The best and strangest nativity plays that I have ever seen were when I worked in Malawi. In one the Holy Spirit was a man under a sheet jumping out at the different characters like a ghost. In another the Wise men really had difficulty getting permission from their sceptical wives to follow the star. One creative play opened with Joseph the carpenter promising a customer that his order would be ready next week. The customer replied: ‘But you said that last week and the week before’. Initially I was shocked – surely Joseph wouldn’t have been that type of carpenter? In Malawi carpenters are notorious for missing deadlines so in a Malawian nativity play why shouldn’t Joseph be any different? Somehow we have elevated the real people of the Christmas stories to be more than real people – we have made them to be saintly caricatures but in reality Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the Magi were all real ordinary people who responded to God.
Matthew 1:18-24 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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. 21 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.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Imagine yourself in Joseph’s shoes. He is already a God seeker and God honourer – he finds out his fiancé is pregnant and he knows he is not the father. He could have had her stoned for adultery, but already without knowing the whole story he choose a route to protect her. This ordinary God fearing young man was chosen to be the earthly father of the Son of God. I’m sure he struggled with the fact that they didn’t have a suitable place for the Son of God to be born. Then came the murderous threats from Herod that forced them to live as refugees in Egypt. Being the protector of the Son of God turned his life upside down. We know how Mary felt about it as she was the wordy, write-a-poem-about-it sort, but for Joseph we only have his actions to speak for him. God called and Joseph responded, even though it turned his life and his plans on its head.
So as Christmas approaches and I read the Christmas story again I remind myself that this is more than just a story – it is a record of what happened to real ordinary people like me and I ask how would I have responded and how do I respond, for God is still calling ordinary everyday people to follow and obey Him.
John 14:15 If you love me, you will obey what I command.