His Name Is Jesus




As I watch the shepherds exit the scene at the manger full of rejoicing, Luke is silent about the immediate days after the birth until the eighth day. This is when we read that circumcision occurs and this Son of God born to Mary and Joseph is officially named Jesus as the angel had spoken before Jesus was conceived.


I cannot help but wonder how long Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem. No doubt they were still there for this event. What is not stated is whether they remained there until the days of Mary’s purification were completed which would have been 40 days.


Mary would have been recovering from the birth and they needed to accomplish all that the law required of them before the return home. The end of purification would mean going to Jerusalem since He was a first born male and that was only about seven miles from Bethlehem.


If I imagine them staying in Bethlehem for almost a month and a half, I wonder if they stayed in the stable the entire time or if they found other lodging as the crowded city thinned out a bit. Perhaps by then some relative’s home had enough room for them. That would have also been a source of other provisions as well beyond simply a roof over their heads.


The Law of Moses required this purification at the forty-day mark for a male child. She was also to bring a burnt offering to the Temple. A lamb was required, but if the couple was poor they were permitted to bring a turtledove for the burnt offering. A sin offering was also required at the same time and this would have been another turtledove or pigeon. If these were too expensive, then fine flour, as an offering would be accepted.


Luke tells us in the passage about the turtledoves being brought so it clearly suggests that Mary and Joseph were poor. They were not in abject poverty or we would be reading about flour.


As I read this and so many Old Testament passages I am reminded of how many animals were slaughtered, how much blood was spilled over and over again to cover the sins of the people, to attain atonement. And it was never enough.


My heart overflows with gratitude for the “perfect lamb” offered as a sacrifice once to atone for all my sins when I receive Him.


 As the scene in the Temple opens with Mary and Joseph making the sacrifices required by Mosaic Law, we have his name pronounced. Jesus.


Then a man, Simeon, whom Luke describes as devout and righteous, enters the scene. Luke tells us Simeon came into the Temple “in the Spirit”. We learn that this is no ordinary man because he has been patiently waiting for the consolation of Israel, the Messiah. God had promised him that he would not die before he saw this child. What an incredible promise and gift!! What an honor for Simeon!


And now the one, who has been so blessed, takes Jesus in his arms. I can only imagine the joy that flowed through Simeon as he gazed into the face of this baby, Jesus, Son of God, Consolation of Israel, and the Messiah.


Simeon blesses the child and praises God while also proclaiming who Jesus was as well as His purpose of salvation. He also blesses Mary and Joseph. Then he speaks prophetically to and about Mary telling her what this child was appointed to be and do. Did a chill run through her when he said a sword would pierce through her own soul? How she must have wondered at it all and Luke tells us she and Joseph marveled at what Simeon said.


But God was not done confirming His Word. The prophetess, Anna, a widow of 84, also is in the Temple at just the time this was all happening. Anna worshipped with prayer and fasting day and night according to Luke. She appears to be standing with Simeon as he has been speaking possibly and she appears to affirm as well this child would provide for the redemption of Jerusalem.


I know this story is familiar to you as it is to me, but as I slowly pause as I read these passages I am once again struck by the multiple details God aligned from the very beginning assuring Jesus would be born at the exact place and time He had said would occur.


How often does the Lord bring about details that may seem like a coincidence in our lives that actually lead us as He, the Good Shepherd, would have us go out of His love and care for us?







A Peaceful Night Sky Shattered



Just about the time I am envisioning the shepherds abiding in the fields with their flocks during the night watches, my reverie is lost with the sound and sight of an angel entering the inky night sky. Scripture clearly states the shepherds were frightened and I have no doubt that I would have been as well. The sky may have been dotted with stars, but suddenly an angel floods the night sky with light and the sound of an unearthly voice. Picture your response to a UFO if an image of an angel is a bit too hard to capture.


I might think the shepherds were frightened because they did not know what they were seeing. There was likely more than a little shock going on as well, but as I reflected on it a bit more I wondered about another possibility.


Could it be their knowledge of the history of Israel reminded them of other times an angel or angels appeared? If so, they might have recalled that it was not always simply to share good news. Sometimes they came to bring judgment under God’s orders such as when strangers appeared to Lot with the news that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. The shepherds did not know whether the message was for their good or their destruction until the angel speaks.


One example that can give me a possible glimpse happens in the movie series of the Lord of the Rings where Cate Blanchett appears as Galadriel. In some scenes she appears as one meant only to help and guide. In other scenes her appearance reminds me of a power within her that I cannot fully understand nor trust.


Clearly, they were not aware of what had already happened in Bethlehem or that a lamb more precious than those they tended had picked them to first behold Him. These simple shepherds are the first to see Him, not the wise men or anyone of high station.


I also need to remind myself that the earlier scene of the birth in Luke is now converging with the scene of the shepherds that have been abiding in the field.


How would the reverberation of an angelic host sound? I wish I knew.


 I cannot help but believe that the stillness of the night and the dark starlit vaulted canopy under which they tended their sheep would have provided the perfect setting and acoustics for the dramatic entrance of the angel and then an angelic host.


In that singular moment, the shepherds receive a glimpse of the sounds of heaven.


 I can perhaps only get a glimmer of that sound when I think of how Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus never fails to cause my eyes to well with tears as it sweeps over me each time I hear it.


And what does the angel share with them? First, the angel seeks to calm their fears. They are told not to be afraid because the news they are about to hear will bring joy not only to them, but will be for “all the people”.


What a seeming paradox! These least likely shepherds, considered to be of no account by the people of the day, will not only be the first to hear but will also be potentially the first to tell others about this miraculous event. After so many years, prophecy has been fulfilled on this night. That is made clear by the declaration it occurred at the right spot, the city of David.


The Messiah has come. Nothing will ever be the same again. A Savior, their Redeemer, our Redeemer, has been born.


 The news is so breathtaking that an angelic host enters the scene singing praise to God.   When I see “heavenly host” in the passage, I do not immediately think army, but that is what is meant. An army in the night sky? Almost any one of us would be shaking as we see an army appear in the sky.


“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased”


 Then, nearly as abruptly as they appear in the sky, they return to heaven leaving the awe-struck shepherds once more alone under a starry night sky. The evidence of their faith comes when their response to the heavenly messengers is to go to Bethlehem to see what has happened and what the Lord has made known to them.


Some images we see show the shepherds gazing up into the sky at a bright star, but the sign the angel spoke about is not a star. The sign is a baby lying in a manger. Sure enough upon entering Bethlehem, they find just such a scene with Mary, Joseph and the baby. I wonder if Mary and Joseph were stunned with the appearance of these visitors.


What I do know is that the shepherds went away praising God and made this discovery known as well as what the angel had spoken to them. They bring the Good News.


So many hundreds of years later, when anyone of us first discovers the Good News, we too go away praising the Lord and telling anyone we know.


Even if this news is not new to you, I pray you will see it with fresh eyes this season so you experience the joy of the shepherds. No matter what your station in life, know He has chosen you even as He chose the shepherds.












No Room in the Inn



When I left off telling the story, Mary and Joseph had traveled the more than seventy miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I could lament about the inconvenient time for Mary. After all, she was nearing the end of her pregnancy. It would not have been an easy trip and she would have needed to travel slowly, but to fulfill biblical prophecy she needed to be in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.


Consider all the details that God arranged for this one monumental moment in history. Look at the sequence of events and how perfectly they aligned. Certainly when all of them are considered, this was not coincidental. Caesar Augustus, if he knew the prophecy at all, would have had no desire to bring it to fruition by requiring the trip to Bethlehem.


By all accounts, Bethlehem was not a large city and would be crowded with the people who were required to go there to register for taxation.


Even if there were relatives in the city to provide shelter, it would not be surprising they would not have enough room for all the relatives who might need shelter. The inns of that day, such as they were, would have been crowded as well by the time Mary and Joseph arrived. Others who could have traveled more swiftly would have gotten the first spots.


What I know is that Luke tells me there was “no room in the inn”, but what was an “inn” in that day? It would be hard for us to envision it if we used the same word for an overnight or many day stay in our day.


What would it have been like for Mary who might already be having signs of early labor to know she and Joseph had no place they could count on?


How would Joseph be feeling as he sought shelter for his wife knowing that she might be ready to deliver the baby at any time? He knew he needed to find a place of safety and shelter. It was up to him, but in his mind he may well have thought, surely God has provision given all He had told them.


Inns of the day were often square erections that were open inside. Travellers could stay there and have room for their animals if they were traveling with them. The rear part of the structures was used as stables. Because the countryside was rocky, sometimes these spaces were a grotto or cave.


Despite the primitive conditions, I am confident Mary and Joseph would have felt great relief when they found a spot near the back of this inn or cave. Even though scripture does not tell us, Mary would possibly have been advancing in labor by the time Joseph gathered hay or straw for her to lie down.


If the inn was full, would there have been any woman, any midwife there to provide help and comfort? Would Joseph be her only help to aid in the delivery and to seek to comfort her as she felt contractions coming faster and harder?


I rest in the assurance that God provided for them even though I do not read how. God had left nothing to chance for this night. Everything would fit together perfectly with the Old Testament prophecy.


I can see Joseph searching for things he thought they might need. They had brought so little with them. When he noticed the manger, he saw a possible bed for the baby. He cleared out all the old hay or straw and searched for fresh bedding for the baby and moved it closer to Mary.



Whether or not anyone else was present, Luke, the physician, tells us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in the manger Joseph had prepared.


What were swaddling cloths?


Traveling long distances in the Middle East in those days often could result in hardship and trials of many kinds. Resources tell me death was not uncommon on such a trip and if it occurred, the body could not be carried to the journey’s end.


As a result, it was common for travelers to wrap a thin, gauzelike cloth around their waist multiple times so if someone died on the journey others would be able to wrap the body for burial. These cloths were referred to as “swaddling clothes”.


Could it be that Joseph had such cloths wrapped around his waist and as he looked for something to wrap the baby after delivery, this was what was available for him to wrap Jesus?


If so, then Jesus who was born to die for us was wrapped in burial cloths at His birth.

Trip to Bethlehem



As I reread the passages of scripture about the birth of Christ and try to imagine living in that time, I am reminded of how many gaps in the story leave me wondering what was happening.


I know about Gabriel’s visit to Mary as well as the angel’s visit to Joseph. I know that soon after Gabriel’s visit Mary made her way to her cousin, Elizabeth, and that she spent three months there. If my imagining were accurate, Mary would have been about three months pregnant when she returned home.


Joseph’s dream and the angel means they are going forward to be husband and wife, but exactly when that happened scripture is silent. To be betrothed in that time and culture was as sacred and as binding as the marriage which is why Joseph could have asked for a divorce when he heard Mary was pregnant. Sources tell us that betrothal could be from six months to a year in length. Did Mary and Joseph go on to be married right after she returned from seeing Elizabeth?


Scripture does not tell me that. The next thing I see clearly is that Caesar Augustus demands the entire world is to be taxed or some translations say, “registered”. This requires a trip to your hometown to be registered.


For Mary and Joseph, it means they need to make preparations to travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the city of David, in Judea. The trip of about seventy miles or so would certainly not be easy given Mary’s pregnancy. The trip would require four days minimum if they covered nearly eighteen miles each day, but it seems likely given Mary’s pregnancy that the trip would have been longer.


Pictures in books and Christmas plays portray Mary riding a donkey with Joseph leading the donkey. Usually they are seen alone and yet scripture does not say she rode on a donkey.


If I consider the time and culture, it is likely a group of people traveled together to Bethlehem since the entire world was to be taxed or registered. Neighbors, friends, or family would possibly travel together. This would have provided safety and companionship for the long journey.


The least expensive mode of travel was walking and most people would likely have walked, but perhaps a donkey was made available for Mary given her pregnancy.


Can you imagine the challenge Mary faced?


Her pregnancy seemed to be advanced by then which would make traveling uncomfortable no matter how she made the trip. Walking would be exhausting even if she were used to walking great distances. Riding a donkey (if that occurred) would not be easy either even though donkeys were considered to be strong and sure-footed.


I read about their search of a place to stay in Bethlehem, but what about the nights when they were traveling on the trip to Bethlehem?


I see often in the Old Testament about the importance of hospitality to the Jewish people. A prime example was Abraham. During feast times when the people often traveled to Jerusalem, Jews were expected to take into their homes as many guests as possible to provide shelter, safety and food. Despite all the potential travelers to register, who provided for Mary and Joseph on their long journey?


Scripture does not tell us the route they took. A check of resources suggests there could be two possible routes. The shortest was the trade route through the center of the region, but it was also more demanding. The flatter route was through the Jordan River Valley, but it was longer.



nt-11Imagine Mary, perhaps only 14 years old, making this trip during her first pregnancy. It would be reasonable to think it might feel scary.


 So many unknowns would have faced her about the trip itself and then there were all those nagging questions about what labor and delivery would really be like. No matter who tells you about it, nothing can quite prepare you for such an experience.


We don’t know how many weeks it was until she was to be delivered. Would she feel concern that she might go into labor and delivery on the trip there?


 Visitors to the area can still follow the trek between Nazareth and Bethlehem today and it is known as The Nativity Trail. I think that would be a fascinating walk. nativity-trail5


Scripture picks up the story as they reach Bethlehem. We do not know how long Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem before the time came for her to give birth to Jesus. We sometimes get the impression Mary delivered soon after their arrival, but in truth we do not know.


The trip would be a challenge for Joseph as well as he sought to care for Mary, provide as much comfort and assurance as he could. I wonder if Joseph reassured Mary with the stories they both knew well about God’s provision for His chosen people throughout all the generations to that point.


Undoubtedly, they traveled on this incredible journey with many questions, but there were certainties as well. God had chosen them and the Son of God was carried by them to be born in Bethlehem.





















Son of a Carpenter




Before we ever arrive at a manager in Bethlehem, we must first stop in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. The shop we are looking for is Jacob’s. Even though we have no scriptural reference to him except in Matthew 1, it would seem he had a significant role in the story of the birth and life of Jesus.


Jacob was the father who would shape the heart, soul, and character of Joseph, the earthly father Jesus would grow up with.


If I let my imagination consider this part of the story, my thoughts take me inside the shop with Jacob carefully training Joseph in his trade and craft as a carpenter. Jacob might well have been known in the village as a quality craftsman. Wood might be stacked in the corner to be available for the next project. Wood was not always readily available so Jacob knew it was important to be a good steward of what he had.


Jacob had been working with Joseph since he had been a boy. He wanted him to learn how the wood could yield to his tools and the vision and plan for each item he made. He wanted him to understand the grain of each kind of wood and what it would be best suited for as well as how to smooth it to a perfect finish.


Along the way as they worked side by side, Jacob had time to talk with Joseph about other things. Joseph learned family stories and the history of the generations before him, but he also learned about their faith, the way of the men of his family. He was taught about the value of keeping his word, honesty, kindness, courage, strength, and the importance of prayer and the Torah.


Little by little as Joseph grew, so did his skill with the wood and the tools that represented the trade of his father. People of the village began to recognize the fine character of Joseph as much as they acknowledged his skill as a carpenter.


Jacob knew that he needed to seek out a young woman for Joseph that would compliment his son, a young woman of gentle qualities and unblemished character. The young woman he chose was Mary and soon the engagement between Joseph and Mary was announced. Everyone agreed it seemed like a good match.


Joseph continued to work with his father at his carpentry so he would become skilled enough to provide for a wife and family. The time was quickly approaching when they would be married. He wanted to be ready and was becoming increasingly eager for their wedding day.


Everything seemed to be going along just as he planned and hoped until the day Mary came to the shop and asked to speak with him privately. Joseph could tell by Mary’s tone and intensity this was not a casual visit even though she seemed very serene as they slipped outside the shop.


He could not have known or guessed the news she was about to share with him. He knew Mary’s reputation and her character as well as the good home she had been raised in. Now here she stood telling him that she was pregnant. Pregnant? He knew the child was not his own. How could she have betrayed his trust? A myriad of feelings welled up in him as the news sank to the bottom of his heart.


And the story Mary was telling him sounded like such a fable. An angel appearing saying the Holy Spirit would hover over her, a child would be conceived in this virgin and would be the Son of God? Was this madness? Whatever had happened, he knew he had every right to divorce her publicly for disgracing him. But for some reason, he just couldn’t bring himself to do that. Somehow his heart could not turn on her in that moment and he agreed instead to quietly go about the business of the divorce to save her humiliation.


After Mary left, Joseph kept reviewing everything Mary had said as well as everything he had come to know about her during their courtship. Nothing made sense to him. He knew he had to act as he had told Mary he would, but he decided he would sleep on it and handle it all the next day. News like this could wait until tomorrow and Mary was already on her way to see her cousin, Elizabeth.


That night as he slept, an angel appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”


When Joseph awoke the next morning, he remembered the dream. He knew now Mary had been telling him the truth. He marveled that that God had sent a heavenly messenger to reassure him it was his will for him to not break the engagement to Mary. He could not imagine what this would be like. He was being called to provide and care for not only Mary, but also a baby boy who would be seen as his son and yet was the Son of God.


How do you train up a child who is the Son of God?


He would need to let Mary know.


The gospel of Matthew tells us Joseph was a “righteous man”.


A man who yielded to God’s will and chose to obey Him became the earthly father of the Son of God.