By: Rev. Kenneth Sauer, Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church,
Newport News, VA
I would imagine by now most of us have unwrapped our Christmas presents.
I hope everyone got what they wanted, but of course, sometimes we get presents that we don’t quite know what to do with.
A man’s brother called him on the phone: “How did your wife like the back scratchers I sent her for Christmas?”
“So that’s what they were,” the man replied, “She’s been making me eat salad with them.”
Someone asked a boy: “Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?”
The boy said, “No. I didn’t get everything I wanted. But then it’s not my birthday, is it?”
Well, in some ways, I suppose we should look at Christmas as our birthday as well as Christ’s.
I think that’s the way Jesus wants us to look at it.
There was a woman who had endless amounts of money.
She spent half a lifetime touring the world and the art galleries of the world.
Then, one day, she met a man who had very little money, but had a wide knowledge of and a great love for beauty.
They started to spend time with one another, and in his company things were completely different for this woman.
“I never knew what things were like,” she said to him, “until you taught me how to look at them.”
In a similar way, life is quite different when we allow Jesus to be born into our lives…
…when we are born of God…
…life starts looking a lot different when Jesus teaches us how to look at things.
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning we see that Mary and Joseph had been pledged to be married.
Among Jews at this time, the marriage vows were made at something called a betrothal, and the law required that only a divorce could end them.
The normal interval of time between the pledge to get married and the time that the husband and wife would live together and have a physical union was a year.
But during this interval Mary became pregnant.
And according to the law, this is a situation that could be punishable by death.
Imagine what a difficult problem this must have caused!
Mary was pregnant, but Joseph knew he had had nothing to do with it.
How much gossip would there be?
What would the neighbors think?
How did Joseph feel? Betrayed? Murderous?
Now, Joseph could have decided to publicly accuse Mary—making a spectacle of her, and thus causing her to be stoned to death.
He could have gotten his revenge!
And, after all, the law was on his side.
Joseph already had a career as a carpenter, and there were probably plenty of other fish in the sea.
These thoughts must have crossed his mind.
It would have made perfect sense, and the towns people might have been more than happy to participate in a public stoning.
Joseph could have been a hero in the eyes of the people.
Joseph could have decided to do things the way most people would have done them, but instead, Joseph chose compassion over the law of retribution.
And isn’t this what God has decided to do for us in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
God has given us a second chance, has He not?
God has given us a second chance at life.
Joseph decided to give Mary a second chance at life, as well.
He decided that he would simply divorce Mary in a quite manner.
And with this spark of compassion already ignited, this desperate situation was completely turned around by the entrance of God!
As the hymn says: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…That’s how it is with God’s love…”
We only need to open the door of love and mercy just the wee tiniest bit…and God will take that opportunity to come marching through in a Big Way!
Have you ever been beset with a moral dilemma?
I think most of us have.
What happened when you chose mercy and compassion over judgment and anger?
Did you experience God coming through the door of your life once the decision was made…
…once the deal was sealed in your heart, mind and soul?
Is this not how lives are re-created?
Once Joseph had made the decision to do the ‘right’ thing we see that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph 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.”
He will save His people, not from the Roman occupation.
He will save His people, not from the aches and pains of joints and tendons.
He will save His people, not from persecution or troubles in this life.
No, instead, “he will save his people from their sins.”
In Christ, we are saved from having to live one-sided selfish lives, where we care nothing for the other person and will do anything in order to save ourselves.
No, through faith in Christ, we are already saved.
And therefore, we are given the freedom to start thinking about others.
And we are not called to do this on our own.
In Christ, we are granted the hope of the centuries: God Himself, has indeed, descended from the heavens in order to dwell among us in this dark and often intimidating world.
And through Christ, God gives His Holy Spirit to those who are willing to accept Him.
And the Holy Spirit dwells within our hearts…re-creating us, causing us to be born…
…born of God or born again!
So, in a sense, Christmas is our birthday as well.
In Christ, we are given a second chance in this life…
…a chance to, once again, reach out freely and take and eat from the Tree of Life—and thus never die!!!
Mary and Joseph had faced a huge problem, and this problem was leading them to a huge precipous until they allowed God to enter into their lives and lead them to the most wonderful of all situations.
In verses 24 and 25 of our Gospel Lesson we see that “When Joseph woke up” from his dream, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
God entered the lives of Joseph and Mary through what we as Christians call the incarnation—which means that God became a human being.
So Joseph and Mary got to know God in a very personal way.
And because of God’s incarnation, we too can come to know God in a very personal way.
And as we come to know God in a very personal way, we come to find that God begins the process of Re-Creating us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
I do hope that everyone got what they wanted for Christmas, but because tomorrow is another big day for the stores---as folks converge on the shopping malls bringing back the presents that they neither want to keep nor need—I doubt we all got what we wanted.
But if we have allowed Christ to enter into our lives, then we have received the greatest of all gifts.
Let’s hope this is the gift we won’t take back to the store for an exchange.
An unknown author has written:
“In Christ we have:
A love that never can be fathomed;
A life that can never die;
A righteousness that can never be tarnished;
A peace that can never be understood;
A joy that can never be diminished;
A hope that can never be disappointed;
A glory that can never be clouded;
A light that can never be darkened;
A happiness that can never be enfeebled;
A purity that can never be defiled;
A beauty that can never be marred;
A wisdom that can never be baffled;
And resources that can never be exhausted.”
What a reason to have a very Merry Christmas.