already mentioned in “Christmas: The Reason for the Season”, so let’s take a look at his earthly parents. Mary was a devout Jewish girl, probably a teenager, who lived in the Galilee with her parents. Joseph, a carpenter and devout Jew, loved Mary. Mary had been promised to Joseph. When their engagement period was completed, they would be married in a Jewish ceremony, full of lively, traditional Jewish dancing, and tables loaded with the scrumptious, celebration foods. Every girl and boy looked forward to that day. But, sadly for the young couple’s dreams, it would not play out that way for Mary and Joseph. Before the wedding plans had been completed, the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to give her God’s plan… for the world but, closer to home, for her immediate life. God had chosen Mary to carry the baby that would be conceived by His own Holy Spirit. It was necessary to bring salvation to the world. Mary knew, for sure, just what a wrench that would throw in the works of her own life, but her commitment to the Almighty God settled her response. “According to Your word, O Lord, be it unto me.”(See the account in Luke 1 and 2) Of course, she did what any of us would probably do when hearing that this was not the only unusual event going on in her family: In about three months, elderly Elizabeth would deliver her first baby! Mary headed straight for Elizabeth’s house, where she stayed for the first three months of her own pregnancy. No doubt Elizabeth was a great help to Mary.
Back in Nazareth, Joseph is as surprised as everyone else to learn of the new baby boy Zechariah and Elizabeth have just had. Mary is full of joy and sharing the details. When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, herself, he is so hurt. How can this be? His love for her would not permit Joseph to even think of stoning her. In fact, he wanted to spare Mary the social pain of disclosure, if he could. He planned to just quietly divorce her/break the engagement; no one would need to know why. Then, Joseph had a visit from the Angel himself! What an incredible revelation the Angel brought Joseph! Mary had not been unfaithful to him after all. Joseph should believe her and trust her. He should proceed with the marriage as planned, though, of course, there would not be that week-long celebration now. God was in the whole thing and Joseph could trust God. This was an important assignment God had given the young couple. God would help them through all the difficult times.(You can read about Joseph’s struggle and encounter at the end of Matthew Chapter 1.)
The Shepherds outside Bethlehem were given quite a privilege the night Jesus was born. Usually shepherds were so often “unclean” because of their work in the field with the sheep. It would be pretty hard to keep away from the excrement or anything dead that the law said would defile them. Of course, they would not be permitted in the religious ceremonies or Temple services if considered “unclean”. It was not often that the shepherds were keeping their sheep near any city, because a large flock could really affect the local air fragrance, you know. But, this was a special time of year, and those sheep were special sheep. They belonged to the priests and it was their order that kept the sheep near Bethlehem around the time of the Passover. (Yup, that would not be in December … we will get to that later.) It is fantastic to realize that the Lord God had the angels just over those “unclean” shepherds’ heads, declaring the best news the world would ever hear—right there sitting in their filthy, smelly clothing. But, that was not all; God encouraged them to go see the Baby Jesus, just as they were right then! Sure enough, the shepherds headed out and found the Baby Jesus. No one told them to get out or called them unclean. Even as a baby, Jesus was there to unite and not divide those who worshipped the Father God!
The “Three Kings” from the Orient are often in the Nativity set or drawings but, in truth, they were not in the picture with their gifts until Jesus was about six months old. They visited Jesus at his house, not the manger; but I don’t mind having these three characters in the Nativity scene, do you? It is a good reminder of that First Christmas, even if it was not the first day of Jesus’ earthly sojourn. (More on that later.)
Lastly, most scenes also picture the Angel Gabriel—and a few more angels if your Sunday School has more children than speaking parts for the drama! There is little doubt that there was, indeed, an angelic presence near this very special manger the night of Jesus’ birth!
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