This is the second Sunday of our Advent celebration; last week we put up the stable in anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child. This week we begin the preparation for His arrival.
The star is already over the stable, shining bright. It will guide the shepherds and wise men to the stable.
Now we need to add Mary and Joseph.
They were a very strange couple; Joseph and Mary. They had been betrothed – promised to each other. That was the custom of the day, two families signed a formal contract which was as binding as marriage itself. Betrothal then was more of a business transaction between two families than a personal, romantic choice. The girl moved in to her betrothed mother’s house to learn cook and clean and take care of her future husband for about one year. But there was to be no sexual relations.
Now, all the sudden she is pregnant. Joseph knows it is not his child. What is he to do? Joseph was a very devout man, following all the laws and rules of the Jewish faith. If he went ahead and married her, that would be against Hebrew law, suggesting that they had not observed the law. And if the betrothed was unfaithful (since it looked like Mary was), he would be forced to divorce her, leaving her a ‘fallen’ woman, someone who committed adultery – which could be punishable by stoning to death.
What was he to do?
The answer came when an angel visited him in a dream, assuring him the he had been chosen to raise the Son of God. Joseph was probably overwhelmed by what he had been told. ‘Raise the Son of God’? What an daunting task. But he willingly accepted this responsibility, ignoring the violation of Hebrew laws and customs. He had been given a mission – a mission that would change the world forever.
Just like we have a census every ten years here in the United States, the Romans counted the people in Israel in the same thing. Every household was to return to the home of the man of the household to be counted. So Mary and Joseph set off, heading to Bethlehem of Judea, since Joseph was of the House Of David.
The trip was difficult; the roads were rutted dirt, with potholes. Lots and lots of people were traveling to the same place, jockeying for the smoothest part of the road and the best accommodations. There were no telephones, so Joseph couldn’t call Bethlehem and book a room in an inn for them. And since Mary was pregnant, they had to take it slow so she would be as comfortable as possible.
When they got to Bethlehem, I imagine Joseph guided the donkey with Mary on it all around the town, seeking a room in all the inns. But all the rooms in all the inns were taken.
Here they were, in a strange town, with Mary about to give birth, without a place to rest. Finally, one innkeeper, taking pity on them, offered them a stable. . . a smelly, noisy unprotected stable. Not the best kind of a place for someone about to give birth. But that was all there was; so they gladly took it.
If you know anything about stables, they are drafty and dirty places. There are stacks of hay for feeding the animals, a trough where the grain was put, and stalls for the animals, lot of manure; a very crude place. But this is where Mary and Joseph ended up. . . among the sheep and cows and other animals.
This is where they made the best of it and waited for the arrival of the baby. Waited for the coming of the Christ Child.
So today, in preparation for the birth, we add some more things to the crèche:
- • Mary and Joseph
• Their donkey
• A smiling cow
We are in the Advent Sunday of preparation. . . the couple and the stable are ready for the coming of Jesus.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 7 December 2014