What follows is an excerpt from Christmas Stories, a collection of first-person narratives that will help you recapture the wonder of Christmas.
I had a front-row seat for the greatest event that has ever happened in the history of the world. I was pledged to be married to Mary. What I didn’t know was that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the Savior of the world.
The first thing that you need to know about Mary’s child is that His birth had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me. We knew that the union of a man and a woman was sacred, and that it was kept for marriage. I had kept myself for Mary, and Mary had kept herself for me. That’s why I was completely devastated when she came to me with the news that shattered our world.
I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to tell me her story. She said something about an angel, but all I can remember is that she said the word “pregnant.” I was distraught. My dream of marriage had become a nightmare.
There was no way I could go forward with the marriage. How could I do that with someone who had betrayed my trust? I know that no woman has a child without a man. At least that’s how I saw it at the time. I still loved her and I didn’t want to hurt her, but going ahead with the marriage was not an option for me.
Mary told me she thought the best thing would be for her to go away and stay with her cousin Elizabeth, who lived in Judea. My world was shattered. One minute I was on the brink of marriage to the woman I loved, the next I was sitting in my carpenter’s shop all alone.
HOW GOD SPOKE TO ME
Then one night I had an experience that was unlike anything that had ever happened to me before. An angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, because 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 I woke up, a verse of Scripture I had learned in the synagogue came back to my mind. God had promised that He would send the Messiah. And when Isaiah spoke of how this deliverer would be born into the world, he said, “A virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son.”
A virgin! But there was more. Isaiah said that the child born of a virgin would be Immanuel, which means God with us. From earliest times, God had promised to send a deliverer into the world. Could it be that God was about to fulfill His ancient promise? Slowly, but surely, I began to believe.
I knew what I had to do and I headed south to Judea, hardly able to wait to take my beloved Mary in my arms and tell her what had happened.
“I have something to tell you,” I said. “An angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream.” Mary smiled, and I sensed that she was not entirely surprised.
“What did He say?” she asked.
“Three things,” I said. “First, He told me not to be afraid. Then He said that what is conceived in you is from the Holy Spirit…”
Mary could hardly contain her joy. “Joseph, I tried to tell you before that an angel appeared to me! And what He told me is exactly what He said to you! The angel told me not to be afraid, and then He said that I would have a son. When I asked how this could be since I was a virgin, He told me that this would be the work of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
We looked at each other, stunned by what had been revealed to us.
“There’s something else,” I said, eager to complete my story. “The angel gave me the child’s name.”
“Tell me,” Mary said, her eyes wide with anticipation.
“The angel told me to call Him…” I paused, and before I could finish, Mary said, “Jesus!”
“How did you know that?” I asked.
“The angel told me too,” she said.
We fell into each other’s arms, overwhelmed by the kindness of God who had brought us together by giving us the same amazing revelation. God was sending His Son into the world and our little lives had been caught up in the sweep of His saving purpose. The more I thought about it, the more staggering it seemed.
In glad obedience to what God had told me, I took Mary home as my wife, but I had no union with her until after the child was born.
OUR JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM
Some months later, a messenger arrived in town with news from Rome of a new government initiative. The entire population was ordered to return to their town of family origin to register for a census. Can you imagine it? It seemed as if everyone was on the move. The roads were in chaos – families with carts and animals moving in every direction.
Mary was nearly due, but when the Romans gave orders there were no exceptions. So I saddled up the donkey and the two of us headed south on the road to my hometown of Bethlehem.
Only later did I realize that even this was in the plan of God.
The prophet Micah had said that the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem. And God put it into the mind of a Roman emperor to issue an order that required us to go to Bethlehem when Jesus was about to be born. Amazing!
Bethlehem was overcrowded when we arrived and there was no room for us at the inn. So we took shelter with the animals. Gathering some straw, I made a bed for Mary, and that was where Jesus was born.
I cannot describe the joy of that moment to you. I was the first one to touch the gift of God. My hands brought Him into the world, and I was the first to hold Him in my arms.
THE WISE MEN
After Jesus was born, I found a house and we settled into a regular routine in Bethlehem. But one night, our quiet lives were interrupted when three men arrived saying that they were kings and that they had come to see Jesus.
These kings were from the east. They were Gentiles, and God had spoken to them through a star that had led them on a long journey to Bethlehem. When they saw Jesus, these kings fell down on their faces and worshipped Him. Then they opened the gifts they had brought for Him – gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I still laugh when I think about their visit. These kings had so much, and we had so little. God brought the richest and the poorest together around Jesus, and we were united as one as we worshipped Him.
When the kings left us, an angel of the Lord spoke to me in another dream. “Rise,” He said. “Take the child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.”
Destroy Him? Why would Herod want to destroy the Savior of the world? Why, when kings from other nations worshipped Him, would our king want to kill Him?
It made no sense to me, but God had spoken, and I knew that we had to obey. So we packed up what we could, slipped out of Bethlehem under the cover of darkness, and I took Jesus and His mother to Egypt, the place from which God had once delivered our people. How strange that the place where our forefathers were once slaves became the place in which Jesus should find safety.
Sometime later we heard that Herod had died. It was safe to return home and when we did, we settled in Nazareth where I continued my work as a carpenter.
There’s so much more to my story, but I have to stop here for now. One more thing before I do: If you find it hard to believe in the virgin birth, how do you think it was for me? Nobody found it harder to believe than I did. But I can tell you that He was born of a virgin.
And here’s why that matters: Being born of a virgin, Jesus is unlike any other person who has ever lived, and He is able to do for you what no one else can do.
Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, into the world. We cannot fully grasp all that you have told us about His birth, but we fall to our knees in wonder, as we consider His greatness and glory!
This is an excerpt of the book Christmas Stories. Read the Christmas stories from the perspective of 5 different biblical characters, including the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and even Herod! Taken together, these first-person narratives will help draw you and your loved ones into the story of our Savior’s birth.