Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 4

Did He Do Enough?

Excerpted from Rubel Shelly, What Child Is This? (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Company, 1996).

It had been a night the like of which Joseph had never dreamed could occur. Away from their home, their friends, and all familiar surroundings, his young wife had given birth to a son in a hillside cave. The place was ordinarily used to shelter animals on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

As Joseph looked at Mary, asleep now, he could not keep back the tears. He should have been able to provide something better for her tonight. They had just arrived in the city of David, and there had been no room in the overcrowded inns. That they had even this much sanctuary was due to a stranger's kindness rather than Joseph's ingenuity or ability to provide.

This precious woman who was "highly favored" and "blessed among womankind" had been entrusted to his care. But the best he had been able to do tonight was a cave, a tiny cleared area, and a bed of straw covered by his cloak. "I should have been able to do more for her," he whispered.

Then he looked at the baby. He was so incredibly tiny and helpless. He was totally dependent on a Galilean carpenter and his teen-aged wife. How could it be! This was God's own son, not his. This baby was himself the God of creation, of Abraham, of Moses. Why, he was the God of Joseph and Mary. How could he be lying beside Mary now?

Yet Joseph believed with all his heart what the angel had told him six months ago. This baby had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and would save people from their sins. "I should have been able to do better than this for him," said Joseph.

Then, on the verge of weeping aloud and waking both mother and baby, the thought came to the devout man that his self-pity was born of pride rather than holiness. No angel had come to him tonight to say that he had done too little. He had had no dream. There had been no word of divine rebuke.

What has Israel's God ever required of anyone? Only that he do what is within his power. And Joseph had done that. He had obeyed Caesar in traveling to Bethlehem. He had protected Mary as best he could from the rigors of the trip. He had provided the only shelter available to them in the home city of his fathers. Was it now his duty to feel guilty that he had not been able to do more?

Perhaps Joseph sensed at that moment what others of us need yet to learn: God is served best by the smallest of deeds done in love. It is faithfulness within the sphere of the possible that serves the divine will, not grandiose accomplishments.

Perhaps Joseph later told his foster son of his feelings of inadequacy that night. And maybe it was to counter such needless fears in us that Jesus later taught that anyone who can give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person, give shelter to homeless strangers, put clothes on a shivering child, or take time to visit a sick person is accounted as doing those things to him.

Was Joseph serving the Christ-child that night in ministering to him in an animal shelter? Do we serve him any less when we offer our ministries now? And would he want us to feel guilty that we cannot do more than use the resources he has placed in our hands? I've never done enough for God in any setting, but I'm beginning to understand that my incomplete and imperfect attempts are all he has ever asked.

A committed, loving heart served God's son at Bethlehem in the only way he could. The Father asks of us only what he asked of Joseph on that holy night.

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