The Pilgrim God: Reflections on the Story of Jesus


6. The Pilgrim's Birth (Luke 2:1-7)

There is no question that Christmas is a time for stories. Some seem too good to be true. Some like the first Christmas story are both unbelievably good and true.

In its beginnings, that first Christmas could not have seemed too terribly good to "poor old Joseph". Looking at it from his perspective, there is a somber truth in the familiar verse:

It was the night before Christmas and all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.*

On the first Christmas there was no stirring because there was no mouse and no house. There were only the empty streets of Bethlehem.

On the first Christmas Eve, the family of Mary and Joseph were far from any house that they could call a home. They were aliens uprooted from their native land by the whim of ruler more interested in counting them then taking account of them. Joseph must have been worried. Soon there would be a birthday, but he had nothing to give. There was no money for presents or fine drink and good food. He could not even find shelter for his young wife or the boy who was soon to be born. He and those he loved were homeless aliens and he did not know what to do.

He could not make sense of what was happening. There was mystery happening all around him and he did not understand half of it nor could he control any of it. He was supposed to know how to handle things. He was supposed to be the guardian, the protector, the bread-winner of his family but he was at a loss about what to do! He knocked on door after door but could find no room. He could not protect anybody because nobody cared what was happening to him and his family.

Joseph did not understand. He did not understand his young wife, that grace-filled lady who had chosen to marry him, a poor carpenter of no special talent. He did not understand the child she carried in her body. When he asked in prayer about it, the only response he got from God was:

Don't worry, Joseph. I will take care of things. You just take care of the family.

Joseph must have thought:

Take care of the family! Why, I can't even provide for myself!

Joseph did not understand his wife or the child she carried, but most of all he did not understand himself.

He did not understand why he had been picked out to be in charge. As he pounded on door after door always getting the same answer "No room! Move on!" he must have asked himself:

Why me, Lord? Why JOSEPH? What am I to do?

And the only answer that came back is the answer given to every human being:

Do the best you can.

And this he did. He did not give up. He did not sit back and wait for God to tell him where to go. The shepherds were to have their singing heavenly host and the wise-men were to have their star but on the night before Christmas Joseph was not to have even an encouraging word nor even a dull light from a welcoming open door. But he kept on pounding on door after door until someone told him or somehow he found out about a stable where the family could stay the night.

The stable was not fancy but it was warm and the straw made a soft bed for his young wife as she began her labor. Joseph worried about the lack of light but as the evening turned to night, the stars themselves shone into the stable, bathing the family's quiet space with peace.

It was thus that Jesus, the Son of God, was born to the maiden Mary. The only other one on earth who witnessed the birth was a simple, honest carpenter named JOSEPH ... a human being who had tried his very best to do the right thing.

* Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit From St. Nicholas (December, 1823).

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