For me this is a melancholy Christmas Day. I remember I thought last year at this time, “Man, I’ve gone through the worst year of my life,” but in some ways this is a match. I’ve just lost so many loved ones, either to death or lost friendships.
The worst is I lost one of my closest friends from my whole life last spring when he lost his footing on an old, unevenly worn marble staircase while visiting a friend and fractured his skull in multiple places. Then there was the death of my step-dad (since 1994) who gave out from a weak heart a month ago just four days shy of his 88th birthday.
Also on the short list is my Great Aunt Nel in West Virginia, a classic “mountain woman” whose toughness, sensibility, discipline and Christian charity was such an inspiration to me she had no idea. Granted she was 96, but it still gets to you.
At the elderly house, I just learned yesterday afternoon that a favorite resident, 85-year-old Marjorie, is in the hospital and will then immediately move to a nursing home. She was fine until a month ago when she suddenly snapped into dementia and it worsened dramatically.
This year, our assisted-living house lost three beloved
residents: 64-year-old Connie who collapsed dead outside of her bedroom of
renal failure; 64-year-old Janet who died in her room of a sudden massive heart
attack and 78-year-old Lenore who also was shockingly struck with
Whenever I feel blue, it helps like nothing else almost for me to escape into the Bible, putting myself directly inside the lives of some of its writers and characters, really imagining them as they were—their particular dilemmas, handicaps. struggles, testings, etc.—and how they were able to overcome.
So, here’s a good study for this day we celebrate Christ’s birth:
There are three times in connection with the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ that the expression “fear not” occurs. The first one is said to Joseph by an angel, who comforts him in a dream with, “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.”
Under Israel’s Old Testament economy, an “espousal” was more than being engaged; it was equal to being married. Mary was Joseph’s intended wife, it’s just that their commitment hadn’t been consummated yet, and the fact she was “found with child” was a crime punishable by stoning death by Israeli law.
“Now, you got to think about Joseph’s perspective in all of this,” says Jordan. “He’s usually rather ignored (in the nativity story), but he was quite somebody. Joseph’s got this young girl, he’s looking forward to marrying her, they’ve fallen in love; she’s won his heart and he’s won her hand. Everybody knows they’ve already gone through the formalities (the announcements and the invitations are out) but she comes up pregnant.
“Joseph’s in the dark about why. He doesn’t have ANY idea what’s happened. He doesn’t know HOW she got pregnant! I guess maybe he has an idea about how she can get pregnant, but he’s completely in the dark. He doesn’t know this is something God is going to do to fulfill Isaiah 14. He just gets the news she’s pregnant.
Matthew 1:19 says, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.”
Jordan explains, “That verse is fascinating about Joseph. He’s in a tough situation. He wants to do what’s right. He’s not going to sweep this under the rug and act like it didn’t happen. He’s a just man.
“He wants to deal with it properly, but in Israel’s economy, if she’s found with a child, legally in the law they could stone her; give her the death penalty. At the very least it would be publicly shameful!
“It says Joseph wasn’t willing to make her a public example. The guy’s got a kind spirit; he’s got a loving heart and so it says ‘he was mindful to put her away privily.’ That word ‘minded’ there it’s not just ‘the thought occurred to him.’ It’s the idea that he sat down and gave some serious thought to what was going on and he thought it through and came to a selfless decision to just handle this quietly between her and him.
“I don’t know about you, but my mind kind of imagines things like that. I sit around sometimes thinking about these verses. You can just see Joseph wondering, ‘Why did something like this happen?!’
“He’s having to deal with the hurt of the betrayal and the disillusionment that would come from this kind of thing. You can just see him sitting there trying to figure out exactly how to get out of the mess that Mary’s gotten him into. You can see his heart all filled with turmoil. ‘How am I gonna fix this mess?! How are we ever going to get beyond this?!’
“There’s Joseph in this impossible situation. The things he’s thinking about are testing his mettle; his goodness. And in the midst of all that, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep.
“Suddenly God broke into Joseph’s predicament and the explanation He gave him was a doozie! If you think it’s unbelievable that an angel would show up, that kind of message from an angel even sounds stranger! Here’s something that’s never happened before!
“He’s told, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.’ It even gets stranger but then the angel gives Joseph something he can hang onto: ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.’ (Matt. 1:23)
“You see what that angel really did for Joseph was he said, ‘Here’s a verse of Scripture that’s God’s fulfilling in YOUR life right now! You don’t need to be afraid! I know it’s outrageous! Here’s what God’s Word says, though.’
“The message was ‘fear not for God said.’ The message is you can hang your life on God’s Word and you’re never going to get rid of fear in your life except that way.”
The other two times the angel-sent encouragement of “fear not” shows up in relationship to the birth of Christ is in Luke 1:13 (‘But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John) and in Luke 1:30 (‘And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.’)
Jordan says, “Now, if you think Joseph was little upset, can you imagine how shocked Mary must have been when the angel Gabriel started talking to her!
“Luke 1:26 tells us, ‘And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth.’ That’s six months after John the Baptist had been conceived. In the 6th month in the pregnancy of Elisabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to the city of Galilee named Nazareth.
“By the way, Luke was a medical doctor, so the specificity of terminology here is not being used casually. It’s being used very specific with precise meanings. Luke starts out his book saying, ‘I’m a good historian.’
“In the first four verses, the little preface to his book, if you wanted to capsulate in one sentence, Luke was saying, ‘I was a good first-hand researcher and historian; I went and talked to the eyewitnesses; the people who were there.’
“There’s this little thing he writes in Chapter 2 that I’ve always been touched by. Luke says, ‘But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.’
“I think, here’s a little mother that when Luke met her, recounts the nativity and the birth of the child, and there’s certain things that she never told anybody else. She just kept them hid and thought about them and pondered them in her heart.
“I don’t know about you but I think, ‘How’d Luke get her to tell him that! He must have had a wonderful bedside manner.’ Because when you read his book, you can tell he’s talked to these people and he’s picked up all these little details.
“In fact, you ever heard anybody say you can’t know the date of the birth of Christ? If you just read Luke 1, you can literally figure out within a three to five-day time period the date of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ! It’s not December, by the way, but there is something that took place in late December in this chapter.
“The real miracle of Christmas was not the nativity; it was the conception. By the way, if you look at the first verse in Chapter 2, it says, ‘And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.’
“Those kinds of references are often located in the Book of Luke. They are historically verifiable data that you can go into secular history and find.
“Sometimes people give you the idea that the Bible is just a willy-nilly book concocted by a bunch of guys who along the way somewhere just wrote books and made all this stuff up.
“Well, you certainly can’t believe that when you read the Book of Luke! You see this is put together by men who thought carefully who researched thoroughly and who documented what they were saying in such a way that you could go behind them and check the footnotes.
“Luke 1:27-30 is a great illustration of Luke’s penetrating thinking and looking. Can I recommend to you, when you read the book, read it slowly and let those kinds of things into your mind.
“Here’s something Mary shared with Luke about what was going on in her mind. I have a hard time putting myself in her situation. The questions that must have been in this little girl’s mind at the time!
“She’s told, ‘Hey Mary, you’re going to be the mother of the Messiah!’ Whoa! I mean, what a privilege, but what a shock! Mary asked the logical question: ‘How shall this be, seeing as how I know not a man?’
“In the presence of something that’s obviously going to be supernatural that can’t be understood in human terms, you can just imagine . . . but verse 37 is the answer: ‘For with God nothing shall be impossible.’
“Mary’s fear turned to faith in what God’s Word said. So Mary, like Joseph, trusted God’s Word. When it says she found ‘favor with God,’ that’s undeserved favor. That’s a definition of grace: ‘Mary you’ve got nothing to be afraid of; you are perfectly loved.’
“Come down to Luke 2 and you’ll see this time he says it to the shepherds. It’s one of those fascinating chapters in scripture. The first seven verses explain how God was going to fill Micah 5:2.
“Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, God through a little prophet . . . Micah and Isaiah were contemporaries. Isaiah wrote 66 chapters; he’s a big dude. Micah got to write seven and significant portions of the Book of Micah are repeats or echoes of the Book of Isaiah.
“Somebody reads Micah and says, ‘He hardly had an original thought. He’s just working with Isaiah.’ But God takes that ‘little insignificant prophet,’ as it were, and reached into his ‘little book,’ and in Micah 5:2 writes down 700 years before the event the town in which the Messiah is going to be born in: Bethlehem Ephratah.
“There were two Bethlehems in Israel at that time. One was in the tribe of Zebulun. One’s down in the tribe of Judah. So Bethlehem Ephratah, that’s Bethlehem in Judah. That’s the one were talking about.
“That little town in Judah is so insignificant that if you go back to the Book of Joshua, when they polled the tribes of Israel to get soldiers to man the armies of Israel, Bethlehem and Zebulun are mentioned and the one in Judah isn’t.
“But God says that’s where my Messiah is gonna be born! Where did you read back in Luke 1:26 that Mary lived? She didn’t live in Bethlehem. She lived in Nazareth up in Galilee over a 100 miles north.
“The week before Jesus was born, you know where Mary was? She was at home in Nazareth. Now, you people that have had babies, you can understand in that verse when it says she was ‘great with child.’ That last week before the baby’s born, it’s just get around the best you can.
“Her husband, he don’t even know it yet, but he’s got to get her from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Can you imagine she says, ‘How we gonna get there?! Donkey Express?!’
“You think about it, if you’re down to the last week of your pregnancy and your husband is putting you on a donkey and walking you a hundred miles . . .
“What God does is He uses a pagan emperor who had no thought of what was going on . . . if Caesar Augustus had known what was going to happen as a result of what he did, he’d have never done it! The last thing he would have wanted is to work out the birth of Israel’s Messiah! But it turns out to be Caesar Augustus’ fault that they have to move from Nazareth down to Bethlehem!
“The message is the God of history works through history. You see, God can take care of His Word; you don’t have to worry about it. The God of history isn’t just going to come to reside in humanity; He works out the circumstances so, at exactly the right moment, that young couple is moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem where He had said 700 years before He was going to be born.”