Mary receives most of the attention as the mother, but Joseph is the unsung hero of the birth of Jesus. Of course, the virgin birth was a miracle, but how would most men have responded to the situation in which Joseph found himself?
Mary and Joseph were Jews following Jewish complex and time-consuming protocol for marriage. In the presence of two witnesses, the groom would make a verbal declaration to the bride accompanied by a gift. The couple was then legally married, and to void the marriage required a divorce. However, the couple did not live together for a year as the bride continued living in her father’s house. When the year ended, the groom would take the bride to his family home, and the couple would live together as husband and wife. A rabbi told me the purpose of this procedure was to make sure the woman was not pregnant. Matthew 25:1-6 describes this wedding custom.
The problem, in this case, is that Mary fails the test. She was showing a baby bump and “found to be with child.” As a result, Jesus would be considered an illegitimate child, and that stigma would be used against him. In John 8:39-41, we see the enemies of Jesus protesting that they were not illegitimate. Joseph is between a rock and a hard place. He loves Mary, but Jewish law urges him to divorce her. Furthermore, the public disclosure of this situation could mean that she could be stoned.
At this point, Joseph has a dream (Matthew 1:20-25) in which an angel tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Afraid of what? Afraid of breaking the Jewish law. I think most men would have assumed it was something they ate and would not have been willing to subject themselves to the ridicule and abuse that would undoubtedly come from the situation. Interestingly, the angel addresses Joseph as “Joseph, son of David.” This is the only time that title is given to anyone in the New Testament except Jesus himself. Joseph is the unsung hero of the birth of Jesus.
After the birth of Jesus, Joseph has another dream in which an angel tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He immediately does it in the middle of the night (Matthew 2:13-14). This poor carpenter is told to go to a foreign country with no support. (Perhaps this is where the gift of gold from the magi came in handy.) Joseph is a man of incredible faith and courage. He ends up in Nazareth because of another dream and fades into the background as Jesus and Mary take over the historical narrative.
Joseph is the unsung hero of the birth of Jesus becausehe sets an example for us all. His love for Mary, his obedience to God’s commands and leadership, and his willingness to serve sacrificially are frequently overlooked. He teaches us that we can serve God in many ways. Joseph’s humility, servant attitude, and obedience set a standard for us to follow.
In the modern Christmas celebration, we tend to think of the cute little baby lying in a sanitized manger with cattle and sheep and handsome shepherds looking on. We see oriental kings bringing expensive gifts to the Christ child. The birth of Christ was far more than that. We need to go back to see the connection between Christmas and creation.
Before creation, there was nothing – no matter, no space, no time. John 1:1-3 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos) and the Word (Logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”
In John 1:14, we read that the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. Colossians 1:16-20 tells us: “For by him (Jesus) were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him: And he is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.” As we learn more about quarks and the whole subject of quantum mechanics, we are beginning to understand a small part of what creation involved scientifically.
Part of the process was the creation of humans in the image of God with the capacity to demonstrate God’s “agape” kind of love. “God so loved the world…” (John 3;16a) is an expression of God’s love. To demonstrate that love, we had to have a choice not to love. If you can’t choose, you can’t really love. Because they had the choice, humans chose not only to reject God’s love but to rebel against Him. John 1:9-14 describes the Logos or Word coming into the world and His own people rejecting Him. This set the stage for the fulfillment of God’s love “..that He gave His only begotten Son …” (John 3:16b).
That is how Christmas and creation tie together. John 1:17 tells us that Moses gave the physical rules for life, but the spiritual redemption came from Jesus. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Logos didn’t come in power and splendor but as a baby born to a poor couple in a dirty feeding trough surrounded by smelly, filthy animals.
Even though John 1:11 says that His own people did not receive Him, verse 12 tells us, “But to all who did receive him, who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us think about the connection between Christmas and creation. Jesus, the Logos, the one who created all things, “became flesh and dwelt among us” and redeemed us through His agape love.
Christmas reminds us of the birth of Jesus, but why is the birth of a baby two millennia ago relevant today? The answer to that question depends on the answer to another question. Who is Jesus? People have various ideas of who Jesus is. Some say He is God. Others say He was just a man who was a good moral teacher. But, if Jesus is not God, He could not have been a good moral teacher. Let me explain why.
There is no doubt that Jesus was born a human being. The shepherds who saw Him in the stable and the people who watched Him grow up in His hometown of Nazareth could verify that. He grew to be a rabbi, a teacher, and He had many followers. His select group of disciples who talked with Him and ate with Him and lived with Him knew that He was a man. But His teaching was like no other man. He taught with the authority of God. He claimed to be God. He claimed to forgive sins, which only God can do.
Thus, if that baby born in Bethlehem were merely a human being who grew to be a man and said the things He said, He would not be a good moral teacher. He claimed to teach the truth, and He even claimed to be the truth. He claimed to be God! If He were not God, He would be a liar or a madman, but He would not a good moral teacher.
So who is Jesus? What do we celebrate at Christmas? We remember that God took on flesh as a baby who grew to be a man. He lived a sinless life because He is God. But He did not come merely to show us how to live a sinless life. He knew that we could not. He came to redeem us—to be a sacrifice for our sins.
When Jesus was on Earth, He was truly man and truly God. He could be the sacrifice for sins only because He was God. Although Jesus was sinless, He was not a third-party victim selected to bear our punishment. It would be immoral to punish an innocent man for the sins of all the guilty people. He was also the divine lawgiver and judge, so He could choose to suffer the penalty of His own law and bear the sins of all people. One man could only bear the punishment for His own sins. God can bear the punishment for all.
So who is Jesus? On that night near Bethlehem, the angel did not merely announce the birth of a baby boy. The angel said, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 CSB). Have you allowed Him to be your Savior?
Giving something of value (such as money) to someone for an item of equal value is buying and selling.
Giving something of value to someone without requiring anything in return, while expecting that person to give something of similar value is creating an obligation.
Giving something of value to someone who has done something to deserve it is compensation.
Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, but who will appreciate it is love.
Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, and who will perhaps not appreciate it is “agape.”
“Agape” is the Greek term used in the Bible to describe God’s kind of love. It’s the “I don’t care if you spit in my face, I will still love you” kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when, as he was being crucified, he openly forgave those who were doing it. The gift of Jesus coming to Earth to live among those who would eventually despise and kill him is true “agape.” The gifts we give are lame by comparison.
The story of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection is a story of giving. It is indeed the most amazing concept we can imagine, and a story nobody would dare to make up. The Creator of the universe takes the form of one of His creatures to bring them to Himself. I can see why many people refuse to believe it. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.
One of the interesting questions about Christmas is why people observe it as the date of Christ’ birth, and how December 25 was chosen as the Christmas Date.
Many people spend a lot of energy condemning the observance of Christmas as the birth of Christ, because the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate it, and because it almost certainly is not the actual date of His birth. Paul dealt with this kind of issue in Romans 14, and he clearly indicated what our attitude should be. In verses 5 and 6, Paul wrote, ”One man considers some days to be more sacred than others while another considers all days to be alike. On questions of this kind, everyone must decide for himself. The man who values a particular day does it in the Lord’s honor, and he who does not regard it does so to the Lord.”
Biblical Archaeology magazine had an interesting summary of the December 25 choice of the date for Christmas in their November/December 2013 issue. It may be instructional for all of us to understand the selection of the Christmas date:
“Most (but not all) Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on this date. It was first identified by Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 A.D. In his five-volume treatise Chronographiai, he calculated the day of Annunciation (Jesus’ conception) to be March 25 in the year 1 B.C.–the first day of the calendar year and 5,500 years after the Creation of the world, according to his estimates–thereby resulting in Jesus’ birth on December 25 of the same year. Later historians came up with the date March 25 for the Annunciation believing there was a connection between the date of the crucifixion, March 25, and the Annunciation. The Eastern Church also linked Jesus’ conception and birth but placed his conception on April 6 and his birth on January 6. In Armenia, Christmas is still celebrated on January 6. For the rest of the East and liturgical churches in the West, January 6 came to be celebrated as Epiphany, marking the arrival of the magi to the Nativity. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany became ‘the 12 days of Christmas.’ Many countries–including Russia, Serbia, Egypt, and Ethiopia–celebrate Christmas on January 7 and Epiphany on January 19 because they hold to the older Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the modern Gregorian calendar.”