Joseph's Christmas Story
She was out shopping with her family one day and
happened to walk by my carpentry shop in Nazareth.
I fell hopelessly in love the minute I saw her,
and couldn’t rest till I found out who she was.
I don’t recall whose furniture I was building that day, or
even how it turned out. She was all I could think about.
I wanted to know her name, which of the 12 tribes her
family was from, and how many brothers and sisters she had.
This last item would help me estimate the “bride price", the
money I would have to pay her father for his permission to
marry her. I had already decided that’s what I was going to do.
If she was from a small family, leaving them to marry
me would deprive her parents of a much needed pair of
hands, and her father would want a high price to compensate
for the family’s loss, maybe more than I could afford to pay.
I guess you can tell my brain was going about a hundred miles an
hour. Even though I was known as a quiet and easy-going man, my
prayers that the Lord would let me have her were urgent and intense.
I quickly discovered her name was Miriam, or Mary to you.
She was from the tribe of Judah, like me. Then I learned
that she had no brothers at all and no older sisters.
This meant that she was first in line to be married and that
she was her father’s principal heir, being his firstborn child.
It also meant that according to our law she could only
marry a man from the tribe of Judah. Let me explain...
Back in the time of Moses, before the Land was
originally divided among the tribes and families, the
Lord warned my people they could never sell it to anyone.
He said it was all His and they were just tenants. (Leviticus 25:23)
This was to make sure that no tribe could ever lose its inheritance.
Each family’s allotment of land had to be passed down from
father to son, and as part of the Jubilee Year observance,
all land had to be returned to it’s rightful owners.
At that time there was a man named Zelophehad of the tribe
of Manasseh who had only daughters. One day the leaders of
his tribe came to Moses complaining that they had been told to
give Zelophehad’s land to his daughters, since he had no sons.
What would happen if the daughters married outside the tribe and
the land passed into their husbands’ families’ estates? Would the
Tribe of Manasseh lose part of its inheritance at the Jubilee?
When Moses inquired of the Lord, He said that in cases where there
were no sons in a family, daughters could inherit land from their
fathers but had to marry men from within their own tribe. That
way the tribal allotments would remain intact. (Numbers 36:1-12)
Since Mary had no brothers, she had to marry
someone from the tribe of Judah, someone like me.
Later, this would become a very important issue.
I was not only from the Tribe of Judah, but a descendant of
King David, in the royal line of succession to the throne through
King Solomon. So although a poor carpenter from Nazareth,
I was technically a Prince of Israel, in line to be King.
But God had cursed the royal bloodline, as it’s called, at
the time of King Jehoiachin 600 years earlier. He was
so evil that in anger, God declared that no descendant
of his would ever rule in Israel again. (Jeremiah 22:28-30)
So even though God had promised King David
that only direct descendants of his son Solomon
could be kings in Israel, the royal line was now cursed.
Being descended from Solomon, I was part of that line so
neither I, nor any blood descendant of mine could ever be king.
The last King Israel has ever had was Zedekiah, a
cousin of Jehoiachin’s not in the royal line, who was
placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar just before
Babylon defeated the Jews and took them all slaves.
Since there’s never been a king since the Babylonian
Captivity, Israel hasn’t had a legitimate king since the
royal line was cursed, just as the Lord had said.
Mary was also from the Tribe of Judah, and a direct
descendant of King David as well, but through Nathan,
Solomon’s brother. Nathan’s bloodline was not cursed.
If a son of Mary’s could somehow prove he was
also in the line of succession, he could be King.
But if he was biologically related to any man in
the royal bloodline, a requirement for succession,
he’d inherit the curse. It was a real catch 22.
Of course God, who knows the end from the beginning,
wasn’t breaking His promise to King David by cursing the
royal line. He knew how He was going to solve the problem.
At the proper time, He would simply arrange to have a
virgin from the House of David be wed to a man in the
royal line of succession and then have her conceive a
male child without her husband’s participation.
To accomplish this, giving Mary’s parents only daughters was
step one. She could not marry outside the Tribe of Judah.
Making me fall in love with her was step two, and having our
Son conceived of the Holy Spirit completed the process.
So now you know what the Bible means when it says our
son was of “the house and lineage of David.” (Luke 2:4)
Through His mother, He was descended from
King David, a member of his “house.”
Since He was legally my Son, He inherited royal lineage, but
because we were not biologically related, He sidestepped its curse.
This made our Son the only man in Israel qualified to be King
of the Jews, then or since. Our God is the Master of the loophole.
So the virgin birth was required to perfect our
Son’s claim to the Throne of David in fulfillment
of one of Gabriel’s promises to Mary.
It was also required to make him the Son of
God in fulfillment of the other. (Luke 1:30-33)
And it was required to fulfill Isaiah’s
prophecy to King Ahaz. (Isaiah 7:14)
But I’m getting way ahead of myself here...
Once I found out what I needed to know about
Mary, I went immediately to see her father, Heli.
It took a long time for a man to establish himself
in those days, getting to a point where he could afford
to maintain his own home with a wife and family.
Having worked for years to get there, at the ripe
old age of 25, I was anxious to settle down.
And since Jewish girls were typically
married while still in their early teens,
Mary was quite a bit younger than I.
That helps explain why she was still
around at the death of our Son and I wasn’t.
(I died when Jesus was 19 years old.)
As soon as I arrived at their house and introduced
myself to them, Mary’s parents guessed why I’d come.
As they invited me to sit down at the
family table, they called her to join us.
Mary got out four cups and wine
but didn’t pour any for herself.
She sat listening intently as I spoke with
her father, telling him (and her) why I
thought I would be a good husband for her.
Since she and I had never officially
met, this was the first time I had
ever been this close to her.
She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever
seen, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
And as it was with every Jewish girl, this was how she
learned about the man who would become her husband.
After a proper amount of negotiating, we agreed
on the bride price and all eyes turned to Mary.
She now had about 30 seconds to
decide the course of her life.
If she filled her cup and drank
from it, we were betrothed.
If she turned her empty cup upside
down I would leave and never come back.
It was her choice.
Those few seconds seemed like hours, and
I’m sure the pounding of my heart was visible
through my robe as I waited, not daring to breathe.
Finally, she filled her cup and took a sip.
No man in all the world has ever
been happier than I was at that moment.
Alas, that feeling would not last long.
A short time later Mary came to me and explained
that she was pregnant. She told me all the angel
Gabriel had said to her, that her child was supernaturally
conceived and destined to become the King of Israel.
It was quite a story, believe me.
Please understand, in our culture even engaged couples
could never be alone together. There was no dating
as there is today, and only a few short chaperoned
conversations during the entire year-long betrothal.
I didn’t know how she got pregnant,
but I knew that it didn’t involve me!
I was devastated by her confession, the anger and
betrayal any man would feel raging through my mind.
I had every right to bring her before the priests and
charge her with adultery, a crime punishable by death!
But I loved her, so I suggested we get quietly divorced
so she could go away. It was the only way a betrothal
could only be ended and it would save her the public
disgrace she would otherwise have to endure,
even if she wasn’t brought before the priests.
It was the most painful conversation I had ever endured, so
to give us both time to recover she left town for a long visit
with her cousin Elizabeth. (Elizabeth, though much older was
also pregnant with a son, who would be called John the Baptist.)
But after I had considered this, an angel of the Lord
appeared to me in a dream and said, “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 name him Jesus, because
he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
So as soon as Mary returned I told her I would not
abandon her, but would take her as my wife and raise
her child as my own. We were married immediately
and we moved into the house I had already built for us.
Finally, just as it was about time for Mary to deliver,
we had to pack up and head for Bethlehem, where all
the descendants of King David had to be registered
for the census the Roman Governor required.
It took us four days to get there, with Mary riding on our
small donkey while I walked alongside. I can only imagine
how uncomfortable she must have been during that ride.
After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived in Bethlehem
only to find the city’s one inn all sold out. And as if that wasn’t
bad enough, Mary went into labor and I had to find a place fast!
I inquired at every house in town about using the guest room
all Jewish families were required to keep available for
visiting pilgrims, but they were all promised to others.
Just when I thought we had exhausted every possibility,
the innkeeper took pity on us and offered his stable
where we could at least get out of the cold night air.
Making my beautiful pregnant wife a bed of straw, and helping
in every way I could, I watched the miracle of life unfold in
the most unique way ever, as she gave birth to the Son of God.
As He was being born, I asked God, “Why a stable?”
He said, “Where would you expect a Lamb to be born?”
Typically in Israel, the birth of a first-born son was an event
accompanied by great celebration. Fathers hired musicians
to go singing and dancing through the streets proclaiming
the good news. But we were almost 70 miles from home
and I was way too poor to afford musicians, so our son’s
real Father saw to this for us. Opening the Heavens, He
had the angels sing and proclaim the ultimate Good News!
Nearby, shepherds were tending sheep in fields that
had once belonged to our ancestors, Boaz and Ruth. They
now belonged to the Temple in Jerusalem and the sheep
grazing there were bred especially for use as sacrificial
lambs, sold to pilgrims who came for the Holy Days.
These were lambs born to die for the sins of the people,
and as those shepherds came to gather around us, the
comparison of their sheep to our baby boy was striking.
Here was the Lamb of God, born to die for the sins of
mankind. To think that God could love us so much that He
gave His only Son as a ransom for our sins was beyond my
comprehension, yet I was an eyewitness to His coming.
The words of the Angelic Choir rang in my ears again;
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)
On His eighth day of life, we brought Jesus, as
the angel had told us to name him, to the Temple
to be circumcised as a child of the covenant.
(His Hebrew name is actually Yeshua, which means “God
brings salvation.” The name "Jesus" comes from the Greek.)
While there, His role as Israel’s Messiah was confirmed by
two witnesses, as required in the Law. (Deuteronomy 19:15)
Both Simeon and Anna had been moved by the Holy
Spirit to seek out and bless Jesus and praise God
for sending Him to redeem mankind. (Luke 2:23-40)
When the Lord ordained the ritual of circumcision
for males, He arranged for the coagulating proenzyme
called prothrombin to be at 130% of normal adult levels
on the eighth day of life, and for natural analgesic
enzymes in the blood to be at lifetime highs as well.
Circumcision on any other day can be a painful and bloody
event, but on the eighth day, it’s remarkably less so. Of
course, this is a fact the medical profession has only learned
in the last century. In our day, we just knew that everything
worked better when we were obedient to God’s commands.
Later in His life, Jesus would say; “Foxes have holes
and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man
has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)
This observation was true from the moment of His birth.
It seemed like He did not fit anywhere. He was born in a
stable because no room could be found for us in Bethlehem.
No one but His mother and I were there to attend
His birth. Then we had to rush Him off to Egypt to
escape an attempt on his life. It happened like this...
Parthian priests known as the Magi arrived in Jerusalem,
following a star that had appeared in the skies over Israel.
Many centuries earlier Balaam had prophesied that such a
star would be a sign of the coming Messiah. (Numbers 24:17-19)
For over 500 years, ever since the Prophet Daniel had
first told them when to expect it, the Magi had been looking
for the sign of His birth, and it had finally appeared.
Upon arriving they called on King Herod, informing him
that one “born to be King of the Jews” had come. They asked
him where the child was and of course he did not know.
The Magi’s caravan caused quite a stir
in Herod’s court and indeed in all of Jerusalem.
The Romans had gained control of the Holy Land,
but Parthian forces had defeated them a few
years earlier during Rome’s unsuccessful
attempt to conquer nearby Parthia, too.
(Parthia was a remnant of the former Medo-Persian
Empire situated north and east of Israel.)
So the Magi were viewed as
representatives of Rome’s enemy.
Not only that, but traditionally the Parthian
Priesthood played the role of Kingmaker,
in neighboring lands as well in their own country.
They had become so powerful that no King in the
region could long rule without their blessing.
Having been appointed by Rome, Herod was not even
Jewish, and now these powerful kingmakers were
asking the whereabouts of the one born to the
throne Herod had only been appointed to.
In answer to their question, Herod called in the chief
priests who read from the scroll of the Prophet Micah
(Micah 5:2) that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
The Magi found us there and presented gifts
of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus.
These three gifts were part of the treasure
Daniel had left in the Magi’s care when he
died in Babylon over 500 years earlier.
He made them promise to keep it for the Messiah and
present it to Him when they saw the sign in the sky.
The gold symbolized His royalty, the
frankincense His priesthood, and the Myrrh was
prophetic of His death for the sins of the people.
(Myrrh is a spice used for embalming.)
Together they represented the Messiah’s
three offices of King, Priest and Prophet.
Then in a remarkable contrast to the treatment
Jesus had here-to-fore received since coming
to Earth, these powerful Magi and their entire
entourage bowed low and worshiped our son.
An angel warned me in a dream that King Herod
was plotting to kill Jesus, viewing our newborn
as a threat to his rule, and told me to take
Him and His mother to Egypt immediately.
The same angel also warned the Magi of Herod’s evil
intentions, warning them not to let him know where we
were. So, when they left town they took a circuitous route
around Jerusalem to avoid any further contact with him.
Because of Daniel’s gift, we were able to flee
and remain in Egypt till the angel told us that
Herod had died and it was OK to return home.
Later we found out that after we left Bethlehem,
Herod’s soldiers had executed all the male children there
under the age of two in a gruesome attempt to kill Jesus.
This had been prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:15)
but was no less painful for all the mothers whose
sons were brutally murdered on that day.
Finally, after an absence of several years, we returned to
Nazareth and began a more normal life together as a family.
During her pregnancy, Mary and I had abstained from
any intimate relations in honor of the Holy Child growing
within her. So now we decided to start the rest of
our family and wound up having four more sons.
These half-brothers of Jesus had a predictably
hard time relating to Him, fulfilling the prophecy
of King David, ” I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons.” (Psalm 69:8)
Can’t say as I blame them.
I had a hard time with it myself.
How’d you like having the Son of God growing
up in your home, knowing that one day you’d
have to bow before Him as King of the Universe?
But we got used t it, and obviously He went out
of His way to make it as easy as possible for us.
After His death, His brothers James and
Jude performed mighty works on His behalf.
In accordance with our customs, I was
responsible for our son’s general education
and taught Jesus my trade, carpentry, as well.
In matters of scripture, however,
He needed no instruction.
I remember a time when He was twelve. That fall He had
completed His ritual admission into manhood by observing
His first Yom Kippur fast and publicly reading from the Torah.
The following spring we were in Jerusalem
for the Passover as the Law required.
We thought He was with our group as we left
on our trip back to Nazareth, but after a day’s
journey we hadn’t seen Him so we left the
others and returned to Jerusalem to find Him.
Three days later we found Him in the Temple
among the teachers, who were amazed at the depth
of His knowledge and understanding. (Luke 2:41-52)
Well, His mother and I had been beside ourselves
with worry. I mean, how would you feel, fearing
you might have lost God’s only son? We couldn’t
resist chastising Him for causing us so much grief.
When He answered that we should have
known He’d be in His Father’s house,
we were confused and didn’t understand.
Later the meaning dawned on me.
First, He was reminding us that
according to our Law, He was now a
man, responsible for His own behavior.
An answer like that to justify going off
on one’s own would have been an unthinkable
impertinence to a boy’s parents otherwise.
And second, He was reminding
us that He was God’s Son.
Did we think that after all that had
happened, His Father would let Him
be lost before completing His mission?
It wasn’t always easy being the
parents of the Son of God.
But before you laugh me to scorn, have
you ever caught yourself thinking that
some work of God’s would be doomed
to, failure if you dropped the ball?
That’s a burden He’s never
asked you to carry.
He’s the one boss who doesn’t hold
you responsible for the actions of others.
He is even faithful to complete the good
work He’s begun in you. (Philippines 1:6)
As humans we tend to overestimate the
importance of our efforts on His behalf.
Sure He loves us beyond measure, but
He knows better than to let the success
of His plans depend on our faithfulness.
As I write this, I’m reminded of Elijah
after the Mt. Carmel exhibition.
He thought he was the only
faithful one left in all of Israel.
The burden was too much for him to carry and
he ran off into the wilderness, afraid for his life.
As the Lord comforted Elijah, He explained
that there were in fact 7000 others just
as faithful as he was. (1 Kings 19:1-18)
Well as you know, Jesus grew up to be the central figure in
all of human history, in spite of His all-too-human parents.
By His vicarious atonement, He rescued everyone
who would permit it from the unspeakable and eternal
horror due them as punishment for their sins.
He left this world just as He had come into it; alone,
misunderstood, and feared, even though throughout
His life He had personified the indescribable love of
God and never turned away anyone who came to Him.
And He’s still like that today.
Every one who asks receives, all who seek find, and to
whoever knocks the door is opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
No life is too depraved, no sin too despicable, for the Son
of Man came to seek and save those who are lost (Luke 19:10)
that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).
He’ll be back soon to take those who have
accepted the pardon His death purchased for
them to the place He’s been preparing all these years.
If you’re not sure you’d be included if He came
today, just apply the Apostle Paul’s admonition.
For if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”
and believe in your heart that God raised Him
from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
If you sincerely believe that Jesus is the Son of God,
that He went to the cross for you, and that God raised Him
from the dead to prove that the price for your pardon had been
paid in full, you’ll be counted among those for whom He comes.
The day of His return is almost upon us.
I hope to meet you then!
Jack Kelley - Grace Thru Faith