1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
---> The inconvenient Truth.
This is going to sound a little weird, but I love how inconvenient the arrival of the Messiah was. It was "an inconvenient Truth," if you will.
Mary and Joseph led normal, everyday, middle class lives. They worked, they tended to their families, they paid their taxes, they worshiped their God; there was nothing out of the ordinary about their lives. That is, until Jesus appeared in their lives.
First of all, as already mentioned in a previous blog, Mary was an unmarried virgin. Her pregnancy very well could have led to public chastisement, alienation from her friends and family, ridiculed, labeled "insane" -- she even could have been disowned by her parents! "Excuse me?" they'd ask, "You say that Jehovah impregnated you with the Messiah!? That's blasphemy!" Who would believe such a ridiculous story? There is a good portion of the world's population that refuse to believe such a fantastic story even today!
...Jesus' arrival brought with it criticism, insults and slander.
And Joseph wouldn't have been spared from such ridicule either. People would have called his bride-to-be a slut, a whore -- who would've believed Mary's tale? I'm sure even Joseph was skeptical at first! His first thought was probably "My fiance cheated on me."
....Jesus' arrival brought with it skepticism, doubting and suspicion.
Now, Luke doesn't go into as much depth as Matthew does, but there were a lot of events surrounding the birth of Jesus. For one thing, as Luke does mention, Caesar Augustus instated a registration, so that all of the taxpayers in the area would be on file. This, of course, is why Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem (Bethlehem was Joseph's native city). Furthermore, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is no easy feat -- it was long and treacherous, over mountains, into valleys, across rivers and deserts. Joseph, of course, had to walk while his young, pregnant bride rode safely upon the back of a donkey.
...Jesus' arrival brought with it a long, dangerous journey.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary suddenly went into labor. Now, this was a time without hospitals, so Joseph, in the middle of the night, had to find a place that would allow for the birth of his child. Can you imagine going door to door in a city you haven't visited in years and asking complete strangers if they'll let you use their homes or facilities so your wife can give birth? I'm guessing you wouldn't have much luck -- Joseph didn't. There wasn't any room for them in the local hotel, either, so they had to use a stable. A stable! An unclean, unsanitary, smelly, cold barn!
...Jesus' arrival brought with it desperation, destitution and refusal.
After his birth, King Herod got mad with jealousy and paranoia -- when the wise men told him that the King of the Jews was soon to be born, he suspected there would be an uprising that would remove him from the throne. To prevent it, he sent out an order to soldiers to kill all of the sons under the age of two (Matthew 2:16-18). So, in the middle of the night, with a newborn baby and a weakened bride, Joseph had to pack up and leave Bethlehem for Egypt so that his family would be safe (Matthew 2:13-15).
...Jesus' arrival brought with it condemnation, danger and persecution.
I wonder if Joseph and Mary anticipated any of it? I wonder if they were excited at the prospect of parenting the Messiah, if they romanticized it at all? I wonder, if they knew the troubles they were getting themselves into, if they would have rejected all of it?
Jesus was an incredible inconvenience to his parents. After his death and resurrection, he was still an inconvenience to all those associated with him and all those who followed him -- all of his disciples (save for Judas) were martyred and his followers were martyred by Rome, being stoned, beaten, crucified, boiled, burned at the stake, beheaded and even fed to lions. Such treatment of "Christians" -- Christ followers -- continued even into the Middle Ages (consider Joan of Arc, for example).
Jesus, even still, is an inconvenience as Christians are still being persecuted all over the world -- we are slandered, ridiculed, made fun of, chastised, belittled, even murdered in some countries. One need look no further than a Bill Maher interview, or a Richard Dawkins book, or a philosophy major at some liberal university to see evidence of this.
I, for example, will be disrespected by my peers just for writing this blog and posting it here and on my Facebook. If nobody outright criticizes my faith with a nasty comment or email, it is either because this blog is going to be entirely ignored or because people "aren't going to dignify it with a response."
And that's fine.
But, again, I wonder if people realize what they are getting themselves into when they sign up for this Jesus stuff? I wonder if they realize that Jesus' arrival in their lives is nothing like Joel Osteen or other prosperity preachers promise -- there's no fancy house, no fancy car, no debt relief, no in-ground swimming pool, no money, no grandeur, no praise, no honor, no respect.
Jesus' arrival does not bring with it a silver lining, or a happily-ever-after middle class fantasy and anyone who believes that it does was duped.
Personally, I believe it is one of God's mechanisms of separating the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3:12). See, there are many people who will profess Christ with their lips without fully living in him or for him -- they will put on the appearance of godliness, but only because they are interested in the benefits, they believe, God will give them as rewards:
2 Timothy 3:1-9
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
Persecution, hard times, financial uncertainty, chastisement -- these are all things, I believe (again), are devices God uses to nip false followers in the bud. My friend, Mark Wainwright, once used an image of a strong wind and a tree to illustrate this point: we were discussing the recent reports that came out of Ireland, detailing the thousands of cases of abuse (sexual and otherwise) being perpetrated in the Irish Catholic Church. We discussed what the ramifications of what that report would be and Mark said, "I believe God is pruning the Irish church. He is blowing a strong wind that will shake the dead leaves from the tree so that living leaves will flourish." The dead leaves represented the spiritually dead.
Though that example doesn't best fit with what I'm writing, the basic idea does.
If someone turns to Christ because they are attracted by the glamours promised by prosperity preachers, they are going to be severely let down. They are not truly turning to Christ as much as they are turning to an idol. And when God starts sending the strong winds of life difficulties, their faith is going to be shaken and the leaves of their dead spirituality will fall to the ground, be raked up and burned. God is going to separate the wheat from the chaff and the chaff, "He will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12).