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tango
Dec 16th 2009, 01:27 PM
... and what we can learn from the primary characters in it.

This is going to be a fairly short study, looking at the primary characters in the Christmas story, their reactions to unfolding events, what we can learn of God from it, and what we might learn from the characters themselves.

I was inspired to look in more detail due to a series of sermons at our church, and having recently led a small group Bible study following up one of those sermons thought I'd post some notes and thoughts here. I'll be drawing partly on the notes accompanying the sermons and partly on my own reading around the characters.

This one isn't intended to be a particularly deep study, just a look at what we can apply to our own lives.

tango
Dec 16th 2009, 03:10 PM
Luk 1:26-38 NKJV Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, (27) to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. (28) And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" (29) But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. (30) Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (31) And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. (32) He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. (33) And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." (34) Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" (35) And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (36) Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. (37) For with God nothing will be impossible." (38) Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

In the context of the culture at the time Mary would probably have been about 14-16 years old. We can see she was betrothed to Joseph, and in the context of the society at the time being pregnant before being married would almost certainly have brought great shame on the family.

Then there's the small matter of Mary being a virgin. She knew she was a virgin, and obviously knew that for a virgin to conceive was impossible.



We can see Mary's immediate response was to question - "how can this be?". But when the angel explained she immediately changed her stance from incredulity to acceptance - "let it be to me according to your word".

Mary accepted that God could do whatever God wanted to do. It's very easy to look at history, to look at Scripture, and refuse to accept God might do something simply because he never did it before. Even when a prophecy says God will do something (in Mary's case Isa 7:14 was soon to come to pass), it's easy to discount it when it's about to happen. After all, it's a bit bold to stand up and say that prophecy refers to us. In Mary's case had she stood up and made the claim she'd probably have been stoned for blasphemy.


Looking at the Old Testament we see Moses giving God all sorts of reasons why he wasn't a good choice, but God basically telling him to get on with it (Exodus chapter 4). But Mary simply accepted the angel's word that something impossible would happen. Not only did she believe, she accepted without question.

We see Hosea being told to take a harlot as his bride (Hos 1:2), then buying her back when she was being sold (Hos 3). Mary's pregnancy would not have gone unnoticed, and people would have known she wasn't married. But look at the blessing Mary received by being obedient - she had found favour with God and was about to give birth to a future King!

The visit from the angel must have turned any plans Mary had for a normal life upside down. How do we react when God wants to send a huge blessing our way, but it risks messing up the plans we might have had for our lives?

tango
Dec 16th 2009, 03:37 PM
Mat 1:18-25 NKJV Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. (19) Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. (20) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (21) And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." (22) So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: (23) "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which is translated, "God with us." (24) Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, (25) and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

Let'stake a moment to consider this from Joseph's perspective. He's betrothed to Mary, probably planning their marriage, preparing a place for them to live, thinking of their future together. Then Mary drops a bombshell on him - "Joseph, we need to talk. I'm pregnant." They both knew it wasn't Joseph's child. And Joseph was expected to believe that Mary was still a virgin, despite being pregnant. As stories go that one was pretty far-fetched.

But despite all of this Joseph didn't want to expose Mary to disgrace. Had he made a public example of her she could have been executed under the law against adultery and if she wasn't she would probably have been executed for blasphemy. So Joseph was in an unenviable position - his betrothed had clearly been unfaithful to him so he couldn't go ahead with the marriage, but to openly break off the marriage would have left her vulnerable.

But in the face of this improbable situation and the outlandish claims made by Mary as to the father of her child, God send a clearly undeniable message to Joseph, not only confirming what Mary had told him but also pointing to the prophecy that was about to be fulfilled.

We don't hear a lot about Joseph, he seems to be largely relegated to the side notes of the Christmas story, but just look at the faith that he displayed. When he awoke he took Mary as his wife, despite his earlier plans to send her away quietly.

I was also interested to note that he "did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn". Without getting too graphic here, this made it 100% clear that the child was not Joseph's son.
As well as Joseph's faith in proceeding with the marriage to Mary, we see further examples of his faith following the birth of Jesus:

Mat 2:13-15 NKJV Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." (14) When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, (15) and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON."

Verse 14 is clear - when he arose they left. So God told Joseph to flee, and the first thing he did when he woke was to pack up and go. No questions of whether it was the right thing to do, no consideration of any plans he might have had, he just packed up and went. He obeyed God without question. But it didn't stop there:

Mat 2:19-22 NKJV Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, (20) saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead." (21) Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. (22) But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.

So once again, following a dream Joseph followed God without any question. When we look at major figures throughout the Old Testament we see a lot of them obeyed God but many questioned first.

Sarah laughed at the thought of bearing a child, yet gave birth to Isaac. (Gen 18:13). Moses protested that he wasn't up to the job of being God's representative (Exo 4:10). Jeremiah protested he was still a youth (Jer 1:6). Gideon asked for multiple signs from God (Jdg 6:36-40)

Yet Joseph turned his life upside down without question. He followed God along the path, even without any idea of where that path would lead. Fleeing to Egypt was no small feat when transporting a mother and newborn child. And the chances are he was just getting settled in Egypt when God told him to pack up and move on again.

Ps 119:105 says "Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.". Sometimes a light to our path lets us see some distance ahead. A lamp to our feet might mean we can only see a few steps ahead, it might just be enough light to let us avoid tripping on things around us, and to let us see that the path turns even if we can't see anything beyond the turn.

Joseph was willing to follow God, without question, even when he had no idea where he would end up.

We don't hear much about Joseph, but I find myself thinking that the faith and obedience he displayed in the face of such a bizarre (in human terms) situation is an example to us all.