We’ve all heard the Christmas Story so many times and sometimes I think we gloss over it and miss the impossibility… the cost… the beauty. I’ve seen it in a new way this year and it’s awed me. This story is not a little fairy tale for children. It’s the story that saves our lives.
Mary couldn’t have been that old, probably a teen, when it was arranged for her to marry Joseph. We don’t know if she really knew Joseph, but certainly their marriages back then didn’t role out the way they do today. There was no love at first sight weddings, but a simple arrangement by the parents. It had to have been an exciting but unsettling time. Everything was changing.
And then, in the middle of all that an angel appears to her with the most unusual message. You will conceive a Son by the Holy Spirit and His name will be called Jesus. He will be great… the son of the Highest. God will give Him the throne of David and His kingdom will never end. And your elderly cousin Elisabeth-- she too has conceived and will have a son.
I can’t even imagine what must have been going through her young mind. I’m going to have a baby? How can I have a baby since I am a virgin? How can my elderly aunt be having a baby? And what does the angel mean by saying my baby is the son of the Highest? Won’t He be my Son? But He will take David’s throne and His kingdom will last forever… He must be the Messiah. My baby— the Messiah.
With her mind whirling she set off to see her cousin Elisabeth. Her heart must have trembled as she got closer. God, let Elisabeth be pregnant as the angel said.
And then there she was... Elisabeth with her own little one growing inside of her. She runs to meet Mary, her face a huge smile. Blessed am I that the mother of my Lord has come to visit me. As soon as I heard your voice the baby I carry leaped for joy within me. And somehow I think the glow in Mary’s heart shone out of her face too.
As she felt the little One she carried growing, Mary must have been stirred with awe and joy. But somehow I think there must have been some fear too. How will my family believe this when I return home? What will Joseph think? How can anyone understand? Nothing like this has ever happened before. Why would anyone believe it has happened to me? Will Joseph make an accusation that could cause me to be stoned? After all, that is the law. How will I escape such a fate? But then, how could something like this happen to me when my Baby will have a kingdom that will last forever? God’s plans for this Baby must be greater than any danger we will face.
After three months Mary knew it was time to go home, so she bid Elisabeth and Zechariah goodbye. The moment had come. The moment to stand firmly for her belief in the words of the angel.
We don’t know how God intervened for the girl He had chosen to bear His son, but we know He did. Her life was spared. The life of her baby was spared. The looks from condemning neighbors still stung, but deep down she knew she had been given a gift no one could even understand.
And Joseph-- he must have been heartbroken. What now? How could he claim this child as his own when he knew that would be a lie? How could he take a girl like this when he was a man of honor? He took the only route he knew… quietly break off the engagement without putting Mary to shame. And with that, every hope he must had for their life together was broken too. On the other hand, Mary was left alone to face the pain of not being believed.
But God knew. He had more in store than the two young hearts could ever have dreamed. He sent His angel to Joseph in the night… Joseph, don’t be afraid to make Mary your wife. The baby she carries is hers by the Holy Ghost. She will have a Son who’s name will be Jesus. He will be a Savior to His people lost in sin. Joseph must have jerked awake in awe. This is exactly what Mary told me. It must be true. Maybe the future is brighter than I ever dared to dream. How can He have chosen me to be the father of His Son? What will it be like? What will He be like?
I can only imagine what a reassurance it was to Mary to hear that her now husband-to-be had heard the same message from the angel that she had. She would have someone to share this journey with who understood and believed.
It wasn't very long after his dream that Mary and Joseph were married and the decree came to return to the land where they were born for a census. A journey this far into her pregnancy couldn't have been anything but a heavy thought for Mary. I don’t know if she knew the prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem but if she did, her heart must have been awed at the ways God was bringing His word to pass. What else might the future bring?
While we don’t know exactly what route they took, we know their journey was long and arduous. With no modern transportation Joseph had to walk the whole way leading the donkey for Mary to ride on. They had many quiet hours to ponder and discuss the awesome and unknown future they were stepping into…
By the time they saw Bethlehem in the distance, Joseph was very weary. But his concern was for Mary. She desperately needed a place to rest— a place to give birth to their little One. He ran from inn to inn but none had room for the tired travelers. Finally someone showed them the stable… the place where the animals rest. They settled down into the little spot that would be mentioned in carol after carol until the close of time. The time had come. Mary’s labor begun and before they knew it a little cry pierced the silence of the night. The cry of the King Himself.
Their baby was born. The baby for all mankind.
Meanwhile, they were clueless to what God was doing only a few miles away. The shepherds in the fields nearby were longing for the Messiah. In their nights of watching they would hope and pray for His coming and then hope and pray some more. This night as they watched their sheep the darkness was suddenly pierced by a bright light. The angel told them simply that the Messiah was born and that they would find Him in a manger wrapped in grave clothes. The heavens rung with a song that echoed so loud that earth couldn't help but hear it.
While Mary and Joseph gazed into the eyes of their little boy in awe, shepherds drew nigh. The couple heard a stir and looked up. What can this be? Men approaching the stable? At night? Why are they kneeling? Bowing in fact? Is it because of our baby? How do they know? Did the angel come to them too? This really is for real. Maybe His kingdom is starting already.
Little do they know this is only the beginning. As their little One was born a star of angels hovered over Bethlehem... Hundreds of miles away, men of great wisdom in the east had been tracking the stars and noticed this new star they had never seen that drew them to the prophesies of the Messiah. Convinced that this star had something to do with His birth they set out on a long journey to find Him. As they drew closer they saw the star hover over Bethlehem. This must be the place.
If shepherds who came earlier were shocking, wise men must have been even more so. How did these men like kings know who our son is? Why do these great men bow down to a baby? Our Jesus must be greater than even we imagined… God must have opened heaven and poured it out in this gift.
Oh Mary and Joseph, He did. He did. And sometimes we forget. We forget what a story this really is. We forget we wouldn’t even have eternity if it wasn’t for this story. Our future would be nothing if He hadn’t made Himself nothing.
This time of year isn’t just for Christmas trees and Jingle Bells and red ornaments and snow. This time of year springs from a story of pain, and blood, and tears, and joy, and heartache, and grace that is our salvation. This time of year is because our Jesus loved us so much that He couldn’t bear to think of living His future without us, and so He gave Himself. It cost Him pain and blood and tears too.
His little baby face lay in the manger because He loved us, not to the moon and back-- but to the earth and back. And so often we get consumed in the sparkle and the glitter of Christmas and forget to love Him above every other thing in the entire universe. We get distracted by all the gifts He gives and place our love on them and forget that He is the greatest Gift. We celebrate the joy but we forget the pain it cost Him.
But this Jesus of ours… He counted it worth it because He valued our companionship more than His own life. He wrote an impossible story in which He gave Himself because it was His dream to make it possible to be friends with us once again.
And I have just one question this Christmas...
Will we write the ending to this impossible story by saying yes to His friendship and make His dream come true? We choose how the story ends.
Unless we say yes to Him, even an impossible story come true can’t make His dream of companionship come true. Only we can do that. You and I get to choose to make His dream come true this Christmas…
Because somehow I think that all He wants for Christmas is you.
*pics from the web