"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
December 15, 2010
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
(But ONLY if it sticks to the grass and not the roads!)
I love Christmas!! I always have. I love the traditions my family had when I was a kid, love the memories of past Christmas', and love making new memories each year with Jon. Each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas it feels like a month long celebration, which I look forward to each year.
But this year Jon is having to be gone a lot during the month of December, for his job. Thus, I first of all would like to apologize for us not getting the newsletter out on time last week! We had it finished, but Jon was out of town and forgot to publish it online. I tried to call to remind him, but his phone battery died and I couldn't get a message to him, and it slipped his mind to complete the process of putting the newsletter on our website. Sorry!
I don't mind him having to travel if I'm able to go with him, but a lot of times it's just not practical or else is not allowed. For instance, one of the places he's had to travel is off the Gulf of Mexico to do a job on board a ship which is being outfitted as an oil pumping station. The ship is currently approximately 130 miles offshore. The first time Jon went he was taken by boat from shore to ship, but the second time will be flown by helicopter. For some odd reason, they won't allow me to go to this job with Jon! At other times, when Jon goes out of town to work it's only for a couple days and he's busy working the whole time and is never sure of his schedule, so it's not financially wise to pay for me to go with him.
I enjoy traveling but want to be able to sightsee, or do something interesting or fun, or see family and friends, or spend time with Jon when I do so. There's a lot of places within the US that I've never been. Jon and I have tentatively set a goal of going to all 50 states during our lifetime. Although I enjoy taking trips and going to places I've never been, I know I have a great home to come back to. Even though I really like vacationing, it's always nice to get back home and sleep in our own bed.
As I mentioned in last week's newsletter, Mary was a young girl of probably approximately 14 years old (give or take) when the angel appeared to tell her that she was favored of God and she had been chosen to give birth to Jesus. I would assume that since she was betrothed to a carpenter, who were not known for making a lot of money, that she came from a fairly poor family. When she found out the news that she was to become pregnant she traveled to see her cousin, Elizabeth. And perhaps she had been to Jerusalem for the yearly Feast of the Passover. But it's doubtful that she was well traveled or had been outside her village very often.
Mary's response to Gabriel's message was, "Be it unto me according to your word." She was quick to obey and accept the responsibility of becoming the mother of the promised Messiah. But she had no idea at that moment what lay in store for her or what her future would hold. She just knew that she was told that she was favored above all women and had been handpicked by God. Perhaps her faith was so great that she didn't worry about the ridicule and public shame being a pregnant "virgin" would bring upon herself, Joseph and their families. Speculation would be that she and Joseph had sexually sinned while betrothed. Apparently she didn't question whether or not Joseph would believe her and go ahead with the marriage. The only information she needed was that Gabriel had appeared to her with a special delivery message from God, and she was willing to allow God to work out all the details.
I sincerely doubt my conversation with the angel would have been as short as Mary's was; which is why I probably wouldn't have been chosen. I would have wanted to know ahead of time what Joseph's reaction was going to be, how my family and the village were going to respond, what all was going to be required of me by me becoming the mother of the Son of God. Would I have to move, face ridicule and shame, be an outcast amongst my family and friends, what all would I need to do in order to train and teach Jesus, would there be persecution and suffering ahead; so many questions! But God knew Mary's heart and her willingness to obey, without question and without knowing what the consequences would be. Wow, Mary really was quite amazing!
Joseph went ahead and took Mary into his home as his wife, after his own angel visitation. When Caesar Augustus sent out the message that all the world should be registered (like a census), everyone had to go to his own city to do so. Joseph had to go to the city of David, which was Bethlehem, since he was in the lineage of King David. So Joseph and Mary had to make the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I looked it up online and found several answers on the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem, but the average seems to be around 80 miles. Many suggest that Mary and Joseph would have more than likely have traveled with a caravan of others having to make that same journey for safety sake. The journey would have taken anywhere from 4 days to a week.
Mary was close to her ninth month at the time of the journey, and upon their arrival in Bethlehem she started having labor pains. Joseph could find no lodging for them, and Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Perhaps the others who were traveling to Bethlehem for the census were camping in makeshift tents or sleeping on the ground, and Joseph wanted to find a more private place for Mary to give birth.
Matthew and Luke do not give clear details on all the events and time line following the birth of Jesus. It is believed that Joseph and Mary remained in Bethlehem for a couple years, before Joseph was warned in a dream to take them to Egypt. The scripture that supports that is where King Herod asked the wise men, who had followed the star from the east to come and worship Jesus, to come back and tell him the location after they found Jesus. We don't know how old Jesus was when the wise men came or how far they traveled to get there, but they had traveled from another country in the east. I personally don't think that Jesus was still a newborn laying in a manger, as depicted in all the nativity scenes, but that he was a toddler by that time. The wise men were divinely warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they returned to their own country using a different route. Matthew 2:16 says, "Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men."
But in Luke chapter two we read that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to the temple to present Him to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice, according to the law. It says they did this after Mary's days of purification were completed according to the law of Moses. God is giving Moses instruction and in Leviticus 12:2-4 says, "Speak to the children of Israel saying: 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity and she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled."
So Mary and Joseph would have made the journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, which is about 5-6 miles, about 40 days after Jesus was born in order to take Him to the temple and dedicate Him to the Lord. Isn't it ironic that Jesus was right there under Herod's nose, and he didn't even know it! But apparently they were still living in Bethlehem at that time. Perhaps they were staying with family members of Joseph, or perhaps he had found work and they had a room somewhere they were renting. We know from a previous scripture I used that the wise men came to Bethlehem to worship Jesus, and Herod then had the male boys slaughtered age two and under, hoping to kill Jesus.
But before that happened, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. It's 200 miles from Bethlehem to Egypt. I don't know if Joseph and his small family traveled alone, or if he perhaps found caravans carrying goods to travel with in order to better protect themselves. We don't know if Joseph and Mary knew anyone in Egypt or if they lived as foreigners in a strange country. Jon and I have discussed the possibility that Joseph used the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, that the wise men had opened and offered as treasures when they bowed before Jesus, to pay the caravan owners in order to travel with them, and to support them while in Egypt so they'd have a place to live and be able to buy food and supplies. God may have prompted those men to come and worship His Son and offer those expensive gifts so that Joseph would have the means in which to travel to Egypt in order to protect Jesus, and to care for Him while there.
It's unclear how long they had to live there, perhaps it was only a few months, but they stayed until after Herod's death. After his death, Joseph was once again instructed in a dream to take his family back to Israel, and was then told to take Mary and Jesus to Nazareth to live due to Herod's son reigning. So they had another journey of approximately 280 miles (more or less).
I doubt that Mary ever dreamed that she'd have to do so much walking and moving around! It's one thing for two adults to travel, but something completely different to travel with a child. When Jon and I vacation or take trips, we (I) only have to worry about packing for the two of us. We can eat when and what we want, sightsee and not worry about "activities that the kids will like", get up as early or late as we want, and basically do what we want. But it's different with a little one. When I've picked Jax up to bring him to my house for the day I have to make sure I have diapers, wet wipes, extra change of clothes, juice, sippy cup, food he can eat (which is easier now that he eats table food) and toys. I can't imagine taking a long trip with a child!
When Mary and Joseph made the 200 mile journey from Bethlehem to Egypt they probably had to walk most or all of the way. If Jesus was around 2 years old, he probably walked some but then they more than likely had to take turns carrying him. Like a typical kid, I can hear Him whining, "I'm tired! How much further? Are we almost there?" I can picture Joseph carrying Jesus on his shoulders. But depending on the time of year, it may have been extremely hot and dusty. Jesus may not have been potty trained yet. Perhaps Joseph had carved him some wooden toys to play with. If they were traveling with a caravan, like most little kids, Jesus would have been enamored with the camels and His parents were probably having to constantly watch to make sure he stayed away from them. They could just eat whenever the caravan stopped to rest, but I can hear Jesus say, "Mommy I'm hungry!" Perhaps she carried some bread or dried fruit in her apron pocket to have on hand for Him. Joseph may have carried a canteen of water to have for his family. Then after arriving in Egypt and staying for a while, they had to pack up again and make the long journey back to Nazareth.
I think at times we forget that Jesus was on earth in human flesh and had to go through everything that every other person does. Mary went through the frustrations of having a cranky, teething baby. I'm sure there were nights when Jesus would fuss and cry and she had to walk the floor, singing to Him. He had to learn how to crawl, walk and talk. He fell down, lost his baby teeth, smashed fingers while trying to learn to use a hammer as a boy, had to go to school and study, go through those awkward gangly teenage boy years, and perhaps even had acne. Joseph may have taught Jesus how to shave. Although God had sent Jesus here to fulfill a heavenly purpose and Jesus was here on a mission for His Father, He was still here in human form; half man and half God. I'm sure after finding Jesus in the temple debating with the teachers at age 12, Joseph and Mary didn't quite know what to do with Him at times. They probably didn't always fully understand Him or know how to deal with Him. When Jesus asked them, "Don't you know that I must be about My Father's business," they didn't know exactly what He meant and I'm sure they spent hours pondering that in their hearts. And I'm sure they spent many hours in prayer, asking for divine direction in raising this Holy Child.
It is believed that Joseph died before Jesus began His ministry at age 30 because he is never mentioned in scripture after that point, although Mary is. When Jesus left home to begin His ministry and Mary heard rumors of the Pharisees and priests trying to destroy Him, I'm sure she wished Joseph was there to lean on. I'm sure she worried about Jesus when He was traveling and she had no idea where He was, what was happening, if He was getting enough to eat, etc. Although she knew He was the Messiah, it was difficult to fully comprehend the fullness of what that completely meant. When she stood beneath the cross and looked upon her Son, hanging there bleeding and dying and in torment, it must have broken her heart. Her mind may have replayed images of His life from birth leading up to that point.
No, I doubt when the angel appeared to Mary that she had any idea what the future held in store for her. But she was willing to obey the angel's message and be the vessel that God used to be the mother of Jesus. She didn't know that she'd have to leave her hometown for a few years and flee to another country in order to protect her baby boy. She didn't know the heartbreak she'd have to endure while watching Jesus die on a cross. But she also didn't know the joy and pleasure a child would bring to her life either. But facing the unknown Mary said, "Be it unto me according to your word!"
That's the kind of heart I want to have. A heart that will trust God with the unknown. A heart that will willingly obey, even when I don't understand the magnitude of what God has in store for me. May we all have a heart like Mary!
After Mary agreed to have Jesus, things didn't go perfectly. We've probably mentioned this before. But that's because it comes up often. Just because we are living according to God's will doesn't mean everything will go smoothly. God did protect Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. But they had to flee for their lives, live in a foreign land (I'm not sure if they knew the language), and put up with a kid that wandered off from time to time. And I can't imagine how they must have felt fleeing to Egypt while Harod sent soldiers to kill the other toddlers in their town.
But they were doing God's will. And they were blessed. And we are all blessed with salvation.
This month I'll be sharing family recipes for Christmas -- some from myself and others from other family members.
Granny Schwyhart's Fudge
1 can evaporated milk
2 cups chopped nuts (optional)
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 jar marshmallow cream
24 oz. Nestle chocolate chips
1 stick butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Put evaporated milk and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 6 minutes. Stir constantly to prevent scorching after 4 1/2 minutes. In a large bowl put all other ingredients. Pour boiling mixture over ingredient in bowl. Stir until glossy. Pour in buttered pans. This makes a lot, so you can layer the fudge between layers of waxed paper or saran wrap in a freezer container and keep it. Makes a nice treat to have on hand!
(I like nuts and Jon doesn't so when I make this I pour half the fudge in a pan, then mix in the nuts and pour remaining mixture in another pan. Keeps us both happy!)
This picture of me and my sisters was taken probably around 1969 when I was age 4. Our tree that year was pretty scraggly looking and definitely not the most beautifully shaped or decorated. But boy weren't we dressed snazzy!!
Wonder what would happen if we put as much thought into what gift to give Jesus, as we do into what to give family and friends?
All He really wants is our whole heart.
We love you!
Loretta & Jon