One of the many blessings of teaching the Biblical view of law and government across this great land is the wonderful people who become fast friends. One couple in northern California who’ve become friends wrote this week thanking me for the work I had the privilege of beginning in their community. They conclude, “Wishing you all the best in these turbulent times. Merry Christmas.” Indeed, these are turbulent and troubling times.
That got me to thinking about the very first Christmas. A tyrannical dictatorship held a stranglehold on Israel with excessive taxation, overbearing regulations, military with boots on the neck, and a ruler who was nearly universally hated – one who gleefully murdered anyone he chose to, including his own sons. Other than the last element where we don’t have evidence that the tyrant murdered his own children, (we know he said he would be glad to murder his grandchildren) we live under those same tyrannical conditions.
What was needed in that day is the same crying need in our day – zealously devoted followers of the One True God who will walk in the path our Lord lays before them no matter what the cost. Before us this week is one such individual, one who it seems to me is one of the unsung heroes of that first Nativity – Joseph. Joseph found himself in an extremely difficult circumstance, which called upon him to exercise uncommon faith in God and specific obedience to the commands God gave him. All of this in the midst of a world where tyranny made life very difficult for every one and a social context which made what God called him to do mean certain censure from all his family and friends.
Joseph was certain to be scorned, despised and ridiculed by almost everyone who knew him. You’ll recall that after the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary remained in Bethlehem for a year or more. Then, by the instruction of God, they fled to Egypt just ahead of the murderous soldiers of king Herod. After some time in Egypt, only upon the death of Herod did Joseph return to Nazareth reluctantly it appears, the town from which their journey had begun perhaps three or more years before.
Turn to Matthew 2:19-23 “But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”
It is as if Joseph didn’t really want to settle in Nazareth. He would have gone back to Bethlehem had it not been for the new tyrant there whom Joseph thought would be little better than his murderous father. Why the reluctance to return to his home in Nazareth? Quite clearly because of the ridicule and scorn he was sure to face.
Everyone there knew that Mary was pregnant out of wedlock; everyone knew that Joseph married her anyway. So the talk of the town would have been a debate as to whether Joseph was the father – and therefore a fornicator having violated God’s law. Or the other alternative no less damaging to Joseph’s reputation, that he knew Mary had committed fornication with someone else and Joseph married her anyway. We know these conversations took place because more than 30 years later people were still talking about it.
The Problem confronting Joseph – Matthew 1:18-21 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
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