|Matthew 1:21 – “She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
One of the shadow figures in the story of the birth of Jesus is the man who raised him. Let him speak to us.
I am a simple carpenter. No one would believe my story. I would not have believe it had I not lived it.
My father, Jacob, was a carpenter who trained me to be a carpenter. As a boy, he told me the family stories. My favorite was of a shepherd who became a king. He said we were related to a famous king. We had royal blood flowing through our veins.
My long days in the carpenter shop belied that fact.
I had found the love of my life. I betrothed Mary, and we planned to be married. Then, I heard the street whispers. I could not believe they could be right, until Mary admitted she was pregnant, but not by a man. It was the Holy Spirit. What kind of man could believe that! The news crushed me. I left that night and decided to end our relationship quietly. I did not want to be hurt, and I did not want Mary to face any more ridicule. I needed to put this sad time behind me.
Perhaps I would never marry or have children.
I am a simple carpenter. I like tangible things. I enjoy the feel of the grain of the wood as I run my hand over it. I want things I can touch, feel, and cut. I have always preferred sawdust to theology.
That is why it was hard when I awoke one night. Was it my imagination? But there stood a messenger. I had never seen an angel, and his appearance shivered my spine and focused my attention. He said Mary had told the truth. She was pregnant with someone else’s son. The father is God. It was God’s will, God’s way, God’s plan.
“Don’t be afraid,” was his message. Mary will have a son, and you are to give him the name Joshua (or in Greek, Jesus) because he will save people from their sins. He is will “God with Us.”
I could not pass my hands over the grain of this revelation like a cypress board. This dream changed all my plans. Mary and I remained betrothed, but I dared not touch her in her state. The months passed quickly. Mary’s womb grew swollen with child. The angel’s message echoed in my soul.
The Roman emperor dictated that we leave our home and travel to my family hometown of Bethlehem, but it was the worst of timing. Mary had started to groan with pain, but we had no choice. I placed her on the donkey and tried to find the least bumpy path to Bethlehem, but the trip was miserable for a woman about to give birth.
As we neared the ancient town, it was alive with pilgrims. I knocked on doors and had them slammed in my face. I begged and pleaded, but all space was taken. We finally came to what seemed to be the last place on earth. The man was not very sympathetic, but he gave in when he heard the moaning of Mary.
“There’s a cave where I keep the livestock. It’s not much of a place, but there’s straw, and it is out of the cold.”
Here I was, not even able to find a decent place for a child to be born. It was not what I wanted, but it was all we had. I lifted Mary as gently as possible and carried her to the makeshift barn. I spread what little straw there was and tried to find as clean a place as possible. I shooed away the animals from the manger. It was not a suitable crib for a newborn, but it was a necessary one this night.
There, on a quiet night in a place Bethlehem ignored, the baby spoken by the angel was born. With a sharp cry, life came to a dark cave.
Little did I know that life came to the entire world that night.
I placed the crying boy in the manger. He was not mine but a baby that I was given to raise. I gazed at him as he whimpered and whispered his name, “Jesus.”
This was not how I envisioned my world.
We fulfilled God’s command at the temple on the eighth day. There our son was circumcised. They asked, “what is his name?” I answered without wavering, “his name is Jesus.”
I did not have much time to ruminate about this new life bestowed by an angel. It wasn’t too many days until the angel returned.
“Leave this country” he said. “Herod is slaughtering any potential rival who has been born.” I had heard the wails of mothers haunting the darkness. I knew I had to act with haste.
That night, I collected my new family and loaded them on the donkey. We made my way down a dark road headed toward the desert. For two years, I worked odd jobs in Egypt. Once the reports of Herod’s death reached us, I could return home but decided to be careful. We traveled north, east of the Jordan until we came to the sleepy village of Nazareth.
There, I could raise my son to serve God.
We made regular journeys for feasts. One Passover, we missed him. We backtracked worriedly hoping for his safety. We heard our son’s 12-year-old voice echo in the temple. He was answering questions of the rabbis who had an amazed look on their faces. He told us he had to be about his father’s business. I knew then, he would never be a carpenter like I was.
I am sorry to say I never got to see him reach maturity. I died leaving Mary with Jesus and the other children we had together. I wish I could have been there, but glad that I wasn’t. He opened blind eyes, straightened crippled legs, and raised corpses to life.
But this son I raised was put on a Roman execution cross where he died in pain and humiliation. Why would they kill my son? After all, his name was Jesus or salvation. How can death be saving?
I am a simple carpenter. I want my world real and hard as oak. When I run my calloused hand over my life, I realize God chose me to serve in shadows. He chose me to protect his son. He chose me to raise his son. And his son, and mine saved the world from their sins.
I am a simple carpenter. It took me a while to believe, but I do now. Will you believe it, too?
-Robert G. Taylor-