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From The Chaplain's Desk
December 2014 Chaplain's Corner

By Charles Dimmick, State Grange Chaplain

  DECEMBER 5, 2014 --

To begin with, it was a matter of fear. Palestine had been under foreign occupation for over 60 years, one of the many countries under the yoke of faraway Rome. There was a puppet King, Herod the Great, elected King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. He was cruel, corrupt, and highly immoral. If this were not enough, the people were also repressed by unscrupulous government officials, soldiers, and tax collectors. No man’s life or property was safe. The Jews looked for a delivery from oppression, the Messiah promised by the prophets of old.

The actual coming of the Messiah was not at all what people expected. It started with the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to a poor maiden of Nazareth by the name of Mary. Mary, of course, was somewhat frightened by the sudden appearance of an archangel, but Gabriel quickly said “Fear not”, then announced that Mary, who was betrothed to be married to a carpenter named Joseph, but was still a virgin, that she would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit of God, and that this child would be called the “Son of God” and would reign over the House of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there would be no end.

It wasn’t long before Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant. Because they were betrothed but not yet married Joseph knew the expected child was not his. He was fearful as to what to do next. Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” … When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

About this time the Roman Emperor, Augustus, decided that there should be a census of all the inhabitants of his far-flung empire. In some countries, such as Palestine, every inhabitant was ordered to report to the officials in his home village to be enrolled. Joseph, being a descendant of King David, was required to return to the village of Bethlehem, David’s ancestral home, to have his name entered in the rolls. Accordingly, Joseph and Mary made the trip to Bethlehem, even though Mary’s pregnancy was far along. Her journey was somewhat eased by riding on a donkey, but even so the trip was hard on her, and Joseph was fearful for Mary’s safety, and Mary was fearful for the health of the baby she carried inside. Arriving in Bethlehem they found that the Inn, or Caravansary, had no room for any more travelers, and the best they could do was to find temporary shelter in a stable. Tradition says that this stable was actually a shallow cave. Shortly after their arrival Mary gave birth to the infant, which she named Jesus, based on the name given to Joseph by the angel in his dream.

That same night there were in the hills surrounding Bethlehem shepherds guarding their flocks in the fields. Suddenly an Angel of the Lord appeared to them, greatly frightening them, but the angel said “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people, for tonight is born in Bethlehem a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: you shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  So they went to Bethlehem and found things to be as the angel had told them.

About this time, far to the east in the area now known as Iran there were a group of wise men known as Magi: they were astrologers, priests, and interpreters of dreams and in their own Kingdom formed the council which appointed new kings. Searching the heavens they saw a new heavenly body [or some say a new conjunction of heavenly bodies] in a position in the heavens which they interpreted as heralding the birth of a new King in Palestine. So they sent a committee [some say a committee of three] to Palestine to learn more. Their arrival in Jerusalem greatly frightened King Herod, especially when they announced that they were searching for the newly born future king of Judea. You see, Herod knew that these Magi, in their own land, had the power to appoint new kings. So, hiding his fear, he called in his own biblical experts, who announced that their reading of scripture indicated a new King would be born in Bethlehem. Herod therefore sent the Magi to Bethlehem to search for the new King with a request that when they found him they would come back to him and report so that [he said] he also could go and worship the new King. Of course his real intentions were far from honorable.

The Magi made their way to Bethlehem and were guided to the Inn where Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus had at last found room, where they presented their kingly gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Being warned in a dream of Herod’s real intentions, they then left Bethlehem on the road away from Jerusalem and went home without ever letting Herod know what they had found.

So the world was full of fear, and the world is still full of fear, but on that fateful day 2000 years ago God sent his Word to dwell among us, so that we might be able to overcome our fear.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”


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