Christmas Questions and Musings from 2013
I decided to try something a little different during the Christmas season. One of my pet peeves over the years has been our tendency to completely dehumanize the characters in the Christmas story. We tend to leave them as cold as a plastic Nativity scene. This seems particularly true of the two young teens (13 or 14 for Mary and 14 or15 for Joseph if they were typical young people of their time – and we have no reason to assume they were not) -- so integral to the story.
From Dec. 1 - 25 these are thoughts, questions, etc. I posted on both my “Thought for the Day” and Facebook pages - identical series of “thoughts/questions” regarding the Christmas story. These will be very short each day. They are to spur thinking, and – at all costs – add humanity to the individuals living the story.
Do you feel God chose the most perfect young girl and young man to be Jesus’ earthly parents? One should exercise care in answering remembering what criteria God used to select Israel’s most famous king?
Faith is displayed and recorded many times throughout scripture. Perhaps never does it rise to the level displayed by a very young Jewish girl who, when told she was to bear the Son of God, asked only one simple and very practical question.
Mary’s sole question upon being told of her role in Jesus’ birth was: “How shall these things be, seeing I’ve known not a man?” It is easy to miss her meaning which would have surely included natural concerns for any 13 year old given this overwhelming news. Hidden in her basic question were, without doubt, some very personal ones. She was asking: “Since I’ve never had sex with a man, what is this conception going to be like?”(How shall this be?) Beneath the query and the angel’s response were surely very practical concerns and questions such as: “Will I know when this conception happens, and, if so, what is it going to be like?”
After Gabriel’s departure, a myriad of questions undoubtedly began flooding Mary’ mind regarding her role in Jesus’ birth. Surely included: “Will this be a normal pregnancy?” “What will the ‘Son of God’ look like?” “Will He be walking and talking at birth?” “How long will He be with me?” “How am I to raise Him?” “How – and what - am I going to tell my parents, Joseph, my friends?”
Do you feel Mary ever told her parents who Jesus was? If so, would they have believed her? One should be cautious in answering. Her parents were as human as we. How would we greet a 13 year old daughter (“engaged” in today’s vernacular) announcing, “Mommy and Daddy, I’m pregnant, but don’t worry, I’ve never had sex. It’s the Son of God.”?
If Mary never told her parents of the angel visit, knowing they wouldn’t believe her, did she let them assume the baby was Joseph’s? Or, if she told them, did they assume it was Joseph’s anyway?
Joseph seemingly had the free will to decline what the angel told him to do but did Mary have a choice to say “No way?” And, if so, what would have happened then?
Considering what was about the happen, and what they knew, what do you feel Mary and Joseph expected to be waiting for them in Bethlehem?
Mary and Joseph were relegated to a stable for the Savior’s birth. Where were both sets of parents and close family while this was occurring? (Careful in thinking we don’t know - we know exactly where they were. And that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is “the rest of the story.”)
In spite of being vilified in countless Nativity plays, the inn keeper was actually a hero. He gave all he had to give – no one is ever asked for any more. He probably owned the only inn(“…there was no room in the inn…”) in tiny Bethlehem and certainly couldn’t evict paying customers to take in a young couple he had never seen before and had no idea the story of the baby she carried.
In spite of all the Nativity scenes, the star never shown over the manager. It appeared later to lead the Wise Men (respected astrologers from Babylon) to the house where the two year old Jesus lived with His parents in Bethlehem (Evidently changing from a general star in the East as their journey began to a specific star shining over the house). Can one imagine the commotion when a caravan estimated at over 100 people, including guards, servants and numerous ruling sorts came down the tiny Bethlehem street that day? (it’s never stated there were only three kings-just three kinds of gifts. Three ruling sorts carrying valuable gifts and traveling alone through bandit infested country for two years – as tradition tells it - simply wouldn’t have happened – there would have been a large entourage.)
Many bible scholars now feel the shepherds were not the poor, isolated herdsmen often pictured in legend, but Temple priests who watched over flocks raised for the purpose of temple sacrifice. This temple pasture area was located in the seven miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. If this is true it makes even richer the symbolism of these shepherds leaving their flocks - raised to sacrifice for forgiveness of sin –to go and see the One who would replace their sacrifices – purging all mankind from sin with a permanent blood sacrifice. It also answers an old question: why would the angels and the accompanying host appear to a single nondescript group of shepherds and not anyone else?
Following Gabriel’s visit to Mary to announce the conception of the Savior, Mary seems to have had no further contact with angels. Joseph, on the other hand, is recorded seeing angels 4 times, but always in a dream. Being human, surely there were two times Mary must have thought – “where are the angels now?” Once in the pain of childbirth (when the angels were out talking to shepherds) and once more standing at the foot of the cross – an event Gabriel never mentioned to Mary, and only cryptically to Joseph. His message to them was all “good news” – not an agonizing death. Could the reason be that if Mary had known what the future held for her son, it would have haunted her life and she would have tried to shield him from it at all costs – thus interfering with God’s plan?
No better example of God using unbelievers for His purposes exists than the unbelieving Wise Man astrologers bringing gifts to a King of Israel because they remembered Daniel’s prophecy that a “King of the Jews” would be born. Daniel rose to such prominence in Babylon that generations later his prophecies were still studied. The kings were “Magi” – related to the word “magic”. Astrology originated in ancient Egypt but rose to its peak in Babylon. These men - afforded great wealth and social standing - studied the heavens every day believing star’s positions influenced all lives. A new star was not something they had seen before. God even directly warned these men about Herod. Their visit was also the first confirmation in two years (since the shepherd’s visit)to Mary and Joseph that God’s plan was still working.
The wise men’s gifts were needed to finance the family’s hurried trip to Egypt – to escape Herod - and for living expenses while there. Facing prejudices much like today, how many Arabs in Egypt would patronize a Jewish man’s carpenter shop?
Surely, big questions in Mary and Joseph’s minds before and after the birth of the Son of God included, “What if we make a mistake in raising Him? What then? Is there going to be an instruction manual attached? Will it be immediately obvious to everyone He is the Son of God?”
One has to wonder at what age little Jesus might have tugged on Mary’s apron strings and asked, “Mommy, am I God?”
Anyone raised with siblings has, referring to his/her brothers or sisters, uttered to a parent the immortal phrase: “You, think he/she is perfect!” What would it have been like to be raised with a sibling who was? Suppose James and Jesus were running through the house and one knocked over and broke Mary’s favorite vase. When asked who did it, James says, “Jesus did it.” Jesus says, “James did it.” In Mary’s place, what would you do? If she always took Jesus’ word, how would that have affected his siblings and their relationship with their mother?
Knowing what he knew, how do you feel Joseph felt when the time came to begin teaching his oldest son the Bible? Mary and Joseph must have also wondered upon looking at Christ, “ what are we to teach Him and what will He just know?”
Would Jesus have cried as a baby or got mad if not fed fast enough?Do you feel Jesus was ever sick as a child?Do you feel Jesus was the best at every childhood game or sport he played with His friends?Do you feel Jesus ever got into a childhood fight with his playmates? If so, did He always win?Do you feel Jesus ever had a childhood crush on “the girl down the street?”
At what age do you feel Jesus knew He was God? How would He have realized this?
Apparently, Mary and Joseph never told Jesus’ siblings who Jesus was. If they did, the siblings did not believe them, Scripture indicates. Why do you feel Mary and Joseph might not have told the siblings? If they did tell them, why might the siblings not have believed? Do you feel Jesus might have mentioned it to His siblings while He was young?
Why was it important Jesus be born of a virgin? Could He have been Savior of the world if he wasn’t? Could He have been the Messiah? (While pondering this, remember Savior and Messiah were two very distinct and separate ministries.)
Could Jesus have come to earth a full grown man and still died for the sins of mankind?
Bible scholars generally agree Joseph died when Jesus was a young teen and it was left to Jesus, as the oldest son, to remain at home to help raise the large family. If this is so, why do you feel Jesus would not have healed a sick Joseph or raised him from the dead? Would Mary have asked Him to? Did Jesus know He had that power at that time in His life?
The Bible seems to teach angels look longingly at human’s chance of salvation through God’s Son, wishing they had a similar opportunity. And since we know angels sin (Lucifer, “we shall judge angels”), why do you feel God didn’t provide such a way for angels? What happens to an angel when they sin?
Do you feel all the furniture Jesus made in his carpentry shop was perfect? If it could be authenticated, what might the value be today of a piece of furniture Jesus made?