|Mary's Christmas Story|
The angel said to me, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have
found favor with God. You will be with child and give
birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus.
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, and he will
reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
As you know, I’m not one of the Bible’s writers,
although my story appears in several of the Gospels.
What follows is a re-telling of my experience with some extra tidbits
thrown in, that while historically accurate, may be new to you.
There was an expectancy you could almost feel in Israel in those days,
and sometimes it exploded into the streets as one itinerant preacher
after another toured the country delivering his Messianic messages.
Some actually claimed to be the Messiah, while others loudly
hailed His coming, warning everyone to get ready. Usually it
got them in trouble with the law, since the thing the Romans
hated most of all was civil unrest. Some were beaten and
run out of various towns and a few were put to death.
But the people caught the messianic fever, hoping, dreaming and
even praying that the Lord would raise up a leader to defeat the
Romans and restore our country to its glorious days of the past.
Those who took our Scriptures literally knew from reading the prophet
Daniel that the time had about come for the promised Messiah’s arrival.
Back in the year you call 586 BC the Babylonians had
destroyed Jerusalem, leaving the whole area in ruins
as they carried all our people off to a life of slavery.
One of those people was Daniel, and while he was in Babylon the
Lord told him that after 70 years, the Persians would conquer Babylon
and the Jews would be set free to return and rebuild everything.
And then He told Daniel that 483 years
after that, the Messiah would come.
They were to start counting when the Persian King issued a
decree giving the Jews permission to rebuild Jerusalem,
which happened on a date you know as March 14, 445 BC.
That meant that if the Scriptures were true,
the Messiah was coming soon, even in our lifetime!
Of course many of the people I knew and most of our country’s
leaders didn’t believe that anymore, but still we could always hope
and the words of those Messianic preachers really had us stirred up.
We later learned that from the issuing of that decree to the day
you call Palm Sunday, the only day Jesus ever permitted Himself
to be hailed as Israel’s King, was 483 years to the very day!
As a teenage girl in Nazareth, I had lots of other things on my
mind, too. Let’s not forget that I was engaged to be married!
My betrothed was a carpenter named Joseph. He had a shop in
town and made furniture and things for the people of Nazareth. In
his spare time he was building the house we were going to live in.
Let me take a minute to explain that in those days things
were a lot different from the way they are in your time.
It took years for men to establish themselves sufficiently to be able to
support a wife and family, but when they did, they often chose younger
women who were strong enough to bear and raise lots of children.
And so it was with Joseph.
Since he was quite a bit older than me I didn’t know him at all,
but he had apparently taken a liking to me because one day
he showed up at our house to ask for my hand in marriage.
This meant that my family would be deprived of my
help in keeping our household functioning, so my father
needed to be adequately compensated for his loss.
After a long session of negotiating a proper price for me
while my mother and I sat there watching, Joseph and my
father reached an agreement and all eyes turned to me.
I had about thirty seconds to agree or disagree to the arrangement.
If I disagreed, Joseph would leave and I would never see him again.
But if I agreed, there would be a legally binding
betrothal ceremony, and a series of closely chaperoned
“get acquainted” meetings would be scheduled.
We would never be alone together until our wedding night,
which would take place only after Joseph’s father determined
that the house he was building for us was finished and suitable.
This often took still more years.
Things moved a lot more slowly then, but in my case an event
unique in all of human history would alter our time table considerably.
It was during this time of waiting that I had the strangest visit.
An angel who called himself Gabriel suddenly appeared to me.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored,”
he said, “The Lord is with you.”
To say I was greatly troubled at his words would
be a huge understatement, and I wondered
what kind of greeting this might be.
But the angel said to me, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have
found favor with God. You will be with Child and give birth
to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house
of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” I asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon 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.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in
her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in
her 6th month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” I said. “May it be
to me as you have said.” Then the angel left me.
Well what do you say after a conversation like that?
I was stunned! Speechless! And anyway, who could I tell?
There was only one person in the world who might have even
an inkling of what I was going through; my cousin Elizabeth.
Though much older than I, she was just now experiencing a
very similar shock. Having been barren all her life, a huge
embarrassment for a woman in my time, she was going
to have a baby, too, and it was also the Lord’s doing.
I had to go and visit her, even though it was several days
journey in a time when travel was a major undertaking.
Looking back on that time, and with the benefit of New Testament
Scriptures, I’m always taken with the similarity between the
way my betrothal and wedding to Joseph should have gone
and the relationship between the Church and the Messiah.
I now believe the Lord set up these traditions
just to teach us things about Himself.
I didn’t know Joseph was coming into my life
till the day he first arrived to ask for my hand.
He and my father agreed on the price for me, and though it was
all arranged by them, I had to choose for myself to confirm the
agreement. When I did, I became his and no one could steal me away.
Under normal circumstances he would then have gone away
and I would rarely see him till he came like a thief in the
night to carry me off to our wedding at his father’s house.
The wedding date would have been unknown to me,
because it couldn’t happen till his father agreed
that the house he was building for me was complete.
During the intervening time I would have had to watch
and wait, always ready to go, because I wouldn’t
have known the day or the hour of his return.
I would spend a lot of time learning about him
from his friends and preparing for our life together.
When the wedding day finally came, the festivities
would last for seven days and during that time we
would be hidden away at his father’s house.
At the end of the seven days we would return together
to the house he had built for me and begin our new life.
In the same way, most believers are not expecting
Him when the Lord first shows up in their lives.
Though He and His Father have agreed on a price for us (his life’s
blood) we have to choose for ourselves to confirm the arrangement.
But when we do, we become His and no one can steal us away.
We never meet Him till he comes like a thief in the night
to carry us off to His Father’s house for our wedding.
That day will be a surprise to us, known only to His Father.
In the mean time we watch and wait, always ready to go,
because we don’t know the day or hour of his return,
learning about Him from His friends while we wait.
When the day finally comes, we’ll be whisked away to His
Father’s house for seven years of festivities, after which
we’ll return with Him to begin our new life as His Bride in
the mansion He’s spent the last 2000 years building for us.
When I told Joseph about my condition, he was greatly
troubled. You see, being pregnant out of wedlock
was a very serious offense against our law.
Joseph had every right to bring me before the priests and
accuse me of sexual promiscuity, a crime punishable by
death. Even if they let me live, my life would be ruined!
An unmarried girl was supposed to remain a virgin and no self-
respecting man would take a bride who wasn’t. And in those
days there was no such thing as a single mom. What would I do?
I guess he had already begun falling for me, and while he couldn’t
overlook what he thought was my infidelity, he decided that he would
just break our engagement quietly, and we could go our separate ways.
I could tell he was heartbroken, and so was I. I couldn’t
really blame him though. It was an outrageous story.
Never before in history had a virgin become pregnant!
But while I was visiting Elizabeth, an angel came to him
in a dream and told him everything was just as I had
said and it was OK to remain with me. What a relief!
The next few months flew by and before I
knew it, my time to deliver had nearly come.
Then the Roman governor really threw a wrench into the
works by deciding to conduct a census. Every family in
Israel had to travel to their ancestral home to be counted.
For Joseph and me, that meant we had to go to Bethlehem
since we were both of the tribe of Judah and the house of David.
Joseph was a descendant of King Solomon,
while I came from his brother Nathan’s family.
Yes, that means we were actually distant cousins many
times removed, but before you get all concerned, let
me explain that this was proper for two reasons.
First, my father, Heli, had no sons, so as
his oldest daughter, I was his rightful heir.
But the law required I marry someone from the tribe of Judah
so my family’s land wouldn’t be lost from the tribal inheritance
given to our ancestors in Joshua’s time (Numbers 36:6-9).
Joseph was a proper choice under the law.
And second, the angel Gabriel had promised
that my Son would rule on David’s throne.
The problem was that just before the Babylonian captivity,
Israel’s kings had become so corrupt that the Lord had
put a blood curse on Solomon’s line of David’s family,
the royal line of succession, swearing that no biological
descendant of Solomon’s after Jehoiachin would ever
again rule over Israel as King. (Jeremiah 22:28-30)
And indeed, none ever has; Jehoiachin
was Israel’s last legitimate king.
This, even though the Lord had promised David that
Solomon’s descendants would always be Israel’s kings.
(1 Chronicles 17:10-14)
Since Joseph was from Solomon’s line, he carried this blood
curse as did every other living descendant of King Solomon’s.
To fulfill all the prophecies and keep God’s promise to David, the Messiah
had to be from the tribe of Judah and the house and lineage of David.
House of David means that Jesus had to be a descendant of David’s.
Lineage means that He had to be in Solomon’s royal line of succession.
If Jesus had been a biological offspring of Joseph’s,
He would have been disqualified from ever being
the King of Israel because of the blood curse.
But because I was also from the house of David and
biologically related to Jesus, I could secure my Son’s
claim to the throne as long as whoever I married
was also David’s descendant and from the royal line.
Joseph met this requirement too, and when
we married, he became Jesus’ legal father.
This placed Jesus in the line of succession and fulfilled
the requirement that He be “from the house and lineage
of David” without making Him liable to the curse.
For this reason alone, Jesus had to be born of a virgin.
It’s the only way any descendant of David’s could ever be
qualified to rule as King of Israel. It sounds complicated,
but God is bound by his own law, just as we are.
Of course the prophecy that Jesus would reign on David’s throne
is unfulfilled as yet. It won’t be fulfilled till his 2nd coming. But
because Joseph and I were cousins, it can legally come to pass.
If you can imagine being nine months pregnant and
riding a donkey for the 60 mile trip from Nazareth
to Bethlehem, you know how uncomfortable I was.
But we finally did arrive and wouldn’t you know it, every
hotel was booked to capacity, but we were so exhausted
from the journey, we were ready to settle for anything.
And settle we did. An innkeeper took pity and loaned
us his stable. Good thing too, because that very
night I gave birth to a bouncing baby boy.
When Joseph asked the Lord, “Why a stable?”
He replied, “Where else would a Lamb be born?”
In your time there’s a popular Christmas song whose lyrics ask
if I knew that this child I had just delivered would soon deliver me.
Of course I did, and it made all the mean things that were said
about me, all the discomfort I had endured, and all the sorrow I
would feel more than worthwhile. I was truly blessed among women.
Some shepherds in nearby fields (tradition says the fields
belonged to king David’s great grand parents Boaz and
Ruth) were the first to learn of the Messiah’s birth.
While out tending flocks of sheep the priests kept there for
temple use, an angel informed them of the momentous occasion.
Pilgrims bought the lambs from these flocks at Passover
when making sacrifices for sin, so these lambs were
born to die for the sins of the people.
It’s fitting that the shepherds tending these lambs
would be the first to learn that The Lamb born to
die for the sins of the people had come.
Traditionally in Israel a first time father would hire musicians to go
through town singing the good news that he had a newborn son.
We were too poor for that and besides our home town was two days
North, but the God of the Universe, our Son’s real Father, opened the
Heavens for choirs of angels to sing the Good News. Joy to the world!
Immediately after Jesus was born, someone handed me swaddling
cloths to wrap him in. Contrary to popular belief, these cloths were
neither a diaper nor a receiving blanket. They were made from
the worn out linen undergarments of the Temple priests.
Normally they were woven into wicks for the giant four-branched
menorah that stood in the temple courtyard during the Feast of
Tabernacles. There were four of these menorah, and when
lit up, they cast a bright light that reflected off the white
limestone of the Temple and illuminated the entire city.
It was said that they lit up the whole world. These cloths were
the perfect things to comfort Jesus, the true Light of the World.
Even the location was significant. Bethlehem translates into
English as “house of bread”, a proper place for the One Who is
the Bread of Life to begin His mission on Earth, wouldn’t you say?
Some time later we had some very distinguished visitors.
Wise Men from Parthia, a powerful country North and
East of Israel came into Jerusalem in a large caravan
that set the whole city abuzz. Here’s why.
Parthia was the current name for the mighty Persian Empire.
Their armies had defeated General Pompey and the Roman
legions a few years earlier and the memory of that defeat
was still fresh in the minds of many. It was like a
delegation from a powerful enemy come to visit.
Immediately gaining an audience with King Herod, they
asked, “Where is He who is born King of the Jews?”
Now Herod wasn’t even Jewish and had been appointed King by the
Romans. You can imagine how this question must have startled him.
Surely one born to be King would have a superior claim to the
throne than a foreign appointee. But Herod was a clever man.
Treating his powerful guests with utmost courtesy,
he summoned the priests who, after consulting the
scroll of the Prophet Micah, answered, “Bethlehem.”
So Herod informed the Wise Men and asked them to let him
know of this king’s whereabouts so he could come and pay
homage, too. He thought that by being cooperative, he might
trick them into helping him get rid of a troublesome rival.
When the Wise Men found us, they bowed low and
presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus.
We learned that gold was prophetic of his kingship, frankincense of
his priesthood, and myrrh of his death because it is an embalming spice.
These gifts are also symbolic of His three heavenly offices:
Prophet, Priest, and King.
When we asked how they knew to come looking for us, they
said that ancient prophecies handed down in their priesthood
for over 500 years told of a bright star that would appear in the
Eastern sky at the appointed time and lead them to The King.
Amazingly, they told us these prophecies had originated with
the Jewish Prophet Daniel, who founded their order just for
this purpose after the Persians had conquered Babylon.
That night they were warned in a dream to stay clear of Herod, so
having found Israel’s King, they returned home by a different route.
Joseph was also warned in a dream that night. An angel told him
to take us into Egypt quickly because Herod was out to kill Jesus.
We left just in time, because without warning, Herod’s soldiers
stormed into Bethlehem and murdered all the boys under age two.
We stayed in Egypt until the angel told us
Herod had died and it was safe to come home.
So finally, after an absence of several years, we returned to Nazareth.
Our adventure would soon become the greatest story ever told and our
little boy would grow up to be the central figure in human history!
God become man, born to die for the sins of his people and ransom us
back from the enemy who had stolen us away in the Garden so long ago.
Jack Kelley - Grace Thru Faith