MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
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A. A question we’ll undoubtedly hear many times between now & Dec. 25th is this, "Are you ready for Christmas?"
I suppose what is really being asked is, "Have you put up all your Christmas decorations? Have you finished your Christmas shopping? Have you mailed your Christmas cards? Have you put on your calendar all the places you’re supposed to go? Are you ready for Christmas?"
We meet ourselves coming & going, so we call it "the Christmas rush." Sometimes the Christmas season becomes very hectic, & because of that we tend to forget much of the reason for the season.
ILL. There is a rather poignant Christmas story about a little girl who watched her mother & dad getting ready for Christmas. To her, it seemed that dad was preoccupied with burdens & bundles, & mom was concerned about parties & presents, & they just had no time for her.
She felt that she was being shoved aside. In fact, it seemed to her that she was always being told, "Would you please get out of the way?"
So one night in December she knelt beside her bed & prayed this prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven, please forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us."
You see, when I ask the question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" I’m asking about more than your activities. I’m asking about your attitudes, because every once in a while I hear someone say, "I just can’t get into the Christmas spirit!" Maybe you’ve said it too.
B. With that in mind, let’s think once again about what Christmas really means. Christmas says that "God became a human being. God expressed His love by living among us, by walking with us, & talking to us." That’s what Christmas means. But what are the right attitudes we ought to have so that Christmas can really happen in our homes & in our lives?
So for a few minutes this morning let’s turn our attention to the Christmas story as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25. Please listen as I read.
"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man & did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
"But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream & 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, & you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’
"All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: `The virgin will be with child & will give birth to a son, & they will call Him Immanuel’ which means, `God with us.’
"When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him & 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."
PROP. I like Joseph. He doesn’t stand in the spotlight very long, & we don’t know a whole lot about his life. But Joseph can teach us a lot about attitudes - attitudes that can make Christmas real in our lives, too.
I. ACCEPT GOD’S WILL, WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE
First of all, Joseph teaches us, "Be ready to accept God’s Will, whatever it might be." Joseph was open to the will & leading of God.
A. Put yourself in his position. Joseph thought his life was pretty well planned. He was pledged to be married, which means that he & Mary had made all necessary arrangements, & the wedding ceremony was soon to take place.
Joseph knew that he would marry Mary, & that they would settle down in Nazareth. He would continue on in his carpenter business, & they would live happily together ever after.
But then Mary came to him & said, "Joseph, I am expecting a baby."
It must have hit him like a bombshell. He thought that Mary loved him as much as he loved her. But now, seemingly, she had been unfaithful to him. He knew the child was not his, & so the only conclusion he could reach was that she had been unfaithful. She had broken the bond that existed between them.
According to the law, Mary should be stoned to death. But Joseph loved her so much that he didn’t want that. So he decided to divorce her quietly.
As he was thinking about this, an angel came to Joseph in a dream & in effect said, "Joseph, trust God. He is in this. You may not understand all that is happening, but just trust God & everything will be all right."
B. Joseph was evidently a man of faith. But sometimes it is hard to live by faith. If God always does what we expect Him to do, then maybe it’s easy to have faith. But when God doesn’t do what we expect, then it’s hard.
Joseph trusted God. Even though he must have had a list of questions a mile long, he trusted God because he believed that God’s will was best.
APPL. We find ourselves in much the same position as Joseph. Christmas comes as a time of peace, but there is conflict. Christmas comes as a time of joy, but there is so much sadness. Christmas comes as a time of love, but there is so much hatred in our world.
We cry out, like Joseph must have cried out, "God, how can this be?" But like Joseph we hear a still small voice from God saying, "Trust Me."
God’s ways are not always our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, & we may never understand everything that God is doing this side of heaven, but God says, "Trust Me, & it will all work out."
Paul wrote, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."
Christmas happened because Joseph trusted God. And we need to learn to trust God, too.
II. LEARN TO CARE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE
The second thing Joseph teaches us is this, "We need to learn to care about other people."
You know, Joseph’s assignment was a pretty simple one, & that is the way we often portray him in our Christmas plays. We picture Mary with a halo over her head, looking so angelic. Over here are excited shepherds, & over there are the wise men with their gifts of gold, frankincense & myrrh. In the midst of them all is the Christ child in the manger, looking so pure & clean.
Over there on the side stands Joseph. His isn’t a starring role, but his part is so important. His task is this, "Take care of Mary & the baby Jesus." Joseph had the important role of caring for the needs of others.
APPL. Christmas comes once a year, & this season probably causes us to be more sensitive to the needs of others. But there is so much that needs to be done that we often find ourselves frustrated. But still we try. Maybe the finest descriptive title that can be given a church is this, "A church that really cares."
ILL. One of my favorite stories is about a young couple with an 18-month old son who had gone to spend a few days with the grandparents at Christmas.
Christmas Day fell on Sunday that year & the young father had to be back at work on Monday morning. So right after going to church together, the young family said their "good-byes" & set off for home.
There weren’t very many filling stations open since it was Christmas Day. But they did find a truck stop that was open. So they stopped to get fuel & something to eat.
They went inside the dimly-lit restaurant & sat down, & found that they were the only customers there, or so they thought. But then little Eric, their 18-month old son, said "Hidere. Hidere." He was putting together the two words, "Hi there" & made them into one, "Hidere."
And every time he said that, there was a response from a table in an alcove near the door, "Hi there, little boy. Hi there, little boy."
They looked at the alcove & saw an old, ragged, tattered-looking man. His coat was several sizes too big, & it was old & torn.
His trousers drug the floor. His shoes had holes in them, & his toes actually stuck out. He had on an old hat tilted to one side, & his face was unshaven. And when he smiled, it revealed that all his teeth were gone.
And yet, for some reason, little Eric was attracted to this old man. He kept saying "Hidere, hidere," & every time, the old man would answer.
Finally the man said, "Little boy, do you know how to patty cake?" Sure enough, from across the room little Eric started patty-caking. "Little boy, do you know how to play peek-a-boo?" Sure enough, little Eric hid his eyes & played peek-a-boo. There was an instant rapport between little Eric & the old man who was obviously a reject of society.
Eric’s parents felt uneasy. The husband whispered to his wife, "Let’s eat our food & get out of here as quickly as possible." So they gulped it down. Then he said, "I’ll pay for the food & you get Eric out the door."
She started toward the door, hoping to get out without any problems. But as they passed him, Eric reached out both his arms toward the old ragged, tattered man.
The old man sat there looking up at the mother, & then he asked, "Would you, would you let me hold your baby?" Really, she didn’t have much to say about it because by this time Eric had virtually lunged into the arms of the old man.
He cradled Eric in one of his hands & patted his back with the other, as Eric put his arms around the man’s neck & nestled his head on his shoulder.
Closing his eyes, the old man just talked to him, & tears started streaming down his cheeks. For a long moment he held that child & loved it. And as he did, he looked up at the mother & said, "You take good care of this boy." She answered, "I will, sir."
Then he handed Eric back, & said, "Thank you, thank you very much. You have given me my greatest Christmas present."
SUM. Christmas came because Joseph cared about Mary & Jesus. It will also come for us when we learn to care about others, too.
III. LEARN TO GIVE WHATEVER WE HAVE TO GIVE
A. Thirdly, Christmas came to Joseph because Joseph gave. He gave whatever he had to give.
He didn’t know that after Jesus was born that he would have to take Mary & the baby into Egypt. He didn’t know that he would be separated from his home town & his loved ones there for a long period of time. He didn’t know all the demands that would be made on his time & his pocketbook.
But whatever God asked of him, Joseph freely gave.
B. That is what Christmas is, isn’t it? When God gave Himself Christmas happened. When Joseph gave himself Christmas happened. There is nothing wrong with giving gifts, but the greatest gift is the gift of love.
ILL. Wally was a 7th grade student who was bigger than any of the other students in his Sunday school class. His mother had been an alcoholic when he was born, & as a result, Wally just did not have all the mental capabilities that the rest of his classmates had. But somehow he managed to get by.
Christmas time came & his class decided to put on a Christmas pageant. Since he was the biggest, Wally was selected to be the innkeeper. After all, the innkeeper is kind of a villain in the Christmas drama. So they coached Wally to be just as mean as he possibly could be.
Well, the night came for the Christmas play. And in it, Mary & Joseph came to Bethlehem, went to the Inn & knocked on its door. Wally opened the door & said, "What do you want?" just as mean & gruff as he could possibly be.
Joseph said, "We need a room. We need a place to stay tonight." "Well, you’ll have to stay someplace else," said Wally, "because there’s no room here. There’s no room in the Inn."
Joseph said, "But my wife’s expecting a baby just any time now. Isn’t there someplace where we can stay, where we are protected from the cold & where she can deliver her child?" "No," said Wally, "There’s no room here."
Then suddenly there was a silence on the stage. It was one of those embarrassing moments when you know that someone has forgotten the lines. From behind the curtains you could hear the prompter saying, "Begone. Begone." Wally was supposed to speak, but for some reason he had choked up & forgotten to say "Begone."
Finally, after he had been coached for several long seconds, Wally managed to say, "Begone." Mary & Joseph sadly turned to leave. But just as they did, Wally said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You can have my room."
The director of the play was ready to pull out her hair because she knew that the whole Christmas pageant had been ruined.
But had it? Maybe Wally, better than anybody else communicated the real spirit of Christmas. "You can have my room."
APPL. "You can have my life." That is what God said at Christmas time. "You can have Me. I give Myself." That is still the greatest gift of all.
CONCL. Are you ready for Christmas? I don’t know if you will be able to get all your shopping done or not. I don’t know if you will be able to attend all the events you want to attend.
But I hope that you are ready in attitude. I hope you are ready for the real spirit of Christmas to come, because if you’re ready for that, it’ll happen. It’ll happen in the greatest way of all.
Jesus Christ stands before us today, inviting us to make important decisions about our lives & our eternity. He extends His nail-pierced hands & says, "I have given My all for you. Will you give your all to Me?"
If you have a decision that needs to be made publicly this morning, we pray that you will make that decision as we stand & as we sing together.