Advent mid-week 3
17 December 2015
Characters of the Nativity
Mary, the Mother of our Lord
Matthew 1 Luke 1 & 2
The circumstances regarding the Savior’s birth point to the fact that Jesus was born in time and space. There were circumstances involving His birth – there were persons who witnessed His nativity.
It was probably sometime after Mary returned to Nazareth that “she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). Joseph, being a just but also kindly man, planned to divorce her quietly, rather than expose her to public disgrace, but was reassured by the message of an angel, given in a dream, that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Joseph was instructed, as Mary had already been (Luke 1:31) to call the baby’s name Jesus (“Jehovah is salvation”), “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Immediately Joseph took Mary to his home as his wife, but had no union with her until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25).
If we had only Matthew’s account, we would have thought Joseph and Mary belonged to Nazareth, but Luke makes it clear that the birth of Jesus occurred in Bethlehem only because of the census, which brought his parents to their ancestral home town. Matthew and Luke bring Bethlehem into the picture to make the record fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2.
A census was taken in the Roman world every fourteen years, so one would have occurred about 8-7 B.C., and it may have been somewhat delayed in Palestine. In a census in A.D. 104 people in Egypt were required to return to their own town for enrollment. When Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria in A.D. 6, it was his second such appointment; he may well have been an additional governor at the time of an earlier census. There seems no valid reason, therefore, to reject Luke’s clear statement about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.
The census would account for the shortage of accommodation in Bethlehem. The “inn” (katavluma), probably was a simple lodging place, and of course, with no reservations in hand the inn was full. Somewhere nearby, perhaps in a cave, Jesus was born and laid in a “manger” (favtnh)—not a stall, but a feeding trough for animals.
Joseph and Mary stayed in the environs of Jerusalem until two further requirements of the Jewish law were fulfilled. For every first-born child, a redemption price of five silver shekels, about $3.65 in American money, or ten days’ wages for a working man, had to be paid to the Temple a month after the birth (Numbers 18:16). Then, forty-one days after the birth for a boy, the ceremony of the mother’s purification took place (Leviticus 12:2-4).
For convenience, these two ceremonies were commonly combined in one visit to the Temple, as was the case here. The offering for a mother’s purification was a lamb and a turtle-dove or a young pigeon. Joseph and Mary offered the alternative permitted to a mother too poor to afford a lamb, of two turtle-doves or pigeons (Luke 2:24)*
Luke tells us (Luke 1:26-38) that the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This messenger from heaven comes to a young girl in Nazareth to tell her that she is to be the mother of the Messiah. Joseph was a son of King David. By physical nature Jesus was a son of David. He was also the Son of God and his kingdom is eternal. This is all God’s work; the child would be the product of the Holy Spirit. Humbly and submissively, Mary consented to be God’s instrument in bringing His Son on earth as a human being.
The only question Mary will ask is “how will this happen?” When Mary receives the news of her coming motherhood of the Messiah, she asked a sensible and normal question, “How?” Since she is unmarried, how could she become a mother? In this twenty-first century, not every girl would need to ask that question! How is this miracle to be performed?
The answer is in the Holy Spirit who would be the Father of God’s Son. The question, “how?” was vital to Mary, but to Christians there are more important questions about this child. Who is He and why is He coming?
The circumstances surrounding Mary turn the impossible and the improbable into our reality. This is an impossible situation! A birth without a father, a peasant girl becoming the mother of God, and God becoming a person! Nothing is impossible with God! Christmas is God’s work and action! He comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He chooses Mary. He produces a life by the Spirit. Because Christmas is of God, the impossible becomes possible.
Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “The Birth and Infancy Narratives” Grand Rapids MI D. G. Stewart editor
Lectionary Preaching Workbook Series B John Brokhoff © 1981 CSS Publishing, Lima, OH pp.22-23