James and Joseph, Judah and Simon, you know Jesus is alive! You, James, have seen him yourself and the others trust your word!
I have had many things hidden in my heart all these years. Only now have I told you that Jesus is not your full brother - Joseph was not his father. Yet Joseph has been my only husband and the only man I ever had. He accepted the angel's word that Jesus was the Immanuel - God with us - come to save his people from their sins. Joseph's silence protected me from public shame - who would have believed my story? - and kept Jesus out of the public eye until his time had come.
And now you know his teaching, his healings, his death on the cross - and that he is alive!
I need to tell you about his birth - we haven't talked about that in the family either - except, of course, that you know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not in Nazareth as the rest of you were.
A baby is nine months in the coming and I spent three of those months with my relative Elizabeth in the hill country of Judaea. The old mother and the young mother - the mother of John and the mother of Jesus - the forerunner and the Messiah! As you can imagine, we talked about many things - about babies and motherhood, about our sons and the prophecies about them.
I returned home not long before her baby John was born. Joseph was busy in the carpenter's shop. I was getting things ready for the little one and thinking - thinking about the promises of the Lord. The Messiah, the Son of David, I thought, should really be born in Bethlehem, David's town. But then God knows his own business! Here we are in Nazareth with a well-known carpentry business, so here we will stay. Nazareth has never been famous, never received special mention in the Bible. In fact, the people down south rather despise it - too many Gentile traders about for their liking! Joseph and I discussed it and agreed that the birth would have to be in Nazareth.
But then the Roman order came. There was to be a census - everyone was to go to his own town to be counted. A check-up on all their dishonest tax-collectors, we all thought. Joseph announced, "We have to go to Bethlehem after all!"
Go to Bethlehem? By now I was well advanced in the pregnancy and could find no pleasure in any but the shortest journey. Do we really have to go to Bethlehem?
As a Jew, yes! The Romans might be checking their tax system, but we Jews have never been counted except by tribes and families. As a descendent of David, I have to go to David's town. It will also show the Romans something - these records will be almost useless for tax purposes!
Joseph, it is no time for political protest - my baby is due soon. I may not even make it there! He may be born along the road!
Don't be afraid, Mary! He is a baby of promise. The Lord has guided through an angel and a dream. Now he is guiding through a Roman edict. If the Lord is guiding, we need not fear - the promised babe will be born in David's town!
Joseph put the carpentry business in the hands of another, thinking that we might well stay on in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. He arranged all necessary provisions for the journey. We would leave early - with no rush and in stages that I could manage.
The journey was long and the stops many. At first the traffic was no more than the regular few walking about their daily business. But after a day or two the numbers increased as hundreds of Jews made their way to "their own town" for the census. But again and again we had to stop - for some shade, a drink of water and a rest. My burden was heavy within me. I feared each little twinge might be the beginning of the labour of childbirth.
And now the crowds were gone again and Bethlehem in sight. Its white stone walls and terraces, its olive groves beckoned me on to journey's end.
It was towards evening as we made our way up the almost deserted road to the town. There would be plenty of room - with both quietness and privacy. But even as we approached the inn we heard the jostling of animals and the loud buzz of conversation. Of course! The road is empty because we are late! Every distant connection of King David is here! And the inn ?
"Sorry, sir! We are full up! No room at all! Every corner taken!" In the dimming light he took a good look at me. "But you need a place for your lady, don't you? A quiet place, by the looks - away from the people and their noisy animals "
So off we went. Back ache and twinges. Yes, the time would be soon. The only place left - the cattle shed. And there - to the smell of fresh straw - the baby was born. It was a normal birth. Joseph - dear man - gave what help he could. We made the most of our circumstances, thankful to be away from the chattering crowd. And we laid the baby, washed, fed and wrapped in cloths, on the straw in the feed trough.
My baby, Jesus! And yet God's Son! Immanuel - God with us! Sent to save his people from their sins! Little child, what is your life to be?
We praised the Lord and thanked him for our safe travel and arrival and for the safe delivery of the baby. We thanked him too for this quiet and private place - the Lord was doing something and, for the moment, not another soul in the world was aware of it. The Lord had sent his Son to be the Saviour, but not yet to be revealed - given to us to nurture and raise. It had to be that way. In the round of family life we just thought of Jesus as part of the family along with the rest of you who came along later! The memories hidden in my heart were often forgotten. It had to be that way. Yet at the first there were confirming signs - reminders that God was indeed at work!
It was time for us to catch some sleep before the baby needed feeding again. Joseph was just arranging the straw to make a comfortable bed when we heard some footsteps and a knock at the door. The inn-keeper, we thought, but no! there's more than one!
And there they were - shepherds, three or four of them! What ever had brought these men to intrude into our privacy at this time of night? We were weary with the journey and with the birth, eager for sleep. The last thing we needed was visitors. Why had they come?
So they told their story. They had been looking after their sheep out in the fields and had been startled when an angel appeared to them. "I have come to bring you good news," the angel told them. "Your Saviour, Christ the Lord, has just been born in Bethlehem! You will find him in the cattle shed lying in the feeding-trough!" That's a bit odd, they thought. But then the whole sky seemed to be filled with angels singing praises to God - "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!"
Now shepherds sometimes have strange stories to tell. But this was for real - they had never seen angels before! We'd better check this out, they said among themselves. We've got to see for ourselves what this is all about.
So we welcomed them and they looked with amazement in their eyes at the baby Jesus - wrapped and lying sound asleep in the manger! The news had been confirmed for them - and for us - and they left with great excitement!
That is what happened that night, my sons! It is all a lifetime ago! My time was full. Mostly I could not see beyond the tasks of motherhood. And Joseph needed a willing and able apprentice in the carpenter's shop.
But now we have all heard his teaching, seen his miracles of healing Now we have witnessed the opposition and scheming of those who would destroy him. Yes, even the priests and Pharisees - the trusted, holy men of our religion, so we thought them - even the leaders of our people rose up to have him put to death. They rejected the promised one! They refused the Messiah!
Yet the Lord's plan could not be frustrated or nullified. You heard him on the cross - "Father, forgive them! They don't know what they are doing!" And now, my sons, you know that he is alive from the dead! Death cannot hold him!
The angel had said to Joseph, "You will call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins!" The announcement to the shepherds - "This very day in David's town your Saviour was born - Christ the Lord!"
That is the truth of it, my sons! Yet it is not enough even to know the truth about Jesus - we have to respond to him and welcome him as our Saviour, Christ the Lord!