Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Joseph and Mary

The Politically Incorrect Messiah

The sceptre had truly departed from Judah. There was once more a king in Jerusalem who ruled over Judah, but he was not of the lineage of David, nor of Judah, not even of Jacob. Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Surely the time was ripe for the coming of Messiah.

When Messiah came he would throw off the ignominy of this foreign king and all he stood for. For Herod had been appointed by Caesar and was really just a puppet of Rome. The shame of it all was fertile breeding ground for the Zealots, whose support seemed to increase daily. The Zealots considered it a sin to in any way acknowledge the rule of the uncircumcised, heathen Romans. Messiah would soon come and sweep away all the shame of Israel. He would establish his throne in Jerusalem and his reign would spread far and wide, as far as Rome. The Zealots were preparing to be Messiah’s conquering army.

Then Jesus was born, of the lineage of David, in the city of David, yet in the most obscure and humble circumstances possible. The Bible says “there was no room for them in the inn.” “Inn” in this verse simply means a guest chamber. Joseph and Mary will have travelled slowly, because of Mary’s condition. It is quite likely that when they arrived at their relatives the house was already full with other family who had come to Bethlehem to be properly counted on the tax rolls. There was no privacy to be found in such a crowded home for the birth of a baby. So Joseph and Mary were led to the stable, either adjoined to the house or in a cave adjacent to the house. Most likely the midwife was called and other women of the house would have helped. Nevertheless, baby Jesus’ first bed was a manger.

The visit of the shepherds, recounting their angelic visitation, should have erased any shame attached to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The visit of the magi will have further established his credentials as the promised Messiah. Yet all of this happened in an out of the way place, far from Jerusalem which was supposed to be the real seat of power.

When Jesus embarked on His ministry some thirty years later, disgust with Roman rule had increased, and with it the influence of the Zealots. Many people were ready to consider Jesus’ claim to be Messiah, if only He would come out and proclaim that He had come to set things right in Israel. That is just what He did, but in a way that was completely contrary to the peoples expectations.

When Jesus first taught about the nature of the kingdom of God, He spoke of the blessedness of being meek and merciful, of being peacemakers and of suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake. He told them they should rejoice if they were mocked and reviled because they believed in Him. He told them that the kingdom of God was for the pure in heart and for those who loved their enemies. In short, He told them that the Zealots completely misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God.

Nearly two thousand years have passed and Jesus’ kingdom still stands. It is not a political kingdom where submission to Christ is enforced by a sword of steel, but a spiritual kingdom where the love of God rules in the hearts of born again people who submit to Christ of their own free will. How could a literal earthly reign of Christ, enforced by might and brawn, be any better than this? The true nature of the kingdom is fully described in the Sermon on the Mount.

How silently, how silently

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear can hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

(O Little Town of Bethlehem, 3rd verse, written by Phillips Brooks)

I have fond memories of the midnight Christmas services in the little  Anglican church of the Saskatchewan town where I spent my boyhood.  We gathered at 11:30, when all commerce and all other travel had ceased, and in the quietness of the midnight remembered the coming of our Saviour into the world.  There was anticipation in the air, and people who were never seen in church at any other time of the year, except perhaps Easter Sunday morning, would be present for this service.

Jesus was born in the night, when all around was quiet and still.  There was a flurry of activity in the stable as He was born, but no one else was aware of it until some excited shepherds rushed into town telling of a visit from the angels.

It must have also been night when the star guided the Wise Men to the house where Jesus was, probably some months later.  It was in the night that an angel told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee, for Herod would seek to kill the young child.   Was it the same angel who warned the Wise Men in the night not to return to Herod?  Did Joseph confer with the Wise Men before he left that same night?  We can wonder about these things, but they are questions for which the Bible has no answer.  We only know that Joseph took his family that same night and began the long journey into Egypt.   Perhaps in the morning the people of Bethlehem were so intrigued by the presence of the strangers from the east that they did not immediately notice that Joseph and his family were gone.

God still works in the quietness, hidden from public view.  There is a beautiful passage in Job 33:14-18, spoken by Elihu, that describes this:

For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;  then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction,  that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.  He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.

May we all seek a place of quietness at Christmas time and all through the year where we can hear God’s message for us.  A blessed and joyous Christmas to all who read this!

We need better Christmas stories

No, I don’t mean we should try to improve upon the stories in the Bible.  They are wonderful as they are, and true.  The problem I have is with the Christmas stories for children, and adults, that take some elements of the Bible stories, add lots of imagination and wind up sounding like fairy tales.

Take the story of the star leading the Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem.  To believe that, one would have to believe that these Wise Men were not very wise at all and could never have figured out on their own in what country and what city the King of the Jews would most likely be found.  In addition, if we believe that the star was directed by God, we would have to believe that God had temporarily forgotten where He had left the child.

The Bible informs us that the Wise Men saw the star in the East, in their home country, and travelled to Jerusalem to find the newborn King of the Jews.  That much they could figure out all by themselves.  It was when they realized that the baby was not in Jerusalem that they needed help.  And now the star appeared again and led them directly to the house in Bethlehem where they found Jesus.  This is the information the Bible gives us, and we are free to imagine their feelings and add descriptive details to the story.  But saying the star led the Wise Men to Jerusalem gives the impression that God didn’t know any more than they did.  Let’s not tell it that way.

Then there is the story of the wicked, hardhearted innkeeper.  The Bible doesn’t mention him at all.  In fact, the word that is translated as “inn” in the story of the nativity is translated as “guest chamber” in the account of the Last Supper.  In all probability the “inn” in the nativity story was a guest room built on top of a private home.  The stable wasn’t far away either, it would have been under the same roof, either alongside of the living quarters or directly below them.  When the Russian Mennonites came to Canada in the 1870’s they built their homes in much the same way as was done long ago in Palestine.   They built long houses with living quarters at one end and used the other half for their barn.  Thus, they didn’t have to go outside in the bitterly cold winters to milk the cow.  These barns were kept meticulously clean and very little odour was detectable in the living quarters.

Another aspect of the “Joseph and Mary alone in the stable” story is that we are left to assume that only Joseph was present to help Mary when the baby was born.  I don’t think that was very likely.  If the setting was actually a private home, with the guest chamber already occupied, there would have been at least two other ladies to offer their help and it wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to think that a midwife would have been called as well.  Joseph and Mary would seem to have been deemed as being less important persons than those in the guest chamber, but let’s not assume that they were complete social outcasts.

Some stories tell of Joseph and Mary (riding a donkey), coming over a hill and seeing Bethlehem in the valley below.  It takes a little searching of Bible reference books to discover the actual setting of Bethlehem.  The town is located on a rocky plateau and is in fact uphill from every direction.  The donkey is not mentioned in the Bible, but it is a very reasonable assumption that Mary would not have walked all the way from Nazareth in her condition.

Anyway, my aim is not to criticize the children’s Christmas concerts and the stories that they recite.  These are the kind of stories that are available, and have been around seemingly forever.  Nevertheless, the impressions left by these stories go with us throughout life if we don’t ever take a close look at their implications and what the Bible really says.

I just think it is time someone tried to write better Christmas stories.

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