12 Days 12 Ways. - Day 4


Day 4 – The Carpenter

December 17, 2017

Written by Jonathan Vinke / Worship Director / Read more of his writing at JonathanVinke.com. 

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

A Carpenter’s story:

I can’t remember when I started working, but it must have been when I was twelve, just strong enough to mix mortar. Stacking stones and cutting timber has been as much a part of my life as learning the Torah or playing with my friends. But to be honest I never wanted more than work. I enjoyed the steadiness of a wall I could see and a job well done. I have never been a dreamer like my namesake, but that was fine with me. I know where that got him. For me, the world is rough and real and life is made of what you can get your hands on. I only wanted to live a quiet, ordinary life as a builder making a decent living. Then I met Mary.

I worked a lot through my teen years, so I didn’t have much time to notice girls. I was too busy for any of that stuff. My friends would scheme and dream about who their families would choose for their betrothed. I never cared that much. But Mary was different. She was quiet and strong, with dark eyes that looked right into your soul. When I saw her I felt like my hands were numb and I couldn’t walk straight, this was truly too much to hope for. Though our families were somewhat close, rumor was she would be betrothed to one of the rabbi’s sons, How could a builder compete with that?

I don’t know how it happened but on a clear afternoon as I was cleaning my tools and my father said we had to talk about something important. By some turn of events, Mary’s father had agreed that she would be betrothed to me, TO ME!! I couldn’t believe it. Her family was too poor for the demands of the rabbi’s bride price, so we would be married in two years’ time. I tried to hide my excitement but that didn’t make our run-ins in town any less awkward.

Over time Mary and I had gotten to know each other and were making preparations for the wedding. My sense of Mary’s strength and grace had been right, and I was humbled to be blessed by such an excellent wife. God had smiled upon my dreams to have my family and work in Galilee until my sons could take over the family business.

And then it happened: just a few months before the wedding my world came crashing down. It’s hard to describe how shocked I was when Mary told me she had been visited by an angel. But that wasn’t the worst of it. She told me she would have a child, a child…conceived by God. The pain was too much to bear. In an instant all of my hopes were crushed and I cursed myself for ever having loved her. Forget the family business. I would bury myself in my work. I would break the engagement and find a town where nobody knew me. Maybe Nazareth. Maybe I could still find work and be left alone.  

I laid awake in bed for hours. How could she do this to me? Our life was perfect. How will I ever make sense of it? How will I ever forget her? Eventually my mind and body gave out and I fell into a restless sleep.

Sometime in the night my room blazed with a brilliant light. I sat up with a start and stared into the glaring brightness. “Who are you? What do you want?” I managed to spurt out. The messenger had eyes that blazed like hot embers. His voice was like the sound of a rushing waterfall after a heavy rain: “Joseph, son of your forefather David. Do not be afraid. Mary, whom you love, is telling you the truth. The child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will have a son and you shall call his name Jesus, Yeshua, the Savior. He will save his people from their sins.” And then, he was gone.

I again sat up in bed, not knowing if it had been real or a dream. The first light of dawn was grey through my window and I rushed to Mary’s house to find she hadn’t slept either. We held each other in a tearful embrace and thenI fell to my knees and took her hand and kissed it. “How can it be, that my Lord should entrust this task to you? And to me?” I pressed my ear against her womb as if to listen to the divine heartbeat. “I am the Lord’s servant. I will walk this road with you.”

The days went by quickly as they do in preparation for a wedding. But this time it was different. We carried a secret joy in our hearts knowing that the child to be born was unlike any other. The excitement in our hearts was deeper than knowing we would start a life together. It was that we would have front row seats to the greatest birth in history, the birth of the Messiah.

Even the census couldn’t steal our joy. You get used to things like that living under Roman rule. The travel was hard, especially with Mary’s time for delivery being so close. When we arrived in Bethlehem there were no rooms left anywhere. A census will do that. I had a relative who gave us the only lodging he could, with his livestock but this modest arrangement bothered me none, I didn’t care. This was the promised Child, the one we had been waiting for so many years. I felt that even the heavens themselves would sing for joy on this night, the night that God came to live with us.

When the chaos of the birth was over and all was quiet, I sat and looked at the child through my weary eyes. For once it was quiet. He was so tiny, so frail. How could such a little thing be the King of Glory?

I’ve never been much of a dreamer, but I could never dream of anything more beautiful than this. God had given this gift to the world, He had come to live with man and would save them from their sins. How would He do it? Will He be a conquering warrior or a wandering vagabond? And do I have what it takes to parent this Promised Child? I don’t know the first thing about raising a family, let alone the Son of God. I can only give Him what I have and trust that it will be enough. I will teach Him to work hard and live a quiet life. Rough hands, soft heart is what me and Mary say now. Yes, Lord, let it be so.

Yes, Lord, let it be so.

12 Days - Day 3



December 16, 2017 

“Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Matthew 1:23 

“…This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon; Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” As these instructions from God are read from the scrolls of the great prophet Jeremiah, she sits and listens.  Attending the synagogue and receiving God’s wisdom and instruction was a weekly, sometimes daily affair for her.  She couldn’t help but to think, “What is God going to do next?”  She had heard stories of her people’s conquests and defeats.  She knew the reward of faithfulness shown throughout generations, but in the back hallways of her soul’s wondering, she knew God wasn’t done yet. 

As worship concluded, she raised from the ground where she had been seated for a few hours listening intently to instruction from her Rabbi.  As she stands, she straightens her robe and dusts it off as she waits for her time to exit.  She smiles kindly to the widows as they step in front of her to step out of the dimly lit sandstone synagogue.  The widows move slowly as they step into the bright sunlight outside and adjust their eyes.  As she falls in line, she catches eyes with the eldest of the widow mothers, she looks away quickly in hopes that a long conversation would not keep her from her chores she had been delaying all day.  Too late.  With her curled fingers and tired hand, the widowed mother reaches toward her face, with a gentle push she moves her hair and tucks it behind her left ear.  As their eyes meet and the woman draws near, face to face, the woman stares deeply at her, looking her up and down, her hands move from the girl’s face to her shoulders where they grip tightly.  The girl tensely but respectfully tries to pull away, to no avail.  The woman begins to whisper in the language of the prophets and as she does, she pulls the girl in closely, chest to chest, the woman leans into the girl’s right ear and quietly whispers, “Almah.”  Without another word, the widow turns away leaving the girl, young Mary, standing in the synagogue alone curious as to what just happened and more importantly why she should whisper “virgin” into her ear.  She gathers her thoughts and steps out onto the rubble road.  Through the dust of the streets of Nazareth, she makes her way home.  

"Mary, boil the water. Then after dinner, write your cousin telling her about the new plans for your wedding."  

"Yes, papa,” Mary replies. 

As she boils the water, she can't seem to forget the strange embrace as it somehow still feels warm to her.  She quietly prepares and serves dinner to her family.  There is much discussion between the men about rumors of a census order that will most certainly soon be given.  It had been some time since the last census was called by the Governor. 

"How are we to protect what is ours if we leave it for so long to travel?" says the eldest of the brothers. 

“Keep it safe?  How are we to make any money with everyone traveling away and very few traveling here.  No one comes to Nazareth lest they must,” they continue.  The speculation and worrisome talk continues for what seems like hours.  

After a longer than normal dinner, Mary cleans up and then takes a seat at the old wooden table just outside the front door as she writes to her dearest friend and cousin giving her the news of the wedding. 

".. It has finally come!  My dad and Joseph have made a final agreement and the wedding is set!  I can't wait to see everyone, especially you, Elizabeth.  It has truly been too long.  I have heard stories of your wedding and how incredible the feast was!  I have spoken with Joseph and we agree, we want you and Zachariah to read the seven blessings during the ceremony, please talk with him and consider honoring us this way..."  After she penned her goodbye, she hung up the thin layered material she inscribed and went to her room. 

Mary was the only person in her family to have his/her own quarters.  Tucked away in the back corner facing to the south, her room was small, an oddly shaped room with two small wooden chests and a bed mat on the floor.  It was modest but Mary found herself drawn to the privacy of the space.  She would often lay on the floor, and when laying in just the right position she could see out the window on the east wall, She would look into the night’s sky, often falling asleep while trying to number the stars.   

As Mary finished putting away her thoughts from the day, she lay quietly still, opening and closing her eyes.  When open, she would could see the edge of the moon’s light coming and going with the clouds.  When closed, she could only see the old woman and the look on her face as she stared Mary up and down.  As Mary recalls the warmth of the widow’s voice tickling in her ear, she begins to feel the stirring of fear in her.  "What could this woman have meant?  What was hidden in that whisper?"  As she lie there in her questions, her eyes grow heavy as they close to the moonlit night and prepare for tomorrow. 

In a panic Mary awakens quickly, sweating, breathing heavy, in the fog that comes in between awake and asleep she sits up.  She feels the contour of her mat beneath but can't see her hand in front of her face.  She seems to be trapped inside a darkness that is darker than any night she has ever looked into.  She can't move, she can't scream.  Trembling, she closes her eyes and prays, "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I'm scared..."  And no sooner than fear creeps through her subconscious, on the other side of her eyelids light begins to pound her senses.  The walls begin to shake, the dirt begins to give way to the ground and Mary feels as though she is falling upward.  Suddenly, the pounding stops, the ground stills and Mary, timidly, cracks open her view, blurry through the tears and the sweat she sees someone, something. 

"Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 

Mary crawls back against the wall trying to escape.  Reaching for something to defend herself with, her outstretched hand is met by the other.  As their hands touch, Mary doesn’t retract, she doesn’t retreat, terrified she says:  

"Who are you?"  

"Do not be afraid Mary. " 

“How do you know my name, who, who are you?" she replies. 

"You, sweet child, have found favor with God.”  Immediately, she feels the warm tickle inside her ear from the widow’s word. 

"Sir, I am so afraid, please do not harm me,” Mary whispers.

"Mary, fear not, long ago, God created your future for you, He has a special gift that He has decided is right for you to present." 

"No, no sir, it can't be, I have nothing to bring.” 

"Mary, the gift will be given to you.  It is not your bringing that upholds the gift, it is the God’s giving that establishes the bringing.” 

"I can not sir, I am sorry, I am just too afraid."

"Behold,” the other declared with power.  Mary feels the deep tone of his voice press against her bones. 

"You, Mary, will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name His name Jesus." 

At the sound of this name, Mary sees in her mind’s eye the victories of her people’s past.  She recalls the days of glory and conquest in the promised land.   

The other continues, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  

"Sir, how will this be, I don't understand, I am virgin, I am not even married?" Mary asks. 

"Mary, do you trust God?" 

"I do sir, I do.” 

The other places his right hand in the broad section of her back and his left under her right leg.  He lifts her with no struggle and holds her close to his face.  He leans in and whispers, 

"Child, the spirit of God that hovered over the waters of the deep, that painted the night for your father Abraham and gave vision to Joseph and Daniel.  The same spirit that protected David and guided Solomon, He is coming for you, dear child.  He will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God." 

And as soon as the declaration lands in her ears, the other is gone.  Mary hangs in the air, suspended above what was her reality and as she does the light begins to pound, the ground begins to shake, she closes her eyes, opens her hands and . . . .


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