Continuing the Advent series of Dr. Ralph F. Wilson’s articles.
Anger and pain and disbelief churned through Joseph as he struggled with the day’s news. Mary pregnant? It wasn’t me, he mumbled. What other answer is there but divorce…. Long past midnight he finally dropped off into fitful sleep.
More vividly he dreamed than ever in his life. An angel of the Lord spoke: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…. He will save his people from their sins.”
Centuries before, Isaiah had prophesied, “The virgin will be with child, and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel”– which means, “God with us.” Now was the prophecy being fulfilled.
As soon as it was light Joseph was at Mary’s door. She opened to his knocking. Head down, eyes puffy, she stood still waiting the onslaught. Joseph reached out and touched her chin, lifting it gently until her eyes met his. “Mary,” he said simply, “I want you to be my wife. Why don’t you pack your things. We have an appointment with the Rabbi.”
The baby kicked in Mary’s swelling abdomen. Emmanuel, God with us. Why? How? Mary and Joseph rolled these questions around and around as they talked late into the nights. Why us? How could we have such a guest–such a holy guest–in our poor home? We have no silver platters for royalty, only chipped pottery bowels and a hard- packed clay floor to sit upon.
She would carry the baby in her arms and a jug balanced on her head as she went for water to the village well. The lad grew up to women’s chattering and the cacophony of vendors’ calls on market day, Emmanuel, God with us.
He would watch his mother grind barley in a small stone mill, then knead the daily dough. He would smell its yeasty aroma and press his tiny fingers into its spongy top to see if it were risen enough to bake.
He would follow mommy to the brook to wash the clothes, and drop stones into the water to watch the ripples. Card the wool, pound the flax, spin the yarn, weave the cloth, and then sew it into a little garment. All the time Jesus would watch and laugh and chatter to Mary in his toddler’s tongue. Goats and trees and chasing chickens across the yard to see their dusty flapping filled his joyous world. And Mary would watch and ponder.
Why here? Why not in a palace grand with purple robes and servants’ pomp. Why here, where we must stretch and scrimp and save, and patch last year’s clothes one more time? How can he be God … with us?
Joseph would walk slower as the boy trudged up the hill behind him to watch him fell a tree, then help daddy drag it down to the shop for sawing. The man wondered as he watched the boy gather the long, pungent shavings for a game in the corner. He marveled to see the growing lad sneeze as he swept out the shop with a grass broom. Emmanuel!
Gradually Joseph taught Jesus the tedious work of drilling a hole– running the bow-string back and forth, back and forth, to spin the drill shaft. Soon he learned to make a yoke and to painstakingly fit a door frame with chisel and mallet.
Joseph would watch in wonder for a moment, then call the lad to him for a great hug against the craftsman’s sweat-drenched tunic. A lad, a stripling, his son–yet not his really, but God’s. He hugged a boy. He hugged … Emmanuel, God with us.
In his teens, Jesus would stand by Mary as they buried Joseph. With tears flowing down his cheeks he would hold her and comfort her as only an eldest son can. Together they would make it. At night he’d help his mother quell the incessant squabblings of brothers and sisters. By day he applied his woodworking skills to keep bread on the table.
She watched him struggle to make friends. How they teased him! Be the least bit different, and he’d be tormented by cutting words and taunting rhymes.
But he did make friends. Were they the right ones? Mary wondered. Nazareth was a hotbed of anti-Roman fury. By night some were guerrilla commandos harassing isolated Roman outposts. Jesus wouldn’t get mixed up with them, would he? He was a good boy. He couldn’t be that stupid. She worried as countless mothers worry.
Was poor, dusty, crazy Nazareth any place to raise a son? Especially, God’s son? Why here? Why me and and why so poor? She pronounced the word slowly. Emmanuel, God with us…
Why indeed? Christmas reminds us of a truth so profound and unsettling that we are afraid to unwrap it and pull it out to look at and examine.
God chose to send his Son Jesus to be born and raised among simple, common folk. God Himself in human flesh. No stranger was he to struggle and the ambiguities of life.
Jesus is no fair-haired golden boy who never ventured outside the palace walls. No, he is God with us, with callused hands and dust- caked feet. He has known the strain of poverty, the anguish of death’s separation, the pain of rejection, the aching hurt of Nazareth’s outcasts–and the joys of weddings and parties and friends.
This Christmas season he has come again to be Emmanuel to us. To be our Friend amidst the struggles we face. To lead us through the maze of moral grays and business temptations. To sit down in our cluttered living rooms and help fold the laundry with us as the kids shout at each other from the bedroom.
No, he doesn’t want to wait for us to be scrubbed and primped and at our best. As we are he loves us. As we are he died for our sins. As we are he wants to be with us and let us tell him about it. He knows how it is. He knows the way through it. And he has come to us. He has come to be our Emmanuel, God with us. Our Lord, Emmanuel.