Christmas, A Line in Time for Mary and Joseph

December 1, 2013

A Line in Time Mary and Joseph
It was almost as if someone had dragged a stick though the
sand drawing a line that said this was then and this is now.  There has never been an event in the history
of man that has so defined human history as the birth of Jesus. 
That line has defined time, nations and history.   When we speak of any event in the course of
history in any nation we define it with the letter B.C. before the birth of
Christ, or A. D.  Anno Domini, or in
English In the Year of the Lord.
It wasn’t always that way, time was usually divided by who
the ruler was at the time.  Do you
remember the way our story starts?  The
bible tells us that the birth of Jesus was originally dated by the fact that
most of the known world was ruled by Caesar Augustus and today we know that
Augustus died in 14.  14 What?  14, the Year of the Lord.  33 years later Jesus was crucified under the
authority of Caesar Tiberius.  Tiberius
died in 37, the year of our Lord.  
History has been divided into two sections those things that happened
before Jesus was born and those things that happened after Jesus was born. 
And yet it was the humblest of beginnings.  There wasn’t one person who was there that
first Christmas that could have imagined the impact the event would have on the
world. Last spring I preached on the theme “Who is this Man?”  During that time we looked at how the world
has changed because of the birth of Christ. 
The difference in the way the poor are viewed, how education is viewed,
how the sick are viewed, even how we view each other.  Because 2000 years ago in a stable in a small
village a young lady gave birth.   And
nobody knew that this birth would create a line in time.
The main players that day were a young lady named Mary and
her husband Joseph, and long before the birth of Christ changed the world, it
changed their world.
And we know the story, we’ve
heard it told over and over again until the wonder has gone and it has become
as mundane as a Christmas card.  But it
was anything but ordinary.  Listen again
to how the story begins:  Matthew
1:18
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to
be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a
virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Did you catch that “While she was still a virgin, she became
pregnant. . .”  That’s not the way it
normally happens, and in Luke’s account when the angel Gabriel visits Mary with
the news that she is going to have a son she makes this statement Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I
am a virgin.”  There was no
hesitation, she knew there was only one way to make a baby and she knew that
that hadn’t happened.  “Hold on guy,
there’s a small problem here and that is that I have never been with a man.”  She was saying that she was a virgin. 
And there are those out there who this time of year would
say that the virgin birth is impossible, and there are even preachers who would
say that the virgin birth isn’t important. 
But while it might be
impossible, and I don’t try to argue that, even the angel Gabriel didn’t argue
that point, he simply put it to rest in Luke 1:37 when he said Luke
1:37
For nothing is impossible with God.”
So while it is impossible, at
least in the natural scheme of things, it is of the utmost importance.  This is the human birth of God’s son, shouldn’t
it be special.  He was conceived outside
the laws of nature, not because the ordinary way was wrong but because it was
ordinary. 
It’s amazing how many people can accept the resurrection but
have problems with the virgin birth.  You
know, if you can accept the resurrection of Christ, you should be able to
accept the virgin birth of Christ. 
And ultimately if you don’t believe in the resurrection,
then it really doesn’t matter if you accept the virgin birth or not. After all
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith
is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.  In other words if there was no
resurrection you are backing  the wrong
horse.
And if she wasn’t a virgin then who was Jesus father?  Joseph? 
I don’t think so, after all Joseph was a wee bit upset when he found out
that his fiancé was pregnant. And if it wasn’t Joseph, do you really think that
God would send his son to be born through immorality, conceived through adultery
and betrayal. 
You have to understand the entire Jewish tradition of
engagement; Mary and Joseph were in what was called the Betrothal period of
their relationship.  In that particular
culture most marriages were arranged by the families back when the participants
were only children.  The philosophy was
that marriage was far too serious of a endeavour to be left to the dictates of
the human heart.  And the last part of
the engagement was the Betrothal, and it lasted for one year and was absolutely
binding, the participants were considered husband and wife in all matters
except they didn’t live together and the marriage hadn’t been consummated.  The betrothal could only be broken through
the formal proceedings of divorce and then only if one of the parties had been
unfaithful.  Which is what Joseph planned
on doing in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good
man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement
quietly.
Now that may seem a little harsh but at this point in Mary
and Joseph’s relationship Mary would have been legally committing
adultery.  The other option under Jewish
law was that he could have had her stoned. 
I’m sure that Joseph felt more than a little betrayed at this
point.  But he too was visited by an
Angel, and you thought your Christmas was busy. 
Listen to what happened in Matthew 1:20 As he
considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son
of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the
child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Just think about it, one day life was normal for Mary and
Joseph and then everything changed.  They
were happily planning a wedding and a life together, and then it was almost as
if someone had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said; this
was then and this is now. 
So, how was that first Christmas a defining moment for Mary
and Joseph?  Besides the obvious, that
they had become parents.  And I think
most of us who are parents would agree that becoming parents is life changing,
especially when it wasn’t expected.  And
this definitely wasn’t expected.
So let’s go back to the beginning of the story: Luke
1:26-27
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel
to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to
be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.
I think the first way that things Changed for Mary and Joseph
was that Christmas Changed Other’s
Perceptions of Them 
If you are
familiar with the story of Christmas you know that it begins not in Bethlehem but
over a hundred kms away in an obscure village called Nazareth.  And by obscure I mean it really wasn’t much.  Frank Zindler, editor of American Atheist
Magazine claims that  Nazareth didn’t exist
when Jesus was born, that evidence suggests that it was established 40 years
after the death of Jesus. 
Seriously?  I think that maybe the
editor of the American Atheist may have an agenda here.
Even if archeologists only discovered newspapers dated from
July 3, 74 it wouldn’t offer empirical proof that there weren’t earlier
newspapers that no longer existed.  If at
some future date archeologists study Hammonds Plains and only discover dated
material from the early 1800’s would that mean that Hammonds Plains didn’t
exist in 1789, or would it mean that they missed something? 
About a month ago the CTV News at Five did a week long
special called “A Road Less Travelled” and it looked at villages that had once
been thriving communities in the Maritimes that no longer exist.  Even some folks who live in proximity to the
ghost towns were unfamiliar with them.   
Nazareth is mentioned time and
time again in the New Testament and Jesus is referred to numerous times as
“Jesus of Nazareth”.   But it seems to have
been a small village, with little or nothing to call attention to itself, until
a young couple became parents to the one who would change the world.  Even Jesus’ contemporaries weren’t that
impressed with the community.  Let’s
eavesdrop in on a conversation recorded in the Gospel of John:  John 1:45-46 Philip
went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses
and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from
Nazareth.” “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from
Nazareth?” “Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.   Nazareth certainly hadn’t seemed to
make much of an impression on Nathanael. 
Now I’ve said all that to say
this, Mary and Joseph came from a small communities and there are no secrets in
small communities.  When the Angel came
to Mary he told her Luke 1:30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel
told her, “for you have found favour with God!”  Mary was probably known in the
community as a “Good Girl”.  And she was
engaged, not married but engaged to Joseph who is described in the bible as a
good man. 
And good people are annoying to
bad people because they are good.  And
because their goodness is a reminder of what others could be if they wanted
to. 
And then all of a sudden the
good girl was pregnant, and she was still engaged but not married.  And you can imagine how people’s opinions of
Mary and Joseph changed, and what was said about them behind their backs.  And even if they tried to explain who would
believe them? 
There will be times in your
life when doing the right thing and following God’s will for your life will
chang the perception people have of you. 
And Jesus knew that, he doesn’t sugar coat it, in fact he was pretty up
front about it.  In Matthew
5:11
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about
you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my
followers.”  Jesus didn’t say “. .
.If people lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because
you are my followers.”  He said  “. . .when people lie about you and say all
sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” 
When you choose to follow the
one who was born on that first Christmas, people’s perceptions about you will
change.  And not always in a bad
way.  Even though popular opnion in
Nazareth may have cast Joseph in an unfavorable light for a while that opinion
ultimately changed.  For millions of
people, over the next two thousand years, Joseph the Carpenter would be thought
of as Saint Joseph and would have hospitals, universities and cities named
after him.  According to The National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that’s a mouthful, the Spanish version of his
name, San Jose, is the most common place name in the world.   And Joseph’s wife would be known as Saint
Mary, the blessed Virgin and the Holy Mother and would cause countless debates
through the years.
And because we serve Jesus,
people will form opinions about us, sometime for the good and sometimes not.  And either way understand that your purpose
in life is not to conform to the opinions of others. 
Author Lawana Blackwell writes “Patterning
your life around other’s opinions is nothing more than slavery.”
Ultimately you need to remember
that you play to an audience of One.  And
that One is God.  You may not be able to
avoid the negative perceptions of others but you don’t have to accept them, you
don’t need to make them a reality. 
The second thing that happened
for Mary and Joseph was the first Christmas
Changed Their Perception of Themselves   
This often happens when the first child is born, suddenly Mary and
Joseph became Mommy and Daddy and they began thinking of themselves differently
than they had.  And that’s not
uncommon.  A part of you is a part of
them and the other way around.
But more than that was the
affirmation that Mary and Joseph received from God.  We need people to speak good into our lives,
people who will tell us that they believe in us and that we are awesome.  And often the people who have the most
influence with that are our parents and ourselves.  And you can’t control one but you can most
certainly control the other.   Self-talk can be incredibly helpful or
incredibly dangerous.  Depends on what we
are saying to ourselves. 
Sidney Madwed was spot on
when he wrote “Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot
tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we
continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives.”
But what we tell ourselves
about ourselves is usually defined by what others tell us about ourselves.  It takes someone special who can rise above being
constantly put down and belittled.  You
can do it, but it is tough.  It’s a lot
easier when those you love speak encouragement into your life.
So you can imagine the positive
impact on Mary and Joseph’s life to hear the angel talk about how they had
found favour with God.  That’s pretty
special.  We are talking God, God who
spoke everything into being, God who created the universe, God who shaped and
molded us into what and who we are.  
But more than that, they had
been affirmed not just through words but through action, God not only spoke
into their lives declaring them righteous, but he said “I believe in you so
much I’m going to entrust my one and only son to you.
You understand that the same
God who spoke favour into the lives of Mary and Joseph speaks favour into our
lives every day.  He loves you so much he
sacrificed his one and only son for you. 
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 We know,
dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own
people.   When I met with our
sponsored child in Peru Arianna’s Grandmother told me several times “Thank you
for choosing my granddaughter”. 
God chose you.  You aren’t a mistake or an accident or an
oops, you are a wonderful beautiful chosen one. 
Do you believe that?  Can you believe
that?  Galatians 4:5 God sent
him (Jesus) to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could
adopt us as his very own children.
When we realize just how much God loves us it will change the perception
we have of ourselves.  Think of the words
that are used in the bible to describe you, Chosen, Loved, Adopted, Redeemed,
favoured, special.  That’s what God
almighty thinks of you.
The third thing that happened
for Mary and Joseph was the first Christmas
Changed Their Priorities  
This is
the reality for most of us when we have children.  It changes how we socialize
and it changes how we budget, or at least it should.  Our purpose goes from being “Me” centred to
being “We” centred.
It’s amazing how things that
were so important before you become parents take a back seat after you become
parents, things like a full night’s sleep.
But it really had to go beyond
that, Mary didn’t find out she was pregnant by a pregnancy test she bought at
dollarama, an Angel came and told her. 
And then he outlined who the child was that she was carrying and what he
would accomplish, Listen again to the announcement of the angel in Luke
1:30-33
“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor
with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him
Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The
Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over
Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
A very similar announcement came to Joseph,  Matthew 1:20-21 As he
considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son
of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the
child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and
you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Gabriel should have ended his
announcement by saying, “No pressure.” 
Kind of like someone handing you a package and saying “This contains an
ancient and incredibly valuable Ming Dynasty vase.  It is very fragile and worth well over a
million dollars.  Oh by the way, don’t
drop it.”
And so God entrusted his son to
this young couple to raise as their own. 
In a time when the childhood mortality rates would have been very high,
in a land occupied by a foreign army, ruled by ruthless men, they were to keep
Jesus safe and healthy.  And they were to
raise him in a Godly home to know and love his heavenly father, no
pressure.  Don’t drop it.
And they didn’t.  We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood,
but we get a snippet in Luke 2:40 There the child grew up healthy
and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.

And then the next time we see them, they have their son at the Temple.  You see their responsibility with the son of
God is the same as our responsibility when we are given children.  They were to keep him safe and bring him up
in the ways of God

As a child of God our priorities
need to be different than they were before we became children of God.  The line drawn by Christmas should help
define who we are, children of God, chosen and adopted. 
Our priorities should no longer
be “me” centred but instead should be “we” centred, embracing God and what his
will is for our lives, being a part of God’s family and loving the world the
way that God loves the world. 
If Christmas hasn’t made a
difference in your life, it can.