Dec 24 - Mary And Joseph - A Mother And Step-Father Called By God

Mary and Joseph - A Mother and Step-Father Called By God

December 24, 2017

Matthew 1:28-25 Luke 1:26-38


Mary and Joseph - A mother and step-father called by God

December 24th, 2017

Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38




Today, I want us to look at Mary and Joseph. 

There are two accounts of Mary, becoming pregnant.  The first one is found in Luke 1, when the angel Gabriel visited Mary. This was prior to Mary becoming pregnant.


In the sixth month,[1] God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.                                        Luke 1:26-27



The dowry for a potential bride was usually around 50 shekels.  This was a very large sum of money in the first century, if you consider that a Roman legionnaire made about 70 shekels in one year.


Often marriages were arranged.  The potential groom’s family finds a potential bride for him, pays the dowry to the bride’s father, at which point the bride is betrothed to the groom. 


It was possible that the potential pair are still too young to marry at that point in time, which meant that the bride is pledged to be married, but the wedding was postponed until the couple was old enough to marry.


But people in the first century still married relative young, in their teens, a man usually by age 18. 


Weddings were usually held on Wednesdays (Thursdays for widows or divorcees).   


The angel entered where she was and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what this greeting might mean.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. ...

                                                Luke 1:28-30


... Look, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”                                                Luke 1:31-33


Mary asked the angel, “How will this be since I have not been with a man?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God. ...                    Luke 1:34-35


... Even Elizabeth your relative has conceived a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive (lit. barren) is already in her sixth month.  Because for God nothing is impossible.”                             Luke 1:36-37


SLIDE 7 - Luke 1:38


Mary answered, “Look, I am the Lord’s slave.  May it happen to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.                                    Luke 1:38


This is an amazing statement if you think about it.  Mary basically says, I’m God’s slave, whatever it is that he wants to happen to me, let it happen.  She would have known the risk that this would entail, least of all the public humiliation of being pregnant prior to moving in with Joseph, the almost inevitable end to her engagement to Joseph, and the very real possibility of being stoned to death for adultery.


The second account of Mary becoming pregnant is when an angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream. 


This was after Mary became pregnant, likely when she started to show.  Either Joseph noticed or someone else noticed and told Joseph.


[When I was in Nigeria, a young man was to be married but blood tests showed that his bride had recently been pregnant but had an abortion.  Daniel had to find a safe place for the bride because she would have been killed by her own family for bringing shame on them.  ]


This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.                                Matthew 1:18


Because Joseph her husband was righteous (or: just) and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he planned to divorce her quietly.                                                              Matthew 1:19


Joseph was a righteous or just man.  Joseph could have publicly exposed Mary as an adulteress and had her stoned to death.  But he wanted no part of this. 


But when he was planning to do so, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

                                                Matthew 1:20a


The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home to be your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”                                                                Matthew 1:20-21


In his dream the angel made it clear that Mary had not committed adultery and that in fact the child was due to God’s miraculous intervention. 


In both stories the angel commanded Mary and Joseph to name the child Jesus.  When we meet someone, why do we often ask for the person’s name? 


Because when I know and can call a person by name, it brings me closer to that person, it makes the relationship more personal.  But Hebrew names, by their very nature, often mean something that is to indicate directly what kind of person someone is. 


God renamed Abram to Abraham, which means FATHER OF MANY

God renamed Jacob and called him Israel, which means GOD RULES / PERSEVERES (Gen 32:28)

Jeh-oshua, a shortened form of J-oshua.

both of which are a contraction of YHWH + oshuah, which literally means YHWH is salvation.

Jesus will save his people from their sins


And, God wants the child to be named Jesus, which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Jeh-oshua, which means YHWH IS SALVATION


And Joseph is told that this would be the child’s name because he will save his people from their sins.  In other words, Jesus’ name already indicates what he would accomplish in and through his life. 


Joseph likely had no inkling at that time that this would include Jesus’ suffering and death, and the sending of the HS at Pentecost, but he knew that Jesus would somehow bring about the fulfillment of the OT prophecy that God would intervene in the affairs of his people and bring about a change in their hearts that would cause them to repent, be forgiven, and then obey God from the heart. 


[Here are two such passage from the OT, but there are many, many more.


This is the (new) covenant I will make with the house of Israel. ... I will put my law within them, I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God and they will be my people.  They will no longer have to teach their neighbours or brothers and say, “Know YHWH!”  Because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, because I will forgive their iniquity and I will no longer remember their sins.                 Jeremiah 31:33-34


Here is one more from the OT that speaks of God transforming the heart through the indwelling HS, resulting in a willing obedience to the will of God.


I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.         Ezekiel 36:26-27


But let’s get back to the story of Joseph.] 


The author of the gospel of Matthew then adds his own comment.


All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” (Isa 7:14 LXX).  This name means “God with us”.                      Matthew 1:22-23[2]


In the Hebrew, the name Immanuel actually consists of two words.  Immanu, which means “with us”, and El, which means God


In the Hebrew text, it is a young woman who gives birth to a son, whereas in the LXX, it is a virgin. 


Matthew quotes a passage from Isaiah 7, when the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century BC, spoke to king Ahaz (reigned c. 736-720 BCE).  The point of the prophecy is that prior to the boy, who was about to be born, reaching the age of accountability, the two kingdoms that were attacking Judah at the time would be destroyed by Assyria.   


In Ahaz’ day, the child’s name indicates that God was with the kingdom of Judah and would rescue it from its attackers. 


In Joseph’s day, the name also indicated that God would be present with the nation of Israel and rescue it, but not from its physical enemies, as was presumed, but from their spiritual enemies.  And this time, the child would literally be God present with his people in a way that the child in king Ahaz’ day could never be. 


When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  Matthew 1:24-25


As with Mary’s willingness to do what God wanted of her, Joseph’s response also is unusual.  He knew that this was not his child.  Would the people in Nazareth figure it out or think they started a family too soon?  Was he financially ready to take on that kind of responsibility?


While the two stories are relaying two different events, they do have some things in common:


  • Both mention that Mary became pregnant while engaged to Joseph, but prior to them getting married and having sex. 

  • Both mention that God communicated through an angel.

  • Both times the angel makes clear that Mary’s pregnancy would be on account of the Holy Spirit (overshadowed by the HS; be from the HS).

  • Both times, the angel mentions that the child will be male.

  • Both times the angel instructs, really demands, that this child is to be called Jesus - YHWH is salvation

  • Both accounts have a nationalistic flavour:  Mary is told that Jesus would sit on the throne of David and rule over the nation of Israel (Jacob’s descendants) forever.  Joseph is told that Jesus would save “his people”, seeming to indicate the Jewish people, not from the Romans, but from their sins.


While both Joseph and Mary lived in the Galilean village of Nazareth, that is not where Jesus was born.


In the account of Joseph, we are told that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to fulfill a prophecy in the OT, as spoken by the prophet Micah.


But you, O Bethlehem Ephratah, so small among the thousands (or: tribes) of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will rule over Israel.  His origins are from of old, from ancient times.                                                                 Micah 5:2[3]


Ephratah is mentioned to distinguish this Bethlehem with the Bethlehem in the region of Zebulon, north-west of Nazareth.[4]  From the insignificant village of Bethlehem Ephratah, the ruler of Israel was to originate. 


Bethlehem (two words in Hebrew, Bet Lechem) means: The House of Bread.  Ephratah means “fertile.” The village was surrounded by fertile land, a place of physical nourishment but, more importantly, it would be the place where the One will be born who would feed those who hunger and thirst spiritually.


[If you think about it, why would God not have chosen (or want to choose) a more significant city?  Why not Beersheba, the administrative center of the southernmost part of the kingdom, for example.  Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba and called on the name of God there.  Isaac built an altar in Beersheba (Genesis 26:23–33). Jacob had his dream about a stairway to heaven after leaving Beersheba (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beersheba (I Samuel 8:2). Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort for his campaign against the Amalekites in Beersheba (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beersheba when Jezebel ordered him killed (1 Kings 19:3).


What about the city of Hebron, mentioned 55 times in the OT?[5] God appeared to Abraham near Hebron (in Mamre - Gen 18:1ff.), and there Sarah, Leah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob were buried.  King David reigned at Hebron for 7 ½ years. It is there that the elders of Israel come to David to make a covenant before God and anoint him king over Israel.


What about the city of Jerusalem? The place David chose as the capital of Israel and where he reigned for 33 years.  The place he brought the arc of the covenant to so that it was said that God resided in the city.  The place where King Solomon built the first temple and where those who returned from the Babylonian exile built the second temple. 


But no, it had to be Bethlehem, although, as the prophet Micah states, it is an insignificant village when compared to many other places in Israel - the least among thousands.  In other words, there were thousands of other places that would seem to be better suited as a birthplace of Messiah.  Bethlehem may have been the birthplace of David, but it was also absolutely unimpressive in any other way.


Because of the passage in Micah 5, at the time of Jesus, the general expectation among the Jews was, that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but that his background or origin was to be somewhat of a mystery. 


But this didn’t seem to be the case with Jesus.  For example, the people in Nazareth where Jesus grew up, were offended by him because they knew him. 


“Is this not the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and the brother of Jacob, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us as well?” And they were offended by him.                                                    Mark 6:3[6]


Those who heard Jesus speak in the synagogue in Capernaum were also taken aback.


They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”                         John 6:42


And then, when Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, he was faced with rejection again, based on the fact that those listening to him thought they knew his origin. 


Do the (spiritual) rulers know that he (Jesus) is the Messiah?  However, we know where this man came from.  But whenever the Messiah comes, no one is supposed to know where he is from.                    John 7:26-27


They simply assumed that he was born in Nazareth in Galilee, which, given the prophecy in Micah, would disqualify him from being the Messiah.


Surely the Messiah will not be from
!  Do not the Scripture say that the Messiah will be an offspring of (king) David, and come from Bethlehem, the town were David was born?
              John 7:41-42


Philip, who lived in the town of Bethsaida, the hometown of the apostle Peter and Peter’s brother Andrew, met Jesus and decided to go tell his own brother about him.


Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one of whom Moses wrote about in the Law, as did the prophets.  He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”                            John 1:45-46


Two of the things that Canadians asks when you first meet them on vacation (in Mexico) is, “Where are you from?” The other question has to do with the first name. 


Generally speaking, those under 50 tend to ask you where you’re from first. 


Why is that?  I think knowing where a person is from helps us to categorize people.  If I live in Victoria and I meet someone from Nanaimo, there is an immediate affinity ... we are both from the West Coast of Canada and both live on the East Coast of Vancouver Island.  Culturally we are probably a closer match than when we meet someone from St John’s Newfoundland. 


So when asked, we will say what town we are currently living in.  I’m from Edmonton, from Vancouver, from Toronto, from Winnipeg, from Victoria.  But, often we will qualify our response.  I’m originally from Calgary, but currently I’m living in Salmon Arm. 

I’m living on the coast now but originally I grew up in the prairies. 


Why?  Because we don’t just want people to know the location of where we reside, but we want them to know about our past ... where we grew up, what has made us into the kind of person we are today. 


So we categorize people according to where they were raised and according to where they currently live.  In Jesus’ case, it didn’t matter whether it was the people in Nazareth, those in Capernaum, in Jerusalem, or in Bethsaida, they all thought they knew where Jesus was born and raised, and therefore they wrote him off as possibly being the Messiah.   


They thought that Jesus had not been born in Bethlehem and that his origins were not at all shrouded in mystery.  I mean ... there was his family, and they all were from Nazareth!  And nothing good can come from Nazareth, can it?


But the reality is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth.] 


While Matthew never tells us why Joseph and Mary happen to be in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, Luke tells us of the journey there while Mary was pregnant and the reason for the journey. 


A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a registry be taken of the (Roman) world.  This was the first registry taken when Quirinius was in charge of Syria.  And everyone (in Judea, Samaria, Galilee, etc.) went to his own town to be registered.  Joseph also left Nazareth in Galilee and traveled with Mary, who was engaged to him and pregnant, up to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, in order to register, because he was of the house and family of David.                               Luke 2:1-5


The reason for traveling to Bethlehem was a Roman registry, when Qurinius was in charge[7] of Syria,[8] which required every grown male to register in “his own town” (Luke 2:3),[9] probably the town where he was born in or where his family was from.[10]   Luke says that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he was “of the house and family of [king] David” (2:4).   This is also the reason why the angel addresses him as “Joseph, son of David” in his dream.


For Mary and Joseph, the registry was just one more example of Roman oppression ... and it would have messed up all their plans.  Mary probably had a mid-wife she was familiar with in Nazareth. She surely hoped to give birth with family and friends close by.


Now, in the very last month of her pregnancy, she was forced to make a trip that would be dangerous, costly, and uncomfortable at best.


We aren’t told how Joseph and Mary felt, but it would be normal for them to think something like this:


What is going on here? The angel appeared to me months ago, and I know this baby is supposed be the Messiah!  But now everything is going wrong.  At the worst time possible we have to head off on this dangerous trip! What if there are complications?  What is God doing?


Have you ever felt that way toward God?  Have you ever been so disappointed or afraid that all you could do was cry out, “What is God doing?


You were hoping for a promotion, but instead you got laid off. You prayed for healing, but instead the illness got worse. You thought you had found a great relationship, but now you’ve been left all alone.


I wonder if Joseph and Mary could accept this turn of events, not simply because they couldn’t do anything about it, they had no choice, but because they trusted that somehow things would work out. 


The road between Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 175 km long (straight route around 120 km).  Today you can drive the distance in 3 hours.  But back then it took a good 8 days to make that journey on foot - if you walked more than 20 km a day. 


If Mary was close to 9 months pregnant, it is unlikely that she could have travelled that distance on foot, which is why you traditionally she is depicted as riding a donkey, although nothing is said about this in the Bible. 


So they arrive, but the inn in the town of Bethlehem is full.  Not a single room was empty and apparently none of the other guests were willing to give up their room for a pregnant lady about to give birth.  Wouldn’t that just cheese you off completely?


Imagine a long, tiring, dirty trip.  From Jericho alone, the climb to Jerusalem and from there to Bethlehem would have been 1,200 meters.  And then to be relegated to a stable somewhere at the edge of town.  And where there’s a stable, there are animals.  Goats, chickens, cattle, donkeys, possibly a few cats to keep the mouse population at bay.  Eating, grunting, baying, shedding and pooping.  And then the shepherds show up with even more animals. 


I think at that point most of us would be complaining.  But I don’t think that Joseph and Mary did.  Somehow, despite the inconvenience and discomfort of a long, arduous journey, despite the danger of giving birth without a midwife, despite the location and the smell, Joseph and Mary seem to have taken all these things in stride. 


Did they still trust that somehow things would work out?  That they would somehow be able to return to Nazareth safe and sound?  Were they still convinced that God was at work behind the scenes?


 Would we, you and I? 


Joseph and Mary didn’t seem to complain.


They also didn’t seem to let anyone know that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father.  Mary was likely from the tribe of Levi, as her relative Elizabeth was.  Yet so many times, when Jesus is addressed as an adult, he is called the son or descendant of David.  This would have only been possible because Joseph was of the tribe of Judah and a direct descendant of David.  However, as we already know through the angels, and as we’re told as well in the genealogies of Jesus, Joseph was not the actual father of Jesus:


Jesus ... was thought to be the son of Joseph...

                                                Luke 3:23


Joseph was the husband of Mary.  From her Jesus, who is called the Messiah, was born.

                                                Matthew 1:16 


Nevertheless, the people at that time, were likely not aware of the fact that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father.


[Some people think this is a problem because the promise to David was that one of his descendants would sit on his throne.[11]


Jesus couldn’t be a direct descendant of David if his connection only runs through his step-dad Joseph.  And there is no hint that Mary herself was a descendant of David.  It is more likely that she was from the tribe of Levi as her relative Elizabeth. 


However, when we look at what is termed Levirate Marriage, there is at least one way that someone could be considered the son to someone without any genetic link being present.[12]














Should a married man die, then the oldest brother was obligated to marry the widow.  The first son of this union would carry the dead man’s name, inherit the dead man’s land, and would be considered, legally and in any other significant way, to be the son of the deceased brother, even though there is no genetic link between the two individuals.


While this was somewhat different from Jesus’ birth, Jesus was considered to be the son of Joseph in such a profound way (adoption?) that he was also considered to be a descendant of David, even though that link is only spiritual in nature.  ]


And when he (the blind beggar) heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Many told him sternly to be quiet, but he yelled out even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”      

Mark 10:48


Or what about when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey?


The crowds that went ahead and followed him, shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David ...”.                                         Matthew 21:9


When Jesus was 8 days old, a week after the shepherds, who had visited the newborn Jesus, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised, likely at the hands of a rabbi in Bethlehem (Luke 2:21; Lev 12:3).  At that point they revealed the name of Jesus.  Apparently naming a son at the time of circumcision was a common practice (cf. Luke 1:59, the naming of John the Baptist). 


40 days after Jesus’ birth, they went to the temple in Jerusalem - for two reasons.  For one, a woman who gave birth to a son was said to be ritually unclean until 40 days after the birth (after the first 7 days she remains unclean for another 33 days),[13] after which she had to either bring a lamb and a young pigeon as a sacrifice to the temple, or, if she couldn’t afford the lamb, she was to bring two young pigeons instead (Lev 12:6-8).


Joseph and Mary did not have the money for a lamb, so they brought the two young pigeons (Luke 2:24). 


But there was a second reason as well.  They combined this visit with the redemption of a first born son, as commanded in the Law of Moses:[14] 


Sanctify the first-born ... among the sons of Israel ... it belongs to me.  ... You are to devote to YHWH the first offspring ... every firstborn of men, among your sons, you are to redeem.                      Exodus 13:1,12-13


In order to redeem Jesus, Joseph had to pay five shekels of silver (Num 18:16), a tenth of the dowry, which was still a significant amount, almost a month’s pay for a roman foot-soldier.[15] 


[When Mary and Joseph entered the Jerusalem temple, an old man named Simeon, upon whom the Holy Spirit was said to rest, took Jesus into his arms and praised God because he was able to see God’s salvation, the light to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people) and the glory of the Jewish people (Luke 2:25-32).  Then we are told Mary and Joseph’s reaction. 


And his father and mother were amazed at the things that were being said about him.                         Luke 22:33


This is actually a pretty strange statement if you think about it.  After the visitation of the angels to both Joseph and Mary personally, and after the visit of the Shepherds in Bethlehem, which Mary is said to have pondered in her heart (cf. Luke 2:21),[16] you would think those words would not amaze them.


Why was Mary amazed, when she herself sang the so-called Magnificat, where she recognizes that her unborn child will bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham ... having a nation at peace and being a blessing to all the nations. 


My soul lifts high the Lord.  My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. ... He has given help to Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy, as he promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.                          Luke 1:46-55


But maybe we are all a bit blind recognizing that God is actually doing something, even if theoretically we claim that he is.


Finally, we are told that after the parents finished giving the offering for the purification and paying the money for the redemption, they returned to Nazareth (Luke 2:39).]


We know very little about how Joseph and Mary raised Jesus.  We do know that Jesus related to Joseph as his father, and that Mary told him at one time how worried she and his father (Joseph) were when it took them 3 days to find him.


His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us this way?  Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”                Luke 2:48


Jesus would not remain the only child in the family.  Mary and Joseph would have 4 more sons and an unnamed number of daughters.  And it seems that they didn’t tell Jesus’ siblings about the real identity of their older brother, because as adults, Jesus’ brothers did not think of him as anyone special (John 7). 


I am sure that Joseph raised and loved Jesus as his own son.  He taught Jesus his trade.  Jesus became a carpenter just like Joseph.  However, I would think that at some point, Mary and Joseph would have had to tell Jesus that Joseph wasn’t his earthly father. 


I have no idea when they would have done this, but maybe it wasn’t something that was easy to do. When they did, they likely told Jesus of the angels’ visit, the birth in Bethlehem in a stable, the visit of the shepherds and the wise men from the East, and the prophetic words spoken about him in the temple when he was but an infant. 


They would have to tell Jesus that his real Father is God, and that God had much greater plans for him than simply following in the footsteps of Joseph.  But even at 12 Jesus sensed this in any case.


How hard is it for some parents to tell a child that he’s adopted?  How hard is it to tell the one you love as your child that you’re not his biological parent?  How hard would it be to let go of a child and him them to meet his birth parents.  In a sense, Joseph would have had to do that and more. 


And Joseph and Mary knew that the life of their first-born would not end well.  You see, the old man Simeon not only prophesied in the temple about Jesus bringing God’s salvation to both Jews and non-Jews.  He also said to Mary, with regard to Jesus:


A sword will pierce even your own soul.

                                                        Luke 2:35


While these words don’t outright state that Jesus would have to suffer and die in order to “save his people from their sins”, they are an ominous hint that things will likely end badly for him. 


Joseph would never live to see this.  He must have died relatively young, maybe when Jesus was in his late teens or early 20’s.  When Jesus began his public ministry at around 30 years of age, Joseph was no longer alive - and by all appearances, Mary was not a recently widowed woman.[17] 


When we think of Jesus, we tend to focus on the years when Jesus was teaching and healing and performing miracles. Joseph is no longer present, Mary is in the background, hardly mentioned. 


We tend to forget that before those years Jesus lived a quiet, normal small-town life.  He was obedient to his parents.  He apprenticed as a carpenter with Joseph.  He worked to support his family. 


As far as we know, the first 30 years were mostly mundane and ordinary - not so different from our lives. But during those years, God was working behind the scenes to set the stage for Jesus’ 3-year public ministry.


We may think that there’s nothing much to our own lives.  We go along with nothing of real significance happening.  Sometimes we face struggles that make life hard or burdensome, and we get annoyed that things aren’t as easy as we would like them.


Maybe we pray for something to happen in our own lives or in the life of someone we care for.  But nothing seems to happen. 


We pray for God to heal the sick, to free the addicted, to save relationships, to change attitudes, to bring loved ones to faith.  But years and years go by and those very people aren’t healed, their addiction destroys their health and lives, the relationships fall apart, attitudes don’t change, and people don’t come to know God.


And it may just all look a bit hopeless.  But we will never know if God during all this time is not setting up a miracle. 


The sick person, after years of suffering, finally is healed ... miraculously it seems.  The addict finally enters a rehab program and finds freedom.  The people in a relationship that seemed doomed, are fundamentally changed in their attitudes and things turn around.  And sometimes, like a woman in our church who prayed for 50 years for her husband to be saved, we see someone we pray for come to Christ.  


But often all we focus on is tragedy.  We see people who seem to lose everything.  But there may be an unseen reality that we’re not even aware of ... the greatest miracle perhaps of all, the transformation of a human life from the inside out. 


The people in Nazareth who knew that Mary was pregnant prior to moving in with Joseph may have pitied her.


Those who passed Mary and Joseph on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while Mary was in her late pregnancy, may have pitied them.


Those who saw Mary and Joseph staying in a stable and realized that Mary would have to give birth there with no one to help her but Joseph, may have pitied them.


Those who saw their newborn lying in a food trough may have pitied them.


But today, over 2,000 years later, we who know and remember the story, realize that a lot more was going on.  That something beautiful and miraculous and incredibly important was taking place.  


It no longer makes us feel sad for Mary and Joseph because we know that God was at work, providing a Saviour, for us and for everyone who believes. 




Their incredible desire to follow God’s will in their lives, despite potential negative consequences, the ridicule, the shame, the embarrassment, the cost.


 Their ability to face difficult circumstances, inconveniences, uncaring people, and even physical danger, apparently without grumbling and complaining.


Their ability to trust that, even when all things seem to go wrong, that God is still working out his plan.


Their ability to love and guide and teach Jesus as a son, even while knowing that he really belonged to another (God).


Their ability to trust in God’s plan, despite the knowledge that painful times will be part of their experience in life.








[1] Possibly in reference to Elizabeth’s pregnancy (so NIV - see Luke 1:36 which makes reference to Elizabeth being in her sixth month)  However, here it could be in reference to the sixth month in the Jewish Calendar = Elul, around August/September.  If this is so, then Jesus was born around May/June.

[2] In the OT passage, the prophet tells king Ahaz to ask for a sign from YHWH that the two enemies (Aram & Ephraim) seeking to attack Jerusalem would be destroyed.  When Ahaz refused, God said through Isaiah (MT): “The Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Behold a young woman will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” 

[3] This (messianic) ruler will reverse the fortunes of Israel.  He will rule to the ends of the earth.  He will be the shepherd to Israel so it will live in safety and peace.  He will be the reason the scattered remnant will return home.

[4] See 1 Sam 17:2, where David is described as “the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah named Jesse.”

[5] 5 of those 55 mentions are under its earlier name of Kirjath-Arba’.

[6] Mark has Jesus as “the carpenter,” which Matt 13:55 rightly corrects to Jesus being “the carpenter’s son.”

[7] Greek hegemeneuo = to lead, rule, govern

[8] A census of Quirinius (51 BCE - 21 CE) happened in 6 CE when he was appointed imperial legate (governor) of Syria.  This was between 8 and 10 years after Jesus’ birth.  However, Quirinius was in Syria years earlier to assist Augustus’ young son Caius (20 BCE - 4 CE), as rector (= guide).  Caius was sent to Syria in 1 BCE.  We don’t know of a census being taken at that time, but even if it had, it would still post-date Jesus’ birth by 1 to 3 years.  The only other option is the time when the emperor Augustus required an oath of allegiance (c. 2 BCE), for which registration may have been mandatory.  Josephus, Antiquities, 17.2.4 (42), mentions that when all Jews “gave assurance of their good will to Caesar”, 6,000 Pharisees refused to do so.  There is nothing to say that Quirinius was or wasn’t in Syria at the time. 

[9] Greek apographe = list/registry/inventory

[10] In other Roman census’, people were required to go to their country of origin, but not to their town of origin.  However, the journey to ancestral homes or place of birth may be a Jewish method since it was likely that king Herod would have been in charge of implementing the count.

[11] 2 Sam 7:16 - And your house and your kingdom will be made sure before me.  Your throne will be established forever.

[12] Whether this argument actually is valid is not clear.  Perhaps the answer lies more in the process of legal adoption.  Or maybe everyone just assumed that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father and were not aware of any other possibility. 

[13] After the first 7 days, she is said to remain unclean for another 33 days before she can go to the temple to be purified.

[14] Normally the father would do the redemption 30 days after birth.  The mother would not be able to be there because she was still unclean.

[15] A Roman soldier made c. 112 shekels (225 denarii) per year, from which c. 55 shekels would be deducted for food and equipment, for a net income of 57 shekels.  Add a bonus of 13 shekels, makes a yearly net of c. 70 shekels.  That would mean soldiers would make c. .19 shekels a day, which is why they supplemented their income in other ways.  5 shekels would be 26 days of pay, so likely a significant amount, possibly the equivalent of over $ 3,000 in today’s currency.

[16] The same statement is said about Mary in Luke 2:51.

[17] This is an argument from silence and therefore is inherently weak.  Nevertheless, it makes sense.