The sun was low down in the west as Joseph and his young bride approached Bethlehem. They had been travelling for three days. His exhausted wife, very pregnant and riding on the back of a donkey, was sure the pangs of labour had begun. Joseph reached over had gave her hand a squeeze
His mind went back to the night after the woman he loved and was engaged to marry had told him that she was pregnant. Joseph lay awake on his bed that night. He knew the child was not his since he was an honourable man and had not slept with Mary before their wedding night. He sighed deeply and said out loud, "Mary, how could you have done this to me?" The only respectable thing for Joseph to do would be to quietly break off the engagement.
All of a sudden Joseph's room was filled with bright light. Startled, he sat up and saw what he could only describe as... as an angel standing at the foot of his bed!
"Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
As mysteriously as this messenger of God had appeared, he disappeared. Joseph lay back in his bed, dazed. "How can this be," he wondered. "Was that a dream? No, I've not even fallen asleep yet," he mused to himself. Then Joseph remembered the ancient writings of Isaiah the prophet. Didn't say that the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel? This name means, "God with us," but how could it be that he would raise the incarnate messiah?
The sky was dark by the time Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem. Mary was very, very close to her time. The contractions had increased very noticeably. Joseph paused outside the first inn he came to, to make his pregnant wife as comfortable as he could on a donkey's back before going in to acquire a room.
"Sorry. We're full up," said the in-keeper. "What with the census taking place, seems like the whole of Palestine has come home to Bethlehem to register."
Disgruntled and not a little frustrated Joseph made his way to the next inn only to receive the same response. Finally he came to a small tavern at the end of town. "Sorrow, no room here," said the keeper. "But my wife is in labour, can't you see?" replied Joseph. Mary's contractions were now very close and she was in considerable pain "We need a bed! Now!"
"Only space I've got is out back in the stable."
"We'll take it," said Joseph
As he lifted his young wife off the beast her waters broke. No time for a midwife he'd have deliver the child himself. Oblivious of the blue-white light from the window mixing with the yellow glow of the oil lamp in the stable Joseph did his best to eased the small form into the world his world a smelly, dirty stable in the back of a tavern of the outskirts of Bethlehem.
Gently he cleared the infant's airway and cut the umbilical chord, while Mary his wife sobbed from pain and a little despair. Mary would never have imagined it would happen this way. After all, didn't the prophecies say that this child would be the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace? But here was the Messiah, covered in a hard linen cloth and lying in a manger of straw. But she loved him!
Just then a sheep brayed. Joseph looked up. Three men stood at the entrance of the stable. They looked like shepherds. Joseph thought they were there to tend the sheep but then saw that they were kneeling in respect andworship, even. Then Jospeh noticed the sweet splendour of the starlight coming through the door behind the shepherds.
"We were out in the fields around campfire when an angel appeared," said one of the men. "We were terrified but he said that we was bringing us good news of great joy. He said that a savior had been born in the town of David and that we'd find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Excitedly they all told of how a whole host of angels then appeared singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." They were here to worship him.
Some time later a royal caravan arrived with kings and wise men who also paid their respects to the new born King, laying gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh for the child at Joseph's feet. And Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
And so it was that the child who split history, the Messiah and Cornerstone who causes men to stumble; the Savour of the world and King of kings was born in a humble stable among the donkeys in a little dusty town called, Bethlehem. Joseph named his son Jeshua, or Jesus, as we have come to know him. Jesus grew up a strapping lad. Joseph was honoured, in fact, to teach him his own trade, that of carpentry. But both he and Mary had been amazed at the words spoken over their son at his birth.
Dried tears streaked Mary's aged face as she gazed upon her son.
Blood dried on his brow where monstrous thorns had pierced his scalp. His whole naked body was covered in blood while cruel spikes pinned his hands and feet to rough timber. Was this her little Jeshua?
Then Mary remembered how Simeon, the priest had blessed Jesus when they had taken him to be dedicated to God at the temple. The priest had prophesied and said, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Jesus had embarked upon an amazing ministry of teaching and healing the sick. On more than one occasion he even miraculously fed thousands of people with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. On another he walked across the lake to meet his disciples out in a boat. This Jesus was very compassionate and truly revealed the love of God through his words and work. His mother was so proud of him, yet she was never able to fully comprehend his calling. Not until now, that is.
The crowd had begun to disperse. It was only afternoon but the wind was raging and the sky was darkening. Mary's dear, dear son hung suspended between heaven and earth. Blood ran down the wooden cross on which Jesus was crucified to the dirt below. "Why?" cried Mary. "Why did you allow them to do this to you," she wailed above the wind. Jesus, the Christ, made no comment to his crying mother except to tell one of his friends to care for her.
Mary shivered as the rain began to fall and the earth quaked. Quietly the dying Son of God her son - prayed to his Father, "Abba, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." And then, in a cry beyond the soul of man, Jesus Mary's son shouted, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," and breathed his last.
Mary straightened up and dusted off her robe. It all made sense to now. She knew that her son was not only her son but His Son, too. It all made sense to now. Mary knew that the Son of God had died in her place upon the cross of wood he himself had created.
It all made sense now. Jesus had said things like, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." He'd said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Those many years back when her dear husband, Joseph had relayed the words of the angel "he will save his people from their sins," Mary had not fully understood them. It all made sense, now.
Through the tears and in the rain Mary realised that the sinless Messiah had to die to take the consequences of the sins of the world for all time so that, by faith in him, men, women and children through the ages would be saved. The many prophecies of ancient times had spoken of this moment: "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed."
Mary's boy child, Jesus was destined to be that One the One familiar with suffering. He was born to die to make atonement for the sins of the world. God in the flesh Immanuel had come. He who had no sin had become sin for us so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God. The Prince of Peace has justified us, through faith, so that we can have peace with God. Through him we have gained access, by faith into God's grace in which we now stand. Through the babe in the manger God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Mary saw it clearly now the Cross was in the Crib!
Dudley began writing for radio. He currently presents for UCB UK and writes a weekly devotional called, trACker. trACker reaches hundreds of people and is published online. Dudley also pastors a church in the UK. More at: www.godtracker.co.uk