“But You Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2) Mary shifted her weight uncomfortably atop the donkey. She had been riding for hours. Just ahead, [...]


Lessons of unity and love from the Holy Family


“But You Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2)

Mary shifted her weight uncomfortably atop the donkey. She had been riding for hours. Just ahead, Joseph walked steadily onward, leading the way along the road toward distant Bethlehem. Mary once again felt the stirring of life within her.

It all began months earlier when this young Jewish woman received an assignment that was unique in all human history. She was to give birth to the child who would become the Messiah, the Son of God! (Luke 1:35) As the time to give birth approached, the need to take this journey arose. In the process, Mary faced a number of challenges to her faith. Let us see what helped her to stay spiritually strong.

Joseph and Mary were not the only ones on the move. Caesar Augustus had recently decreed that a registration be carried out in the land, and people had to travel to their town of origin in order to comply. How did Joseph respond? The account reads: “Of course, Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem,   because of his being a member of the house and family of David.”(Luke 2:1-4)

It was no coincidence that Caesar issued his decree at this time. A prophecy written down some seven centuries earlier foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Now, it so happened that there was a town named Bethlehem a mere seven miles (11 km) from Nazareth. However, the prophecy specified that it was “Bethlehem Ephrathah” that would produce the Messiah. (Micah 5:2) To reach that little village from Nazareth, travellers covered some 80 hilly miles (130 km) via Samaria. That was the Bethlehem to which Joseph was summoned, for it was the ancestral home of the family of King David- the family to which both Joseph and his bride belonged.

Did Mary know of the prophecy about Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah? The Bible does not say. At any rate, whether Mary decided to travel in order to obey her husband, a secular decree, or Yahweh’s own prophecy or because of a combination of factors—she set a splendid example. Yahweh greatly values a humble, obedient spirit. In our age, when submission often seems to be among the most disregarded of virtues, Mary’s example stands as a beacon for faithful people everywhere.

Mary and Joseph found Bethlehem crowded. Others had arrived to register before them, so there was no space for them at the lodging room. They had no choice but to settle down for the night in a stable. We can just imagine Joseph’s concern as he saw his wife suffering her birth pangs.

Luke’s account draws a discreet curtain of privacy around the scene, saying simply: “She gave birth to her son, the firstborn.” (Luke 2:7) Yes, her “firstborn” had arrived. Not only was he her firstborn but he was Yahweh’s own “firstborn of all creation,” the only-begotten Son of God!—(Col. 1:15).

It is at this point that the account adds a famous detail: “She bound him with cloth bands and laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:7) Nativity plays, paintings, and scenes around the world sentimentalize this setting. Consider, though, the reality. A manger is a feeding trough, a bin from which farm animals eat. Remember, the family was lodging in a stable, hardly a place to be noted for good air or hygiene—then or now. Really, what parents would choose such a spot for childbirth if there were any other options? Most parents want the best for their children. How much more so did Mary and Joseph want to provide the best for the Son of God!  However, they did not let their limitations embitter them; they simply did the best they could with what they had. Notice, for instance, that Mary herself cared for the infant, wrapping him snugly in cloth bands, then laying him carefully in the manger to sleep, ensuring that he would be warm and safe. Mary was not about to let anxiety over her present circumstances distract her from providing the best that she could. She and Joseph both knew, too, that caring spiritually for this child would be the most important thing they could do for him. (Deuteronomy 6:6-8.) Today, wise parents cultivate similar priorities as they bring their children up in this spiritually impoverished world.

A sudden commotion disturbs the peaceful scene. Shepherds rush into the stable, eager to see the family and the child in particular. They have hurried in from the hillsides where they were living with their flocks.  They tell the wondering parents about a marvellous experience they had just had. On the hillside during the night watch, an angel had suddenly appeared to them and told them that the Christ, or Messiah, had just been born in Bethlehem. They would find the child lying in a manger, swaddled in cloth bands. Then, something even more spectacular happened—a mighty host of angels appeared, praising God!—(Luke 2:8-14.)

No wonder these humble men came rushing into Bethlehem! They did not keep this good news to themselves. “They made known the saying . . . And all that heard marvelled over the things told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17, 18) The religious leaders of the day evidently looked down on shepherds. But Yahweh clearly valued these humble, faithful men.

How, though, did this visit affect Mary? Mary was surely exhausted from the rigors of childbirth, yet she listened intently to every word. And she did more: “Mary began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)This young woman truly was thoughtful. She knew that this angelic message was vital. Her God, Yahweh wanted her to know and to appreciate her son’s identity and importance. So she did more than listen. She stored away the words in her heart so that she could ponder over them again and again in the months and years to come. Here is an outstanding key to the faith that Mary showed throughout her life.—( Hebrews 11:1.)

Will you follow Mary’s example? Yahweh has filled the pages of his Word with vital spiritual truths. However, those truths can do us little good unless we first pay attention to them. We do that by reading the Bible regularly—not merely as a work of literature but as the inspired Word of God. (2 Tim. 3:16) Then, like Mary, we need to store up spiritual sayings in our heart, drawing conclusions. If we meditate on what we read in the Bible, contemplating ways that we can apply Yahweh’s counsel more fully, we will give our faith the nourishment it needs to grow.

The Christmas story is a story of a family that connects heaven and earth. Each member of Jesus’s earthly family—Mary, Joseph, and Jesus—stands as supernal examples of God’s Christmas gift to all mankind. The Christmas story should spiritually motivate us to emulate the attributes of this Holy Family. This family was unified in seeking God’s glory; unified in serving one another; unified in fulfilling God’s will; and unified in sacrifice, obedience, and love. This Holy Family provides us a pattern of attributes that, when emulated by our own families, will enable us to enjoy the same blessings of unity and love they enjoyed.

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