We strive for the perfect Christmas and seem to always end up surprised when it doesn’t turn out the way want.
As a kid, my parents wrapped a coat I had been wearing since October and gave it to me for Christmas. I waited to open it last since it was the largest box. I was quite disappointed.
For my brother, my parents re-wrapped the sweat pants and sweat shirt he had asked for the year before because they didn’t feel he wore it enough or appreciated it enough the past year. He was also disappointed.
Have you ever had a moment in your life of great disappointment?
For me, one of those moments was the day I got married.
I love my wife. In fact, Deborah and I are about to celebrate 21 years of marriage next month. Our marriage has been great, but our wedding was a disaster. Let me explain. On the morning of our wedding day, I woke up with chicken pox! I had never had chicken pox in my entire life, now I got it on my wedding day! What was next, diaper rash on the honeymoon?!?
Can you imagine how ridiculous this moment was? I didn’t know what to do, but I thought I should call Deborah to find out if she had ever had chicken pox and tell her I was inflicted with a horrible childhood disease. Once I got her on the phone, I chickened out. Once I asked her if she had ever had chicken pox, she said “Of course, why do you ask?” She sounded so shocked by my question that I blurted out “Because one of my cousins has it.” “Well tell him not to come, he will ruin everything!”
I knew I had to tell her before she walked down the aisle and realized I was the one with chicken pox, so I wrote her a letter while she was in the changing room at the church telling her about my excitement and my disease. We have this great picture in our wedding album where she is reading my letter with a look of horror on her face.
The ceremony went fine, and then afterwards the pastor told the crowd “Eric and Deborah would like to invite you to their wedding reception, but we should warn you: the groom has chicken pox. Go! Enjoy!” People were waving at me from afar. Parents were sending their kids over to me.
These are funny examples, but what about real disappointments in life? I certainly have had them.
In what areas of life have you been disappointed? Family crisis? Health emergency? Financial struggles? Addictions? Losing a loved one?
What about a crisis with the one you love?
Which brings us to the Christmas story.
I imagine you are quite familiar with the story – the story of the Creator of the Universe coming to rescue us. The One True God reveals Himself as Father, Spirit, and Son. The Son of God came to live among us, and His name is Jesus. He taught with great authority, healed many people, performed many miraculous signs and wonders, and lived a perfect life. Ultimately He gave His life dying on the cross – taking on the guilt and shame of all of humanity – including you and me. The story of the Messiah, the Rescuer who died on the cross but rose from the dead. The Spirit of God now lives within all of us who surrender our lives to Him. I got ahead of myself. That is more the Easter story.
So back to the Christmas story.
An angel appears to the virgin Mary letting her know that she was pregnant, chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah. I imagine you even know the story of Joseph, Mary’s fiancé who took his bride-to-be to Bethlehem where she gave birth to Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the inn. You know the story of the shepherds who were visited by angels on that amazing Christmas night. You know the story of the Magi, the wise men who came and brought the baby who was the Savior of the world gifts.
I want to talk about the story from a vantage point often not fully considered. I want us to consider the challenge this entire miraculous moment created for Joseph.
For Joseph, it did not start off anything close to being “A Perfect Christmas.”
Consider Matthew 1:18-19
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Since Joseph was a good man, he decided to quietly divorce Mary. Discovering she was pregnant, he assumed the worst which was completely understandable.
Now we cannot get into the mind of Joseph. We just have a brief snapshot from this verse, but consider his circumstances.
He was betrothed to Mary. This is more than a fiancé. To break up required divorce. They were committed to each other. Marriage was a done deal.
What would you do if you were Joseph? Are you willing to make an honorable and good decision even if you are heartbroken or hurt or you feel betrayed?
Joseph was a good man so he wanted to end the relationship without calling a great deal of attention to Mary and her pregnancy.
The problem with this is he was making a decision in a vacuum.
Too often we do this. We assume the worst before ever having the courage to talk to the one who has hurt us. We make decisions based on what’s best for us lacking the courage to find out what’s best for the other person. When we are struggling, we need to be honest! We need to involve others in our decision-making process before we just give up!
Even though in his mind, he was making an honorable decision, I cannot help but think in divorcing her Joseph felt a mixture of sadness in losing her and relief considering her current circumstances.
Here’s the problem: Joseph was making a good decision, but he was not making a courageous decision.
Too often we settle for what’s good rather then what’s most selfless are what’s most courageous are what’s most like Jesus.
Let me give you an example. Consider Ephesians 4:28 –
“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands,that they may have something to share with those in need.”
The progression moves from stop doing bad to start doing good to becoming someone who is doing good for others.
Some of us view our faith as attempting to stop doing bad. Certainly that is better than the alternative.
Ephesians 4:28 reminds us to stop stealing. Stop robbing others. Stop taking away from others what is not yours. Instead go out and get a job to provide for yourself. That would be considered a good thing.
God wants something more.
God calls us to become selfless, generous, courageous.
It was at that point that God intervened to guide Joseph from doing something good to instead do something courageous:
“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.”
Joseph did not need an angel to choose Mary, but he needed an angel to stay with Mary.
An angel intervened because the fate of all of humanity was at stake!
You may be thinking: “I would certainly follow Jesus fully and make the courageous decisions instead of settling for good ones if an angel would just tell me what to do!”
Now I have never had an angel speak to me nor have I heard God’s voice out loud, but God speaks to me all the time.
God speaks to you all the time.
Did you know that 70% of human communication is non-verbal? We can tell what someone is feeling in their body language or in their eyes.
God communicates in ways far beyond verbally! The beauty of creation, living in a place where people who follow Jesus are all around us, the
Consider for a moment: what are the miraculous circumstances that even got you to the place where you are listening to this message? Maybe you were born in a home with parents who have faith. That is a miracle! Maybe you wandered from faith and hit rock bottom. The fact you are even alive today is a miracle! Maybe someone you know reached out to you right when you needed it. Maybe someone you don’t know was right there for you when you needed her.
We have resources Joseph never had.
- We have God’s Word to us in the Scriptures! We can read the story of Jesus as shared by eyewitnesses.
- We have the Spirit of God within us when we surrender our lives to follow Christ.
- When we connect to community, we have others who can serve us and help us find our way.
Here’s our challenge – if we aren’t willing to follow God’s guidance with what He has already revealed to us through His Word, through His Spirit, and through His people, we won’t listen to Him no matter what He may try.
God desires for us to become the person He created us to be more than we do. God is so amazing that He can even use the worst moments of our lives and somehow bring good from it.
If you are asking God for guidance, He will guide you – whether you hear from an angel or not.
So how did Joseph respond?
“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Joseph not only cancelled the divorce. He married her and had her move into his home so he could care for her and the baby on the way. He never consummated their marriage while she was pregnant with Jesus.
Joseph chose the most courageous and selfless path. He was willing to allow the whispers about Mary’s condition to include Him. He stepped into what was most certainly scandalous to serve the woman he loved. Think about it: a pregnant woman who did not have a husband would have been shunned in that society. He cared more for Mary than he did his reputation. With God’s help, he was choosing the more courageous path and selfless path regardless of how it made him look to outsiders. He willingly allowed his reputation to be ruined in pursuit of what God wanted for his life.
As a result, Joseph was blessed by his courageous choice. We are talking about him right now! He is a major part of one of the greatest moments in the history of the world!
Listen to this passage:
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
The perfect Christmas has already happened! God is with us! Will you let God be with you in every area of life?
So here are some takeaways from the Christmas story as seen in the life of Joseph:
- Are you willing to trust God regardless of your circumstances?
- Are you willing to step into difficult circumstances and talk through the issues with those involved (rather than make a decision in a vacuum)?
- In what areas, have you settled for less than God’s calling for your life? An area where you are still stuck doing bad or even content just doing good?
- In what ways, is God calling you to go beyond good to become courageous?