The Christmas story has been told in many ways. It has been told from Mary's point of view. The story of the shepherds has been told, as has the stories of John the baptist and of the magi. One story however seems to have been forgotten, and so presented here as he would tell it today is Joseph's story . . .
The marriage was arranged. That was the custom in those days. The parents of the prospective couple would talk and negotiate things, and the decision was made that the two people were to be married. There would be a formal betrothal, complete with ceremony and celebration. This would often be the first time that the two people met, and certainly was the first time they had anything like a serious relationship. This is pretty much how things went for me. I was more fortunate than most, I fell in love with my betrothed. The more I got to know her, the more I loved her. I wanted nothing more than to have her as my wife, and spend my life with her, raising our children.
She came to me one day with disastrous news. She was pregnant. Now I know that you young folks don't think so much of something like that anymore, but in my day, sex before or outside of marriage was unthinkable. And a betrothed woman who turned up pregnant before marriage was totally disgraced, especially if her husband to be was not the father. Her life was ruined, and any chance that she might have had for marriage was done for. She would be socially marked, outcast by friends and family, and treated as little better than a common harlot by anyone who knew about it. And thanks to gossip, everyone who was anyone would know.
At first I was furious, my wife to be had been with another man. I was also heartbroken, both because I felt betrayed, and because I knew what would happen to her because of it. I would be expected to break off the betrothal and put her away from me in a formal divorcement. I stood there speechless, looking at her, wanting somehow to change the world so that we could still be together.
While I stood there speechless, she begged me to permit her to explain. I was shocked. How could anyone 'explain' this I wondered. Any other woman in a situation like this would be begging forgiveness. But not her, she seemed certain that if I heard what she had to say, that I would understand. Unable to say anything, I simply sat down and looked at her attentively. Mary told her story. Quickly at first, almost in a panic, trying to get it all said as fast as she could. She told me of meeting an angel, who told her that she was to bear a son, and that this child would be the son of the most high.
To say that I couldn't believe her would be an understatement. I could only believe that she had lost her mind. We were both quiet for a long time. The only thing I could think of was that I would have to put her away, but because I still loved her, I decided that it would be done as quietly as possible. There was no way that we could be married now, but I couldn't bear the thought of destroying her as this so easily could. My decision made, I went home. Sleep came slowly that night as I turned this over in my head again and again. I didn't want to do what I knew society would expect. I wanted to scream at the world, "I don't care what you think! I love her and I'm going to marry her!" But I knew that if I married her anyway and this came out that I would be every bit the pariah as her. My career would be over. No one would do business with me, my family would abandon me like I had social leprosy. Life would quickly become very difficult. Finally out of sheer emotional exhaustion I slept.
I had one of those really vivid dreams, the kind where you know you're asleep and dreaming, but cannot do anything to change it. I was working in my father's old workshop. The smell of fresh-cut wood filled the air. Suddenly all sounds of the workshop faded as the air was filled with music like I had never heard before. The beautiful music faded into a quiet background as I saw him. He was tall, with a large powerful build. Dressed all in white with a large sword sheathed at his waist and wings visible over his broad shoulders. "Joseph, descendant of the house and line of David," he said. "Do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife because the child is conceived in her by the power of the Holy Ghost. She will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Yeshua, because he will save his people from their sins."
Suddenly I had peace. My heart and mind no longer fought and worried over what to do about this. The angel said the baby would be named Yeshua, and when he said that name it rang in my heart. That name means Yahweh is salvation, I heard it not only in my own native Hebrew, but in Greek 'Iesous', in another it sounded like 'hey-sus', and in still another it sounded like 'gee-sus'. But in all of them it meant the same thing, the Lord is salvation, God is with us. The angel smiled at me, turned and left the shop. Suddenly I was wide awake, sitting bolt upright in my bed. My torments were over, and I knew what I would do. I would take Mary as my wife, and trust the message that God sent the angel to give me.
The next day I went to see her. As she saw me coming she stopped, looking at me with aprehension and hope in her face. I told her that about the dream I had, and that I still wanted to marry her. We agreed to keep this whole matter to ourselves and trust God that things would work out and His purpose would be accomplished, and that it would indeed be a great thing. We were married a few weeks later.
A little over eight months later the Romans announced that Caesar had orderd that the entire population of the empire should be registered. This meant that every man would have to go to the city of his ancestry where his name, property, and income would be recorded and taxed. I had no wish to be imprisoned, sold as a slave, or crucified, so I made preparations to travel from my home in the Galilean town of Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of my ancestor king David.
I know that you younguns wouldnt even think twice of making such a trip, but in those days if you went anywhere you walked or rode on a donkey. And if you had any sense at all, you traveled with a caravan to be safe from thieves that often attacked along the way. I made arrangements, and Mary and I rode with a decent sized company of people. The journey was long and tiring, especially for Mary, because her child was soon to be born.
When we arrived, the city was overflowing with people. The first thing I did was to seek out lodging. Mary needed rest, the strain of travel had been great and she would soon give birth. Unfortunately, the inns were all full. I begged and pleaded with innkeepers, offering to pay double or even triple, but there was simply not a single room to be had in all of Bethlehem for any amount of money. Finally, one innkeeper said that we could bed down in his stable. It was a far cry from what we were accustomed to, but seeing no alternative, I accepted.
Mary went into labor soon after we got settled and that evening a baby boy was born. I looked at him as she held him and saw him looking back at me. He was physically no different from any other baby I had ever seen. But when his eyes met mine I could see a light of awareness in him unlike any newborn I had ever seen or heard of. He was not just looking at me, he saw all the way into my soul and knew me better than I knew myself. Looking at him I wept as I remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Immanuel, which means God with us. I was humbled beyond measure at the thought of it. There before me, in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, lay the Most High God Himself. I did not know then what this meant, except that the world would never be the same again..
Click here for part 2