Keeping Watch

Have you ever thought about the reality of the characters who make up the well-known Christmas story? I’m serious. Have you ever really wondered?

I have wondered lately about what it must have been like for people like Mary, Joseph, and even the innkeeper. A song from Brandon Heath’s Christmas album is resonating with me even now as I write. His song “Just a Girl” asks the listener to consider the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away at the door, saying the inn was too full. Instead, he offered the use of his stable, and this is where the birth of Jesus took place.

Scripture doesn’t tell us what motivated the innkeeper to refuse Mary and Joseph a night’s stay at his establishment. It could be that the inn was legitimately full that night. Many people were coming and going with the census taking place, and maybe there just wasn’t any room as he told them. But what if he was lying? What if he saw a mother-to-be so close to giving birth and thought that housing the couple would just be a hassle. Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the messiness of birth. Maybe he didn’t want to be inconvenienced. What if, when he learned of the child’s birth and its significance, did he regret not letting them in? Did he realize that he had just missed offering shelter to the Son of God? Was he regretful or remorseful? Or was he hard-hearted and bitter?

Now, take a moment to think about Joseph. When the angel appeared to Mary and gave her the news of her impending pregnancy, she accepted the path laid out before her. For Joseph, the situation wasn’t as black and white. In fact, when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, his first reaction was to divorce her quietly for her suspected unfaithfulness. But then an angel appeared to him too, and suddenly, he and Mary had something in common: the awesome stories of angels coming to speak with them.

But even with the incredible angelic visitations, Joseph could have chosen not to believe. He could have run away and told Mary she was crazy. But then he wouldn’t have been there that night in the stable as Mary gave birth because he would have taken the easy route.

I have been reading Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas by John Blase. In this book, the author tells the Christmas story using Scripture and unique renderings and character descriptions. As he recounts the angels appearing to the shepherds, I took notice of Blase’s use of the Biblical words “keeping watch” in relation to the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep that night. Later as the shepherds find Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the stable, one shepherd boy looks at Joseph and asks if the baby is his son. Joseph hesitates, but then says that he is not the father but that the child is God’s son; he is simply keeping watch over Him.

This idea of “keeping watch” is symbolic of our focus during Advent. Just as the shepherds are keeping watch over their flocks and Joseph is keeping watch over his earthly “son,” we are also keeping watch. What are we watching for? Well, the Messiah has already come and been born on this earth. That was over two thousand years ago. But now we are watching and waiting for His return.

Advent is a beautiful reminder of the Second Coming that is still yet to be established. I encourage each one of you to take these remaining weeks of Advent and reflect on this truth. Keep watching and waiting, for He could return at any moment. He is coming, and He is coming soon.

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