Thursday, December 18, 2014

If All Men were like Joseph

I know that this is a blog on the women in the scriptures, but there is one man from the scriptures I have been thinking a lot about this Christmas.

Joseph, the husband of Mary.

It sometimes seems like Joseph gets swept aside in the story of the Nativity. Mary and Jesus are the main characters, and Joseph seems to have gotten the supporting role. Yet, as I have studied Mary this last year, and Jesus Christ's interactions with women, the more my appreciation for Joseph has grown. He exemplifies every good trait that you could want in a husband, a father, and in a man. I know so many good, good men who are a lot of like Joseph, but I also know that there are so many women in the world who suffer because of the bad choices of men. So as I've thought about Joseph I've found myself wishing that ALL men were like him and here is why.

If all men were like Joseph:

There would be mercy for women

The first place we are introduced to Joseph is in Matthew 1: 18-19 when, after finding out that Mary-- his betrothed-- was pregnant he decided to "put her away (divorce her) privily" because he was "not willing to make her a publick example." Being betrothed was a covenant relationship and even though Mary and Joseph did not yet live together as husband and wife, her getting pregnant was the equivalent of adultery. In Leviticus 20: 10 it says,

"And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death

Justice under the Mosaic law demanded that Mary be killed, but Joseph was merciful. Which is astounding considering that he must have felt all the feelings of someone whose husband or wife was unfaithful to them-- anger, betrayal, hurt, confusion, and a loss of his dreams for the future. It is amazing to me that in the face of such emotions he didn't let vengeance or anger rule him, but chose the higher road of understanding and forgiveness. He showed mercy and kindness to Mary, even when he was hurt and upset. 

Women would never be abandoned 

It is powerful to me that after Joseph's visit from the angel, telling him that Mary's child was indeed the Son of God, that he had the courage to take her as his wife. In the eyes of his family and his community his actions would have looked an awful lot like a confession that HE was the one who had gotten Mary pregnant. In fact, later in Jesus's life the Pharisees slung these words at him, "We be not born of fornication." (John 8:41) These words indicate that many people probably believed that Joseph and Mary had fornicated (had sex before marriage), which was far from the truth.  Yet, it is amazing to me that Joseph was willing to take the blame for something he didn't do, and carry that label and accusation for the rest of his life.  He didn't let Mary carry her burden alone, he carried it with her.

Women's bodies would be respected

"And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son." (Matt. 1:25)

It is just one sentence but I think it speak volumes about Joseph. We don't know how far along Mary was when they were married but it seems that they were living together as husband and wife when  Mary delivered Jesus. Yet, even though they were a married couple Joseph "knew her not", meaning he wasn't sexually intimate with her, until after her son was born. I don't want to get into a debate about whether or not you should have sex when you are pregnant, but I do want to point out that this simple statement shows us that Joseph had respect for Mary's body. He didn't try to force himself on her or try to satisfy his own lusts. He was willing to wait, to abstain (even in marriage) and to let Mary be queen of her own body. And that is impressive.

All children would have fathers

A few days ago I read a post about the significance of swaddling bands, and was really impressed by the symbolism those bands had. One of the symbols of swaddling bands was that the baby was legitimate, and that the father claimed the child as his own. Jesus wearing swaddling bands means that Joseph claimed him as his son. Like I mentioned before this meant that Joseph likely took the blame for something he didn't do (getting Mary pregnant) but it also meant that Jesus would not have to grow up with stigma of being an illegitimate child. He would  have been raised by a father who wanted him, stood by him, and was there to support his mother. Joseph, even though he wasn't Jesus's father in the flesh, was the type of father that every child deserves to have.
Women and children would be protected from danger

After the visit of wise men Joseph again received a visit from an angel telling him that Jesus was not safe and that he should take him to Egypt. Even though this would not have been an easy trip to make Joseph didn't seem to have hesitated at all. He quickly prepared for the journey (which could have been financed by the gifts the wise men brought?) and fled with  Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He would have had to leave behind what ever carpentry practice he had built up, any home he had started to construct, as well as his friends and his family. Yet, he was willing to make sacrifices to protect his family and he wasn't afraid to follow commandments without completely understanding why. His courage and faith ensured that Jesus survived, and they were spared the horror that swept through Judea when Herod had all the babies under two murdered.

Families would be guided by the spirit

After being in Egypt for awhile Joseph again had a dream in which he was told that it was safe to return home to Judea. Yet, as he was returning to Israel he heard that Herod's son was now ruling in his stead and was afraid to return to Bethlehem. As they were traveling he also had a dream that warned him not to go back to Judea but to go to Galilee. Joseph and Mary ended up moving back to Nazareth (where they were both from) and in doing so fulfilled a prophecy that said the Messiah would "be called a Nazarene." (Matt. 2:23) Joseph was a man who was able to receive revelation, for his family and for himself, and trusted the guidance he received from the spirit.

Marriages would be partnerships 

The last time we hear of Joseph is in Luke 2: 42- 52 when Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem. Luke tells us that "Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew it not... but when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him." Throughout the whole story the plural "they" is used. It is just one word, but I love it because it gives us an example of how Mary and Joseph worked together in their marriage and their parenthood.  Even though we don't have any examples of Joseph changing diapers or getting up with the baby during the night, I think this story gives us an idea of how they may have worked together to raise and take care of their family. Due to their culture and time period they may not have been "equal" partners as we might think of a married couples today being, but I do think they were unified and both righteously striving towards the same goals. 

As I think about the type of man the Joseph was I can see why God chose him to be the earthly father of Jesus. Many of the things that Jesus taught about women, and that He demonstrate throughout his life, were also demonstrated by Joseph in his love and concern for Mary. That is a powerful example.

So I hope as you tell the Nativity story this Christmas that you won't rush over Joseph's part. His love, compassion, mercy and wisdom made Mary and Jesus's divine work possible. Without him there wouldn't have been a Nativity story to tell, and well,  if all men were like him... the world would be a much better place.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Where was Jesus Really Born?

This Christmas season my heart is a jumble of so many thoughts about Mary. I've spent the last year writing about her, dreaming about her, thinking about her, and pondering on all the women and men she would have known in mortality. The more I learn about her the more astounded I am by the woman she was.

Yet, there is something small I learned this year as I was studying Mary that really impressed me. It has to do with the story of the Nativity. In Luke 2: 6-7 it reads:
"And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

It is the word that is translated as "inn"  that interested me. The word in Greek is "kataluma" and it has several meanings and usages including, " an inn, a lodging place, an eating room, and a dining room" (source). This means that the "inn" may have referred to a public lodging house, but it also could have been a guestroom in a private residence. In fact, many house did have a guestroom, which often was the upper room of the house.  This was the room of the house that was literally above the rest of the house and was usually reserved for guests or important meetings.

Most interestingly, is that the ONLY other place that the word "kataluma" is used in the New Testament is to refer to the "upper room" that Jesus and His apostles met in for the Last Supper. In Mark 14: 14 (and also in Luke 22:11) the word "kataluma" is used when Jesus instructs the apostles to secure a room for the passover. It reads,

"13 And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 

 14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber [kataluma], where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?

 15 And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us."

In this usage "kataluma" is clearly the guestroom of the house, which makes me suspect that the same was probably true of the "kataluma" where there was no room for Mary and Joseph.

I found a great website of a re-constructed New Testament house that can help you understand it better. Many New Testament houses would probably have looked something like this.

The bedrooms and living quarters (including the guestroom or "kataluma") would have been on the upper levels. The kitchen was often outside and the bottom floor of the house (what in this picture is the stone archway) would have been something  similar to our modern day garages, where things would have been stored. Instead of a car inside though,  it would have been the donkey and the cart. Other animals, like chickens, sheep, and goats would also have been kept on this lower level of the house.

It is interesting when we look at New Testament house like this, and remember that Joseph would have had a lot of family in (and traveling to) Bethlehem, how our idea of Mary and Joseph rushing through crowded streets trying to find a place to stay might not be exactly correct. First of all the text tells us that "while they were there" Mary went into labor, which makes it sound like they had been in Bethlehem for awhile, not rushing to find a place to stay.

Second, I think given the culture of the time it makes more sense to think that Mary and Joseph, who probably would  have made the 67 mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the company of family, were welcomed into the home of one of Joseph's relatives rather than a public house. Then perhaps, because the house was overflowing with extended family, there was no room for them in the  "kataluma", they were obliged to sleep in the lower level of the house, with the animals. We might even speculate that Joseph's relatives could  have been trying to give Mary more privacy by having her labor and birth in the "stable", where she would have had much more room to move around than else where in the crowded house.

It is impossible for us to know what really happened the night Jesus was born but I like this version of the Nativity much better than I do the way we traditionally tell it. Traditionally we make it sound like the Inn Keeper (who isn't mentioned in the text) was a bad guy who forced a pregnant woman to give birth in a degrading and desperate situation. 

It changes things for me when I think about Mary giving birth to baby Jesus in a home, surrounded by family and people to give her support. She still would have given birth in less than ideal conditions and in very humble circumstances, but thinking of it this way helps me imagine what an incredible, beautiful birth it must have been to witness.

Regardless of where Jesus was actually born it still impresses me that the only two places the word "kataluma" is used in the New Testament are in the stories of the preparation for Jesus's birth and in the story of Jesus's preparation for the sacrament.

There was no place for Him in the "kataluma" when He was born. Yet, thirty-three years later it would be in a "kataluma" where He would first institute the sacred work of the sacrament-- the emblems of His body and His blood that make it possible for us to be re-born into God's kingdom.

I'm still trying to get my mind and heart around what exactly that means. But somehow that word "kataluma" links the event of Christ's birth to the event of the sacrament, atonement and resurrection-- two miraculous birth stories. And it reminds me that this Christmas season is celebrating the birth of the One perfect man, the One whose life made all lives worth living. The One, who through His birth, His death, and His re-birth, made it possible for us to never die... and that is definitely worth celebrating.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Bless this Mess {Christmas Ideas}

Several months ago I started following Bless this Mess Please on Instagram and fell in love with her. I usually don't read food blogs (cooking is something I put minimal effort into) but I love Melissa's Instagram feed and the glimpses into her small town, wanna-be farm life. I'd only been following her for a few days before I knew that we were kindred spirits and, if we didn't live a 1,000 miles away from each other, probably would be good friends.

Anyway, I asked her if she would review my book on her blog and she kindly agreed. Then she offered an exchange. She'd review my book if I reviewed some of the Christmas things she has been making for her Etsy store. Sounded good to me!

Right before we left for Thanksgiving I got this in the mail.

My kids were really excited about it and promptly dumped the whole thing on the ground. Then they spent about a half hour trying to figure out how to get it together, and since I'd had no idea what it looked like when it arrived I didn't know how it was suppose to go together. Luckily I looked it up in Melissa's Etsy store and saw how it was suppose to go together. Now that we know how it goes together it doesn't take us long to put it back together (thought it is still a fun challenge for the kiddos).

Melissa hand makes these and I was really impressed by the quality of the shapes and the beauty of the wood. The lightness of the wood surprised me because it looks like it should be heavier than it is, but I guess that is just how cedar wood is. I've seen these types of nativities before, but this one is one of the best I have ever seen! All the objects are laser cut and are just beautifully done. I like how they are darker on the edges so that when you stand them up they look really nice. If you collect nativities (or know someone who does) this would be an awesome one to add to your collection. I love the painted one she has as well.

She also sent me this beautiful nativity ornament. It is beautifully carved and I'm loving it immensely. She is really talented.

If you are looking for a good gift for family or friends, or just to add to your Christmas decorations, I'd recommend giving Melissa's Etsy shop a look. If you want to give a meaningful and unique gift she has plenty of good ideas!

Thanks Melissa! And Merry Christmas!