s faithful response is clear–“Whatever the Lord wants, I’m willing.”

What if Mary had been unwilling?

What if Mary had said,

“Wait, what will Joseph think?  Maybe I should discuss this with him first.”

“But I’m only a young girl, I’m not ready to have a child!”

“What will my family and my friends think?”

“Wait, don’t you know that I could be stoned to death for this?”

“I haven’t even begun living my life yet–there so many things I want to do!”

She could have said a lot of things, but she didn’t.  “Okay, I’m willing” was her response.  God has never asked me to bear a child (good thing, being a man and all), but I know I find myself questioning God all the time on much smaller things.

Lord, grant me the faith of Mary, to listen and obey in faith; even when understanding is lacking.  Let my first goal not be the betterment of my own life and circumstances, but the will of God being done on earth.  Let my first response always be, “Okay, Lord, I am willing.”

Stables, Mangers and a Cow for Good Measure

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“And he was laid in a manger, because there was no place for him elsewhere.”

Ok, so the Bible is very clear that Jesus was placed in a manger.  But where’s the part about searching for a hotel room late at night in the pouring rain?  Where’s the part about the innkeeper refusing to give them a room for the night?  Where’s the part of having to spend the night—and give birth—in a stable or a cave?  Where are the ox and ass?

It’s not there; not any of it.

The story that has been told and retold, dramatized and cartoonized countless times throughout the centuries is very much unlike the account we read in the Scripture.  So, today, just for the sake of being true to the text, I want to present an alternative story, based on the Biblical account.  I’m not saying I know without doubt that this is how things really went down, but I think there is at least as much support for this version as there is for the traditional version, maybe more.

I think it’s highly likely that Joseph and Mary actually gave birth in the home of a relative of Joseph, or at least a sympathetic friend.  My conclusion on this comes from personal study, investigation of the study of others, and my experience living in a culture that it in many ways similar (even now in the 21 century) to that of Mary and Joseph.

Here are my reasons for thinking this:

1. The word that is often translated “inn” in Luke 2:7—kataluma— is also the same word that is used for the “upper room” in which Jesus and the disciples ate their final meal together.  The word literally means “guest room” which could be interpreted as an upper room for guests or a hotel type situation.  In most translations (and I like the NLT because it takes a step in the right direction here) the word “inn” is used as is more a cultural interpretation than a statement of known fact.

2. Most homes during this time period not only had an upper room for guests, but the lower portion of the home was used for housing animals and livestock during night.  As such, the lower area of the home had mangers (feeding troughs).  It is absolutely conceivable that Mary and Joseph were staying in the home of a family member, but that the guest room was already occupied by another (probably older) member of the family.

3. In most non-Western places around the world, when one visits his/her place of origin, or a place where he/she still has family, staying in a hotel is unthinkable–it’s expensive and a dishonor to family members in the area.  Since Joseph was from the area he likely would have had lots of family around.  Being poor, he likely would not have sought out a hotel.  The only caveat to this might have been that nobody wanted to give housing to the pregnant-out-of-wedlock Mary, but this seems an unlikely scenario.

4. Look at the wording of the text, the mention of the kataluma comes after the baby is born.  There is no talk of them frantically searching for a place to stay.  It’s more than likely that they had already been in Bethlehem for some time before the birth.  The whole “born in stable” storyline comes only from the mention of a manger, which could have easily been a manger in the lower portion of a home–”Mary laid the baby in a manger, because there was no room for them in the better-suited guest room above,” or something like this.

5.  Finally, the absence of more information should lead us to believe that what took place was nothing out of the ordinary; that things more or less followed the culturally appropriate patterns which, in this case, would mean staying with family and giving birth in the home surrounded by family…and not cows…or sheep…or whatever else.

Anyway, I actually find this version of the story more comforting and realistic.

It may not be a matter of essential faith, but it does give a good reminder to the power of interpretation, cultural background, and translation…we must be careful.  We must be careful to take the Word of God for what it is and not add or subtract from it.  In the Christmas story, at least, we have added much.

May our hope and joy this season come not in the story of Christmas…but in the Christ.

For more information:  Out of AdullamBetter Bibles BlogConfession and Truth, and Tough Questions Answered