Summary: Christmas is the confirmation that your life matters to God and that He loves you more deeply than you will ever know.
Back when Mary and I were teaching high school students at our church in Albuquerque, I came across a Christmas quiz that we used to give to the kids each year. Since then I’ve also used it with adults and found they often don’t do a whole lot better than the kids did. That’s because there are so many traditions that have made their way into the Christmas story that just aren’t in the Bible although many people assume they are. One of those questions on that quiz asked where in the Bible we can find the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus. And in answering that question, it’s interesting to think of how each of the gospel writers deal with the birth of Jesus:
• Mark just ignores it altogether and he begins his gospel account with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus
• John doesn’t deal with the birth of Jesus directly although his gospel account does begin with the idea of Jesus becoming flesh and coming to dwell or “tabernacle” with His people.
• Matthew begins with the genealogy of Joseph and then he briefly deals with the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective and records the visit of the magi, probably about a year later.
• Luke gives by far the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus. He is the only gospel writer to give an account of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the only one to record the shepherds coming to visit baby Jesus and the only one to record Jesus being presented in the Temple when He is 8 days old where He is blessed by Simeon and Anna.
He is also the only gospel writer who gives a comparatively lengthy account of the first Christmas from Mary’s perspective. He dedicates 13 verses to describe the scene where Mary found out she was going to have a baby and another 17 verses describing Mary’s visit to see Elizabeth. We read part of that account earlier this morning.
But nowhere in that account do we get even a clue about how Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy. So we might assume that perhaps Matthew will give us that information since he writes about the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective. But as we’ll see this morning, that just isn’t the case. The fact is we don’t really know exactly when or how Mary told Joseph she was pregnant. The Bible doesn’t give us those details. All we know is that at some point he did find out. Perhaps the conversation with Mary went something like this.
[Show the video]
For the remainder of our time this morning we’re going to look at Matthew’s gospel, which gives us the little bit of information we do have about how Joseph responded to this news. So you can turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 1 this morning and follow along as I begin reading in verse 18.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
In today’s culture, the fact that Mary was pregnant before she and Joseph were married would unfortunately not be such a big deal at all. Though it is certainly not consistent with God’s ways, we know that over 40% of the children born in the United States each year are born to unmarried women. As a result there is no longer the kind of stigma associated with being pregnant outside of marriage like there once was.
But that was certainly not the case for Mary and Joseph. So when Mary tells Joseph she is pregnant, he is faced with a real dilemma. In order for us to understand why that was the case, we need to understand Jewish marriage practices during Biblical times.
We tend to equate the practice of betrothal with our practice of engagement. And in our culture it is not uncommon for an engagement to be broken for a variety of reasons, in which case the wedding is just cancelled. In fact, it seems that one of the most common plot lines in many romantic comedies revolves around two people who really aren’t right for each other, but who are engaged anyway, who finally figure that out and end up falling in love with someone else.
But the practice of betrothal was a far greater commitment. It usually began with the families of the bride and the groom arranging a marriage, often without even consulting the prospective couple. While that seems really strange to us, there are actually some advantages to such arrangements. First they focus on the importance of the entire extended family rather than just the bride and groom alone. But perhaps even more importantly, it establishes the idea that love is a lasting commitment of the will rather than just an emotional attachment that can easily change over time.