Lessons of unity and love from the Holy Family | Print edition
By Ridley Casie Chitty
“But you, Bethlehem of Ephratah, who are one of the small clans of Judah, from you will come forth for me the one who will rule in Israel, whose origin goes back to ancient times” (Micah 5: 2)
Mary shifted her weight uncomfortably on the donkey. She had been driving for hours. Directly ahead, Joseph walked with a firm step, leading the way along the road to distant Bethlehem. Marie again felt the life in her stir.
It all started months earlier when this young Jewish woman received a mission unique in the history of mankind. She was going to give birth to the child who would become the Messiah, the Son of God! (Luke 1:35) As the time for childbirth approached, the need to take this journey arose. In the process, Mary faced a number of challenges for her faith. Let’s see what helped her stay strong spiritually.
Joseph and Marie were not the only ones to move. Caesar Augustus had recently decreed that a registration be made in the country, and people had to travel to their hometowns to comply. How did Joseph respond? The account says, “Of course Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, in Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was a member of the house and family of David. “(Luke 2: 1-4)
It is no coincidence that Caesar issued his decree at this time. A prophecy written about seven centuries earlier predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Now it turns out that there was a city called Bethlehem just eleven kilometers from Nazareth. However, the prophecy specified that it was “Bethlehem Ephrata” that would produce the Messiah. (Micah 5: 2) To reach this small village from Nazareth, travelers traveled some 80 hilly miles (130 km) via Samaria. It was to Bethlehem that Joseph had been summoned, as it was the ancestral home of the family of King David, the family to which both Joseph and his wife belonged.
Was Mary aware of the prophecy concerning Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah? The Bible does not say so. In any case, whether Mary decided to travel to obey her husband, a secular decree, or Yahweh’s prophecy or because of a combination of factors, she set a magnificent example. Yahweh places great importance on a humble and obedient spirit. In our time, when submission often seems to be one of the most misunderstood virtues, the example of Mary is a beacon for the faithful everywhere.
Mary and Joseph found Bethlehem crowded. Others had arrived to register before them, so there was no room for them in the accommodation room. They had no choice but to settle in for the night in a stable. We can imagine Joseph’s worry when he saw his wife suffer from labor pains.
Luke’s account draws a discreet curtain of privacy around the stage, saying simply, “She has given birth to her son, the firstborn. (Luke 2: 7) Yes, his “firstborn” had arrived. Not only was he his firstborn, but he was the “firstborn of all creation” of Yahweh, the Only Begotten of God! – (Col. 1:15).
It is at this point that the account adds a famous detail: “She tied him with strips of cloth and laid him in a manger. (Luke 2: 7) Nativity pieces, paintings and scenes from all over the world sentimentalize this setting. Consider, however, the reality. A feeder is a manger, a tray in which farm animals eat. Remember, the family lived in a stable, a place hardly known for good air or hygiene, then or now. Really, which parents would choose such a place for childbirth if there were other options? Most parents want the best for their children. How much more did Mary and Joseph want to give the best to the Son of God! However, they did not let their limits bitter them; they just did the best they could with what they had. Notice, for example, that Mary herself looked after the child, wrapping him comfortably in strips of fabric, then laying him carefully in the crib to sleep, making sure he would be warm and safe. security. Mary wasn’t about to let the anxiety of her current situation deter her from giving the best of herself. She and Joseph both also knew that caring for this child spiritually would be the most important thing they could do for him. (Deuteronomy 6: 6-8.) Wise parents today cultivate similar priorities as they raise their children in this spiritually impoverished world.
Sudden commotion disrupts the peaceful scene. The shepherds rush into the stable, eager to see the family and the child in particular. They rushed from the hills where they lived with their flocks. They tell the amazed parents about a wonderful experience they had just had. On the side of the hill during the night watch, an angel suddenly appeared to them and told them that Christ, or Messiah, had just been born in Bethlehem. They would find the child lying in a manger, swaddled in strips of cloth. Then, something even more spectacular happened – a mighty army of angels appeared, praising God! – (Luke 2: 8-14.)
No wonder these humble men rushed to Bethlehem! They did not keep this good news for themselves. “They made the saying known. . . And all who listened marveled at the things the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:17, 18) The religious leaders of the day clearly looked down on the shepherds. But Yahweh clearly appreciated these humble and faithful men.
How, however, did this visit affect Mary? Marie was surely exhausted from the rigors of childbirth, yet she listened intently to every word. And she did more: “Mary began to hold onto all these words, drawing conclusions in her heart. (Luke 2:19) This young woman was really thoughtful. She knew this angelic message was vital. Her God, Yahweh, wanted her to know and appreciate the identity and importance of her son. So she did more than listen. She put the words in her heart so that she could ponder them over and over again in the months and years to come. Here is a remarkable key to the faith that Mary manifested throughout her life. – (Hebrews 11: 1.)
Will you follow Mary’s example? Yahweh has filled the pages of his Word with vital spiritual truths. However, these truths can do us little good unless we pay attention to them first. We do this by regularly reading the Bible, not just as a work of literature, but as the inspired Word of God. (2 Tim. 3:16) Next, like Mary, we must store spiritual words in our hearts, drawing conclusions. If we meditate on what we read in the Bible, thinking about ways to apply Yahweh’s counsel more fully, we will be giving our faith the nourishment it needs to grow.
The story of Christmas is the story of a family that connects heaven and earth. Each member of Jesus’ earthly family — Mary, Joseph, and Jesus — is a heavenly example of God’s Christmas gift to all mankind. The Christmas story should inspire us spiritually to emulate the attributes of this Holy Family. This family was united in seeking the glory of God; united in the service of one another; united in the accomplishment of the will of God; and united in sacrifice, obedience and love. This Holy Family provides us with a pattern of attributes which, when imitated by our own families, will enable us to enjoy the same blessings of unity and love that they enjoyed.
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