December 16, 2018
Christmas Chaos – Matt 1 – 12.16.18
Who’s already been asked the annual question-what do you want for Christmas? Hopefully by this point you have because this is something we inevitably get asked every year. What do you want for Christmas? But the bigger question is who’s got an answer? Are you someone who knows what they want for Christmas? You’ve made your list and have it ready to go? Or are you someone who has no idea what you want for Christmas? I don’t know if you’ve seen this before-but there’s a funny clip on Youtube about kids not getting what they expected at Christmas, something they didn’t anticipate at all. It’s from Jimmy Kimmel’s show-and it’s called I gave my kids a terrible present-video clip. I hope nobody gets a half-eaten sandwich or a hotdog for Christmas-but this clip really highlights the concept of anticipation that we have at Christmas. Little kids anticipate great presents. They expect to unwrap something they’re super excited about. The same is true for the rest of us-we anticipate presents we’ll enjoy. Christmas isn’t much fun if you’re going into it expecting to get a bunch of junk you don’t want. Like as a kid-just getting clothes was always so boring! So hopefully you’re anticipating something nice.
And that’s the question I want us to think about this morning-what are you anticipating most about Christmas this year? It’s only 10 days away-so what are you looking forward to, what are you most excited about? Maybe it is a gift from your wish list, something you’ve been waiting a long time to receive. Or maybe you’re anticipating the surprise of what someone’s picked out for you. Maybe you’re most anticipating seeing your family and having everyone gathered together. Maybe you’re most anticipating Christmas dinner and the great feast spread across the table. Maybe you’re anticipating the hope of a white Christmas and that perfect Christmas Eve snowfall-which seems doubtful! Maybe it’s driving around and seeing all the lights on houses or singing Christmas carols. Maybe you’re most anticipating Christmas break-when school’s out and you don’t have to go to work and you have some fun travel plans. Or maybe you’re most anticipating Christmas at home with some much needed rest and relaxation, or even anticipating that moment on Christmas Eve when everything is quiet and still, the kids are in bed and it’s just the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree and that feeling of peace and goodwill that seems to settle upon the world. What are you most anticipating about Christmas?
But the reason I bring this up is because I was reading an article that said Christmas is the one Christian holiday that is also a major secular holiday. Now we all know this-that Christmas is a day enjoyed and cherished by believers and by unbelievers at the very same time but for very different reasons. And I don’t know about you but I find that it’s very easy for me to get drawn into the secular version of the holiday, to anticipate all the traditions and festivities from the world’s celebration-so that I end up evaluating the success of my Christmas, not on whether I celebrated Christ and the birth of my Savior, but on whether I achieved that magical experience of Christmas the world says happens through gifts and decorations and fancy Christmas parties. I tend to gauge whether I had myself a merry little Christmas based on the sparkle and cheer of the world’s version-was my Christmas all I hoped it would be, instead of gauging my Christmas on whether I worshipped Jesus. Those are two very different things. So as we continue our series-Christmas: Less Chaos, More Jesus, I want us to try and leave behind all the chaos and pressures of gifts and busy holiday schedules the world says we must have this time of year, and I want our hearts to focus on the anticipation of Jesus-and what it means to worship Him-our newborn King.
Last week we looked at Mary’s story-that despite all the uncertainty and confusion and chaos around her and what she was going to do-she was able to see Jesus. That Mary didn’t collapse in a heap of stress or run away from God’s plan-but she found a place to worship. Today we’re going to look at our next character in the Christmas story-and that’s Joseph, her husband.
Open up your Bibles to Matthew 1-and no one experienced the confusion and chaos of Jesus’ birth quite like Joseph. We’re very familiar with the story, but when this actually took place a guy like Joseph had no idea what was going on as his world was turned upside down. His story begins in Matt 1:18. Now that is the most far-fetched, unlikely-and inconvenient idea he ever could have imagined. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes-you and your fiancee have faithfully followed God’s plan for marriage and not been physically intimate together while you’re engaged-the text has made that really clear. The two of them have remained pure during this time of their life and honored God’s law-a very commendable, obedient way to live. And then all of a sudden Mary shows up and says she’s expecting a baby. Obviously Joseph knows he isn’t the father so what’s he supposed to conclude but that someone else is. And so there’s that heartbreaking thought running through his mind-my fiancee’s been unfaithful to me; the woman I loved so much hasn’t loved me back. You can imagine how Joseph is crushed, thinking that some sort of affair has taken place and he’s just now finding out about it. What else could he think? What other reason is there? So Joseph would have every right to get really angry and blow up and make a big deal of it. What have you done, Mary? I thought we were going to raise a family together like a godly husband and wife-we had a bright future, an amazing life planned out, but now you’ve ruined it all by having an affair! Joseph could easily get back at her and shame her-based on the rather clear evidence of her pregnancy. But he doesn’t do that-v. 19.
Now there’s two things going on here. The first is that Joseph’s plan is to divorce Mary. And of course in our culture you would only divorce someone if you’re married to them-if you’re engaged and it goes bad you just end it. But back in this culture, Jewish engagement, or betrothal, was as binding as marriage-and so a divorce was necessary to end it. In fact, when it came to issues of infidelity or affairs divorce was almost obligatory. So Joseph is taking the logical, lawful step in this case-but did you notice how he was going to do it? That’s the other thing going on in this verse-it said-he resolved to divorce her quietly. Talk about grace-especially in a moment when his life is collapsing in chaos. The future he’s been building, the woman he’s pursued and dreamed of marrying is over. So as we said a moment ago-Joseph could have easily gotten back at her and made a public spectacle of Mary. He could have exposed her pregnancy, basically ruining her life for ruining his-and no one would have blamed him. Everyone would have clearly seen the condemning evidence in Mary and treated her as the adulterer they assumed she was. And yet Joseph doesn’t do that. Even before he understands what really took place, before the angel ever visits him and explains it all, he’s trying to protect Mary and spare her reputation. He’s trying to abide by the law-but do it in a gracious hush, hush way for Mary. I think that says a lot about Joseph’s character. That without any explanation-just the undeniable appearance of wrongdoing, he chooses mercy and grace over vengeance. How many of us would have done that? It’s as though Joseph is living out the words Jesus would go on to say at the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5:38-40. We don’t have to get back at people and live by an eye for an eye motto. Grace can be our choice too. That little detail in Joseph’s life teaches us so much! I pray my life can model his-especially in the midst of chaos like he’s experiencing.
So as Joseph’s pursuing grace, he finally gets the explanation-and it’s unlike anything he would have ever imagined-v. 20-21. Talk about incredible-and slightly inconvenient! Here’s Joseph getting the news that Mary is going to bear God’s Son who will save people from their sins-and he’s also being told to still take Mary as his wife. And I’m not sure Joseph planned on that-having his firstborn kid be the Messiah. I’m not sure that was in his future dreams-I want my oldest to be the Savior of the world. It’s a whole lot easier, much more convenient to understand that Mary didn’t do anything wrong-that she remained faithful to him-but still distance himself from her thinking this is a little too crazy, a little too chaotic to be a part of; life will be a lot simpler if I just find somebody else. For Joseph to say-bless you, Mary, I’ll pray for you and hope the best for you but I’m not getting involved in your chaos. Yet Jospeh doesn’t do that. What I love about Joseph is that God told him to do 2 things and he did them-no matter how inconvenient they were-v. 20-21. So look at v. 24-25-simple, straightforward obedience.
And as I think about that-it amazes me-because what’s often our requirement for obedience? We need to see it and understand it and know why and agree with it and make sure it fits into our plans and our timetable-then we’ll obey. But here’s Jospeh being asked to obey when he doesn’t understand it at all. He’s just been told the most unbelievable, amazing thing ever-that this baby his fiancée is carrying is from the Holy Spirit; that she didn’t have an affair, she wasn’t unfaithful to him or running around behind his back, instead she’s a virgin who will bear a son. That’s a lot for Joseph to get his head around; a lot to accept about his future wife, a lot to believe about this son named Jesus he’s going to raise. And yet he believes it. We don’t see Joseph arguing with the angel, he doesn’t go out and call a lawyer to look into his legal rights, or put Mary on probational terms-v. 24a. And so that makes Jospeh the first person, besides Mary, to come face to face with the miraculous birth of Jesus and believe it. And that’s exactly what we’re called to do too. To recognize that Jesus was fully God and fully man, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary-and that’s our first point for experiencing more Jesus-Pt1:Reflecting on His birth-it really is that incredible.
What Joseph is grappling with is nothing less than the fact that God took on human form. That’s what verse 27 is highlighting-it’s the centerpiece of the chapter-v. 27. Here’s Jesus, conceived the Holy Spirit, growing and developing in Mary’s womb just like every other human who’s ever existed. It wasn’t like God took on human flesh and just showed up one day when He was a fully grown adult of 25 or 30. Jesus wasn’t beamed to earth or land in some heavenly spaceship saying-I’m here. And wouldn’t that be an interesting way to celebrate Christmas if He did? Everyone decorates their spaceship at home and puts presents around it instead of a tree! Sort of a galactic Christmas. But that’s not what He did. Instead of merely showing up, Jesus experienced exactly what it means to be fully human by being born from a human mother and growing up in a house with mom and dad. And this is what Joseph is realizing-that the miracle of all miracles has taken place with the birth of Immanuel-God with us. When was the last time you really reflected on that truth? When was the last time you thought about it in all its staggering reality? That when God decided to do something to heal and save our broken world He did it by becoming a real human person. He didn’t just reach down from heaven, He didn’t just send a messenger to do the job, or issues leaflets or brochures from the sky telling us what to do, He didn’t set up an intervention program or establish some sort of institution to attend. He sent Himself. The eternal, second person of the Trinity took on human flesh and was born in Bethlehem. Remember how the angel communicated this to Mary-Luke 1:35. Fully God, fully man, born of the virgin Mary-that’s who Jesus is and that’s the miracle we’re talking about. The Creator enters into His creation and becomes one of us. And I understand that God is fully capable of creating anything He wants-but to put Himself into His creation is amazing. How does He do that? But He who made all things perfect now exposes Himself to the imperfections of our fallen world. The maker of the stars now has His birthplace highlighted by the star of Bethlehem. The eternal, endless God begins His earthly existence as a helpless baby in a manger because according to His infinite wisdom, that’s the only hope for mankind. That’s the essence of this miracle, that’s what it’s all about-that Jesus has taken on human flesh and entered our world to save lost rebels like you and me. Back to Pt1.
And it’s totally necessary-which leads us to what we want to see next P2:Recognizing our problem-it really is that bad. It’s great to celebrate Christmas and Jesus’ birth, to set up a nativity scene and remember what happened-but the bigger question is why. Look back at Matt 1:20-21. That’s the purpose for why Jesus has come, there’s the reason stated as clearly as possible-to save His people from their sins. This means that in order to remedy this problem that we got ourselves into, this sin issue we have, it requires nothing less than God Himself coming to us. It’s like going in for a check-up at the doctor’s office or your yearly physical-and then later on the doctor himself calls to give you your test results. The moment you hear his voice on the phone, not the nurse but the doctor himself, you think-Oh no-how bad is it? What do I have doc? How much longer have I got? And you start to fear the worst and think the end’s in sight. Now hopefully it isn’t-but what it comes to sin-it really is the worst case, and without Jesus stepping in the end is in sight.
There’s a great prophecy about Jesus in Isa 60:1-2. This is making it very clear that Jesus is the light that’s to come. What did He say of Himself in John’s gospel-I am the light of the world. So why is He here-because without Him we’d be walking in darkness. Just think of how hard it is when the power’s out and all the lights are off, or even at night when it’s dark and you’re trying to make your way to bed or the kitchen or the bathroom-especially if you’re somewhere new or unfamiliar and you can’t see anything. Your hands are out in front of you trying to reach the wall and keep you from tripping, you’re taking small little steps, hesitantly shuffling along because at any moment you could stub your toe or smash your face into the wall. Walking in the darkness is very unnerving and unsettling. We can do it for a moment if we have to-but imagine living that way. No lights, no sight, no idea of where to go or how to get there-just stuck in the darkness? What a miserable existence that would be-yet that’s exactly the analogy of what our lives are like because of sin. We’re stuck in the darkness of our disobedience, we’re wandering in our rebellion to God having gone down our own foolish paths, and so left to ourselves there’s nothing we can do, no lights we can turn on to show us the way. We’re blinded by our sin and lost because of it-and of course the trajectory is death. Look at what Jesus says about Himself-John 8:23-24. Now that’s a harsh statement. Maybe not your top choice for a memory verse. Jesus isn’t softening His words at all-but speaking the cold, hard truth. We will die in our sins, there is no eternal life or going to heaven, only death and separation from God-unless… As Jesus says, unless we believe He is the one He claims to be-meaning the light of the world, the Son of God, the One who has taken on human flesh and come to earth to save us. And that is exactly what Christmas is all about-the fact that Jesus has come because Pt2. The reality of our sins is a truth we’ve got to accept and understand-Keller Christmas, 10. How great is that message? How realistic and relevant is the Christmas story? It’s not trying to paint some fake, sentimental, rosy picture like the world tries to create this time of year. Instead, the Christmas story tells us that things are bad, as bad as they could be, and yet we don’t have to be stuck in it because Jesus has come. He has not left us wandering and stumbling and struggling in the darkness or left to die in our sins, but He has given us the light of life. John 1:4-5.
That’s what we need to recognize this morning-that the darkness of our sin has not overcome the light of Jesus. That He has overcome death because-He willingly died for us. So the last part of experiencing more Jesus is Pt3:Rejoicing in His willingness-He really loves us that much. And I don’t know about you, but I know my shortcomings and failures all too well. I don’t need to be reminded of ways I struggle and fall short, places where I’ve messed up. I often try really hard to ignore those things or to think of myself as better than I really am. That’s human nature, it’s how we operate. And yet Jesus doesn’t think of us better than we are, He doesn’t ignore our failures and struggles. Although we can hide our sin from others and try to look good on the outside, He sees all of our sin for what it is and knows exactly what’s going on in our hearts-and yet He still loves us so much that He was willing to come to earth and die for us! That is a miracle of epic proportions. He didn’t see our sin and say yikes-I’m not saving those people. But He saw our sins and willingly went to the cross. I think of what it says in Romans 5 that someone might be willing to die for a good person or that someone might be willing to sacrifice themselves for a noble or righteous person-but Rom 5:8. He was willing to give up His life while we were only concerned about ourselves and doing our own thing. He was willing to sacrifice Himself while we weren’t interested in sacrificing for Him or honoring Him. He was willing to die so that we-as undeserving and helpless sinners-could live. That’s how willing Jesus was.
Think of your willingness to help someone out-it’s usually contingent on how they treat you and how nice they are to you. You’ll help out the people who help you out. And even if you were willing to help someone who was unkind or not interested in you, you certainly wouldn’t help them out if they offended or rejected you. Well then forget it-go help yourself-would be your response. But Jesus was willing to save us when we’d rejected Him, to die for us when we’d disobeyed Him. Back to Pt3. I like how Paul Tripp phrases this concept of Jesus’ willingness in his Christmas devo, 19-21. That’s so true-Willing Jesus is the only hope for unwilling sinners-and that’s who we are. But that’s exactly what the angel said to Joseph about why Jesus came-Matt 1:21. Recognizing that, reflecting on that, rejoicing in that is exactly what Christmas is all about. That’s what Joseph did. In the end, despite all the chaos that he could have easily let affect him, he simply focused on this baby boy he and his wife were going to have. And what did he do-he obeyed God called his name Jesus. For Joseph, it was less chaos, and more Jesus-as he set his sights on the Savior to come. And that’s what it ought to be for you and me.
So what if you get a terrible present this year? Find the gift receipt and return it-worst case scenario you get store credit-to get something you really want. But what if you didn’t return it? What if you kept the terrible present? I was talking to our mom’s Heart2Heart group about this this week because we’ve all received clothes that didn’t fit right or look right-but what if this year you kept it and every time you awkwardly wore it-you were reminded-my Christmas wasn’t perfect-clearly I got this! My Christmas wasn’t perfect and it never will-but my Savior is! That every time you wore that sweater or saw that terrible present it reminded you that it’s never been about the stuff anyway-but about God’s perfect, eternal gift of Jesus. That your terrible present is that visual reminder of the greatest present of all-the One who’s birth really is that incredible!