The Heroes of the First Christmas

By Anu Lal

The heroes of Christmas are, no doubt, Mary and Joseph. The cold night in Bethlehem is also a testimony to the chaste strength of Joseph and the unbreakable faith of Mary. Finding only a stable for them to spend the night, Joseph and Mary decide to follow the will of God. Mary knew when she felt the pangs of childbirth that the Saviour of the world was going to take birth in this stable. The birthplace of Jesus was perhaps a cave-like stable which was carved out of a wall on high ground. It may not be a well-constructed building, like the stables for cattle that we find today.

The magnitude of the event takes root in our hearts when we visualise the events. The God who created the whole world takes birth as a human being because nothing is impossible for God. Yet, he does not robe the human being from his comfort of rational reality. The birth of God in human form happens in the most rationalist way, the most human way. In more ways, he was human, than an average human being on that first Christmas night in Bethlehem.

Joseph was about to become a father. He knew this too. He was given the information through dreams. All those dreams were corroborated by real events that happened ever since around him, including the changing political scenarios in the province of Judea. Joseph understood that his marriage was complete in a different way. It was not like other marriages, where physical closeness or consummation marks its completion. Joseph knew he was going to be a father to a child who would save this world even before he married Mary. His dreams shone in the darkness of rationality and gave him light. He was wise enough to take direction from those dreams. Joseph accepted Mary not just because he believed in those vivid dreams during his sleep, but because he loved her and the child growing inside her.

Mary, on the other hand, was changed with a “yes” to the message from God. “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38, NRSV Bible). Ever since that day, that moment, nothing was the same for her. Her agreement with God’s will changed the nature of her marriage with Joseph. It would have never taken place had Joseph worried too much about the world, about what the others would say in case his fiance had conceived a baby before marriage. But Joseph didn’t abandon the relationship. He chose to honour God’s will for him and for Mary.

On that old night in Bethlehem, both Joseph and Mary were part of a prophecy. “But you, O 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: 12 NRSV). They might have known this prophecy. Perhaps, they were too burdened by the urgency of the occasion to think about an ancient prophecy. Certainly, as parents, they might have felt the concern for the birth condition of the christ child. Mary could have taken the responsibility upon herself and blamed herself; Joseph too. But they didn’t blame themselves. At least, the scripture did not register even a single word of discontent from the parents of the Messiah. Invisible to our eyes, both Mary and Joseph were carrying a cross into that manger. The cross was their concern, their agony, of not being able to locate an adequate place for the christ child to be born. It was a heavy cross. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7 NRSV)

There was no place for them in the inn. Luke states this as a fact. How did this fact enter the tradition? Certainly through Mary, who had narrated the incidents to the disciples of Jesus, later, especially to John and through John it might have reached Luke, as many scholars attest. This suggests that the possibility of finding an adequate place for the difficult time did cross the minds of Mary and Joseph. However, all they could find was the stable, under the starlit night sky, in the cold of Bethlehem. They were fighting with their urge to give the best to their newborn child. They were also in complete surrender to God’s will, in its true sense. Just like their brave son, Jesus Christ, they were also carrying their own cross, the cross of humiliation, the cross of abandonment, the cross of rejection, the cross of uncertainties. Where does their strength come from? Of course, Joseph and Mary are reflections of Godly humility. All because they surrendered their will to the will of God. This surrender made them heroes of the first Christmas.

Anu Lal is an Indian English author of books like Life After the Floods, Thalassery Biryani, etc. He is known for his short fiction and thought-provoking nonfiction. Being a devote Catholic, he is currently working on a Catholic reactionary series of nonfiction.