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Thursday, December 18, 2014

What did obedience cost Mary and Joseph?

As we have looked at the birth of Christ, we have considered the fact he was born of a virgin, with an earthly father so willing to honor God with his life that he married a woman who was already pregnant.  In that day and time, a very taboo thing.  We also saw how the mother of Christ was chosen by God and given the dramatic news that she would carry the Son of God.  Imagine her awe, but also see her tremendous amount of fear as she would have received this announcement, knowing all she knew about the time in which she lived about how a woman out of wedlock showing up pregnant would be treated.  We also explored the lowly birth of Jesus in a stable of sorts, surrounded by animals, visited by shepherds, and then honored by magi from afar.  The announcement of his birth was by angels - start to finish.  Mary heard from an angel (a messenger from God), while Joseph was set at ease by a messenger from God on another occasion - assuring him the thing he was about to do in marrying Mary was going to be okay.  Angels announced his coming to the shepherds in the fields and the Magi heard plainly in a dream of their need to not return to Herod with the news of the locale of the Christ child.  All this "visiting" from heaven's hosts and God's Spirit had such an impact on the events surrounding the birth of Christ, but the story of heaven's "announcements" surrounding his birth were not finished.  On two more occasions, Joseph receives word from heaven, one time from an angel and another in a dream.  Multiple interventions to set hearts at ease, give oversight into the plans God had in using a common man and woman to set things in motion on earth for the arrival of his Son, and the continual protection of the Christ child from those who would have sought to take his life at a very young age.  God still speaks today, my friends.  If not in angels who appear with heralding messages, in the dreams of our hearts and in the quiet of our meditation before him.  We are beckoned to draw near and to listen with hearts open to respond in the same level of obedience as we saw in these examples given for our reference in scripture.

After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.” That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14 CEV)

Imagine your wife being very close to the time of her delivery and needing to make a journey on donkey and by foot, all the way from your home town to the place of the taking of the census.  Today, we have census takers who come to us - but not so in the time of Jesus' birth. The "accounting" was done in a central location, based on one's heritage (lineage).  The travel would have been grueling for any mother that close to term.  The worry this must have caused Joseph as he ushered her along toward the central town of his family line probably was significant.  Yet, he obeys.  If not because God told him to, then because he was a man under authority, who submitted willingly to the authorities in his life.  We could take a lesson here, my friends.  Too many times today, we consider "if" the voice of authority is "worth" listening to and then base our obedience on our "opinion" of that authority's worth. What we neglect to do is remember God has appointed all authority and when the rubber meets the road, we take all that an authority asks us to do and consider it in light of scripture. If it lines up, we do it.  If it does not, we obey God!  This is the example we have with Joseph's actions - he chose to obey the authority God had placed over his life - so he packed up and took his wife on the journey of a lifetime!

Now, the newborn life is in his hands, and he receives a warning to get up, take his wife and child to Egypt - the country his ancestors had fled - to avoid the harmful intent of King Herod.  Jesus was at least 8 days old, but even at this wee age, he was at risk on this journey. It was not a hop-skip-and-jump for the family.  In fact, it was likely about a ten day journey on foot/donkey.  Just thinking about taking a tiny infant, a mother who is only a week or two away from delivery, and probably a little bit of a sleep deprived father on this journey is kind of mind-numbing.  Yet, we see tremendous obedience once again on Joseph's part - he "immediately" got up, packed up the family, and went on the journey.  In fact, he left family and livelihood to do this, for he would have had to make a totally new existence in Egypt. It is highly unlikely that he packed up all the tools of his trade before he headed to Bethlehem for the census taking, so he would have had to start all over in Egypt - a costly venture, to say the least.  In following what God wants of us, there are times when it will cost us dearly - not because God wants to do us in "financially" or in a "material" sense, but because he wants us to trust him with the end result of such obedience.  To Joseph, the material would take care of itself - his concern was for the welfare of his wife and child.  This is often an overwhelming concern of many a new father, is it not?  

It is likely they lived in Egypt for about 4 years, until Herod died.  So, for all this time, Joseph was away from family, as was Mary.  A good deal of time would have been missed with grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Mary and Joseph would not have had the support system most new parents would be afforded in the closeness of family life in New Testament times.  So, this step of obedience was indeed another "huge" step for both Joseph and Mary. It started with trusting God with the revelation of the Son of God coming into their wee family, continued with the need to flee a jealous and fearful King, and continued in exile in a land where they likely knew no one.  Obedience is costly, indeed.  But...the blessings of obedience outweigh the cost any day!  Just sayin!