Do You Know These Women – Part V?

Last year I shared stories of women who played a big part in history – yet are often ignored in our history books and their stories remain largely untold.

I wonder if anyone who read those blogs even remember those women now.

Dot Graden, Ann Caracristi, Virginia Adaholt, Jeannette Rankin and Katherine Johnson were all women who played an important role in the history of our country.

Deborah, Jael, Shiphrah and Puah were given small mention in the Bible, yet played important roles in the history of Israel as told in the Bible.

As we approach the Christmas season and hear the Christmas story, I wonder if anyone will stop and ask “Who are these women” that Matthew mentions in his opening chapters telling of the birth of baby Jesus?

Matthew’s first chapter is written to show that Jesus descended from the father of the nation, Abraham, and also from the kingly line of David. He mentioned many men but surprisingly he includes the names of five women.

Who were these women? Why were their included in this list?

(NOTE: Of course we have no idea what these women looked like. These pictures are only an artist’s idea. I found it interesting in searching for pictures of Biblical characters that the majority of them are white even though we know the people of the Old Testament were from the Middle East and I am sure Jesus was not blue-eyed and blonde.)

The first one mentioned is Tamar. Her story is told in Genesis 38.

As you read her story you might wonder what this woman, who was probably a Canaanite and who solicited sex from her father-in-law, is doing here. A daughter-in-law of Judah, after her first husband died she married his brother. This was the custom when a man died leaving no children. On the death of her second husband, Judah promised to give her his third son as a husband when he was old enough to be married. However, he had no intention to do so. When it became apparent to Tamar that she would not have another husband, she posed as a prostitute and solicited a sexual encounter with Judah. This very questionable action on her part was her pursuit of justice for herself. Remember, there was no social security in those days and women without a husband or children often had little or no resources to sustain them. When Judah realized what Tamar had done to make sure she was taken care of he said “she is more righteous than I am.”

Then there was Rahab. We learn of her in the book of Joshua.

The Old Testament says she was a prostitute in the city of Jericho.

Not only a prostitute but a Gentile, we find Rahab had heard the stories of how God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt and had led them in the defeat of King Sihon and King Og just across the the Jordan River from Jericho. Clearly she believed that Israel’s God was the true God as she hid the spies sent to check out Jericaho. She told them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you….for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

Rahab clearly believed that the God of the Israelites was the true God and she was willing to risk her life to help them. She also apparently believed this was the way to save her own life. Looking out not just for herself, she asked for protection for her family. Her faith in the God of the Israelites saved her and her family when Jericho was defeated by Joshua’s army. She later married Salmon and gave birth to a son, Boaz, who we meet later in another woman’s story. Jewish tradition says Salmon was one of the spies she hid.

Our third woman’s story is given in the book of Ruth.

The story of Ruth is a beautiful love story. Not only the story of love between Ruth and her husband, Boaz, but also Ruth’s love and commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth was also a Gentile. She had married into Naomi’s family when the family had settled in Moab trying to escape a famine in their own land of Israel. While there Naomi’s husband and her two sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law widows. Naomi decided she needed to return to her own land and her own family. One of the daughter-in-law stayed in Moab with her own people, but Ruth refused to allow Naomi to go back home alone. Her Words to Naomi are often used in wedding ceremonies. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”  Once back in the land of Israel, Ruth continued to do all she could to take care of her mother-in-law. Read the beautiful love story of how Ruth came to find a new husband in Boaz, son of Rahab.

Our fourth woman is Bathsheba. We really know little about this woman except in the context of King David’s adultery and later murder. Caught in a difficult situation and in that culture, forced into betraying her husband, she suffered not only the death of her husband but also the death of her child by David. But it appears she remained resilient and later she gave David another son who became his father’s heir. She is a good example of how life may put us in situations over which we have little control, but God is still faithful.

Of course, we all know the story of the last woman mentioned, Mary. What a story it is! A simple young girl living in a town far from the hustle and bustle of the day is told by an angel that she is going to have a child. Imagine the fear that would fill her heart. To be pregnant before marriage was an offence punishable by stoning. Who would believe her story? Yet we all know her response was “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

These women and their stories tell us much about God and his love. He chose those we would have never have picked to be the earthly ancestors of God. Yet, in selecting these women, I think it reveals hope to us all.

God can and will use anyone who is willing.

God and and will use the weak and the foolish.

Those people may reject – God can and will use.

I think it all shows just how much the story of Christmas is about Jesus coming to be “one of us.” To take on our weaknesses, to know hunger, cold, pain. His birth, his earthly life show us that he truly can relate to us who are weak, with faults and in need of a Savior.

First Christmas vs Our Christmas Now!

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Christmas!  What a magical time!  We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths.  We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two.  We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat.  Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful.   It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth and greet one another with “Merry Christmas!”

Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful.   Many of the cards show bright lights shining above the heads of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus.  Even our Christmas carols speak of a litMV5BMTgwOTI4NDU2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzE2MjY0NA@@__V1_UY100_CR25,0,100,100_AL_tle baby who makes no crying.

But how far from that first Christmas have we come?  Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?

 

Mary’s Story

How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words:  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”   Name Him Jesus – “Savior”

Because we know how the story ends, we think “What a honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God.  What great news this was.”

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But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment.  How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

And how would she face Joseph?  He would know he was not the father.    What would he say?  Would he still marry her?  Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?

What about the child?  Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?

Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.  Mary had to decide – “Do I trust God?”

Her decision was a matter of trust.  She  responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”   Later Mary expressed how blessed she realized she was as she spoke to her cousin Elizabeth and said, ” “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!   For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.   For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.

Joseph’s Story

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And what about Joseph?  A simple carpenter engaged to a young woman in the village, Joseph no doubt was making plans for his soon-to-be bride and the family they would someday have.   Looking forward with anticipation to their wedding, he is suddenly hit with the news that his future bride is pregnant.

What sorrow he must have felt as he believed Mary had been unfaithful to him.  What agony as he struggled with the decision he faced.  Should he publicly denounce her – maybe even see her stoned?  Should he, could he forgive her ?   Although his heart was breaking, all his hopes and dreams were crushed, he was a godly and kind man.

As he thought about what to do, an angel appeared to him and said,  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the  child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.   And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!   She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,  which means ‘God is with us.’”

While no doubt  Joseph rejoiced at this news, he had to have also been filled with thoughts of great apprehension.  What a tremendous responsibility he was given – to raise the Son of God!  Like Mary, he had to make a decision to totally trust God and welcome Emmanuel into his home.

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And then the journey to Bethlehem.   How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.”  And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past,  will come from you on my behalf.

Luke tells us:    “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot.  Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  There could be threats of bandits along the trail.  They had to carry their own provisions.

The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem.  We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable  but it is possible that they shared that stable with others.  In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.

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And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manager, because there was no lodging available for them.

 

 

The Shepherds’ Story

And what of the shepherds?  If you had been given the responsibility to announce the birth of the Messiah, who would you have chosen to tell?   Would you have selected a group of people who spent most of their days in the fields with the sheep and had no influence with society?  Shepherds were the blue-collar workers largely unnoticed by those in authority.

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That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  See the excitement with which the shepherds received this news and hurried to find the child.

The Wise Men’s Story

And what of the wise men.  Matthew tells us

“About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.   King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.  He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:  ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”  After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

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The Wise Men traveled many miles to worship the King of the Jews.  They did not hop a plane and arrive at Bethlehem in a few hours.  They did not pack their SUV with food and drink and drive a few days across the interstate.  Their journey required many days riding through the desert on the back of camels, stopping to sleep at night in their tents.  It was not an easy journey, but they came eagerly seeking to worship the King.

What is the real purpose of Christmas?

Now we come to the real purpose of Christmas.  The story of Christmas is only the beginning – unless it leads us to the cross and the empty tomb, it has lost its real purpose.

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“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

First Christmas – and our Christmas now!

  • That first Christmas required Mary and Joseph to totally trust God and accept His plans for their lives.  To believe the words of the angel, Gabriel, and accept God’s will for  their lives.  This Christmas, are you trusting God, are you willing to accept His plans for your life?
  • That first Christmas the shepherds received the good news of the child’s birth with great joy and hurried to find the child.  Today is our excitement at Christmas more focused on the presents, the decorations, the meals, the parties?  Are we still excited about the good news that  “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace?
  • That first Christmas the leading priests and teachers knew the prophecy….knew God’s Word.  Yet, they made no effort to go to Bethlehem to check out this story of the Messiah.  The Wise Men traveled a great distance – but the religious leaders could not be bothered to travel the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  As we enjoy this Christmas season with all our decorations, food and gatherings with family and friends, let us be sure that we take time to really seek the Messiah.  Let’s ask God to return us to the simple but awesome truth of that first Christmas in a dark, possibly cold, stable where two young people faced the awesome challenge of raising the Son of God without money, fame or lots of support simply trusting and obeying the Father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Christmas – Mary’s Story

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Christmas!  What a magical time!

We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths.  We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two.  We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat.  Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful.   It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful.  Even our Christmas carols speak of a little baby who makes no crying and of a night where all is calm.

But how far from that first Christmas have we come?  Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?

What about Mary?

How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words:  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Because we know how the story ends, we think “What an honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God.  What great news this was.”

But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment.  How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  Can you imagine the response of her parents to that announcement?

And how would she face Joseph?  He would know he was not the father.    What would he say?  Certainly he would have questions.  Would he still marry her?  Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?

What about the child?  Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?

Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.

Do I trust God?

Mary had to decide.

Her decision was a matter of trust.  She  responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

The trip to Bethlehem

How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.”  And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would journey-to-bethlehem-1062729_jpg_1418849826391_journey-to-bethlehem-1062729come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past,  will come from you on my behalf.

Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot.  Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  There could be threats of bandits along the trail.  They had to carry their own provisions.

The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem.  We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable  but it is possible that they shared that stable with others.  In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.

What a place to give birth!

I can’t imagine giving birth in a cold stable with possibly no help in delivery except my husband who is a carpenter and maybe some strangers who offered help.  To lay my new-born baby in a feeding trough for animals.

Baby Jesus did not cry?????

I find it hard to believe that baby Jesus just laid there quiet and calm.  After all, the Bible tells us that He came to “be like us,” to understand our weakness and frailty.

  • As He began His ministry, He experienced temptation just like us.
  • We see Him falling asleep after an exhaustive day ministering to the multitudes.
  • In the Garden of Gethsemane He cried out for deliverance from the cross.
  • He felt the agony of feeling forsaken by the Father on the cross.

One of the main points the writer of the book of Hebrews makes is that Jesus experienced human life as we know it, so why would He as a baby not have felt the cold, the hunger?  Why would He not have cried as all new-born babies do?

Enter the shepherds!  Wake up Mary!

Imagine Mary, worn out from giving birth, quieting her baby and watching Joseph tenderly lay him in the manger.  Perhaps she thought about the visit from Gabriel and his words about this son she just gave birth to.  Perhaps she wondered why, if this boy was the savior of the world, they were sleeping in a stable and he was laying in the place where animals took their meals.

Finally, she leans back on the hay to try to get a little sleep when suddenly the stable is invaded by a group of shepherds straight from the hills where they had been tending their sheep.  Pos002-christmas-shepherdssibly they did not smell all that pleasant.  They no doubt were very excited and loudly proclaiming what they had seen and heard.  As they shared the stories of the angels, no doubt Mary remembered her visit from Gabriel.  What reassurance to know that others now had heard the wonderful message that this child was sent from God.  She and Joseph were not alone in knowing the wondrous news of this birth.

The visit to the temple

Soon it was time to take the little baby to the temple and present the sacrifices required after giving birth.  We can see from the gifts they brought of two turtledoves or two young pigeons that Mary and Joseph were among the poor of the land.  Leviticus 12 tells us requirements for this offering.

“These, then are the procedures after childbirth.  But if she is too poor to bring a lamb, then she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigoens.

Standing in the temple still reflecting on all the events of the past few days, Mary was again reminded of the importance of her son when a man named Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, saying

Lord, now I can die content!  For I have seen him as you promised me I would.  I have seen the Savior you have given o the world.

But Simeon’s next words must have given Mary pause as he told her

A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejcted by many in Israel, and this to their undoing.  But he will be the greatest joy of many others.  And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.

Mary’s first Christmas

How different Mary’s experience of Christmas is from ours.  But as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may we go beyond the bright lights, the food, the music – may we, like Mary, experience the wonder of this miracuous birth.  May we trust this Savior and like Mary, may we say

I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything You say about me come true!