A Reflection of Change

December 3, 2017

I’m really not fond of change, I don’t like carrying it around in my pockets, I find it bulky an d uncomfortable, so I have a jar on my dresser that I dump all my change in so I don’t have to carry it.  And come vacation time I will roll it and take it to the bank and turn it into real money.

But that isn’t the only type of change I’m uncomfortable with, I sometimes push back when things in my life change.  It seemed to be easier when I was younger, but the older I get the more entrenched I seem to get, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

It was 1991 and I was reading Robert Kregel’s book “If It Ain’t Broke, Break it” and I came across a quote that explained a lot about human nature, Kregle writes,  “The only people who like change are busy cashiers and babies with wet diapers.”

And most of us can identify with that, change can be tough. And while some embrace change, most people aren’t completely comfortable with change, that’ why the status quo is so . . . status quo.

But it was Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of England said “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

Two thousand years ago an event happened that changed everything.    And that event was the birth of Jesus.

Ultimately It would change time, It would change nations and It would change history.

I’ve spoken of this before, as a matter of fact a few years ago I did an entire series on the difference that Jesus made in the world.

Think about it, 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.

If we had of read the Christmas story from the book of Luke it begins with these words: Luke 2:1  At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.

So we are told 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.  We are told that 33 years later Jesus was crucified under the authority of Caesar Tiberius.

Tiberius died in 37, the year of our Lord.   And so, for the past 2000 years history has been divided into two sections those things that happened before Jesus was born and those things that happened after Jesus was born.

The birth of Jesus would change the way society thought and treated the sick, the poor, the orphans and women.  And while today it seems it cool and hip to criticize the church remember it was His church that would be the catalyst to start hospitals and universities, orphanages and schools.  His church was at the forefront of stopping slavery and fighting for women’s rights.

And yet it had the humblest of beginnings.  There wasn’t one person who was there that first Christmas that could have imagined the changes that event would have on the world.

But before the world was changed, 2 individual lives were changed.

This is week one of our Christmas series “Reflections of Christmas” and each week a different staff member is going to take a look at these 7 verses of the Christmas story, and reflect on what it means to them.

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 an 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 thrown a switch that changed everything.

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: 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.

I think the first way that things Changed for Mary and Joseph was that Christmas Changed How Other’s Saw Them  If you are familiar with the story of Christmas you know that it begins not in Bethlehem but over a hundred km 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 archaeologists 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 archaeologists studying Hammonds Plains only discovered 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?

A few years ago, CTV News at Five did a fascinating 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 community and there are no secrets in small communities.  When the Angel came to Mary he told her in 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 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 change the perception people have of you.  And Jesus knew that, he doesn’t sugar coat it, in fact he was pretty upfront 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 opinion in Nazareth may have cast Joseph in an unfavourable 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, sometimes 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 How They Saw 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 humour, 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 moulded 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.

Four years ago, I had a chance to meet with our sponsored child in Peru and 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 or eating the last slice of pizza.

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 favour 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 children of God, our priorities need to be different than they were before we became children of God. 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 changed your life, it can.


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