The Family Christmas Story

This year we’ve looked at Christmas from a number of different perspectives.  We’ve seen things from the angels’ point of view.  We saw Christmas from the lowly side of the shepherds.  And we saw the Magi and King Herod’s reactions to the news that a new king had been born.  But there is one side that we haven’t looked at yet.  It is the personal side of Christmas, the story of Mary and Joseph.

The story of Jesus’ family actually starts before Mary and Joseph.  Even though no one bothers to read genealogies, they are quite important with regard to Jesus.  We know that Jesus is a descendant of David and the genealogies back this up.  But that is only half of the story.

There are two genealogies recorded in the gospels and they are different.  Matthew 1 records the genealogy of Joseph.  Luke 3 records Jesus’ lineage through Mary.  Luke appears to call Joseph a son of Heli but that is not what it says.  It says that Jesus was thought to be a son of Joseph, but he was also a son of Heli, and son of … it means that Jesus was a descendant of Heli, not that Joseph was a son of Heli.

So why is any of this important?  David was promised unconditionally that the Messiah would descend from him.  The promise is repeated for David’s descendants but it was a conditional promise if they followed the Lord.  We know that Solomon and many of his descendants did not.

By the end of the kingly line, God curses the remaining line of Solomon.  Jeremiah 22:28-30.

28 Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot,
an object no one wants?
Why will he and his children be hurled out,
cast into a land they do not know?
29 O land, land, land,
hear the word of the Lord!
30 This is what the Lord says:
“Record this man as if childless,
a man who will not prosper in his lifetime,
for none of his offspring will prosper,
none will sit on the throne of David
or rule anymore in Judah.”

Looking at Joseph’s family tree, we see that he is indeed a descendant of David but he is also a descendant of Jehoiachin.  Joseph had the legal right to David’s throne if the Israelites were not subject to Roman rule.  However God has cursed the line so that no one from the line will sit on the throne.

Looking at Mary’s line, we see that she too is a descendant of David.  However she is related through another son, Nathan.  Because of the virgin birth, Jesus is the flesh and blood descendant of David through Mary.  He is legally adopted by Joseph and inherits the right to the throne through Solomon but doesn’t have the cursed bloodline.

The birth of Jesus is a personal story and shouldn’t be reduced to just a matter of history however.  Luke 1:26-38 records the story of Mary.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary was a young woman, possibly only 14 or 15 years old when she was engaged to be married to Joseph.  It was quite common for young women to marry older men although we don’t know precisely how old Mary or Joseph was.  Even though Mary was old enough to have a child no matter what age she was, since she was only engaged to be married it seems natural to conclude that was not prepared for a child yet.

Nevertheless, Mary doesn’t seem to be too disturbed at the angel’s news.  When told that she will have a child despite being a virgin, she doesn’t act as if this task is impossible.  Instead, what she wants to know is how it will happen.

Mary is told that the Holy Spirit will be at work within her.  For proof that this would be the case, Gabriel offers the fact that her relative Elizabeth was already in her sixth month of pregnancy even though she was very advanced in age.  The greatest assurance that she can have though is that God has said that it will be so and God always keeps His promises.

Mary casually accepts this story and offers that she is the Lord’s servant.  In other words, she will do whatever it is that God desires of her.  This obviously took a tremendous amount of faith on Mary’s part which is probably why the Lord chose her to begin with.

Obviously it takes faith to believe a story that seems impossible and unbelievable but there’s more faith involved than just this.  Even if Mary readily accepts that she will become pregnant as she is told, there will be consequences for a young virgin who mysteriously becomes pregnant.  The first is that she could very well lose her fiancé.  As it becomes obvious that Mary is pregnant Joseph would obviously know that he is not the father.  Believing that she has been unfaithful to her even before they are married, Joseph would have good reason to leave her.

Even more though, Mary would have visible evidence that she was an adulterer.  Joseph could call to have her stoned for her transgression.  Even if all goes as best as can be imagined and Joseph goes on to marry her, rumors would get around that the child was not Joseph’s.  This is actually historical fact as historians outside of the Bible from Jesus’ day referred to him as the bastard son of a Roman soldier.

So Mary has a lot at stake when she becomes pregnant but she readily accepts it as God’s will and trusts the Lord to handle the details of what will happen.  And this is exactly what God does as is recorded in Matthew 1:18-25:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him 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. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Much is rightly made of Mary during the Christmas story but Joseph is to be commended as well.  One can imagine the sadness, frustration, and even humiliation that Joseph feels when he discovers that Mary is pregnant and he obviously knows that he isn’t the father.  Our natural human reaction would be to lash back at someone who hurt us in such a fashion.  But not Joseph.

Despite the fact that it appears Mary has been unfaithful to him, he doesn’t wish to harm her.  He seeks to divorce her privately rather than putting her to shame publicly.  During this time an engagement was more binding than it is today.  In order to break an engagement in this day one had to go through the same proceedings as one would break an actual marriage.

When Joseph is told about the miraculous event that has taken place and will take place, he expresses faith just as Mary did.  He accepted things as they were told to him and didn’t question them.  He didn’t worry about the possible repercussions of raising a child that didn’t belong to him or the whispers that would take place behind his back.

When the time came for Jesus to be born, we know that Mary and Joseph were not in the comforts of their home.  They were instead traveling and were in Bethlehem.  Because there was no room at the inn, they were forced to take shelter in a stable.  When Jesus was born, he was laid in a feeding trough.  This is the traditional Christmas story that we find in Luke 2.  We’ve looked at it twice this year already so I won’t repeat the story a third time.  What I will note is verse 19.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Every parent thinks that their child is special.  It might just be me but I assume that a lot of people wish that people would quit talking about their kids or grandkids because the reality is that they’re probably just like everybody else’s kids.  They are special to you but to everyone else they are just like all other kids.  And yes, I’m aware of the complete hypocrisy that I have when I say this as my wife has about a thousand pictures of our dogs on facebook and I highly doubt that anyone else cares about our dogs as much as she does.

But Mary knows that her child is special.  And it’s not just the circumstances of the birth that makes Jesus special.  I was born on Thanksgiving which I think is kind of neat and makes my birth just a touch special.  I had a friend from high school whose mom went into labor suddenly and unexpectedly and he was given birth to into a trash can.  Those are interesting stories but they are one time events.

Mary giving birth in a stable and laying her child in a manger is an incredible story.  Angels announcing Jesus’ birth and shepherds and wise men coming to visit are almost unbelievable.  But if that was it, if that was the highlight, then Mary has an incredible memory of the birth of her firstborn child.

But Mary knew that her child was special and it had nothing to do with the circumstances of his birth.  It is undoubtedly in the back of her mind as she and Jesus attend a wedding at Cana and she implores Him to perform a miracle and he turns the water into wine.

And it is certainly on her mind as she watched Him being nailed to the cross.  This child that came to her miraculously had come to earth and was always headed to the cross.  That was His mission.  As His blood was shed for our sins, Mary probably pondered His birth and why God sent Him.  The manger was the start of the road to the cross and Mary would remember this as she reflected back.

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