Preaching Articles

We get the Christmas story from the scriptures. What we know of the birth of Jesus comes from the inspired words of the gospels. These passages, found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, are some of the most well-known Bible verses in history.

Like countless other believers around the world, as I prepare for the Christmas season I will read these passages again and again. They are familiar and comforting, and perhaps that’s the problem: Because I have come to these passages so often, I am tempted to think that there is nothing new for the Holy Spirit to reveal through these words. That would be a mistake, because the Bible narrative of the birth of Christ is not only inspired storytelling but also useful for training in right relationship with God. What better way to prepare for Christmas than to go deeper in our relationship with the Father?
The birth narratives—like all scripture—are food for students of Jesus. These passages are filled with challenges to our faith and filled with the encouragement we need to grow in God. Today I would like to share just four observations from the life of Joseph of Nazareth, the man trusted by God to raise the Savior of the world.
1. Poor Joseph—God didn’t get his approval before acting.
Can you imagine the real-life shock of these words: “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1: 18). Mary received an angelic visitation and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Joseph received the worst news of his life. God “drafted” Joseph into a difficult position—would the Almighty ever do the same to us? Have we ever considered the implications of God’s sovereignty? If we affirm that we belong to him are we willing to be drafted as Joseph was?
2. The narrative reveals the actions of a righteous man.
In his confusion and pain, Joseph’s first concern was for Mary: he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” (1:19). How many of us would have this priority? Perhaps this is why the scripture labels Joseph a “righteous man.” Scripture is demonstrating what true righteousness looks like in action. It’s revealing as well that the scripture describes Joseph's righteousness not in terms of his relationship to God, but in terms of his relationship to Mary. True righteousness extends two directions—toward God and man.
3. Joseph resisted the urge to act rashly. 
Even in his concern for Mary and her reputation, he was still determined to divorce her (in modern terms, "break the engagement"). Yet the narrative reveals that he took time to consider his actions. When Joseph was faced with the impossible, he did not rush to judgment. The scriptures do not indicate how long he waited, but he took time to consider his actions. And in that period of time, Joseph positioned himself to hear from God in a most unusual manner:
4. God gave Joseph a dream, a dream that would change his life forever.
“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.’” This must’ve been some dream, or Joseph must’ve been some righteous man, or both. Engagement, unexpected pregnancy, and an out-of-this-world explanation would be enough to give anyone dreams. But God chose a dream as the means to provide divine direction, and Joseph recognized the dream as God’s personal leading. In fact, dreams are mentioned no fewer than four times in Matthew 1 and 2. I believe scripture is teaching us that God can and does guide his children through dreams. Imagine: in an emotionally charged situation, just when we would be tempted to ignore our dreams as a product of our subconscious, God is present: leading, directing, and guiding—through dreams. By the way, there is no indication that Joseph heard anything else from God until after the baby was born. He remained faithful to God’s instructions for months, all based on one dream!
The Christmas season offers an opportunity to anyone who would become a student of Jesus. Can we imagine ourselves in these situations? Between Matthew's and Luke's gospels the cast of Christmas characters is pretty large: Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, the Magi and shepherds. They are the stuff of Christmas pageants and cheesy dramas. They are also the stuff of God’s instruction to his disciples.
These preaching ideas were drawn from Ray's new Christmas devotional eBook: 25 Days of Christmas (In One Minute or Less): A 99-Cent Devotional for Incredibly Busy People.

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Mike Brenneman

commented on Dec 15, 2020

Ray, really appreciated your example of digging out more from the text than perhaps we realized was there. You are correct, there is so much just waiting to be discovered (through reading, meditation and prayer). Loved your points, which are in the scriptures and yet I have previously overlooked 3 of them. Good stuff. Forgive me for taking exception to your statement "These passages, found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, are some of the most well-known Bible verses in history." Ask most Christians how old Jesus was when the wise men first saw him. The majority, if not all say "First day of His life, on Christmas" But that isn't true Mt 2:11. Or how many wise men were there? Most say 3, but the scriptures don't tell us. My point? I'm agreeing with you that there is so much we miss in the scriptures, they are so rich. Let's keep digging! Thank-you.

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