Christmas Characters – Bethlehem/Joseph


Okay, I do tend to label things characters that are not breathing (Light and Dark) but if you look past a small group of mud houses there is much to warrant Bethlehem’s inclusion as a character and not just a setting.  Go past the town to see Judah- the land and family.  Judah as a tribe is singled out by Jacob to be the ruler of his brothers in Genesis 49: 8-12.  Moses continues that thought in Deuteronomy 33: 7. (The inheritance of the tribe of Simeon is completely inside that of Judah.)  The first mention of Bethlehem is connected to the burial of Rachel after the birth of Benjamin – Genesis 35 + 48.

Bethlehem is mentioned in twelve Old Testament books and three in the New Testament.  It is used 52 times in the NIV – 44 and 8.  It is part of three stories in Judges – Chapters 12, 17, 19.  It is central in the story of Ruth and thus becomes the birthplace of King David.  

The prophet Micah (5: 2) delivers the message that ties Bethlehem to Christmas and that verse is used in Matthew 2 by the priest to direct the Wise Men.  That chapter is very prophetic, take some time and read it.  Micah did write this word of hope during a trouble time in Israel.

The song “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a real Gospel praise song if you will read all four of its verses. The link below was a good site – history, quizzes, other carols.

I would like to treat Bethlehem, now as Joseph/the Tribe of Judah.  (Please bear with this strange study method.)  If we compare and contrast Joseph with Bethlehem and Judah/Israel/religion there are several things worth noting.

  • Judah had lost its prophetic position as ruler. (True, King Jesus was coming, but Herod had questionable Jewish heritage; Rome was in charge; the Chief Priest may have been controlling things outside the Temple).  Zerubbabel (governor in Haggai and Zechariah), a type and ancestor of Jesus, may have been the last powerful governor in Judah. 
  • Bethlehem had no room except a stable, Joseph was going to put Mary away, Jerusalem was troubled when they found out about Jesus. Jesus was not a welcomed!
  • An angel had to appear to Joseph to change his mind, angels appeared to shepherds to change the mind of Bethlehem to welcome the Family.  Jerusalem, not sure it ever changed its mind.

Other thoughts about the Christmas story:

  • We honor Mary because she was blessed and God did great things for her (Luke 1: 48, 49). But I wonder who God picked first – Joseph or Mary?  Father God tends to start with the man and then add the women to complete the work.  Even though the women may be introduced first in the story and is the central character who is considered first?  Okay to answer my own question – it seems the couples are paired to complement each other. Ruth is a role model but Boaz was the only one in the family willing to marry her!  Mary was the willing vessel but Joseph was needed to care and protect her and Jesus.
  • Considering travel and Mary’s condition after childbirth the circumcision of Jesus probably occurred at Bethlehem.  Then on the way back to Nazareth, they went to Jerusalem for the dedication of Jesus at the end of the forty days.  (The rule here is in Exodus 13, Numbers 8 and 18, the time was set in Leviticus 12: 8.) The other possibility is they stayed in Bethlehem for two years but that means Joseph still had a house and business in Nazareth.
  • When Herod searched for the baby Jesus I would have no doubt that Bethlehem would have given up the Family once they learned who the soldiers were looking for.  The shepherds and the possibility of the thirty to forty-day stay would have been mentioned to try and save their sons. It would also make sense that the “records” were searched and the death squad went to Nazareth. Herod was not just mean but crazy and jealous for his power.
  • Jeremiah 31 does not mention Bethlehem weeping for the children.  He prophesied Ramah and Rachel (yes, she was buried near there) which could extend the murders well past Bethlehem.  Rachel’s family was Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin.  She was also the “loved” wife which could bring another level into this thought. 
  • I know that Joseph taking the Family to Egypt was necessary.  So, I am glad he was not like Simon Peter in his early days.  With all of the hype from the shepherds they could have started a revolution.  That would not have been good for the Prince of Peace!

FURTHER THOUGHT – Compare Joseph (in Matthew and Luke) to Joseph in Genesis.

https://www.carols.org.uk/o_little_town_of_bethlehem.htm  a nice website covering Christmas carols  

Christmas Light


The Light, this year has been on my mind – the Star and the Light.

The Star– There is no end of ideas about the Star of Bethlehem. I have given one this year in the post Light and Dark.  Well, here is another thought.  I can get wrapped up in the time frame that Herod used when he killed the Innocents of Bethlehem, two years.  Since Herod was just mean he may have cushioned that number to make sure the Magi were not lying.  

We use Christmas Day for when the Star/Light appeared.  What if we have the Star appearing when Mary was told she would bear the Son (That was the actual birth.)!  I like to think that it was Gabriel standing guard over the Child.  If you are hung-up on time that would add nine months to the “great light” shining over the land of Galilee and those living in the “shadow of death”. This helps the travel time of the Wise Men since we do not know where they started from.   

The Light– JESUS, noh darkness no shadow, wants you to be part of the light.  He surrounds you, envelops you so there is no shadow or darkness.  I tend to think of light as having a point source, like the sun or a candle.  But if we are “found in Christ” why can’t we be completely enveloped in Light?  No part of us would make or cast a shadow.  The darkness that covered Egypt could be felt, it makes you wonder if light can be felt?  If darkness can cause fear and uncertainity, light surely would be the opposite and bring perfect peace! 

Christmas Characters – Caesar Augustus

Augustus is part of this story!  I am adding him as a reminder (to myself) that God is in control even of power-hungry political figures (Democrat and Republican).  The census is more than just taxation.  Augustus gets to know how many people he controls, a true “power trip”.  Even with Roman roads and a courier system, the thought and decree were probably started more than a year in advance of Jesus’ birth.  Herod was also part of Augustus’ handiwork.

I have a feeling Joseph was a practical man and would not have chosen that long trip unless he was made to do so.  Mary had already walked to Bethlehem once before she was “great with child” and would not have looked forward to a bouncy trip on the back of a donkey.  Prophesy, however, had to be fulfilled, Jesus was not to be born in Nazareth.  Caesar had to be part of the plan or Mary and Joseph would have stayed where they were!

If I was scripting a scene for a movie, Augustus’ part would have been the introduction.  All you would have seen was him signing a scroll and ordering an official to get it out fast.  The camera would then pan up to show Father God saying to Jesus, “Good, that is started are You ready?”

Further Thought – When has God used political problems to advance the Gospel?

http://rome.phillipmartin.info/rome_soldier.htm

http://www.LumoProject.com.

Christmas Characters – The Gospel Writers


I have written a Christmas post on Matthew and Luke, so these are further reflections on their work.

Matthew– (I also have a post on the three list of fourteen names in Matthew.) Scholars have said that Matthew’s genealogy is Joseph’s family tree, in part because it includes Solomon.  But it makes since because the focus is really on Joseph and his dreams/part of the story.  However, the probable source still was Mary!  She was the only eyewitness to these events. 

Mark– Mark/Peter are the only writers who do not include a narrative about Jesus’ birth or linage.  I believe that Mark witnessed much of the ministry of Jesus (I think he was the boy who supplied the fish and bread for the feeding of the five thousand and lost his clothes in the Garden.)  If Mark was the first Gospel written I could understand why it was started with John the Baptist, they got right to the ministry.  But to not down play the book Mark does confirm John the Baptist’s story and that Jesus “came from Nazareth”.  

Luke– The focus person in Luke’s Christmas story is Mary and her part of the tale.  So, it makes sense that the genealogy in 3:21 is Mary’s.  Her line comes through Nathan (also a child of “Uriah’s wife”).  Luke should also be the source for the year we chose for Jesus’ birth.  The two timestamps here are 2:1 (Caesar Augustus) and 3:1 (15thyear of Tiberius).  Augustus ruled until 14 A.D., he also helped the spread of the Gospel by continuing the building of the Roman road system.  

John– he also tells the Christmas story but from a different point of view.  Jesus’s genealogy is the most important one; it has God and Jesus the Word and Light.  John also talks about John the Baptist just like the other three Gospels. 1:4 is a different take on the Star and the angels.  In between all of this comes accomplishments that Jesus and John did before the symbolic baptism/parting of the Red Sea. 

Light and Dark #4 – Christmas Characters

Isaiah 9: 2 (NIV) The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Darkness and Light is very much a part of the Christmas story, just because they do not breathe has nothing to do with anything!  Holding to the idea of God starting with darkness and then bring light plays very much into the First Coming of Jesus.

This image in Isaiah 9: 2 where it is foretold that Galilee would see a great light.  Verse 6 of chapter 9 is also a much-used Christmas verse. In chapter 8 we see what was happening in Isaiah’s life as well as Israel at the time of this word.  Isaiah and his children are physical signs to a nation that was not following God, and Assyria is predicted to come and sweep the land clean. Galilee was part of the Northern Kingdom that left the worship of God for idols.  Kings and Chronicles go into detail of their unfaithfulness and for Galilee to be associated with Gentiles or the nations hints how far they had fallen. 9: 2 tells us that the people were in darkness (spiritual darkness) and that they would see a great light.  This is the region where Jesus did much of His earthly ministry, they saw the Light!  Isaiah 8: 19 – 22 paints the picture of mediums and spiritualists with the people being distressed, hungry, and fearful.

Dark and light set the stage for the angels’ announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2: 8 – 12.  It was night all around the shepherds when the Glory (light) replaced the darkness and they heard that the Light of the World had come.

Joseph was in darkness (night, asleep) when the angel told him to accept the Light and marry Mary. Joseph had several dreams that would lead him into the light he needed: to go to Egypt, to return, and to go to Galilee.

The Wise Men also show our dark to light theme in Matthew 2: 2; 9 -10.  They were the living definition of the Gentiles in Isaiah 8, they worshipped the stars and sought guidance from the created not the Creator! So, in their night they saw a light (star – “every star a burning signal fire of grace” from the song 100 Billion X by Hillsong) that would lead them to worship the King!  The Father also gave them night visions to protect the Light and sent them home a different route.

After many Nativity movies and planetarium shows on the Christmas star, I will admit this thought is not mine or original.  I have heard about comets and stars in the wrong constellations, then there was the animated movie that the door to heaven was left open as explanations for the star. We know that the glory showed in the night sky over Bethlehem.  The Magi eluded they saw the star/light when the king was born.  It reappeared after leaving Jerusalem and then stationed itself over where Jesus was. (I think the Holy Family went back to Nazareth before going to Egypt.)  The Magi gave Herod a two-year period since they observed the star.  I find it easier to believe that the star/light was angels on “star-duty” than a comet or out of place star.

To tell the story of Christmas there has to be darkness, and Light came in to show the way.

See the post Follow the Light.

pic: http://clipart.christiansunite.com

FURTHER THOUGHT – Compare the Christmas story to Genesis 1 and the “First Day”.