Cozy cradles and crimson crosses

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thinkstockphotos.comJoseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a carpenter. He made things from wood – yoke for oxen, carts, tables, stools, desks, and perhaps cradles. In preparation for the birth of Jesus I think it is reasonable to assume that Joseph made a cradle for the baby who was to be called “Immanuel.”

This humble carpenter, who lived in Nazareth, had never had a task he cherished more than the crafting of this special cradle. He gave serious thought as to how this unique piece of furniture should be designed. He carefully selected the wood he would use in this singularly significant project. He meticulously chiseled the wood to make absolutely sure it was smooth and that no splinter or rough edge would prick the tender skin of the baby Mary carried in her womb.

The room for the Christ-child was prepared with exquisite care – at least with as much care as a couple with a modest income could manage 2,100 years ago. Baby blue curtains were hung. A goatskin rug was placed on the floor. A rustic rocking chair adorned the corner of the room. But the centerpiece of the room was that cradle, which Joseph had imagined in his own mind and created with his own hands.

Joseph had worked on that cradle by the light of a lamp in the evening after his labor for others had been accomplished. With painstaking effort he had given scrupulous attention to every detail of the cradle. Finally, it was ready for use by the Holy Child, the Son of God and Son of Man.

Joseph and Mary thought the child would be born before it became necessary for them to go to Bethlehem where Joseph was to be registered for the census, because he was of the house and lineage of David.

When it became obvious they could wait no longer, Joseph insisted that they needed to make the long trek to the City of David.

Mary must have asked if it would be possible for them to take the cradle. She wanted to be able to put her Son into his own bed if He were to be born while they were away, but Joseph assured her that while he sympathized with her, taking the cradle would be a logistical impossibility.

Sure enough Mary had her baby their first night in Bethlehem. Instead of a beautifully crafted cradle the Only Begotten Son of God was placed in a manger – an animal-feeding trough.

Matthew explains that the wise men came to Bethlehem to see the Messiah and then states: “And when they were departed, behold, [an angel] of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word; for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him.’

“When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’”

When you read Luke’s account of the birth of our Savior you see some apparent contradictions, which can be logically explained, but since this editorial is somewhat speculative in nature, allow me to continue the conjecture. If Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had to leave directly from Bethlehem to go to Egypt and remained in that foreign land until the death of Herod it is possible that Jesus never got to sleep one night in that especially handcrafted cradle.

That was simply a preview of what was to come in Jesus’ life. According to Luke 9:57 the Bible says, “And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’” In the very next verse Jesus stated, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.”

Jesus ripped away the romanticism of what it meant to be with Him. He didn’t paint a rosy, cozy, comfortable picture of what it would be like to become His disciple. He was trying to help this followers understand that though it is nice to be together, share God’s love, and see His power, there are rough parts to carrying out the Father’s will.

I have been to the Praetorium where Jesus was scourged. The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state and perhaps even close to death. I saw no cradle in the Praetorium.

I have been to the Mamertine Prison near the Forum in Rome where the Apostles Paul and Peter were incarcerated. This subterranean prison is a eerie, dark, dank, dismal place with the equivalent of a manhole as the only means of entrance or exit from its foreboding clutches. I saw no cradle there.

I have been to Oxford, England where Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were burned at the stake and became martyrs for their Christian convictions. I saw no cradle there.

Religion can be the most immoral thing in the world, and it is, when it induces cradles without crosses, rewards self without service, indulges iniquity without rebuke, condones profits without principles, endorses compromise at the expense of convictions, substitutes reform without regeneration, and encourages peace of mind without purity of heart.

Behold the cradle of Christmas and the marvel at the miracle of the Incarnation, but don’t forget what J. C. Ryle said, “It does cost something to be a Christian. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, and a race to be run.

“Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory.”

Bethlehem, birth, Christmas, Jesus, Joseph

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