Like all men of character, Joseph’s every instinct was to control events where his wife-to-be was concerned.
So far it seemed he was failing at every point;
- His wife was pregnant and the child wasn’t his.
- The village gossips had never had such a good time and he had no answer for them.
- Then, as if all this were not enough, the Romans wanted to count everyone in Israel by their ancestral families.
- That meant a long trip south to Bethlehem of Judea, the last thing a very pregnant Mary needed.
Nevertheless, he saddled the donkey, and did his best to make Mary comfortable. This was not rapid transit; each roll of the donkey’s backbone felt like it would bring on labor pains. Joseph had his heart set on a comfortable room at one of the inns in or near the City of David.
It was not to be. The only space available was a cave used as a stable. Mary’s time was near. This was all God’s plans and they were in God’s hands. We are not told the details, only that the time came and so did the baby. Mary wrapped Him in loose cloths to keep out the chill and laid Him in a feeding trough. As Mary and the baby Jesus slept, Joseph gave sincere thanks to God for a safe delivery and for Mary’s sweet spirit. She did not seem to blame Joseph for any of these shortcomings.
A group of shepherds lived in the fields near Bethlehem. They watched the sheep as the night wore on like so many others. But this was a night like no other. Light from everywhere lit the night and a brightly shining man, the angel of the Lord, stood before them. He was speaking to them in a strange dialect but as their fear subsided and the listened closely the words became intelligible. It was news of a child born that night in Bethlehem, and not just any child, but Messiah!–Christ, the Lord! As if to document the word of the one angel, the curtain parted between the natural world and the realm of the supernatural. The hosts of heaven assembled over that pasture near Bethlehem, singing at the limit of angel voices:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
The startled shepherds could only watch and wonder as the lights and the music peaked and began to subside. When they were gone and the night returned to normal, there was no other thing to do but go to Bethlehem and find this child.
Guided by some unexplained impulse they found the first family in their cave. After gaining entrance from Joseph—surely he could control inquisitive shepherds!—the shepherds worshiped at the manger until one by one they felt the need to tell everyone about the angels and the tiny sleeping Messiah. After they left on this mission, Mary started a mental file on such visitations. Soon the shepherds returned rejoicing and praising God.
Joseph was learning that he was not alone in caring for Mary and the Child.
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Lord Jesus, teach me what Joseph had to learn—this isn’t about control. It is about obedience. Help me leave the controls to You and busy myself with the details of obedience. I have not seen angels dancing and heard them singing, but I have heard the voice of Your Spirit in my heart. Help me be a peacemaker and one who spreads good will—the Good News of Your coming! Yes, Lord, yes!
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Words: Edith Sanford Tillotson and Nahum Tate; Music: G.F. Handel
1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.
2. “Fear not,” said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind
“glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.
3. “To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this shall be the sign:
4. “The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed,
all simply wrapped in swaddling clothes and in a manger laid.”
5. Thus spoke the angel. Suddenly appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus addressed their joyful song:
6. “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests goodwill shall never cease.”
© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved