Christmas crisis

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Merry Christmas. If this is your first time at church in a while, let me welcome you. We are glad that you are here, and we hope to see you more often. And to the kids, let me say that we are excited that you are worshipping together with us. Why don’t we give a warm welcome to all the kids in our midst? This is the second time we have done this. The first one was exactly a year ago, last Christmas. Kids, I realized this is a different experience from what you used to. Instead of listening to your Sunday school teachers, today you are listening to Ps Yosi. And if I say something that you don’t understand, it’s okay. Your parents will explain it to you on the way home from church. Can I have an amen, parents? Let me start with a question. Kids, you can yell out your answer. What is the first thing that should come to your mind when you think of Christmas? I know you are tempted to say gifts, Santa Claus, or Frozen, but that is not the first thing that should come to your mind when you think of Christmas. The first thing that should come to your mind when you think of Christmas is the birth of Jesus. And the birth of a baby is always an occasion of great excitement. And whenever a baby is born, two questions immediately emerge, although one is obsolete now. The first question used to be, “Is it a boy or a girl?” But that’s not true anymore. Today, parents have a gender reveal party months before the baby is born. And the second question is, does anyone want to guess? Yes, the name. “What is the baby’s name?” And this is a very important question. The baby needs a name. Without a name, it is incomplete. That’s why parents spend lots of time considering names for their children.

In preparation for this sermon, I googled the most popular names for boys and girls in Australia. I’ll just give you the top 5 of each. And if your name is on the list, don’t blame me. I’m not the one who named you. The girls: Charlotte, Amelia, Isla, Olivia, and Mia. The boys: Oliver, Noah, Leo, William, and Henry. And apparently, Oliver has been Australia’s most popular boys name for over a decade. If my name is Oliver, I don’t know whether I should be happy or sad that my name has been the most popular boy’s name in Australia for over 10 years. It means there are many of me around. But the name Oliver derives from the Olive tree, which symbolizes peace. It is easy to see why many parents love the name Oliver. Today, we are celebrating the birth of a baby from over 2000 years ago. And the name of this baby changes everything. This baby is given two names in these verses: Jesus and Immanuel. That used to confuse me as a kid because I wanted to know his real name. Maybe if I can come up to him and ask, “What is your name?” he would say, “My name is Jesus. My nickname is Christ. My friends call me Immanuel. You can call me Lord.”

The theme of our Christmas celebration this year is ‘The Visitation.’ Someone came and visited us, and this visit changed everything. Who came and visited us? We are given the answer in the names of this baby. And the names of this baby are both confronting and comforting. Why is it confronting? Because Jesus means “God saves” while Immanuel means “God with us.” In other words, Christianity claims that the baby that was born to Joseph and Mary 2000 years ago was no ordinary baby. Christianity claims that the one who came and visited us is none other than God himself. This is how Christianity differs from every other religion. Every other religion was founded by someone who came to tell us how to find God. But Christianity says that our founder, Jesus Christ, was God who came to find us. And this is very confronting.

The claim that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh creates a crisis. What is a crisis? A crisis is a fork in the road. What do you do when you face a fork in the road? You have to decide on which way to go. And your decision makes all the difference. If you decide to go to the left, you go in a completely different way than if you go to the right. The claim that Jesus Christ is God is a crisis. It requires you to make a decision. Listen. Christianity is either true, and therefore you have to believe it, or it is a lie, and therefore it is evil, and you must hate it. It is all or nothing. What you cannot do is say, “Christianity is a good religion, but it is only one of many good religions out there.” The claim of Christianity that Jesus is God does not allow space for that. You cannot be casual about Jesus. It is very confronting. But it is also very comforting because Christianity does not give you 10 steps on how to be good enough so you might be accepted by God. Christianity says, “You can never be good enough for God, so God came and did what you cannot do. God did not send a preacher to tell you how to save yourself. God himself came to save you.” That’s comforting. Even though we failed God, God did not abandon us. But he came to us and saved us. The message of Christmas is both confronting and comforting.

So, let’s look at the story. I have three points: the story; the challenge; the good news.

The story

Matthew begins the Christmas story by telling us that Mary is betrothed to Joseph. Betrothed means engaged, but engagement in the 1st century was different than in the 21st century. When you were betrothed, that was basically the equivalent of marriage. The only thing that was left to happen was for the wife to be brought into her husband’s home and for the marriage to be physically consummated. That could happen sometime in the future. So, betrothal looked like marriage in such a way that if you were to break it off, that was equivalent to divorce. So, Mary and Joseph were basically committed to one another in a marriage commitment. The only thing that’s yet to happen is for them to live together and do a husband-and-wife thing. But then suddenly Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant.

Let’s imagine you are Joseph for a second. You’ve gathered the courage and asked this woman to marry you. She said yes. The engagement party was done. The only thing that’s left is for her to come and live with you. And right before that’s about to happen, you find out that she is pregnant. Kids, I don’t know what your parents told you when you asked them where babies come from, but whatever their answer was, Joseph had not done that with Mary. So, if you are Joseph, there is only one possible option for how Mary is pregnant in your mind. Clearly, she has been involved with another man. Imagine the emotions in you as a husband, about to bring your wife into your home, only to find out that for all you know, she has been involved with another man and is now pregnant. Can you imagine how painful and humiliating that is? So, you call her and ask her for an explanation. And she says, “Jo, I haven’t been with any man. It is the Holy Spirit that got me pregnant.” Would you believe her? Of course not. So now, Joseph has two options. He could publicly disgrace her or privately divorce her. As he considers his options, he falls asleep and has a dream. And in his dream, an angel of the Lord appears and says, “Joseph, do not divorce Mary. Mary had not been unfaithful to you. The reason she is pregnant is because the Holy Spirit put the baby in her womb. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Have you ever had a dream and when you wake up you think, “Did that actually happen or was I just dreaming that?” And if it’s a good dream, you are kind of disappointed that it didn’t actually happen. Or if it’s a bad dream, you’re just relieved that it didn’t happen. “Fiuh, I’m so glad I wasn’t actually eaten by zombies.” I’m not sure what Joseph feels at that point. He is probably like, “Did that actually happen? What did that mean? Mary is going to have a son and the son is of the Holy Spirit? And I am going to be his father?” Joseph must have been overwhelmed. But I love what he does next. When he wakes up, he obeys God. He does exactly as the angel told him. He takes Mary as his wife, and he does not have a physical relationship with her until Jesus is born. And this is the last time we heard of Joseph in the Bible. He disappeared off the page of the Bible right after this. His airtime in the Bible might be brief, but Joseph is teaching us an important lesson on what it means to accept Jesus into our lives.

The challenge

There are three challenges that Joseph has to accept when he says yes to Jesus. And these challenges apply to you as well. You can’t receive Jesus unless you are willing to accept these challenges. First, you have to accept rejection from the world. Joseph understands that when he accepts Mary as his wife, all will not be well. Why? Because people are not dumb. If you live in a small town and you give birth before its time, people know. They are not stupid. They are counting the months. “Married on August 17, first child on December 25. Yeah, right.” They will know something is off with Jesus’ birth. And their best guess is either Jesus is an illegitimate son, or he is conceived out of wedlock. Mary’s life will inevitably be ruined. She will be disgraced. And for Joseph to marry her, for Joseph to accept Jesus into his life, means disgrace will come to him too. The only way he can be free is if he divorces Mary. But if he marries her and has this child five months after they get married, everyone will think that they have been unfaithful to God together. Can you imagine Joseph trying to explain the truth to others? “Guys, let me tell you what happened. It wasn’t me. Mary was pregnant because of the Holy Spirit.” “Ha ha ha…” No one would believe him. That’s why Joseph was contemplating divorcing Mary. He was thinking, “I don’t want this mess in my life. If I marry her, the world will make fun of me. I will have a bad reputation. My life will be ruined.” But Joseph chose to obey God and accepted Jesus into his life. Accepting Jesus made Joseph’s life very complicated with his family, friends, and coworkers.

And this is true for every Christian as well. If you say, “I believe Jesus is God. I believe Jesus has forgiven my sins and now I live to please him,” the world will look at you and shake its head. The world doesn’t understand the gospel. Especially in a metropolitan city like Sydney. You are going to have teachers at your school who laugh at you when you say that you love Jesus. You are going to have bosses and colleagues who ridicule you for saying that Jesus resurrected from the death. You are going to have friends and families who make jokes about your faith in Jesus. People will not understand you and you can’t make them understand why you are the way you are. You are going to have to kiss your good reputation goodbye. It is a scary thing to accept Jesus into your life. But look at Joseph and Mary, two young people who were willing to accept Jesus and embrace the rejection of the world. Thousands of years later, we are talking about them. Why? Because when they accepted Jesus into their life, God was saying, “It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of you, it doesn’t matter the shame you have to endure, I will be your honour. I will vindicate you.” That’s the first challenge.

Second, you have to accept letting go of control. One of the most striking things about this passage is the naming of Jesus. Kids, let me ask you a question. Who gave you your name? The answer is, “Not Ps Yosi.” Am I right? I tried. Our church recently celebrated the birth of Rahardja’s baby. And I tried naming their daughter. I even mentioned it in my sermon illustration. But I got rejected. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, the right to name a baby belongs to the parents. I know grandparents, uncles, and aunts like to interfere. But the final decision goes to the parents. But here is what’s striking about this birth. Joseph and Mary did not get to name their baby. The angel said to Joseph, “You are not going to have the right to name him. Let me tell you what to name him. You name him Jesus.” Do you know why? When you name something, it means you have authority over that thing. When you create a company, you have the right to name that company because that company is yours. When you create a drawing, you name that drawing. Why? Because you have authority over it. When you have a child, you have the right to name that child because you are in authority over that child. But the angel told Joseph, “If you accept this baby into your life, you will not have authority over him. Because he will have authority over your life. You will not name him. He will name you.”

What does it mean for Christians? Get this. When you accept Jesus into your life, you have no right to tell him who he is, but he has the right to tell you who you should be. I have met many people over the years who said, “I am interested in Christianity, but I don’t know if I want to give up my habit… I’m not too sure about carrying the cross thing… I surely like the idea of having God’s blessing, but I don’t think I can forgive my mother-in-law…” Do you know what they are doing? They are trying to name Jesus. They say, “I want Jesus who is like this and that.” But that’s not going to work. If you accept Jesus, you don’t get to tell him what to do. You do not manage Jesus. Jesus manages you. He can only come into your life as the ultimate authority. It means you lose the right to decide what to do with your life. You are giving up all control to him. You don’t try to negotiate with him. There is no such thing as “I obey you if…” You either accept him and give up control of your life, or you don’t. There is nothing in between. That’s the second challenge.

Third, and this is probably the hardest one, you have to accept you are a sinner. The angel said, “He will save his people from their sins.” It means you can’t be a Christian until you admit, “There is absolutely nothing I can do to save myself. I am extremely helpless. I have rebelled against God, and I cannot live up to his standard. My number one problem is not I need a solution to a better life. My number one problem is God is angry at my sin and there is nothing I can do to change that. I need someone to save me.” And this is the hardest thing of all. Let me tell you why. Sinclair Ferguson, a Scottish pastor, told a story to get across what was happening in Genesis 3 when the serpent lied to Adam and Eve.

This is Christmas time. So, kids, imagine your dad takes you to a toy store and he walks through the store with you. Your dad says, “Do you see that toy? Would you like that?” You say, “Yes, Daddy. I like that.” Then you go a little farther. Your dad says, “Do you see that? Do you see all those toys there?” “Yes, Daddy.” “Would you like some of those?” “Oh yes, Daddy.” Then you go through every part of the toy store for an hour doing that. And when you get to the end of the store, your dad turns to you and says, “Let me tell you why I brought you here. I brought you here to let you know you are not going to get any toys. I am not going to give you anything. Do you see all those toys? You will have none of it for the rest of your life. Now, let’s go home.” What comes to your mind when you hear your dad say that? “My dad is extremely cruel and mean.” Right? And think about it. If a dad does that to his child, wouldn’t that wound the child forever? Wouldn’t that hurt the child in the deepest part of the heart? Wouldn’t that make the child say, “I cannot trust my dad. In fact, I don’t know if I can trust anyone”? Wouldn’t that completely wound you if that happened to you? And this is what happened in Genesis 3. The serpent lied to Adam and Eve that God cannot be trusted. That God is a cruel and mean father who does not want what’s best for his children.

And listen to what Sinclair said. “The simple fact of the matter is that lie entered into the bloodstream of the human race. It buried itself down at the very core of our being so that every human being who has ever lived now has as his or her main working assumption that if I ever give myself completely to God, I will be miserable. If I give him complete freedom, I will be unhappy.” This is what we believe in the heart of our hearts about God because of sin. If we do not realize it, we do not know ourselves. Deep inside our hearts, we do not believe that God has our best interest at heart. We believe that God is never going to give us what we want the most in life. We’ve been hurt. We have been wounded at the core of our being, and we are sure that if there is a God, and we give ourselves to him completely, we will be miserable. So, we rebelled against God. We think we know what’s best for us. We do not want to admit that we are a sinner in need of being rescued. We do not want to acknowledge God. But to accept Jesus into our lives is to accept that we are a sinner in need of a saviour to save us from our sins. That’s the third challenge. Can you see how difficult these challenges are?

The good news

So, we’ve been wounded and hurt by something at the root of our hearts that says, “Don’t you dare give yourself to anyone, certainly not God, or you’ll be miserable.” We cannot believe if we give ourselves to God, he will love us. How can we be healed? There is only one way. We have to see God giving himself to us. That’s the only thing that will heal the wound and make it possible for us to trust him. And that’s what Christmas is all about. God came to us in the person of Jesus. He visited us. Why? Because God looked into the world he had created, and he saw us sinking. He saw us heading toward destruction because we rejected the truth about him and ourselves. We were looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places. So, he came to us. God came to earth, humbled himself, became one of us, lived the perfect life we could not, and gave himself for us. God in Jesus became vulnerable. He became killable. He became weak. He became betrayable and deniable. The infinite became finite. The immortal became mortal. The King of kings became a helpless babe. Why? So that when we see God give himself to us for love, we can have the wounds of our hearts healed. We can trust that he truly loves us and has our best interests at heart. And when we have seen how much he loves us we don’t have to be afraid of facing the world’s rejection and letting go of control. Seeing Jesus give himself for us will enable us to give ourselves for him.

And not only that, but Christmas also tells us that God is always with us. Matthew 1:23 – “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). I want you to realize that Christmas is the fulfilment of a promise that was made 700 years prior. The God of the Bible is the God who keeps his promises. The God who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” will prove faithful to that promise in our lives. The God who says, “I will supply all your needs according to the glorious riches of Christ Jesus,” will prove faithful to that promise in our lives. The God who says, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate you from my love,” will absolutely be faithful to that promise. The God who gives promises will always prove faithful to all his promises. We can bank our lives for all of eternity on the reality that God will always be faithful to his promises. Immanuel, God is with us.

This is the question I want to ask every single person in this room, and I am done. Is Jesus the saviour of your life? And here is the good news of Christmas. It does not matter who you are, it does not matter where you are from, it does not matter what deep dark secrets are in your past, it does not matter what shameful things you have done, it does not disqualify you from receiving salvation. You might think that you are not good enough for God. But that’s the point of Christmas. No one is. That’s why Jesus was born. Christmas tells us that no one is good enough to come up to God and that’s why God decided to come down to us in the person of Jesus Christ. All you have to do is accept Jesus into your life and you are a beauty to God. In one act of faith, you are forgiven of all your sins, you are cleansed, you are made new, and you are covered in Jesus’ perfection for eternity. This is the good news of Christmas. This is the meaning of the visitation. So, don’t wait to receive Jesus as your saviour. Let’s pray.

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