Summary: What would possess a man to take a woman who was nine month pregnant on a 120 km trip? This message looks at the Why of Bethlehem
Mystery of Bethlehem
The theme we have chosen for this advent season is “The Mysteries of Christmas”. Last week we looked at the Mystery of the Virgin birth, how God Almighty the creator of the Universe stepped into the stream of human history to introduce his Son to the world. In that message we discovered that the Virgin birth was necessary because it fulfilled the prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
And really if you were God and you were coming to the earth, it would be a special occasion and it should happen in a special way. And I know that there are those who say “Well a Virgin birth is impossible.” Sure, but the same God who wrote the laws of nature surely is able to step outside the laws of nature.
So if you have been following the story, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her the exciting news, she’s going to be a mom, even though she is still a virgin, they work out the details but then there is the entire process of telling her parents and her fiancé, in Australia we’d say that would be a bit of a sticky wicket. And you can imagine that Joseph, the man she was engaged to wasn’t all that excited to hear the news. “You’re pregnant and you want me to believe the father is the Holy Spirit. Got news for you little lady, I didn’t just fall off the turnip wagon, we are through and maybe you can convince sell that story to some other sucker.”
And really you can’t blame him. Sure we know the story but he didn’t until the same angel appears and tells him in Matthew 1:20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” There was more to the conversation but the end result is found in Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Have you ever noticed how people communicate? Some people give you just the essentials, and others go to great extremes to make sure that you know the entire story and everything that led up to the story. I just want to shake them and say “Spit it out.”
Matthew and Luke are like that as they tell the Christmas story. Last week when I looked that the Virgin Birth I looked at Luke’s account. And he spends 30 verses and over five hundred words telling us the story. And that doesn’t include the back story that he tells about how Mary’s cousin Elizabeth became pregnant.
What does Matthew do? One verse, forty words: Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The same thing happens with the events that follow, Matthew tells us in Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. Which if you just want the story is kind of cool. Kind of Like “Denn was born in Chatham when Diefenbaker was King.” But really that doesn’t tell you the whole story does it? Why Chatham? Mom and Dad weren’t from the Miramachi, they didn’t stay there very long and I didn’t go back for almost forty years.
Matthew answers the “where” and when rather nicely Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. But there are a lot of questions that he leaves unanswered. And some of those questions are answered in Luke’s account and other’s we have to dig for. The most obvious question is “Why Bethlehem?” If we pull down one of our trusty maps we discover that Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived is up here, twenty four kms from the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and thirty kms inland from the Mediterranean Sea, a small village that was obviously the family home to both Mary and Joseph. And Bethlehem is way down here, about 120 kms away. For us that isn’t an insurmountable distance depending on how you drive and what the roads are like it would take you between an hour and two hours to make the trip. When I was in Sierra Leone I made a trip of eighty kms going from Makeni to Kamakwie hospital in four and a half hours but this trip was worse than that.