Summary: This sermon looks at how Mary and Joseph welcomed the Christ child into their lives and the implications for our lives and our Christmas
To Welcome the Child
Norman Vincent Peale writes of spending Christmas in Africa with his wife, children and grandchildren. He was hesitant but his wife told him he would love every minute of it. And yet, as Christmas day approached he was troubled because everything Christmas was missing: being home, having a Christmas tree, people singing carols in the streets, hanging Christmas lights, snow crunching under his feet and of course all of the smells and aromas of Christmas. But there was none of that there in Africa. We had been told there would be a special dinner out for us on Christmas Eve. Even this did not cheer me; I thought it might be an artificial occasion with everyone trying too hard to be merry. When I came out near dinnertime I saw that in the eating tent a straggly brown bush had been set up, decorated with small colored lights and some tinsel and red ribbon. We were called to the edge of the river, where chairs had been set up for all of us so that we could see, on the other side, two herders guarding their cattle, their spear tips gleaming in the gathering dusk. And at that peaceful, almost timeless sight, I felt something stir within me, for I knew that these herders and their charges came from a long line that had not changed in 1000’s of years. They belonged to their landscape just as the shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem belonged to theirs. And at that moment one of our grandchildren began to sing, hesitantly, tentatively, "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Gradually others joined in: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and then "Joy to the World!" Soon we were all singing, and as we sang, everything seemed to change; the sense of strangeness was gone. I looked around the group, our children, their children, singing songs, sharing feelings that in a very real way went back almost 2,000 years to that simple manger in a simple town, with the herders standing by in a parched and primitive land. Then someone began to read from Luke: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night..." As the story went on I thought, How wonderful and simple this is, so wonderful and simple that only God could have thought of it. So when the carols and the Bible reading ended and we walked back to the eating tent for our dinner, I knew a complete sense of peace. It was in that simple setting that Norman Vincent Peale and his family welcomed the child.
What about you? How are you going to welcome the child in your life this Christmas? In our Scripture today, we’re going to see how Mary and Joseph welcomed the Christ child into their lives. Now every Jewish parent had two important responsibilities: to teach their children the Word and to work. That’s what many of our children lack today. Work is about responsibility - learning that it is my part in life to make a contribution. Work is not about having money to do stuff on weekends. In the home, we learn we are here to make a contribution for God's purpose for the well being of humanity and that less than excellence does not honor God. We learn in our work that excellence is important. That's what school and doing chores is about. Jesus took on the identity of his daddy, Joseph, who taught him his work, which was carpentry. The other thing we learn in the home is the Word. From the time Jesus was less than two years old, every day his parents would have done Bible lessons out of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). As parents, we have this awesome responsibility to nurture the miracle of Jesus' birth in our children. The faith is meant to be passed on to our children in the home, not at church. And that’s our primary responsibility as parents, according to God’s Word. So how did Mary and Joseph welcome the Christ child in their lives?
First, they prepared themselves spiritually. Leviticus 12 tells us that the ritual of purification for a woman after childbirth took place in the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of a child. Prior to that, the mother was not allowed to touch anything sacred or to enter the temple. While the matter of purification was directly related to the woman, Luke uses the word “they” which most scholars deem to indicate that he viewed this as a family matter. So Luke makes a point to say that both Mary and Joseph followed the law and thus prepared themselves to not only receive the child but to live up to the obligations of being a parent, let alone the parents of the Messiah.