Have you heard the biblical Christmas story a gazillion times? Me, too. Yet I’m always amazed how God arranged His Son’s Nativity.
We often miss one important aspect of His divine plan: God made sure Jesus had a stepfather.
Joseph, a construction worker, probably was putting the final touches on their first home when Mary gave him news nobody could fix.
Pregnant? By the Holy Spirit? Even Joseph’s bridezilla cousin Sapphira never conceived a tale like this. Devastated, Joseph decided to call off the wedding.
Until an angel told him Mary’s story was true.
How would his construction buddies regard this double-angel story? Joseph’s family, already humiliated, might not show for the wedding. Still, Joseph obeyed the angel and assumed responsibility for Mary and her child.
As if all this weren’t enough, the government raised taxes. Joseph had to register in his hometown, Bethlehem, several days’ journey away. Not the honeymoon Joseph had dreamed of. Riding a donkey her last month of pregnancy probably wasn’t Mary’s idea of fun, either. Parking and accommodations were difficult to find. Correction: impossible. Joseph’s relatives, still upset, apparently did not offer even a sleeping bag on the floor.
As Mary struggled through labor, surrounded by smelly animals, Joseph may have wondered if his angel dream had resulted from too much pizza. But he remained at Mary’s side. And when the Baby was born, he called Him Jesus.
When Joseph heard from angels again, it was bad news. King Herod wanted to kill the Baby, so Joseph sneaked his family out of town in the middle of the night. When had Joseph’s life turned into a Bourne Trilogy?
Even when they returned to Nazareth after Herod’s death, some still calculated their wedding date and Jesus’ birthday on their fingers.
While angels were talking to Joseph, he could play super-hero. But the angels stopped talking, and Joseph found himself playing male role model to the Son of God.
Like stepparents today, Joseph fades into the background. We hear nothing about him after Jesus’ junior-high escapade of disappearing — into the temple, it turned out — for three days. Playing second halo was tough then, as now. But the lives of Jesus and thousands of other children with blessed stepparents will never be the same.
Joseph’s first Christmas was complicated, with a capital C. So are the Christmases of all caring stepparents.
But then, love usually is.
Are you a stepparent who often plays second halo? If not, do you know someone who does?
Once calendars change to December 1, airport authorities turn their attention from averting terrorists to halting the escape of Christmas program directors. Many seek asylum in remote jungles. The most desperate sign up for space shuttle flights.
Why this seasonal exodus? Until Advent, optimistic directors delude themselves that Christmas program rehearsals are going well. Yet choirs have forgotten their music every week. Sixth-grade clarinet players blow the wrong end.
With a turn of the calendar page to December, however, …
Christmas program directors run screaming from holly wreaths and The Salvation Army bell ringers.
Experts say victims of this psychosis, like Grandma, were obviously run over by reindeer. Which explains why anyone would become a Christmas program director in the first place.
The real drama begins when soloists and speaking roles are chosen. Most Nativity plays include only one Mary, and 49 hopeful candidates — backed by 49 equally hopeful mothers — eye the role. Choosing an Infant Jesus from the cute babies in a nursery is a task no Middle East negotiator should tackle.
Amidst controversy, enter the Advent flu. …
It never picks off a candy cane who speaks one line. No. This deadly illness wipes out leads and entire tenor sections. The Annunciation loses something when a nauseous-looking Gabriel delivers his lines holding a barf bag.
Standing defenseless before hacking, germy choirs, instrumentalists and casts, the courageous director battles a shower of viruses unmatched anywhere in the universe.
But by law, directors are not permitted to die during Advent. So, gulping remedies and popping pills, they face weeks of practices. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes. This also holds true during Christmas program dress rehearsals.
Finally, the Big Day arrives …
… and the cast stuns the director with an incredible performance. They were actually listening when she begged them to warm up horns, annunciate words and not pick their noses.
To be sure, no production escapes imperfection. The angels suffer from static cling. Joseph still doesn’t know how to sit while wearing a dress. And as Wise Men and Shepherds adore the Baby, a borrowed donkey leaves offerings on the hay-strewn floor.
But flawed performances only remind leaders that the original event took place with no rehearsals, except in the Mind of God. And as weary directors everywhere breathe a deep sigh of relief and shelve Christmas music until next August, no one needs to tell them Christmas miracles still happen today.
Not that those who celebrate December birthdays have it so great. Do children born in June receive gifts with tags that state “This is for D-Day and your birthday”?
Still, in December, the whole world puts on its festive best. You share your birthday month with Jesus, and that’s a cool thing.
January birthdays don’t generate similar enthusiasm, as the whole world diets. No matter how you decorate it, a birthday veggie tray with fat-free dip doesn’t attract the same crowds.
At Christmas, people mortgage their organs to be with kin. By January 2, however, even close relatives develop allergies to the cold – and each other. An important safety principle: the cosmos will crash if we see relatives more than once a year.
Even those willing to risk life and limb to attend January celebrations face gift challenges that would daunt Santa. As of December 25, Birthday Boy already owns a robot that makes his bed, does homework and gargles for him. He has stashed his excess Christmas cash in T-bills, since the stock market is down.
Mom and Dad could use a nice little check, which makes gift-giving easy if the birthday person is a grown-up. But many adults don’t feel like blowing out birthday candles in January. Their years have risen like heating bills. Nice little birthday check? They need gold bars to shrink January Visa bills.
I even sympathize with my brothers, born this month. I didn’t when we were children, however. Only weeks after Christmas, they received another gift, whereas I waited until March to collect birthday booty.
Two of our grandchildren celebrate January birthdays. My husband notes that they enjoy the old-fashioned games we give them more than electronic versions: when they lose, they can throw game pieces at their siblings.
But if January birthdays bug them as they grow older, we will point out that even January birthdays haven’t stopped Martin Luther King, Jr., Carl Sandburg, or the painter Cezanne. Or Benjamin Franklin, Mary Lou Retton or George Burns. Or Edith Wharton, Mozart or Jackie Robinson. No birthday veggie trays have kept them from leaving unique footprints in their worlds’ snowy paths.
God Himself decorates for January birthdays. Plus, He gives hills to sled, snow forts to build, and hot chocolate with gooey marshmallows to guzzle.
Best of all, He has made January the premium snuggle and huggle month for all ages. Hugs never show up on a Visa statement, and they leave love imprints no raging snowstorms can erase.
Actually, a January birthday is pretty special. Just like our grandkids.
Are you a lucky January birthday girl or boy?
“Don’t go out there,” advised my friend, whose apartment was located in the same complex. She knew that even on sunny days, I often arrived late at her place because I’d turned left instead of right.
Insulted, I blew her off. But as I trudged along, familiar landmarks disappeared. The dark gray-white sky changed places with the gray-white ground. My brain felt as fuzzy as my new Christmas hat. A faint stoplight finally guided me home.
I experience similar sensations every year after Christmas. Having plowed through a blizzard of holiday activities, I couldn’t find normal if I fell over it.
The dates of December 26 through 30 feel superfluous, like screws added to an “easy to assemble” Christmas toy because the sender had no idea what to do with them.
“Merry Christmas” doesn’t fit.
“Happy New Year” sounds premature.
Even the generic “Happy Holidays” doesn’t compute because many of us pretend to work between December 25 and January 1 (though nobody accomplishes anything).
Still, all these greetings sound better than the more accurate “Happy Demise of December.”
So, I propose we think positive about these “sort-of” holidays and establish some traditions.
Tradition One: Remember that Christmas music remains legal until January 2. I sing carols in store aisles, belting out “Do You Hear What I Hear?” without being hauled to a psychiatrist or audiologist for evaluation.
Tradition Two: Eat during this in-between time without guilt. Of course, some people claim to eat after January 1, but can rice grass and dried sweet potato rinds be classified as real food? This week, safely indulge in turkey and dressing sandwiches, Christmas cookies, fudge, and peppermint cheesecake with no reprisal from calorie/carb-conscious spouses or imprisonment by personal trainers.
Tradition Three: During the odd week after Christmas, enjoy cards that arrive late. These confirm we weren’t the only ones behind the entire holiday season.
Tradition Four: Consider this in-between week as prime bargain time. Save enormous amounts of money on a huge inventory of articles nobody wanted to buy in the first place.
Finally, let’s sit with our feet up to enjoy the Christmas tree while sipping a steaming cup of coffee, tea or cocoa. No longer do we fear the elves will get us if we’re not addressing cards, fulfilling Christmas lists or checking them twice. Granted, the Christmas tree – sans mountains of gifts – appears a bit naked. But during the frantic, manic and occasionally Titanic weeks before Christmas, every woman dreams of this moment.
And somewhere – after navigating that delightful, dizzy season – we’ll find normal again.
What’s your favorite “sort-of” holiday activity? How long before things return to normal at your house?
O my God, the Christmas tree looks weird without gifts. I haven’t stepped on a Lego once this morning, and the quiet is deafening. Soon the last piece of Christmas fudge (argh!) will be gone. But OMG, I’m so glad that You share my coffee time today—Emmanuel, God still with us on December 28.
In newspapers, we read about local kids who play basketball, march in bands and strut on stages. Two thousand years ago, another small-town boy attended school, played catch and helped Dad run the family business. His name was Jesus. He was a country kid through and through.
Jesus was born in a small town, Bethlehem. The first smells that assaulted his tiny nose were straw and manure because his pregnant mom and adoptive dad, stuck with a “No Vacancy” sign at the Bethlehem Bed and Breakfast, took refuge in a stable. Perhaps Jesus appreciated his unique birth when he forgot to close the door and Mary yelled, “Oy, were you born in a barn?” Jesus could answer, “Yes.”
His parents raised him in Nazareth, where rush hour consisted of one herd of sheep going north meeting another going south. Nazareth boasted a ma-and-pa café where people exchanged marryin’ and buryin’ news. Nobody in Nazareth kept planners or wore watches. Yet when smoky fragrances of baking bread and roasting meat filled the air, Jesus and other village kids arrived for dinner on time!
They didn’t need video monitoring. All probably were taught by the strict old rabbi who instructed their parents. A student knew if he TP-ed the rabbi’s yard or tipped Mr. Moshe’s sheep, the Nazareth Nosy Network would kick into high gear. By the time he sneaked home, 200 relatives would have regaled his parents with sinful details.
Everybody knew your name in Nazareth, a great place to live – except for a teenage girl who claimed she was pregnant by the Holy Ghost. At Mary’s news, the Nazareth Nosy Network slammed into overdrive. Miraculously, Jesus’ parents survived their neighbors’ habit of stoning people who didn’t wait until marriage.
Eventually, villagers stopped counting months on their fingers concerning Jesus’ birth. Dr. Luke says the Nazarenes came to appreciate Jesus, a boy “strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.”
When 30-year-old Jesus began sharing His wisdom with people throughout Galilee and Judea, his hometown enjoyed the “Small-town Boy Makes Good” headlines and boasted of his Nazareth roots.
When Jesus visited Nazareth, however, the Network rejected His claim He was God’s Son and stopped asking for his autograph. They nearly pushed their hometown hero off a cliff.
Escaping, Jesus continued ministering, mostly on the beach, mountainsides, in fields and other small towns. Finally, He volunteered to trade his life for the sins of the big-city bunch who killed him, for those of Nazareth’s Nosy Network (who wanted to) and for all since who need a Savior.
Many believed this country boy born in a barn was a hayseed wearing a fake halo. Really?
Or was He the Son of God?