The First Family Of Our Faith
Once upon a time … in a little town called Nazareth, there lived a young woman named Mary and a young man named Joseph…
Interesting that for all the impact Mary and Joseph ultimately made upon the world, we know so little about them. For all of the difference they have made in human history, they occupy no significant space in our history books. The only thing we know about them is a tiny, intriguing, little slice of their lives. Their story is a story of great romance: they fell in love, and experienced incredible things together. Their story is the story of great adventure: angels appearing in the night sky, a long journey, a wandering star, a midnight birth in cold stable, adoring shepherds, worshipful Wise Men, and capping it all, a last-minute, frantic escape from death. But most of all, their story is the story of how God hooked the “extra” on “extraordinary.” You see, Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people. They had nothing more to commend themselves than did any other person in their town of Nazareth. Yet when God looked for a young couple to whom He could entrust His only Son, He chose young Mary and young Joseph. What was it that led God to select the two of them? Well, I believe the only way we can find the answer is to sing our way through this sermon. So I’m going to ask us at appropriate times to sing just a single verse from several of the great carols of Christmas. Let’s begin here.
(“Joy to the World” 1st verse)
Mary. That’s what we call her, but that is not what Joseph would have called her. You see, the name “Mary” is actually an English version of her original name. Joseph would have called her “Miriam.” Now what did she look like? We don’t know. Painters portray her as a beautiful brunette with dark eyes and olive skin, but we really don’t know. She would have been, in all probability, about 14 or 15 years of age. You see, in those days if a young woman was not married by age 17 then something was wrong. In most instances, young women were married by age 13 or 14. So, in all probability Mary, as we call her, was about 14 or 15 years old. It was then that an angel appeared to Mary, and clearly Mary was startled—so startled in fact, that the angel immediately said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” I want you to think about those words for a moment “you have found favor with God.” Let’s remember that we know today exactly what the angel had in mind, but at that point in time, Mary would have had no idea at all. In fact, in those days to be called “favored by God” many times actually meant a death sentence. It could have meant that she was going to be killed, or it could have meant that she was going to be sent off to some distant land. Who knew for certain? Mary certainly didn’t. So my guess is that she was terrified—if not by the appearance of the angel then by the announcement of the angel. But the angel went on to explain, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you will name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Please grasp the immensity of this moment. God, our great God, who had no physical limitations whatever was choosing to become limited by hands and arms, fingers and toes, eyes and ears, and a tongue and a nose. How incredible! The angel said, “The Child to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God.” What child is this? This is Christ the King.
(“What Child Is This”? 1st verse)
Joseph. At this point in time, Joseph probably would have been 18 or 19 years of age. Amazing, that God chose those who were so young. To be sure, God does speak through those who are older, but you know, it seems to me that many times when God wants to say something special to the world, He selects those who are young. Joseph was young. Joseph also was poor. We know that because carpenters in those days and in that place were poor. Joseph would have had to spend his entire life scrambling to make ends meet. He didn’t have much, but what he did have, he was ready to devote to the great love of his life, Mary. So he approached Mary’s father and asked if he might have permission to make her his betrothed. That was official. The arrangement was made. The promise was sealed. Then, horror of horrors, Joseph suddenly learned that this woman he loved, this woman of his dreams, was now with child. Can you imagine how he must have felt? The Bible makes it plain that Joseph had two choices. He could go public with the whole thing—that would have meant for Mary disgrace or death. Or, the Bible says, he could choose to dismiss her quietly. That’s the choice he made. But then, the angel came and said to Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Can you imagine how that would have set his head to spinning? Yet, somehow Joseph managed to put the pieces together enough to be able … well, the Bible puts it so beautifully, “Joseph did as the angel commanded him. He took her as his wife.” He obeyed. It’s as simple as that. If you want a truly significant life in the Lord, all you have to do is obey. The angel delivered the Word of God to Joseph. Listen, “Hark, the Herald Angel Sings.”
(“Hark, the Herald Angel Sings” 1st verse)
Mary and Joseph then endured the journey from Nazareth down to Bethlehem. They were bone-weary, dog-tired. Mary had been riding on the back of a donkey for 5 days. That’s right—count them: 5 days. That’s how long it would have taken to make the journey from Nazareth down to Bethlehem. It would have been tough on anyone, but especially on one expecting the birth of a child at any moment. When they finally got into the little town of Bethlehem, the Bible says that there was no room for them in the inn. That’s all it says but that says it all. They managed then to find shelter in a cave stable. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. And there in what must have been an exquisitely tender moment, Joseph reached up, grasped the woman he loved, lifted her down from the donkey, and carefully placed her on a bed of straw. I’ve often tried to imagine what her face must have looked like there in the candle light — drawn with pain, yes, but fierce with joy; dusty and weary, yes, but eyes sparkling. Somehow I think that Mary looked up at Joseph in that moment and said, “Joseph, you’ve done your part. Now it’s up to me.” And there, in the simplest of settings, with nothing but passive animals present to watch and to witness it all—there occurred the birth of God on a silent, holy night.
(“Silent Night, Holy Night” 1st verse)
Meanwhile out on hillsides, shepherds tended their flocks—shepherds, poor shepherds. If carpenters were poor, shepherds were poorer still. In fact when people wanted to make fun of other people, they used shepherds as bait. When people wanted to look at the bottom rung of the social ladder to be sure that they weren’t there, they would say, “Well at least, I’m not a shepherd.” Yet, it was to poor shepherds that the blessed angels came. Note this, dear friends, God comes not to those who look good, but to those who look to Him. He came to poor shepherds and the shepherds responded, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.” Also, there came Wise Men. If shepherds were poor, the Wise Men were rich. We do not know how many of them there were. We do know that they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We do know that they followed a wandering star for a long, long journey in order to reach the little family in Bethlehem. We know something else, as well. We know that somehow they were wise enough to understand who the Baby really was. For the Bible quotes them as saying, “For we have seen His star in the east, and have come to adore Him.” Adore Him—Oh come, let us adore Him, rich and poor, young and old, oh come, let all of us adore Him.
(“O Come All Ye Faithful” 1st verse)
I wonder. I wonder if those shepherds and Wise Men wondered why in the world God would choose to come in a baby born in a stable. Well, if no one realized it then, we realize it now. He came that way so that everyone could see Him. Had He been born in a palace, no lowly shepherd would ever have been able to lay eyes on Him. He had come to the lowest place possible so that everybody, from the lowest to the highest and from the highest to the lowest, so that everybody could see Him. He came to a place so common, so ordinary, so unpretentious, so accessible that no one could be or would be prevented from seeing Him. That, after all, was the purpose of the journey. That was the purpose for the trip. He came from heaven to earth to bring the good news of God’s salvation to everyone. But, dear friends, let me tell you: while that journey from heaven to earth was incredibly hard, the journey is not over. Jesus has one more trip planned. This time when He comes, we shall see Him not in humble lowliness but in awesome splendor. For when He comes again, He will come to take us home—all the way home — home to heaven. So I ask us to sing…
“Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.”