(Based on Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2)
“Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is …”1
We know the familiar hymn. While that first night was anything but silent, it was indeed holy.
The donkey clomped along, carrying precious cargo on that long-ago journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph pondered the events of the last several months as he plodded along one step after another beside his very pregnant wife, Mary. His faith, which was still growing, blossomed as he began to understand God’s plan for him.
Immersed in the thought crevasses of his mind, he paid little notice to the banter of others traveling to one place or another for the Roman enrollment ordered by Caesar Augustus. Everyone was eager for a Deliverer from the Roman oppression, so the little Joseph did hear was all about the coming Messiah. Nothing else seemed worthy of discussion. Little was understood, for they did not seem to know the details of His arrival, nor did they even dare imagine that He was a Babe in their midst about to be birthed.
In another two days or so, their 100-mile journey to Bethlehem would end. He prayed that they would take care of business and return to Nazareth before the Baby arrived. Mary thought it feasible that they could accomplish the task at hand and repeat their steps northward so her mother could help when the Baby was born.
Even though their marriage had been arranged, Joseph loved Mary very much. He was thrilled that her father agreed that they be espoused.
“Mary,” her father directed, “you are bound to Joseph as his wife. You are to consider him your husband now; you are married in every way except for the intimate relations. On that, you must wait.”
According to Jewish custom, Joseph was to build a home for her. All he wanted was a simple life and a family to love. Oh, how he missed her as she spent a few months with her cousin Elisabeth in the hill country. With anticipation, he awaited her return.
In the midst of construction, Joseph saw when his cherished Mary returned to Nazareth. She appeared to have a different glow about her, a certain roundness. Bitterness and confusion clouded his mind when he learned that a child was growing in his beloved’s womb. Since they had not had been physically close, the child belonged to someone else. With whom had she been adulterous?
Anger and jealousy surged through his soul. Why would she do that? Did she not understand his love for her? Did she not consider the consequences of such a deed? Perhaps he should just put her away somewhere, which would essentially be a divorce, given her father’s directive at the time of their engagement and the culture of their society.
Did she not think about him in the choice she made? What if he did not divorce her? To keep her would be an appalling reflection on his own reputation. His family and friends would never understand why he took an impure woman as a wife. To preserve his name, he could disclose her unfaithfulness, but then she would be stoned according to Jewish law. Furious as he was, the thought of her death for unchaste behavior was a ritual he could not bear.
She had tried to explain to him that she had been with no man but had allowed herself to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit. If that was the truth, why would she make her own decision without consulting him or her father?
She had exerted her own independence. She claimed to have broken no vow, but her explanation seemed implausible. Until …
“Joseph,” Mary interrupted his thoughts: “can we stop for the night? I need to stretch a little.”
“I think I see a camp not too far distant where people are gathering along the river. We’ll go there.”
“Thank you,” she smiled at him.
With great care and gentleness, he helped her to dismount the docile donkey. He gathered twigs and wood to start a fire to warm them through the crispness of the cool night. If she was as hungry as he was, Joseph needed to forage for food. In short order, he returned to their campsite with a fish. While Mary grilled their meal over the campfire, he fed their last crust of bread to the compliant animal who also needed sustenance.
By the flame of the fire, they unrolled their simple mats on the hard earth. Then he watched as his Mary succumbed to her weariness in sleep. He gazed at the stars, wondering how close God was, until he, too, let a fitful slumber overtake the cares of their odyssey.
Morning arrived in what seemed but a moment. Although still weary, he saw that the woman he treasured was awake and readying herself to continue the trek to Bethlehem. They doused the fire and began trudging en route to the city of Joseph’s ancestors.
This day was a bit quieter since fewer people were taking this path. Still weary from the difficult night, Joseph was quiet. Mary gazed at him and left him alone in his thoughts.
His memory took him to the angelic communication he had in the hours of darkness after she shared with him that she was an expectant mother. In his dream, he had no intent to expose her infidelity, but people were picking up stones to hurl at her until life left her and the child. At that point, Mary’s angel appeared in the night vision and announced:
“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. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” —Matthew 1:20–21
Startled, he awakened in a sweat. He believed in miracles, but the possibility of them happening to him was not in his realm of faith. Yet, when the angel called him “son of David,” Joseph knew God was calling him just as He had called Mary. By naming him as a member of the house of David, His Son Jesus would be perfectly positioned by His lineage to one day be the holy King, the Messiah. His faith grew, so he chose to take his intended bride in holy wedlock instead of forsaking her.
Joseph remembered their nuptials with delight. Even though it had not been the traditional year since their betrothal, the house was finished. Thus, no reason precluded the final segment of their marriage.
“Joseph,” Mary queried, “what causes your face to smile?”
“Thoughts of our wedding day. You produce joy in my heart.”
The couple stopped early for the night. Joseph was exhausted after not having slept well the previous night. He yielded to sleep before he could remove his sandals. Mary took them off and washed his dusty feet with great tenderness so as not to disturb his rest. The next day, they would reach Bethlehem.
Joseph stirred early the next morning with vigor and eagerness to complete the excursion to Bethlehem. Foremost in his mind, he wanted to register so they could go back to Nazareth. Having a baby, this Baby in particular, while traveling would not be a good thing. This day, they conversed a bit more.
“Joseph, are you afraid to become a father to the Messiah?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “What if I don’t love Him enough? How will I teach him? He is the Son of God, after all.”
“What about you, Mary? Do you have any fear about being His mother?”
“A little, but we need not worry about what God has called us both to do.” She continued, “How will we know when His time will come to do His work? Will He have words to tell us? Will we have the faith to let Him go?”
Under twinkling stars, they neared the ancestral home of King David. Sheep, goats, donkeys, and camels were everywhere. It seemed that hundreds of people, perhaps thousands, had arrived in the tiny village.
Without warning, Mary lurched forward on her mount.
“Joseph, the Baby is coming!” she cried in anguish.
Without panicking, Joseph began to knock at homes and inns with haste. Some slammed doors in their faces. Others did not even answer.
At last, one man swung open the door, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
“Please sir, we desperately need a place to stay. My wife is about to have a Baby.”
“On most nights, we would be happy to give you your own room, but as you can see, we’ve already given all our spare space to others. People are tucked away in every nook and cranny. We have no room, especially to have a baby.”
“Might there be room for us in another inn?”
“I’m sorry, but the other places are packed as well. Bethlehem is so small that we often are not that busy. Everyone else I know has taken as many as possible into their homes. Don’t you have any family nearby?”
“Joseph, hurry! The Baby is not waiting!”
“No, no family, please help us!” He whisked Mary from the donkey and into his arms.
Peering around her husband, a matron appeared. “Excuse me, sir, I’m the innkeeper’s wife. We have a stable in the back. You could stay there.”
“Miriam, the lady is about to give birth. We can’t put her in a barn.”
“I heard. But leaving her in the street would be worse. I’ll get some blankets and clean straw.” Looking at Joseph, she continued, “Sir, I’ll meet you in the back. What’s your wife’s name?”
“Mary, everything will be fine. God will help you.”
Joseph and Mary did not have a desire to stay in a stable that night with the stench of animals. However, in desperation, they accepted the offer of the barn.
Embarrassed at not being able to provide for his wife, Joseph’s faith waned as he felt terror for the life of the Child she was about to bear. “Why did God not provide a better place to stay? Why would He allow His Son to be born in a stall with stinky animals?” he thought to himself.
Joseph could not be concerned with such things now. Mary and the Baby about to be birthed required his assistance. In the midst of the frenzy, he realized that being needed was a gift from God. His faith swelled. In the chill of the evening, with cows, sheep, goats, and a donkey as witnesses, he delivered the Son of God.
Call to Action
You too can have an intimate, faith-growing relationship with the Messiah. Invite the Son of God to be born in your heart. He “will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from the New King
James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All
- Barnby, Joseph. Silent Night. R. A. Saalfield, New York, 1883. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100004297/.