Sunday, December 16, 2007

Learning from Joseph

A question we’ll undoubtedly hear many times between now and December 25th is, "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? Are you ready for Christmas?"

We meet ourselves coming and going, so we call it "the Christmas rush." Sometimes the Christmas season becomes very hectic, and because of that we tend to forget much of the reason for the season.

There is a rather interesting Christmas story about a little girl who watched her mother and dad getting ready for Christmas. To her, it seemed that dad was preoccupied with burdens and bundles, and mom was concerned about parties and presents, and 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 and 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. 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, and 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 and in our lives? Let’s turn our attention to the Christmas story as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25.

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 and 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 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."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and 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 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.

I like Joseph. He doesn’t stand in the spotlight very long, and 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.

First of all, Joseph teaches us, "Be ready to accept God’s Will, whatever it might be."

Joseph was open to the will and the leading of God. Let me point out that all that were involved in this great story of Christmas had to be willing to obey God!

  • God was willing to give up His Son.
  • Jesus was willing to come to earth.
  • Mary was willing to be the mother of Jesus even though she didn’t understand.
  • Joseph was willing to be the father and He was willing to do God's will, whatever it was and wherever it was.

Joseph had the privilege of having the angel come to Him three times.

  • The angel came and told Him to take Mary for a wife.
  • The angels came and told Him to take the young child and Mary to Egypt.
  • Then the angel told Him when it was safe to return home.

Each time Joseph responded with faith.

Put yourself in his position. Joseph thought his life was pretty well planned. He was pledged to be married, which means that he and Mary had made all necessary arrangements, and the wedding ceremony was soon to take place. Joseph knew that he would marry Mary, and that they would settle down in Nazareth. He would continue on in his carpenter business, and they would live happily together ever after.

But then Mary came to him and said, "Joseph, I am expecting a baby." It must have hit him like a bomb shell. Seemingly, she had been unfaithful to him. He knew the child was not his, and 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 and 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."

Joseph was evidently a man of faith. But sometimes it is hard to live by faith, isn’t it? 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 and was willing to obey. 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.

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 say God, how can this be?

God’s ways are not always our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and we may never understand everything that God is doing this side of heaven, but God says, "Trust Me, and 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 was willing to obey God. We need to learn to trust God, too.

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey!
Trust and obey
for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus
but to trust and obey!
--J. H. Sammis
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, and 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. In the midst of them all is the Christ child in the manger, looking so pure and clean. Over there on the side stands Joseph. His isn’t a starring role, but his part is so important. His task is to take care of Mary and the baby Jesus. Joseph had the important role of caring for the needs of others.

Thanksgiving and Christmas come once a year, and this season probably causes us to be more sensitive to the needs of others. But we need to learn that there is always someone in need!

There is story 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 and 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" and 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 and something to eat.

They went inside the dimly-lit restaurant and sat down, and 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" and made them into one, "Hidere."And every time he said that, there was a response from a table in a booth near the door, "Hi there, little boy. Hi there, little boy."

They looked at the alcove and saw an old, ragged, tattered-looking man. His coat was several sizes too big, and it was old and torn. His trousers drug the floor. His shoes had holes in them, and his toes actually stuck out. He had on an old hat tilted to one side, and 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," and 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 and played peek-a-boo. There was an instant bond between little Eric and 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 and get out of here as quickly as possible." So they gulped it down. Then he said, "I’ll pay for the food and 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, and 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 and patted his back with the other, as Eric put his arms around the man’s neck and nestled his head on his shoulder.

Closing his eyes, the old man just talked to him, and tears started streaming down his cheeks. For a long moment he held that child and loved it. And as he did, he looked up at the mother and said, "You take good care of this boy." She answered, "I will, sir."

Then he handed Eric back, and said, "Thank you, thank you very much. You have given me my greatest Christmas present."

Christmas came because Joseph cared about Mary and Jesus. It will also come for us when we learn to care about others, too.

Thirdly, Christmas came to Joseph because Joseph gave whatever he had to give.

He gave of Himself. He didn’t know that after Jesus was born that he would have to take Mary and the baby into Egypt. He didn’t know that he would be separated from his home town and his loved ones there for a long period of time. He didn’t know all the demands that would be made on his time and his pocketbook. But whatever God asked of him, Joseph freely willing to gave. That is what Christmas is, isn’t it?

When God gave His Son Christmas happened. When Joseph gave himself Christmas happened.

There is nothing wrong with giving gifts, but the greatest gift is the gift of love.

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, and 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 and 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 and Joseph came to Bethlehem, went to the Inn and knocked on its door. Wally opened the door and said, "What do you want?" just as mean and 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 and 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 and forgotten to say "Begone."

Finally, after he had been coached for several long seconds, Wally managed to say, "Begone."

Mary and 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."

"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.

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 and our eternity. Will we obey Him like Joseph did without questions?

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