As our thoughts turn to the story of Christ's birth at this time of year, I thought it might be well to consider the role of men in the events that took place around Christ's birth. As we look at these men, we find they represent a wide variety of social and economic classes, religious commitment and spirituality, education, and even nationality and ethnicity. They represented simple, uneducated shepherds and highly educated and sophisticated Magi. On the one hand, you find men of little influence and social impact, such as Joseph, all the way up to the absolute political power of King Herod. Let's take a look at each of these men and see what lessons they can teach us.
The first man we find in the story is Joseph, the fiancé of Mary. The Bible says he was a just or upright man (Matthew 1:19). When he found out that Mary was pregnant, he was concerned for both her reputation and his. He could have pressed charges against her, and according to the law, she could have been stoned for getting pregnant out of wedlock (though this would have required approval from the Roman authorities). At the very least, he could have publicly humiliated and shamed her in a way that would have permanently ruined her reputation and sentenced her to disgrace for the rest of her life. But the Bible says he sought to "put her away privately," (v. 19) so as to not unduly hurt her. It is obvious that he had great love for Mary, and though he may have been shocked and disappointed to learn of her pregnancy, he still wanted to treat her with as much love and kindness as possible. I wonder how many of us would have reacted in a similar way if we had discovered the same condition in our wives or girlfriends. Would we turn to slander and accusation, or would we respond with kindness and forgiveness?
Joseph reflected the character of Christ and God, and he showed he truly understood what it meant to be a man after God's heart.
Of course, we know that God intervened and revealed to Joseph the truth about Mary's pregnancy. It was a miraculous pregnancy. Once again, we see something of Joseph's character. Even though he couldn't deny the heavenly visit of the angel, he still might have been tempted to back out of the marriage. Mary and Joseph knew the truth about Jesus' birth, but many others would doubt what they said. Joseph would face a hard life of questions and suspicions about the morality of his wife and even his own morality. Many would accuse his son, Jesus, of being an illegitimate child. Joseph chose to accept what God told him and stand beside and support both Mary and Jesus despite what people said about them. Are we willing to stick by our wives and children when people attack and criticize them in a similar way? Joseph reflected the character of Christ and God, and he showed he truly understood what it meant to be a man after God's heart. Can people say the same about you and me?
Another thing we can say about Joseph is that he was a hard-working man who did his best to provide for his family; we are told he was a carpenter by trade. He may have been older when he married Mary and seems to have had children from a previous marriage. Yet, he apparently continued to work in his chosen trade and even trained Jesus to take the same occupation so that Mary and Jesus could be taken care of after his death. We men of today can learn from his example the importance of making sure our families are provided for even after we die and the importance of making sure that our children are given the skills and education they need to be successful, productive adults.
When God reveals something to us, do we doubt His Word or do we accept it as the truth and act upon it like the shepherds?
The next men we come across in the Christmas story are the shepherds. Shepherds were considered low-class citizens in the time of Christ. Many had shady reputations and were considered of low moral worth. To take the occupation of a shepherd meant that you weren't intelligent enough to do anything else. They had hard lives, living outdoors most of the time with little or no shelter. And yet, it was to these despised and lowly men that God chose to reveal the event of Christ's birth. These shepherds knew the prophecies of the Messiah's birth, and we are told that they had been praying for and anticipating the time when he would be born. When the angels appeared to them and told them where to find Jesus, they made haste to go to Bethlehem. They did not doubt what God told them, nor did they question how it was that the Messiah was born in a stable and was lying in a feed trough. They didn't ask whether it made sense, they just willingly obeyed. When God reveals something to us, do we doubt His Word or do we accept it as the truth and act upon it like the shepherds? Another lesson from the shepherds that can benefit us as men today was that once they found Jesus, they shared the news of His birth everywhere they went with joy and gladness. Do you share Jesus wherever you go? God is looking for men to share the good news of salvation today. Like the shepherds, He is looking for faithful men to tell the world about Jesus. When was the last time you shared your testimony of what God has done for you? Have you ever shared how you found Jesus with a friend, a neighbor, or a coworker? Does sharing Jesus fill your heart with joy?
To what lengths are you willing to go to have a relationship with Jesus?
Some time passed before we reached the next group of men who had an encounter with Jesus after his birth. They are referred to in the book of Matthew as "wise men" from the east. These men were probably not Jews but noblemen of Persian or Arab nationality. Interestingly, we find that Christ was attracting people of all races and nationalities even from His birth. He didn't come for just the house of Israel, but He came as the Savior of the whole world. These Magi were well educated, and they also were acquainted with the scriptures predicting Christ's birth. It is believed that they had a knowledge of the true God through their ancestor's interaction with the Jewish captives during the Babylonian captivity. They knew the prophecy of Numbers 24 that spoke of a star heralding the birth of the Messiah (v. 17). When they saw the miraculous star, they set out to find the Messiah. They had to travel many hundreds of miles at great sacrifice, mainly traveling at night to find Jesus. They also brought expensive gifts to honor His birth and were the first to recognize Him as a king. They were also the first to bow before Him in worship (Matthew 2:11). We should also be willing to do whatever it takes to follow and worship Christ--making sacrifices and even being willing to suffer hardship for His sake. To what lengths are you willing to go to have a relationship with Jesus? Like the wise men, God wants us to study the scriptures so we can know the signs and be ready for Christ's second coming like they were ready for His first. God calls us to bring offerings of thanks and worship to Jesus so His work can advance and others can find Him. What gifts are you bringing to Jesus this Christmas season?
Like many men today, he was determined to win at all cost, even if innocent people had to suffer and lives were unjustly sacrificed.
The last man we read about that was connected with Christ's coming is Herod. Unlike those we have mentioned so far, instead of being a follower of God and wanting to do God's will, Herod was only interested in maintaining his political control and power. He sought to ruthlessly squelch any kind of threat or challenge to his sovereignty. When the wise men had been led by the star to Jerusalem to get more information about where the Messiah would be born, Herod deceitfully hid his true intentions about what he wanted to do with Jesus. Though Herod claimed he wanted to worship Christ, he had no intentions of doing so, and sacrificed hundreds of innocent lives to make sure there was no possibility of a rival ruler. He illustrates the worst type of male domination and competition. Like many men today, he was determined to win at all cost, even if innocent people had to suffer and lives were unjustly sacrificed. How important is winning to me? To what lengths am I willing to go to get ahead or to keep others from winning an advantage over me? Am I willing to lie and deceive? Am I willing to cause others harm, whether it be physical or psychological? Do I hate and slander those who I perceive as a threat to my career, my influence, or even my ego or my pride? God, deliver us from the attitude of Herod. Rather, may we show the love and compassion of Joseph, the zeal in sharing the good news of the shepherds, and the sacrifice and commitment of the wise men.
Merry Christmas! Through God's grace, may we all follow the examples of the faithful men in the Christmas story.