My extended family once had so many males named Frederick that the women in the family assigned each of us a number so the tribe could distinguish between us at family reunions. I became Fred IV. A casual observer might have thought that we considered ourselves royalty, or perhaps a line of renegade popes.
When I think of the Christmas story, I see the crèche that was displayed each year in the front hall of my family home. The manger scene began to take shape during the last week of Advent, when we cut fragrant pine branches and spread them on the hall table, then placed figurines of oxen and cows in the center. Mary and Joseph took their places amid the creatures.
Ahaz, Paul and Joseph were three men up against the inscrutability of God. One was a king whose rebellion exhausted God and led him to the brink of disaster and whose heart shook like a tree in the wind. One was a zealous Jew whose fidelity to the God of his ancestors made him a murderer and blinded him to the possibility that God's coming might not be as he anticipated.