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By Rev. Robert F. Cerar

For thousands of years the Messiah’s birth had been anticipated, expected, and longed for. According to the stories, His power, glory, and righteousness would be legendary and eternal. Nothing and no one could stand in His way.

He would right all wrongs and bring everlasting peace to all men. His justice would be perfect, and His wisdom would be complete. Most important to those of Jewish descent, the Messiah would once and for all make the nation of Israel the center of the world.

We tend to look at this story superficially. There is no expectation of depth for either the characters or their actions. We think of them as two-dimensional characters in a play or show.

Childhood plays, live nativity scenes, and even Charlie Brown recount the few precious details of the Christmas story for us each year. We see Christmas cards, nativity sets, and lawn decorations showing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in a manger with shepherds and wise men present and an angel hovering above.

Yet we long for more, something beyond the idealized telling to which we are accustomed. Common sense and an imagination guided by an understanding of Scripture and respect for the customs of the time can help us identify more closely with the characters of these historic events.

Try placing yourself into the story. Ask yourself questions like, “If I had to do that, how would I have done it?” “What kind of choices would I have had?” “Why did they do this instead of that?” and “What else might have happened if they had done this or had not done that?” Maybe you can relate to the following possible scenario:

Joseph and Mary didn’t live in a vacuum. They had family and friends in both Nazareth and Bethlehem who were very much a part of their lives. There were most likely discussions with these people as well as advice and offers of help and prayers. These loved ones were also affected by the things that were happening to the young couple.

Neither did Joseph and Mary have a clear picture of what was happening to them at the time. There was usually no time to think. They were busy acting and reacting to life-and-death events that took all their energy and concentration. Each step must have seemed as though it was the last of an unusually long string of impossible circumstances, only to be followed suddenly by yet another unbelievable situation of extreme urgency. They were constantly trying to catch up with events, to get enough sleep, to get into some kind of ordinary routine.

Mary was going to give birth to the Messiah, but no one knew how it was supposed to work out on the daily level. While there were some obscure or confusing prophecies about Him in a general fashion as an adult, there were no specific instructions on know how to raise Him as a child. Jesus’ birth led to a whirlwind of events involving amazing experiences, but those were followed by crises and rushed moves in attempts to protect their baby.

Mary and Joseph eventually went back to Nazareth. It must have seemed like ages had passed since they first left the small town on their move toward the big city. Since then they had been visited by angels, shepherds, and foreign dignitaries worthy of an audience with Herod. They were hunted to the death – by a king! They had to flee their country and live in a foreign land for a time, and they had gone through a small fortune in the process.

What is there in this true, historical event that has been there all along but that we have not seen because we weren’t looking for it?

Who would believe any part of this story, let alone the entire tale? If you were Mary or Joseph, people would most likely look at you with a glazed look in their eyes. They may listen patiently as you finished the story, but would they believe it? Most would not; you could tell. So what’s the use? All you wanted was some understanding, some sympathy, some belief, but it wasn’t coming. Describing this series of events would always create a separation between you and other people.

You soon stop telling the story. People think you’re crazy. It’s not worth it. Besides, it’s dangerous. It’s making you stand out, drawing attention to you when you just want to disappear. You know it’s true, but it’s too much for anyone else to accept. It’s too different, too miraculous.

Mary and Joseph had landed right back in the same place from which they started. It felt like failure. Time had been wasted. Money and possessions had been lost, and expectations had been shattered. Sometimes it felt like a dream to them too, but the evidence was undeniable. They had lived it, heard it, seen it, felt it.

One cannot live on memories though. Family and friends helped Mary and Joseph move in and get resettled – maybe in his parents’ home at first. The carpentry job slowly picked back up as old customers started to return. Life assumed a more normal pace that served to blur those frantic, bizarre first months of Jesus’ life. The extremes of majestic and horrific were quickly buried in day-to-day living – for now. Those incidents were not forgotten – that’s not possible. They were mostly just lost among the pressing daily tasks of working, paying bills, fixing meals, and raising children.

This just didn’t make any sense. It should have been a wonderful time, but nothing seemed to work right. It seemed to be a tremendous, confusing disaster.

Did God in part allow this all to happen to rid Mary and Joseph of the expectation of personal gain and prestige that would come from their relationship to the Messiah? Any dreams of riches and fame that they might have had were completely gone. Now they were happy just to have their lives.

No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to figure out all the missing pieces of the Christmas story, but that shouldn’t keep us from studying it. Some of the missing parts of the story were perhaps just too obvious or too ordinary to bother recording. Is it possible that most of the gaps are due more to mundaneness than to mystery, to obviousness rather than to obscurity?

What is there in this true, historical event that has been there all along but that we have not seen because we weren’t looking for it? Studying the story, and putting ourselves in Mary’s and Joseph’s shoes does not make the story any less miraculous. Explore the story again, and see where it takes you.

*This article is excerpted and edited from the book Questions About Christmas by Robert Cerar. For more information about the book, use this link!

About the Author

Robert Cerar poses with a copy of his book, Questions About Christmas.

Robert Cerar poses with a copy of his book, Questions About Christmas.

Robert Cerar, an ordained Open Bible minister, currently lives in Galion, Ohio, and serves at Abundant Life Fellowship.

About The Author

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