Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Terrible Nights" - A Christmas Sermon

This is the message I brought at HopeTree Family Services Annual Christmas Service on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Matthew 1
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn't want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means "God with us.") 24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn't have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.     
Matthew 2
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We've seen his star in the east, and we've come to honor him." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: 6You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel." 7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search carefully for the child. When you've found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him." 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route. 13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him."     

This would be her second child but this delivery would be very different from the first delivery. The second child was coming so fast there was no time for an epidural, something this mother had for the first delivery. When I got to the hospital she said, "Dell, I thought I was losing my mind!" I thought to myself, "How Terrible!" Here a woman is bringing life into this world and she thought she was losing her mind. It makes me think of another woman who's first delivery was probably terrible too. That woman would be Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know the story well, Mary and Joseph were on their way to be counted for the census and Mary was great with child but there was no room for them in the Inn. All they had for shelter was a stable. This stable had livestock in it and you know it smelled. Even cute sheep smell. This is where Mary would give birth to Jesus, in a stable with livestock, strong smells and hay that pokes you in your skin and scratches you. That is how our Savior came into the world and this was Mary's "delivery room". That was terrible. But lets backtrack 9 months when Mary first learned from the angel that she was with child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. It is concluded that according to Jewish customs and law that Mary was around the age of 13 when she received this message from the angel. That is not the kind of news I would have wanted to hear when I was 13 and I imagined no other woman would want that either. As favored as Mary was in the eyes of God I imagine in her native language she had a few choice words upon hearing this news. See, in 2nd century Palestine it was not unheard of for a woman who was pregnant outside the bonds of marriage to me stoned to death. Our passage from Matthew eludes to this indirectly by telling us of Joseph's compassion by him deciding to send Mary, "quietly" away so as not to shame her.

Once Jesus was born the Wise men came to see Jesus and upon their leaving God order Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, for Herod wanted Jesus dead. Why do I tell you these terrible things during a wonderful holiday season? Context! See, blessings and thanksgivings have no meaning without the context of the struggles and obstacles we have overcome or are currently in. If we are to begin to understand the MAGNITUDE of God's love for us then it helps to understand the circumstances Joseph and Mary find themselves in within their culture and community. Just as women can deliver children into this world, God who gives that gift of delivery, can also deliver us from whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Through this one family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus we see to what lengths God will go to deliver those that he loves. God literally delivered both Mary and Jesus from immanent death. Jesus himself was born with a death threat on his head, but God saw to it that Mary would carry Jesus to term and that Jesus would not succumb to an early death. God also delivered Joseph. He delivered Joseph from the law of his day. Make no mistake, even the laws of our day can be oppressive or unlawful and God delivered Joseph from the oppression of Jewish law by giving Joseph permission to take Mary as his wife, though she was with child outside the bonds of marriage.

If God can deliver Mary and Jesus from certain death and Joseph from oppression under the law will he not deliver you? God can deliver you from death, whether it is an early physical death due to health problems or emotion and spiritual death. God can also deliver you from any oppression you experience from the laws of our day. GOD CAN DELIVER YOU! Will you let him?