Brent Hudson // Christmas Eve Message // Matthew 1:18–23
So far this month we have looked at the VIPs of Christmas. In each case we see God revealing a plan that otherwise would not be known. We began with the story of Mary and how this young women when God’s plan faced her with a great challenge both to her safety and to her future – yet she responded to God in faith and in obedience.
We looked at the Shepherds and were reminded that we need to look up and actually notice what God is doing and revealing to us when we are doing ordinary things.
We looked at the Magi, the ancient scientists who saw the signs n the sky but needed to consult the scriptures to know the details of God’s plan. By their great trek from Persia we were reminded that the answer to our deepest problem is not found in an argument or facts, but in a person.
Today, on this fourth Sunday of Advent — Christmas Eve — we will look at another Christmas VIP in our final scene of our Nativity story. Today we look to the story of Joseph.
Let’s hear from his story:
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:18–25 NRSV
That first Christmas is unlike any I have ever experienced and I’m sure that is true for all of us here today. For most people when you say ‘Christmas’ we think of various things — but high on the list there is SPARKLE. Whether it is the first time the Christmas lights go up and you can’t deny that the colours are beautiful — worthy of a picture and post to Instagram — I know because I’ve seen a ton of Christmas lights on Instagram this season. The Lights, tinsel, ribbons presents, more light. . .Christmas sparkle abounds.
But we all know that sparkle is most often seasoned with STRESS. What are we going to get Dad or Mom or brother or sister. How many Christmas dinners do I have to eat before it just becomes unreasonable and punishing. How much is all this going to cost? Others have real family situations happening and it is causing stress.
On top of the stress is SADNESS. Many have lost loved ones and are experiencing that loss acutely at Christmas time. Others are sad because they are alone and as they look forward to the holidays they are already feeling lonely. There are many reasons why we may feel sad this time of year.
I’m sure that Joseph could relate to our stress and sadness on that first Christmas season. He was to be married but now his fiancee was pregnant and he was not the father! I didn’t matter that he didn’t do anything wrong, everyone would think he did – that he had sinned against God, against Mary, and against her family. He had to act.
But Joseph loved Mary and he was probably completely heartbroken and no doubt feeling betrayed. Making life-altering decisions when you are emotionally broken is a taxing reality. Yet, the Bible says that Joseph was a righteous man and his righteousness was of the variety that included mercy and love. His community and culture even popular religion would have supported him for publicly shaming Mary and her family. It was the only way he could be sure the rumours would stop about his moral character. With a grand display we would be seen as the victim in this marriage mess he found himself in.
But for Joseph righteousness moved him to divorce her but again, it was a righteousness tempered by mercy and love so he chose to divorce her quietly — discreetly — so Mary did not experience public shame.
There is no hint in the text that Joseph was doing anything wrong. Joseph is spoken of only as a man of virtue. But the reader of the story knows he making a mistake because we know what he didn’t know. He was operating on partial information because He didn’t know the whole story – his vision was limited.
In so many things God’s faithful are not so different from Joseph. Having put our faith in God and trusting in him for mercy and grace, we sometimes put our lives on auto-pilot. We do what we think is right things to do and go to where we think are right places to go. We try to say the things we think are ‘right’ and be the right kind of people. Most of the time, that’s just fine but it’s always those pesky other times that confuse us — when doing what would be seen as the right thing is actually be the wrong thing to do. When we operate on what we can see “out there” rather than what actually is out there.
No doubt Joseph would have looked great for making a big deal about Mary’s baby not being his and that he was innocent of wrongdoing and she was guilty of sinning against him and against God. Everyone would say “Poor Joseph, I can’t believe she did that to him”.
Joseph was in that kind of situation. What is shocking is that it only took a minute to go from full steam ahead to full reverse. Despite the fact that nothing objectively changed— the world and all its players were the same — Mary was still pregnant and Joseph was open to harsh criticism from his community. But in a sense, everything had changed because Joseph now saw what heaven saw. He knew what Heaven knew because he finally saw what heaven saw. When we see what heaven sees, everything changes.
In a recent lecture to the C.S. Lewis Institute, John Lennox — an Oxford mathematician — noted that while C.S. Lewis was not good at math, he did love geometry. He once made the analogy of the rule of squares not being able to compute cubes — that the logic of two dimensions cannot build a concept of a third and unknown dimension. The comparison was clear as we live in a world where there is another dimension layered on ours but we cannot compute or reason about it. Our “this world” logic does not allow us to rationalize “that world”. We see hints that there is something more than our dimension but we cannot transcend our thoughts to get there — we can no framework for our thoughts (cf., 1Cor 2:9). Lewis made a big deal that though we cannot attain to that dimension on our own but there is a door between our dimension and that dimension and that door is Jesus Christ. No one and nothing else can bridge the gap. For Lewis the Wardrobe door was a spiritual reality and while going through it may not land us in Narnia — it does land us in a world of wonder and newness that we had previously not even imagined.
John would write in his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:1, 14 NRSV
Jesus is the door to a new spiritual reality — unexpected and to the logic of our realm, unnoticed.
Joseph thought Mary had sinned against heaven and him — but in just a single moment, he knew what heaven knew. He understood his Mary was the most righteous of all and even the most blessed among women. His well-thought “righteous response” was in fact a high-crime against God himself — for he would be abandoning and shaming God’s chosen servant and placing himself against God’s saving purposes for Israel and the world.
In the twinkling of an eye, Joseph’s logic was turned on its head because he knew what heaven knew. He was given a glimpse of a reality that he had only heard stories about. Now the stories had become his experience and that experienced changed his entire outlook — in fact, it changed his life.
As we celebrate Christmas once again. We see Jesus. And we also see Mary and Joseph — people who had their lives turned upside down by a new insight — they saw what heaven saw.
Jesus, Son of God;
Jesus, Saviour of the World
Jesus, God with us.
May we see Christmas with fresh eyes. With a new understanding let us enter into a fresh relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Let us ask him into our hearts and our minds afresh and go through that door to experience an entirely new reality in him. A reality of forgiveness, acceptance and even the privilege of being adopted into God’s family and becoming his Daughters and Sons.
The Angel said to Joseph — “they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
Is God with you this Christmas? Have you let him in? Have you gone through that door that connects you to another reality? A spiritual reality. Jesus is that door and he calls all of us to believe in him.
This Christmas, let us all see with fresh eyes so we can join Mary, the Shepherds, the Magi, and even righteous Joseph in seeing what heaven sees.
Ask him into your hearts. It will change your experience of life. It will bring you true and lasting joy. Indeed, it will change your destiny. Amen.
Father, help us see this world is not the only world that exists.
Jesus help us to believe the Christmas Story:
that you were born to save us from our sin;
that in you God is with us.
Holy Spirit, help us to see what Heaven sees
that we would live as you want us to live,
so we are becoming who you want us to be