Advent Devotional: Birth Stories

One of the traditions in our family when I was young is that on our birthdays my mother or father would tell each of us the story of how we were born. I was born, for instance, during Christmas week and was in such a rush to be born that I couldn’t wait for the doctor to get to the hospital. Each of the six children in my family have a very different birth story. In hearing our parents tell us how we came into the world and how excited they were to meet us gave us a special bond with our parents that, in a large family, made each of us feel especially loved. With my own children I have tried over the years to continue that same tradition. However, two of my children are adopted, so I don’t know their birth stories. I do know, however, the story of how they came to be my boys. I tell them about how excited I was to have them become my own children and how God had prepared us to be there family before they ever came to live with us.  So, when I read of Jesus’ birth story in the Gospels, I wonder how it impacted his relationship with Mary and Joseph.

Luke tells Jesus’ birth story from Mary’s perspective. Most likely he interviewed her and heard the narrative from her first hand while she was living with the apostle John in Ephesus. There are hints of this in the way Luke tells the story when he uses phrases like “and Mary treasured these things in her heart.” However, Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. From Joseph’s view, this story is a testament to faith and trust. I imagine that when Jesus heard his birth story from his mother’s perspective, he felt special because God had chosen her to be his mother. But when he heard Joseph’s side of the story, I imagine he felt a special bond because Joseph chose, through faith, to be his adopted father.

One of my favorite sections of Matthew 1:18-25 is rendered by the ESV, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Joseph had already decided what he was going to do. In his mind, it was obvious that Mary had been unfaithful, but he still loved her too much to shame her publicly. But God stepped in and told His side of the story. Once Joseph heard what was really going on, he had a choice to make. He could have thought about all the shame and gossip that would come from his neighbor’s who knew about Mary’s condition. He could have focused on the fact that the child to be born would most likely look and act nothing like him. Instead he chose to focus on the fact that he would be honored to raise this child who was literally a gift from God.

I imagine that Joseph’s version of the birth story might have bothered a lot of people who would hear it at family dinners or wedding parties. But I think that when Jesus heard it, he felt special. When Mary told the story she said, “God honored me by choosing me to be the mother of His anointed one.” When Joseph told the story he said, “God gave me a choice, and I chose whole heartedly to call you my son.” As I have learned over the last few years, that is the beauty of adoption. There is a special feeling that comes with it. With my natural born children, God chose me to be their parents. I didn’t have much say in it. But with my adopted children, I saw them, I knew them, I knew their backgrounds and their sometimes unsavory or shameful stories, but I still chose to be their father; I chose to call them my own.

How much more meaningful, in light of Joseph’s side of the story, are the verses in the New Testament that refer to our adoption as God’s children! Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV), for example, says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has bless us in the Beloved.” Like Joseph and Jesus, we have a special bond with God our father, who chose to take us as His own, even if our past story was shameful or embarrassing. God looked at us and said, like I did with my own adopted children and like Joseph did with Jesus, “If you will take me as your Father, I will proudly take you as my child.” That is part of the good news of Christmas that we don’t often hear about because Mary’s story is more exciting and looks better in a paining or on a Christmas card. But Joseph, as a normal man who struggled with his faith, gives us another side of the story to bless us with the opportunity to choose to trust God’s plan and to become his children.

Today, ponder the ways that your birth or adoption stories have affected your view of yourself and your parents. Meditate on the love that God has for you. Think about how he wants you to be His! He looks beyond anything you’ve done or anything you’ve been and says, “I choose to be your Father – will you choose to be my child?”

You are loved!