December 8, 1991
Scott L. Harris
Christmas is a season of ANTICIPATION. Boys and girls (and many adults) waiting to see what presents they will get. Parents anxious to see their children’s responses to all those gifts. Families and friends getting together for the holidays. Long distance phone calls back home or from those who could not make it home, etc.
Christmas is a season of BUSY-NESS. There is a rush to get everything done. There is shopping to do, presents to buy. Cookies to bake. Special Christmas dishes to make. Craft projects to finish. Christmas cards to write. People to visit. Parties to go to. Gifts to wrap. etc. Even around the Church there are extra activities such as special services, special music to prepare and special projects to finish.
Christmas is a season of TURMOIL. Frustration sets in as the deadline gets closer and there is still so much to do. Tempers flare and shopping becomes hostile as everyone crowds in the malls (mauls). “I can’t believe this traffic!” “There is no place to park!” “Look at those lines at the cash register!” “I don’t know what to get her anyway!” “It’s going to take me months to pay for all this stuff!”
No wonder the saying is that “Christmas is for Children,” for the adults have burned themselves out trying to get everything together. Then after it is all over they will get bills for a couple of months as they try to pay for all the things the kids managed to break by December 26th. And don’t forget that every Christmas goodie you eat will mean extra exercise and probably a diet at the beginning of the year.
For others, all they remember are the Christmas seasons of the past for things are different now. They are lonely. A wife missing her husband. Parents missing their kids. Adult children who can’t make it home. Single people wondering why they can’t find someone special to enjoy the holidays with. Christmas is a season of LONELINESS & DEPRESSION for some. The suicide rate actually goes up during the holidays.
How can it be that our society can spend so much time, energy and finances on something trying to make it enjoyable, and yet end up with so much misery? I believe that all this turmoil occurs because people have forgotten the “reason for the season.” They have their attention focused on the wrong things. Earlier I mentioned that Christmas is a season of BUSY-NESS. It has actually become more of a season for BUS-I-NESS – Business. Shopping malls still play “Christmas music,” but have you noticed that there are more secular and less sacred songs played. Have you also noticed that when a religious musical piece is played, more and more often they are instrumentals and not vocals. Melody without words.
Even Christian’s can begin to forget that Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the coming of Immanuel – God in human flesh – the birth of Jesus, the Christ. Over the next three weeks I want us to examine how various people responded to Jesus’ birth. My hope is that as we see how different people responded to the birth of Christ we can regain our focus so that this year Christmas will be a joyous season rather than a season of turmoil.
Today I want to focus in on the response of two people who played very important roles in the birth of Jesus. Both were essential to His birth, and both took great risks in being involved with it. These two people are Joseph and Mary.
First, lets consider Mary.
Though we do not have any Biblical indication on how old Mary would have been when the angel Gabriel visited her on that special day in Nazareth, we can make an educated guess that she would have been very young. The custom was for the parents to arrange the marriages of their children. A young man would generally attained “manhood” within the religious community at about 13 years old (The current practice of “Bar Mitzvah” – Son of the Law, is similar). The young man then spent several years learning his trade and raising the price of a bride – though the parents sometimes provided this. Men usually married at 16 or 17 with 20 being the outside limit. A young woman generally attained “womanhood” at about 12 years of age. By this time she had learned what was needed to take care of a home. She could be betrothed as early as that age, and they were usually married in their mid teens. From this we can surmise that Mary was probably in her mid-teens.
Another thing that we can easily assume is that Mary desired to be the one that would be the mother of the Messiah. Jewish children were well taught that Messiah would come. They were aware of the various prophecies concerning Him, and of special interest to the young girls was prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 that, “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” What an honor for a young woman to serve the Lord by being the one who would bring Immanuel into the world.
Mary was also probably aware of several of the other prophecies concerning Messiah. That he would have to be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10 – “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”), and that he would be from the descendants of King David (Isaiah 9:7 – “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this”). Mary had the right genealogy, being of the tribe of Judah, and the line of David (Luke 3).
So now we have a rough idea of Mary. She is a young woman, who like any devout Jewish girl of the time might dream about being the mother of the Messiah. She may have even been aware that she was of the right genealogy to be that person, but then again, Mary may not have thought at all about being the mother of the Messiah. especially now that she was engaged to man named Joseph. We will say more about him and their engagement in a few minutes.
Turn to Luke 1:26-37 and lets see how Mary responds to announcement by the angel Gabriel of what was to come.
V 26,27 – Gabriel goes to Nazareth in Galilee to Mary, a virgin, a descendent of David, engaged to Joseph
V. 28 – Gabriel greets her – “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
V. 29 – Mary is troubled, she contemplates the greeting
V. 30 – Gabriel continues, “Do not be afraid”
V. 31 – Mary will conceive, bear a son – Immanuel
V. 32 – He will be great, Son of the Most High, & He will be given the throne of His father, David.
V. 33 – He will reign forever.
V. 34 – Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
V. 35 – Gabriel answers, by the Holy Spirit – your offspring will be holy & called the Son of God.
V. 36 – Gabriel lets her know that Elizabeth, her relative, is 6 months pregnant in her old age.
V. 37 – For nothing is impossible with God.
Before we go on to Mary’s response to all of this I want you to contemplate her situation. Mary is betrothed. This is not the same thing as engagement in today’s society. Today, engagement is simply the time that proceeds the wedding. There is really nothing very binding about it. Either party can break the engagement for any reason including finding somebody else that they like better. Some tears are shed, friends and family are sad, but that is about it. For Mary and Joseph engagement was a legal relationship. They were already considered to be husband & wife though they were not yet living together and had not consummated the marriage. In order for their engagement to end, Joseph would have to legally divorce Mary. There were also greater ramifications and consequences if either of them were unfaithful during the engagement period. Today if a girl gets married while pregnant, most people really do not even think that much about it. (That tells you how far our society has slipped morally). For Mary, to be engaged and be pregnant put her in a very precarious spot.
Mosaic Law says the following about a girl in her situation:
Deuteronomy 22:13ff “if any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, ‘I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,’ then the girl’s father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. And the girl’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, “I did not find your daughter a virgin.” But this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girls’ father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he can not divorce her all his days. But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, “then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel, by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.”
Also, in Deuteronomy 22:23,24, Moses reports God’s instruction, “If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, they you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
For Mary this meant that the announcement by Gabriel that she would be the virgin mother of the Messiah also carried some risk. How would Joseph, her betrothed husband, react? Would he believe her? Would he still accept her? Would he reject her story and her? Would he divorce her? And if did so, would he do it privately, or would he bring about a public condemnation? She could be made an outcast of her society or she could even be stoned. Let me stress this again that the news by Gabriel that Mary would be the virgin mother of the Messiah carried risks for her. It would cost her.
How did Mary respond? Luke 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Mary did not pose a list of questions to Gabriel such as: How will Joseph respond? Who will take care of me and the child? How will I will be able to raise this child – this is God’s son – what if I make a mistake? Mary simply committed herself to whatever the Lord wanted for her. She recognized that she belonged to Him, and if that was what the Lord wanted, then she wanted it too.
We get a better idea of Mary’s emotional response about being the mother of the Messiah when she visits her relative Elizabeth in Judea. As Mary and Elizabeth greet each other, the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth and she blesses Mary. Mary in turn responds.
v. 46 – Her soul exalts the Lord
v. 47 – Her spirit rejoices in God
v. 48 – She feels blessed that God has regarded her
v. 49 – God has done mighty things for her.
v. 50 – She recognizes God’s mercy
v. 51 – His mighty deeds – scattering the proud.
v. 52 – He has brought down rulers and exalted the humble.
v. 53 – He has filled the hungry and brought down the rich.
v. 54 – He has helped Israel in His mercy
v. 55 – He has spoken to Abraham & his descendants.
Mary rejoices herself, and then breaks out in praise of God for the many things He has done. Her response to the announcement of Jesus’ birth was one of praise and glory to God even though it would put her at risk, and it would cost her personally.
What about Joseph? How did he respond? The indication from Luke and Matthew is that he may not have know for awhile that Mary was even pregnant. Luke 1:26 tells us that the Angel Gabriel visited Mary when Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist. Luke 1:39 says that after the angel told Mary, that she went with haste to visit Elizabeth for 3 months (v. 56). Turn to Matthew 1:18, it tells us that while Mary and Joseph were betrothed that Mary was found to be with Child. In all likelihood, Joseph did not find out until Mary was already three months pregnant.
What would you do if you were in Joseph’s shoes. Your fiancé finally returns from Judea after 3 months. You are looking forward to seeing her. Maybe you want to show all the work you have accomplished as you are getting a home ready for her. You finally see her, your excited about being able to talk to her again, and then “ah, honey, you, ah, look like you were, ah, well taken care of down there at Zecharaiah’s and Elizabeth’s.” “And, ah, it looks like, ah, they fed you well, it seems, ah that, ah, its all gone to your middle.”
How would you respond? Your fiancé finally returns after 3 months away and you find out she is pregnant. And then, what is her story? Whose child is it? It’s God’s child! And you say, “right,” “sure it is.” Your thinking, she must have picked this up from Zechariah and Elizabeth. They have always been a little extreme with religion anyway, but what would you expect from a priest.
What you do? This first announcement of Jesus’ coming birth cost Joseph a lot. All of his dreams of a quiet and happy home with Mary were shattered in a moment. He was going to be committed to Mary, and she to him. They would have a bunch of kids and they would watch them grow. But now, Mary had been unfaithful.
Joseph’s reaction is recorded in Matt 1:19. “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.” Joseph did not want to disgrace Mary, so he decided that the best thing to do was to “put her away.” This means to divorce her quietly. (This is the same word as in Matthew 19. It is the technical term for divorce). Matthew 1:20 tells it took an angel of the Lord to change Joseph’s mind. “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 that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”
Matthew goes on to tell us in verses 22, 23 that “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the Prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Joseph now believed Mary’s story and verse 24 tells us how Joseph responded. “And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took here as his wife, 25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
Joseph’s first reaction to the news that Jesus would be born was disappointment because he did not believe Mary’s story. But once Joseph understood that it was true that this child, Jesus, was indeed the Son of God, Joseph immediately took responsibility for Mary and the coming child.
The announcement of the coming birth of the Messiah cost Joseph, and even after he understood the truth of Mary’s story, it still cost him. Joseph’s family would never be as he had dreamed it would be. He and Mary would start their marriage with a child. There would be talk among the neighbors, and the child would be an extra financial burden when he may not have been ready for that. However, Joseph was committed to doing God’s will regardless of the personal sacrifice for himself. Joseph demonstrated this again when the angel of the Lord warned him to go to Egypt, and later to return to Nazareth.
That is the lesson I think we should learn from Joseph and Mary today. The birth of Jesus cost them. Raising this child cost them, yet they counted the cost worthwhile in order to please the Lord.
There is no difference for us today. There is a cost involved in following Christ. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In Luke 14 Jesus warned us to count the cost of following Him. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me . . .”. A yoke joined two oxen together so that they could pull a plow. A yoke means that there is work involved. There is a cost. The yoke of Jesus is “easy” and the burden is “light” in comparison to the law of Moses, and in Jesus we do find rest for our souls because He is gently and humble of heart.
If you are without Christ today, I pray you will count the cost and commit yourself to following Jesus. Don’t put that off. Life is futile without Him. But Christian, Joseph and Mary were righteous individuals. This story is a challenge to us. Have you counted the cost and are you picking up your cross daily and following Him. I pray that you are. If not, will you renew that commitment today?
If the Holy Spirit is working on your heart today, talk with me or one of the other church leaders and let us pray with you. Do not put it off. Today is the day of salvation. Today is also the day of commitment.
(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office