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The First Family of Christmas

The story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus will be repeated thousands of times during the holiday season. With rose-colored, spiritual glasses we will see a beautiful young family with a new baby, who just happens to be the Son of God. We will experience the pageantry of the angels, the shepherds and the wise men. We will rejoice in the star, the special magi gifts, the humble stable and the night when heaven sang. Because we do not live in the culture of Mary and Joseph, we have no idea the price they paid to walk in obedience to God. Nor do we realize the ridicule Jesus faced during his lifetime because of his family situation. I would like to share some of the wedding traditions and customs of Jesus’ day in order to broaden our perspective and increase our love for this “first family of Christmas”. The betrothal was the first step in the wedding plans. The groom always initiated the establishment of the betrothal or marriage covenant. He would visit the father of the bride to determine the price that would be paid for his daughter. It was the tradition for the groom to pay the father for some of the expenses of rearing the daughter. Daughters did not work in the field as sons did, and were considered a financial burden. When a daughter married, the parents would recoup part of their investment for providing for their daughter. Once the price was paid a marriage covenant was established and the bride was set apart for her groom. A cup of wine, also known as, the cup of joy was shared between the groom, the bride and the bride’s parents. In the sight of the family and the community, at this point the two young people were committed to one another as husband and wife. The groom would leave his bride’s home and go to his father’s house for approximately twelve months. During this period of separation, the groom would build a house for his bride and furnish it with the necessary provisions. He would save money and make plans for their future. He would wait with anticipation for the day when he would go get his bride and bring her back to the home he had prepared for her. During the groom’s absence, the bride would be preparing her trousseau. She would be learning from her mother how to manage a home and care for her husband and future children. The bride would wait with expectancy for her groom to come and take her to her new life – for the moment when they would finally be together alone as husband and wife. The groom would arrive at the bride’s home with his best man and other male attendants. The nighttime, torch-light procession was usually preceded by a shout to alert the bride that her groom was coming. The veiled bride and all of her attendants would join the wedding party and travel to the groom’s home. Word of the event quickly spread and wedding guests would assemble for the consummation of the betrothal period. Vows would be exchanged and the couple would be escorted to the bridal chamber where they would have sexual relations for the first time since the marriage covenant had been agreed upon. The couple would remain in seclusion for seven days and the guests would feast and celebrate. After seven days the groom and bride, with her veil removed, would join their guests and receive the blessings of the whole community. In the case of Mary and Joseph, betrothal had been entered into and Joseph was building their home. An angel appeared to Mary announcing that she would be the mother of the long awaited Messiah. (Luke 1:26-38) Joseph also had an angelic visitation announcing the conception of the Messiah. (Matthew 1:18-25) There would be no candlelight procession where Joseph would come to claim Mary. There would be no seven day honeymoon where Mary and Joseph shared their physical love. The whispers in the community were loud and clear. No one believed in an immaculate conception and the community would not celebrate the union of Mary and Joseph. Both Mary and Joseph paid a great price to obey God. In later years, Jesus was teaching and those who opposed him said this in John 8:41, “We are not born of fornication; we have one Father – God”. One time when Jesus went home to Nazareth, the people were offended with him and said, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?”(Matthew 13:53-58) Jesus’ lineage and his divinity were always challenged. There were always those who called him illegitimate. This “first family of Christmas” gave up all their hopes and dreams so that we might celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. Let’s embrace this season with thankful hearts and a new understanding of its cost. Honoring the birth of our Savior and wishing you and yours a glorious Christmas and a blessed and prosperous New Year!

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