James and Joseph, Judah and Simon, I have been sharing with you some of the things I have had hidden in my heart all these years. The time has come for you to know the truth about Jesus and to make your own response to him.
There were some other significant events from those earliest days. I must tell you about them - and about the coming of the strangers from the east.
Jesus was circumcised, of course, on the eighth day. About that time we were able to move out of the cattle shed into a house. Joseph was becoming convinced that we should now live in Bethlehem and there seemed good prospects for setting up a carpentry business there.
On the fortieth day we went up to Jerusalem for the purification ceremony. In the Temple a dear old man named Simeon came up to us. He asked to hold Jesus in his arms and he gave thanks to God. "Now, Lord, you have kept your promise," he said, "and you may let your servant go in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel." (Lk.2.29-32)
We began wondering, Are there no secrets? How are we to protect this Child from publicity before his time comes?
But then Simeon said to me, "This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart." (vv.34-35)
Yes, old Simeon said that, though it is only in recent days that I have thought again about his words. How true they were!
Simeon had scarcely gone when a godly old lady named Anna came up to us - one of the ones who spends all her life at the Temple in prayer. She just came up, gave thanks to God, then said, "There are others, too, who are waiting for God to set Jerusalem free. I must tell them as well." Then off she went. (vv.36-38)
We returned home to Bethlehem, wondering about all these things. Was the birth of Jesus not such a secret after all? The Lord himself seemed to be letting the word out! For the moment we had other things to consider. If we were to settle in Bethlehem, we needed to return to Nazareth to make arrangements for business and house a little more definite.
After our visit to Nazareth and our farewell to relatives and friends - to whom we couldn't really explain our decision - we returned to Bethlehem. There was an adequate house, and work for Joseph to do.
We could settle down to raise this special Child. He was growing well - a good feeder, started to smile - a very normal child. He was some months old when we had a knock on the door in the evening. Must be Sarah or Rebecca, I thought. These two were experienced mothers. Their youngest sons had passed their first birthday - were starting to walk. What dear friends and practical advisers they were!
When Joseph opened the door I heard men's voices with a strange foreign accent. When they took off their riding cloaks and came inside, I could see they were men of some learning and importance in the country from which they had come.
Coming over to the cot, they said, "Is this the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him." They knelt down in respect and worship and looked in wonder at Jesus. Then from their saddle bags they brought out gifts and laid them on the floor near the cot. We were quite staggered! Other folk had been kind and given us some of the practical things we needed for the baby, but here was gold - solid, pure gold - and containers of frankincense and myrrh. Generous gifts, but whatever could we do with them? We couldn't sell them in a town the size of Bethlehem without folk asking questions - and possible letting out the real identity of Jesus!
We were thankful and amazed. It was God's doing and he knows best the needs of this little Son!
The strangers told us of their journey to Jerusalem and the fine reception Herod had given them. They said Herod had taken advice and sent them on to Bethlehem to search for the Child and to return to him so he could come and worship too.
We were somewhat concerned about that - though we didn't say so to the strangers. Herod had a bad reputation. He had done some good things, mind you, like rebuilding the city of Samaria, making a splendid harbour on the Great Sea and especially rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. But he was also suspicious of any perceived rivals, killing them off one by one - even his own wife, so it is told.
No, we would not exactly welcome a visit from King Herod! Surely these strangers would know to give him the slip! Yet, with the language problem, they might not pick it up at all! "Go and search diligently for the child " That sounds like instructions to a government official - not like counsel to those who have been divinely guided for thousands of kilometres! Bethlehem is only nine or ten kilometres from Jerusalem - a bit close if there is trouble! But then, we need not fear - God will protect us!
Their visit was quite brief. They were star-watchers and came under cover of evening and left well before midnight - whither bound, we did not know.
We were thankful to get to bed and I slept well. But Joseph stirred me before daybreak. "Mary," he said, "we have to leave! I had a dream and saw an angel again - the same one I saw back in Nazareth. He says the Child is in danger from Herod. We are to go to Egypt until it is safe to return."
Quickly we gathered the things we needed - including the strangers' gifts. Yes, suddenly, as we faced the journey to Egypt, the gold and frankincense and myrrh seemed very practical after all - we would need them for provisions for the journey and for our stay in that land!
We were months away in Egypt - until another angelic message advised us of Herod's death. Returning to Bethlehem, we learned from Sarah and Rebecca the sad and horrible news of their sons - killed by the fury of Herod! Jesus had been saved, but all the baby boys in the region - two years old and under - had been put to the sword! We shared their grief and recognised how great had been the peril that Jesus had been spared. Some spoke of our luck, others of our providence. In the midst of their grief we could not tell our story. Jesus had been saved at the cost of other lives.
Now Herod's son, Archelaus, was the new king of Judaea. Would he be any different? people were asking. Again the Lord guided through a dream. No, not Bethlehem but Nazareth would be our home after all.
So Jesus grew up - as did you all - in Nazareth, away from the prying eyes of Rome or Jerusalem, away from the place of fulfilment, away from any lingering memories of the shepherds' stories, away from the stir caused by the eastern strangers - away too from the bitter memories of Herod's cruel act, for Jesus would have been the only boy of his age in the synagogue school.
In Nazareth he grew unnoticed and became the carpenter, taking over the shop when Joseph died - until the time came at the age of thirty to do his life's work. So short it seems - just three-and-a-half years. Then Jerusalem conspired and Rome concurred to have him crucified! Horrible death! "Sorrow like a sharp sword" - yes, I feel it still! And yet "he will save his people from their sins!" Remember that cry from the cross? "It is finished!"
But now all of us know that he is alive! He appeared to you, James, and Joseph, Judah and Simeon accept your word for it. It confirms for us what his friends are now saying. And what I have now told you helps you to see the thread of the Lord's purpose through his whole life.
Come, my sons! Jesus died to be your Saviour and he lives to be your Lord! Put your whole trust in him! Give your whole life to him! And whatever he tells you to do, do it!