The Christmas Story (Candlelight)
Since I am not so used to speaking in front of people, I must tell you this will be a little hard for me. I’m actually a man who is known more for my brawn than for my brain. Not to say that I’m not intelligent. It’s just that I don’t have much experience doing this kind of – you see, I actually work with my hands. I am a carpenter by trade. In fact, I am the Carpenter of Nazareth. I don’t mind telling you that I’m actually rather proud of the work that I do. This hammer that I hold in my hand is not your usual hammer. It is not a hammer for building things, but rather it is a hammer for marking things. You know how it is when an artist creates a painting, the artist signs that painting. The same thing is true of a carpenter. When I create something with which I am pleased, I sign it using this hammer. Let me explain. You see, the hammer has on the head an engraved symbol, a mark right there. That is the symbol for my name. Joseph, the Son of Jacob. That’s my full name. Today, you would simply call me Joseph Jacobson. But this symbol is the symbol for my name: Joseph, the Son of Jacob.
And whenever I create something of worth, if it’s made of wood, then I take this hammer and I sign that created work, whatever it is. I sign it like this. As you can see, now my symbol is embedded into that wood, and so this piece of carpentry stands as my very own. Yes, I am telling you I am quite proud of being a carpenter and the Carpenter of Nazareth. But this is hard for me. Not just because of my nervousness at speaking in public, but because of my role in that first Christmas. Well, how shall I say it? The woman whom I was scheduled to marry wound up giving birth to the Son of God. I can tell you that when I first heard the very shocking news that Mary was expecting a child and we were not yet married, the news fell upon me like a hammer blow. I thought I would die. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never had any experience in trying to deal with such a tragedy. I had no idea what I would do. And then that very night, I fell asleep. And in my sleep, I dreamed a dream. And in that dream, an angel came to me.
And the angel spoke to me. The angel spoke to me quite clearly. The angel said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. For the Child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, she will bear a Son. And you will call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.” I didn’t understand all that that meant when the angel said it. But I must tell you I did take some reassurance from knowing that somehow by the power of God everything would be all right for Mary and for me. I must tell you this though. The message I heard from the angels triggered the most astonishing sequence of events you could ever imagine.
After I heard the message of the angel, the first thing that I wanted to do was to rush to Mary. I wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to tell her about the dream, about the angel, about what the angel said. I wanted to tell her every – and that’s what I did. The words just came rolling out like a torrent. I told her that I loved her and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. And it was only when I managed to catch my breath for a few moments that she then proceeded to tell me that an angel had appeared to her. An angel who had said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid. For the Lord is with you. You have found favor with God.” That made a marvelous moment for us to share. And so we mingled our tears, and our laughter, and our prayers. And then we began to look toward the birth of the Child. Things progressed very smoothly for a while until – it actually was not very long before the baby was due to be born – and suddenly, we received orders that we were required to travel all the way from Nazareth down to Bethlehem to our family’s home town in order to participate in the Roman census. I want to tell you something.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is never easy. But given our particular circumstances, the journey would prove to be excruciatingly difficult. We were required to make that 90-mile trip, first heading out eastward from Nazareth over to the Jordan River Valley, into the flat lands running along the edge of that river. We turned south and headed down those flat lands, staying close the river as we went until we reached the city of Jericho. And then we turned to the west and headed up into and then over the Judean Hills, the hills in that wilderness surrounding the city of Jerusalem. And then in Jerusalem, we turned south again and headed on toward Bethlehem. Under normal circumstances, I suspect that we would have been able to make maybe 20 miles a day. But given Mary’s very delicate condition, we were lucky if we made 10 miles a day. The last stretch of the journey was the toughest of all. You see, the Judean wilderness is a forbidding place, especially in winter. Sometimes the temperatures plunged into the 40s, maybe the 30s even. Their frequent rains, bitingly cold winds. When you take the hardness of the journey and the harshness of the weather and combine them together, I want to tell you something: there were times when I wondered if we would ever make it to Bethlehem.
But that’s not all I wondered. I wondered as well, why me? Why Mary? Why us? I’m just a simple carpenter. Why would God choose someone like me? It did seem so strange to me. I’m just a simple carpenter. I only know how to work with wood. How could I be expected to train up the child who would become the Savior of the world? Surely some mistake had been made. I shared my fears with Mary. She said something to me I have never forgotten. She said, “Joseph, God made no mistake in choosing you. You are a craftsman with wood. You take green trees which are twisted and then you straighten them and force them to become beams, which are straight and strong. And you take rough wood, rough boards and with exquisite care, you smooth them into beauty. And you love to fix broken things. You make them brand new again. God made no mistake Joseph,” she said.
“Because what you have learned to do with wood, the Savior must learn to do with people.” The moment she said that, the burden of my fear was lifted. Of course, you’ll remember the further difficulties we encountered when we made our way at long last to Bethlehem. 10,000 other descendants of King David had descended upon that little town. It was bedlam, I tell you. There was no place for us to stay. And so finally in desperation, we bedded down in a stable. Think of it for a moment: the child who would become the savior would be born in a lowly stable in the little town of Bethlehem.
There are so many, many things about that first Christmas Eve night that I cannot forget. I cannot forget how bright the night was, created by a star shining in the night sky. A star as bright as the sun. I cannot forget the angels, the angels that came to Mary and to me. But then suddenly, there were more angels. Angels splitting the skies delivering good news of great joy. About a joy that would be for all the people of the world. I couldn’t forget the shepherds who had been out on the hillsides around Bethlehem tending their flocks. And they are ones who saw the angels and heard the announcement. And they came rushing into town to see the Little One in His mother’s arms. I can’t forget their faces. Their faces were bright and shining every bit as bright as that star shining in the night sky. No sooner had I recovered my composure from the surprise visit of the shepherds, then suddenly I heard men’s voices speaking a foreign language. I heard the distinctive shuffle of camels’ feet. And then they entered the stable dressed in a magnificence like nothing I had ever seen before in my life. Surely, they were royalty.
And yet they came and they knelt before the Baby in His mother’s arm, paying homage to the new King. They even left their tokens of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. I want to tell you something: my mind was reeling by that point. I couldn’t tie it all together. I couldn’t figure out what it all meant, and I couldn’t foresee what would happen in the years that were ahead. I couldn’t foresee, for example, that the rough boards which would serve as the Baby’s first bed would not be the only rough boards that would bear His weight. I couldn’t foresee that this Baby born in Bethlehem would die in Jerusalem six miles away. Think of it: born in the City of David, dying in David’s city. And between those two points, all people who believe in Him, a whole world’s worth, would be lifted to glory. I couldn’t begin to foresee all of that. I wondered what Child is this, really? I didn’t understand, that night at least. No, not that night.
I must confess to you that some of the details surrounding that first Christmas Eve are fuzzy in my mind now all these years later. There is, however, one memory, one memory that stays quite clear. In fact, it’s as vivid to me now as it was when it first happened. I’m speaking of the moment when for the first time Mary lifted up her Child and placed Him in my arms. I looked down at Him through misty eyes. And I said what the angels told me to say, “Your name shall be called Jesus, for You will save Your people from their sins.”
The miracle He was, what a miracle He is. It may sound unusual to say it but that night when I was holding Him, it almost seemed that He was holding me. I brought Him up to seek the truth. But now I know He is the truth. I gave Him all the love one heart can hold. But now I know that He is love. I gave Him a home. He gave me Heaven. And what I want you to understand tonight is that just as He came into our lives on that first Christmas, so now He can come into your life on this Christmas. And what I want you to understand tonight is that when you reach out to take hold of Him, you discover what I discovered: that He takes hold of you. And you discover what I discovered: when He takes hold of you, He will never ever let you go.