Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Joseph's Letter Home - A Christmas Story

Writing Letters: A Lost Art
Dear Mom,

We're still in Bethlehem--Mary and I and little Jesus.

There were lots of things I couldn't talk to you about last summer. You wouldn't have believed me then, but maybe I can tell you now. I hope you can understand.

You know, Mom, I've always loved Mary. You and dad used to tease me about her when she was still a girl. She and her brothers used to play on our street. Our families got together for supper. But the hardest day of my life came scarcely a year ago when I was twenty and she only fifteen. You remember that day, don't you?

The trouble started after we were betrothed and signed the marriage agreement at our engagement. That same spring Mary had left abruptly to visit her old cousin Elizabeth in Judea. She was gone three whole months. After she got back, people started wondering out loud if she were pregnant.
It was cloudy the day when I finally confronted her with the gossip. "Mary," I asked at last, "are you going to have a baby?"

Her clear brown eyes met mine. She nodded.

I didn't know what to say. "Who?" I finally stammered.
Mom, Mary and I had never acted improperly--even after we were betrothed.

Mary looked down. "Joseph," she said. "There's no way I can explain. You couldn't understand. But I want you to know I've never cared for anyone but you." She got up, gently took my hands in hers, kissed each of them as if it were the last time she would ever do that again, and then turned towards home. She must have been dying inside. I know I was.

The rest of the day I stumbled through my chores. It's a wonder I didn't hurt myself in the woodshop. At first I was angry and pounded out my frustrations on the doorframe I was making. My thoughts whirled so fast I could hardly keep my mind on my work. At last I decided just to end the marriage contract with a quiet divorce. I loved her too much to make a public scene.

I couldn't talk to you. Or anyone, for that matter. I went to bed early and tried to sleep. Her words came to me over and over. "I've never cared for anyone but you.... I've never cared for anyone but you...." How I wished I could believe her!

I don't know when I finally fell asleep. Mom, I had a dream from God. An angel of the Lord came to me. His words pulsated through my mind so intensely I can remember them as if it were yesterday.
"Joseph, son of David," he thundered, "do not fear to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."

I couldn't believe my ears, Mom. This was the answer! The angel continued, "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."
The angel gripped my shoulders with his huge hands. For a long moment his gaze pierced deep within me. Just as he turned to go, I think I saw a smile on his shining face.

I sat bolt upright in bed. No sleep after that! I tossed about for a while, going over the words in my mind. Then I got up and dressed quietly so I wouldn't wake you.

I must have walked for miles beneath the moonless sky. Stars pricked the blackness like a thousand tiny pinpoints. A warm breeze blew on my face.

I sang to the Lord, Mom. Yes, me, singing, if you can imagine that. I couldn't contain my joy. I told Him that I would take Mary and care for her. I told Him I would watch over her--and the child--no matter what anyone said.

I got back just as the sun kissed the hilltops. I don't know if you still recall morning, Mom. I can see it in my mind's eye as if it were yesterday. You were feeding the chickens, surprised to see me out. Remember?

"Sit down," I said to you. "I've got to tell you something." I took your arm and helped you find a seat on the big rock out back. "Mom," I said, "I'm going to bring Mary home as my wife. Can you help make a place for her things?"
You were silent a long time. "You do know what they're saying, don't you, son?" you said at last, your eyes glistening.

"Yes, Mom, I know."
Your voice started to rise. "If your father were still alive, he'd have some words, I'll tell you. Going about like that before you are married. Disgracing the family and all. You... you and Mary ought to be ashamed of yourselves!"

You'd never have believed me if I'd tried to explain, so I didn't. Unless the angel had spoken to you, you'd have laughed me to scorn.
"Mom, this is the right thing to do," I said.

And then I started talking to you as if I were the head of the house. "When she comes I don't want one word to her about it," I sputtered. "She's your daughter-in-law, you'll respect her. She'll need your help if she's to bear the neighbors' wagging tongues!"
I'm sorry, Mom. You didn't deserve that. You started to get up in a huff.

"Mom," I murmured, "I need you." You took my hand and got to your feet, but the fire was gone from your eyes.

"You can count on me, Joseph," you told me with a long hug. And you meant it. I never heard another word. No bride could hope for a better mother-in-law than you those next few months.

Mom, after I left you I went up the road to Mary's house and knocked. Her mother glared at me as she opened the door. Loudly, harshly she called into the house, "It's Joseph!" almost spitting out my name as she said it.

My little Mary came out cringing, as if she expected me give her the back of my hand, I suppose. Her eyes were red and puffy. I can just imagine what her parents had said.

We walked a few steps from the house. She looked so young and afraid. "Pack your things, Mary," I told her gently. "I'm taking you home to be my wife."

"Joseph!" She hugged me as tight as she could. Mom, I didn't realize she was so strong.
I told her what I'd been planning. "We'll go to Rabbi Ben- Ezer's house this week and have him perform the ceremony."

I know it was awfully sudden, Mom, but I figured the sooner we got married the better it would be for her, and me, and the baby.

"Mary, even if our friends don't come, at least you and I can pledge our love before God." I paused. "I think my Mom will be there. And maybe your friend Rebecca would come if her dad will let her. How about your parents?"

I could feel Mary's tiny frame shuddering as she sobbed quietly.

"Mary," I said. I could feel myself speaking more boldly. "No matter what anyone says about you, I'm proud you're going to be my wife. I'm going to take good care of you. I've promised God that."
She looked up.

I lowered my voice. "I had a dream last night, Mary. I saw an angel. I know."

The anguish which had gripped her face vanished. She was radiant as we turned away from the house and began to walk up the hill together.

Just then her mother ran out into the yard. "Wait," she called. She must have been listening from behind the door. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

"I'll get your father," she called, almost giddy with emotion. "We," she cried as she gathered up her skirts. "We," she shouted as she began to run to find her husband. "We ... are going to have a wedding!"

That's how it was, Mom. Thanks for being there for us. I'll write again soon.
Love, Joseph

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, Home Life, December 1989

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:18-21


Monday, December 15, 2014

How Do You Spell Christmas?

Gledelig Jul-Norwegian,
"ubha nath thalak Vewa!"-Sri Lankan,
I had a conversation on Saturday that I'd like to share with you.  I was in a meeting at my church. We were planning for the future - visioning.  I was recording the notes from our small groups on large poster paper so we could all see.  One of our groups had developed a lot of good ideas and they were coming fast and furious, so as I was writing I abbreviated the word Christmas with X-mas, intending to go back when we finished and write out the word.  Before I could do it, one of the folks around the table (a person who would very much enjoy my error) pointed out the abbreviation and requested that it be corrected.  'It really bothered him.'
I have been watching the facebook posts over the past few weeks about the disagreement over Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays and I must admit I have to ask, what's the big deal?  Now I know, when I write this, that most assuredly I will get the most responses I have ever gotten trying to reform my thinking and clarify the difference.  No doubt, I am not as smart as others who seem to 'get it.'
But here is my point.  When I wrote X-mas, I was writing Christmas. In no way was I "X-ing out Christ."  What a foolish thing to say!  So I got to thinking about these arbitrary symbols that we use to communicate.  As you can see above, there are vast and asunder symbols to represent the word Christ and Christmas.  And then I got to thinking about God and what He would think about all of this fallderall and fiddledeedee.

As I was looking for some history about this issue this is what I found: It a common misconception that the use of the term "Xmas" instead of "Christmas" spelled out was started by those who hate Christianity and who want Christ to be removed from society. Actually, the term "Χmas" has religious origins. It is not some kind of X-ing out of Christ. In fact, the Χ is not a Roman X at all, but the Greek letter chi -- Χ (Lowercase : χ) -- which looks something like the Latin X. Chi (χ) and rho (ρ) are the two letters in ancient Greek that begin the name Christos [Christ]. The chi-rho (☧) was used on the standards of Constantine's Roman army when he defeated Maxentius and brought Christianity into the Roman Empire as its official religion in the early fourth century. It is frequently used in the orphrey of traditional vestments.

So, "Χmas" is actually a more ancient form, in a way, recalling to our minds the origins of our Faith, in which Greek, as well, as Latin, is paramount in Tradition.

Here is my conclusion (and, again, I'm certain there will be those that will assuredly correct me)...
God could care less about our symbols of communication or how we spell a word, even His word.  What He cares about is our heart.  You see, I'm not worried that God is angry with me for X-mas.  He knows my heart and He knows that I love Him and put Him first in my life.  My relationship with God is a good one.  He knows that I would NEVER X him out.  He doesn't care whether we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.  What He cares about is that we are loving each other and serving each other and worshipping Him.  You can use the words Merry Christmas every time, but if your heart is not God's, He will and does know.  Instead of spending all this time on this debate, wouldn't it be better to spend it in service to someone this holiday season and, yes, I said holiday season.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's  and ALL of the holidays...serving, giving, loving, worshipping.  Isn't this a better use of our time and energy?
This whole debate seems so foolish to me.  You know, beyond the Ten Commandments there are 613 rules in the Bible about how to love and serve our God and live our lives.  Jesus was not born to do away with the rules, he said so, but He was born to teach us two things about the rules:  Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND to Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If you do these two things, then all the other rules will fall in line.  Jesus pointed out that we get so caught up in the rules that we forget the relationships.  That's what His message was all about.  That's what He did.  LOVE - loving Him and loving each other.  I am pretty certain He doesn't care how we spell it.  He's more concerned about how we do it.
So I'll not apologize for my 'mistake.'  God knows my shorthand and my heart.  I don't have to worry about all of the others who worry so much!

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 

Luke 10:27