The love and peace we see in modern nativity scenes is actually the result of several hard-fought battles that both Joseph and Mary had to engage in and win for those scenes to look as wonderful as they do. In this message we will be challenged to engage in several similar personal battles. We’re going to have to fight very hard and, with God’s help, we’re going to have to win these battles to get this Christmas right.
- I will fight for personal righteousness.
- I will make something right with God this week.
- I will make something right with someone I’ve wronged.
- I will battle for graciousness and take the high road.
- I will fight the battle for trust.
- I will read Scripture and stay connected to church.
Full Sermon Script
Hi I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks. I’m glad you decided to join us today for the second part of our series, “Getting Christmas Right.”
I think you would agree with me that we don’t want to get to the end of this season, look back and regret the missed opportunities we had.
So we need to be intentional about moving toward God and walking more closely with him; and making some wise family decisions; and making some wise decisions about how we use our resources to bless others this year… because when we get to the other side, we want to look back with great satisfaction and say, “This was a Christmas season we got right.”
Well, I want you look at this nativity scene again for a moment. You’ve probably seen hundreds of nativity scenes like this.
Nativity scenes are a beautiful picture of community. You see Joseph resting his hand on Mary as an expression of love and support. You see the wonder and joy in Mary and Joseph’s face. They’re filled with anticipation and hope. You can tell there’s a lot of love there.
Shepherds and wise men are standing nearby with wonderment.
And even the camels look happy.
Well today I want to show you the behind-the-scenes price that Joseph and Mary paid in order for the nativity scene to turn out as beautiful as it is.
And my working premise in this message is that the love and the deep community captured in the nativity scene is actually the result of several hard-fought battles that both Joseph and Mary had to engage in and win for it to look as wonderful as it does.
And really what I’m suggesting today is that for your life to communicate the same level of love and community that the nativity scene does, you’re going to have to engage in several similar personal battles. You’re going to have to fight very hard and, with God’s help, you’re going to have to win those battles.
Now, for background content, I want to read a different part of the Christmas story today from Matthew 1.
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.
Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
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.”
Alright, with this as a backdrop, let me describe the first battle Joseph and Mary had to fight and win in order for the nativity scene to look as lovely as it does.
It’s the battle for righteousness.
There’s a phrase that’s particularly important in this passage. It’s the phrase, “while she was still a virgin…”
Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married. An engagement in the first century was more of a commitment than it is in our day. In our day you can go in and out of engagement. Not in the first century.
When you became engaged to someone, it was a public deal. You went on public record in front of the village you were part of and announced the engagement.
And it was a binding relationship that, for sure, was going to lead to marriage someday. We can assume Joseph and Mary were completely committed to one another and fully intending to spend the rest of their lives together.
But the writer of Scripture indicates in this little phrase that they decided not to have sexual relations until they were married… which would of course follow the law of God.
Now, why is this significant – this little phrase?
You see, in that day, and in our day, sexual purity is a battle. In the first century through the 21st century, it takes a total commitment to personal righteousness to honor God with your sexuality, especially in a loving relationship or engagement headed toward marriage.
But Joseph and Mary battled for purity in their relationship, and with God’s help, they were winning that battle.
Similarly, today, whether we’re married or single, younger or older, we can fight for sexual righteousness – sexual purity. We can fight for marital fidelity. We can even fight to make sure our minds are pure with regard to what we look at on the internet or watch on TV. And with God’s help, we can win this battle.
And with God’s help, as we win these battles for righteousness in the area of sexuality, or any other areas in life that call for integrity, we can wind up living with a clean conscience. We can live with a peace that passes human understanding.
Maybe you’ve already begun to roll your eyes on this one. You’re wondering to yourself, “What’s the big deal whether or not I fight and win the righteousness battle? I mean, in our day, who really cares? In a world like ours, millions of people, every day, would be guilty of violating biblical standards sexually. You’re really expecting someone like me to pray and strive and discipline myself and fight for personal integrity? Come on! This is the 21st century. This is modern America. What’s the big deal about winning the righteousness battle?”
You see, the Christmas story reminds us that righteousness is still very important to God – more important than you or I could ever imagine.
And we also ought to realize that personal righteousness touches every relationship we’re in. Personal righteousness is important, not just to God, but to people in and around your life.
I’ll say it as simply and as directly as I can:
Your personal righteousness matters.
Your sexual righteousness matters.
Your verbal verbal righteousness matters.
Your financial righteousness matters.
Your ethical, corporate righteousness matters in a major way to God, and it matters in a major way to every life your life touches.
In fact, let me pose this question to you – do you think God would have chosen Joseph and Mary to be the parents of his one and only son if they had been careless with regard to personal righteousness?
I don’t think so.
There has always been a connection between righteousness and God’s hand of favor and blessing.
1 Peter 3:12 says:
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
It doesn’t mean God doesn’t love people who have lost their way. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t want to reclaim lives that have gone astray.
It just means when he’s looking for someone to pour his favor on, when he’s trying to select someone to give a kingdom kind of adventure to, he tends to choose the righteous – those who are walking in his way.
Sometimes I wonder if we would even know Joseph and Mary’s names had they not fought and won the battle for personal righteousness. They may have been passed over altogether for the role they played.
And sometimes, with a trembling heart, I wonder what opportunities or what adventures have been withheld from me because, at times in my life, I’ve lost the righteousness battles in embarrassing ways.
Do you ever wonder that about yourself?
Sometimes, in the overall scheme of things, we forget that God has a world he’s trying to reach and we’re the kinds of people he’d like to reach the world through. He’s looking for someone who will walk his way that he can entrust kingdom responsibilities to.
Personal righteousness is very important to God. It always has been and always will be.
Now, something occurred to me this week, and that is – some of us will not get this Christmas right until we make something right in our relationship with God; or until we make something right in our relationship with someone else.
For you to get Christmas right, you’re going to have to make something right.
Now, you can delay that. You can stick your head in the sand and say, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Or you can step up and you can engage in the battle for personal righteousness; and I would suggest that you begin the battle today – that you roll up your sleeves and say, “Okay, I’m going to make something right with God. I’m going to try, with God’s help, to make something right with someone I’ve wronged.”
And I just want to remind you that on the other side of a righteousness victory is a clean conscience – a liberated spirit, a sense of peace.
And I hope Joseph and Mary’s righteousness victory, and all that came their way as a result of it, will inspire you today to get this Christmas right by making something right with God or with someone else.
Only you can do this. But I’m calling you to it. I’m calling you to fight the battle for personal righteousness; and to seek God’s helping hand in it, because you can win the battle with his help, and you’ll be so glad you did.
Alright, there’s another hard-fought battle that Joseph, in particular, had to fight and win with God’s help in order for the nativity scene to be as warm and loving as it is.
Joseph had to fight a battle for graciousness; and it was a hard-fought battle.
It’s difficult for us to fully understand what Joseph went through, so I want to retell his story in a more modern setting so that we can get our arms around it.
Imagine living in a small town where all the kids go to the same school. Everyone in the town goes to the same church. And everyone, pretty much, believes the same way. The highest value in this little town is traditional family values. It’s a very culturally conservative town.
You’re engaged to be married to a pretty, young woman who everyone in the village knows very well. And they know she’s not just a pretty young woman, she’s a godly young woman as well.
You’re upcoming wedding is the talk of the town. It’s the social event that everyone’s looking forward to. You feel the eyes of the village on your courtship. You know how important it is for you to get it right, so you put on a clinic when it comes to dating.
You spend all of your together time with her family or yours. You walk and talk in public places only.
You both want to live up to personal spiritual convictions; and whatever you do, you’re not going to disappoint the people of that little town. You’re not going to risk their wrath, because you’ve got to live there the rest of your life.
Well, one night you bring this pretty young woman that you’re engaged to, to her doorstep. And she says, “Before you go, Joseph, I want you to know that I’m pregnant.”
And you cringe, because nice girls don’t even joke about stuff like that.
But then, your mouth gets dry and your stomach starts churning, because you can see in her face – she’s not joking.
What comes next is a kind of internal boiling rage welling up inside of you, because you know you’re not the father. You’ve never even kissed her.
You haven’t touched her in any way. You’ve never even been alone with her in a private place. But obviously, someone else has been alone with her in a private place, which reveals a kind of deception and betrayal you didn’t think existed in this world.
Two words wrestle back and forth in your mind. “Pregnant,” and, “father.” “Who’s the father?” And you’re running down a list of names in your mind of other young men she knows.
Now, look at this little paragraph buried in the Christmas story in Matthew 1. It says:
Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
I don’t know if we can fully grasp the weightiness of that verse.
Shortly after the most devastating betrayal a young man can experience, Joseph tries to figure out a way that he can deal with his own disappointment in all this, but he also tries to figure out a way not to shame Mary.
Now, do you think that happened reflexively? I mean, do you think he went from rage and disappointment and confusion to grace-giving and wanting to protect her? Do you think that was just a natural response?
I don’t think so. I think Joseph had to fight to get from rage to graciousness.
I think he had to fight to get from disappointment and the feeling of being betrayed to the place where he wanted to preserve and protect Mary, despite what happened.
Now, my guess is when Joseph first got the news that Mary was pregnant, he considered other options. I would have. I bet he considered dragging Mary in front of the whole village and saying with a voice dripping with sarcasm, “So you all think Mary is the poster child of morality, do you? I mean, you think she’s the cover girl for traditional values. Well, she’s not. She’s pregnant. She deceived me, and all of us, this whole time. She’s not who you think she is.”
I can imagine Joseph wanting to have said, “She may be claiming ongoing innocence. She says she doesn’t know how this happened. Well, I’m here to tell you, I am not the father, and as a result, I have no intentions of continuing this engagement or ever marrying her. So take your poster child for morality, you can have her. I’m done with her.”
That option had to cross Joseph’s mind.
I imagine most people who would be wronged in this way would want to hurt the person who hurt them.
But Joseph didn’t act on that first dark impulse.
Joseph dug down deep and found strength to engage in the battle for graciousness. He opened his mind and his heart and his hands to God saying, “God, in this terribly disappointing and confusing situation, what would you have me do? What’s the high road? How would you have me act?”
Alright, time-out from this story for a minute. Let me bring it to today.
We all have people who’ve hurt us in some way, betrayed us or wronged us. Even in good families, no one gets it right all the time. There’s usually some hurt somewhere.
Like Joseph, we have a decision to make. We can act on dark impulses that make us want to inflict damage on people who we believe have wronged us… and sometimes we do this in very sneaky, sarcastic ways.
Or we can follow the lead of Joseph. We can engage in the battle for graciousness and we can wrestle with God about what a higher road would be – about how, maybe, we could treat someone with grace instead of judgment.
I’m not saying this is going to be easy. I’m just saying if we’re Christ followers, it’s something we need to do.
Maybe your parents have wronged you.
Maybe your brother or sister has done something or said something that has hurt you.
How long are you going to make them pay? How long are you going to hold that over their head? At what point do you look at a bloodstained cross and say, “I was forgiven for a mountain of moral debt, and motivated by that, I now choose to be gracious. I now proclaim grace and declare forgiveness to those who have wronged me.”
Now, maybe you’ve been wronged in a significant way. And it’s going to take more for you to get that sorted out. It might take some counseling. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m just saying, it’s necessary – it’s necessary.
When does the cycle of holding each other hostage stop? Who breaks the pattern in your family? Let it be you. Let it be me. Let all of us at Blue Oaks be the ones who say, “We have been forgiven by Jesus Christ for so much. We will take motivation from that and become grace-giving people to those who have wronged us or disappointed us.”
Parenthetically, after Joseph started to take the high road, he decided, “I am not going to disgrace Mary and expose her to public humiliation.” Immediately after that, the writer of Scripture says in Matthew 1:20 an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and informed him that the child Mary was carrying was not the result of immoral activity on her part. She, in fact, did not betray him.
The Holy Spirit touched her womb in a supernatural way and the baby was none other than the long awaited Messiah – the one who will do the atoning work that redeems this fallen world.
Can you imagine how glad Joseph was in that moment that he had not brought Mary to the village and discredited her and humiliated her? Can you imaging how glad he was that he gave her grace?
This is just a personal confession on my part. I’ve done both. I’ve engaged in the battle for graciousness and fought hard, and with God’s help, I’ve granted people forgiveness and grace and let them off the hook.
And I’ve done the other, where I’ve made people pay. And I’ve never experienced satisfaction in my soul for making someone pay. I thought it would feel good. But it didn’t.
Every time I’ve worked for graciousness with the help of the Holy Spirit, every time I’ve cancelled a debt – decided to bless instead of curse – that’s where I’ve found satisfaction in my soul.
And you’ll experience the same thing, I guarantee it.
Alright, the angel said to Joseph, “Take Mary to be your wife. You’ve been selected to raise the Savior of the world.”
This presents Joseph with one more spiritual battle that I want to talk about today – it’s the battle for trust.
This is the battle that pushes Joseph to the very edge of his faith, because the battle for trust forces Joseph to come to terms with his willingness to walk by faith and not just by sight.
The battle for trust means listening to what the angel said – listening to what the Spirit was prompting him to do, even though it made no human sense to him.
Now, we need to understand, Joseph is being asked to trust that the father of Mary’s child is, in fact, the Holy Spirit, and not another man. That’s a big one.
He’s being asked to trust that taking Mary as his wife is the right thing to do. It’s not going to backfire on him later. That’s a big one.
Beyond that, he’s being asked to name the baby Jesus, which means the one who’s going to save people from their sin.
Joseph’s trust battles were not easy. They pushed him to the very edge of his faith.
And sometimes our trust battles are equally as daunting to us, aren’t they?
For starters, all of us are being asked to trust that this whole Christmas thing is real and true. We’re being asked to trust, wholeheartedly, that God, in fact, did visit this planet in the person of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus was born miraculously to two Jewish peasants and grew up in a blue-collar town.
We’re being asked to believe that at 30 years of age he started a public ministry where he healed and challenged and comforted and taught people, and then, at the end of that three-year ministry, he shouldered the sins of the world as he hung on a cross between two common thieves.
We’re asked to believe that three days later he was resurrected, and later, he ascended back to the Father where, from that time until this time, he’s been reaching out to fallen, wayward people, all over the world, offering them a new start – a more satisfying life and a secured eternity.
Do you believe all this? It’s a lot to believe, isn’t it?
Do you really believe this? Enough to stake everything on it?
Do you believe it enough to spread the word of this story to everyone who crosses your path?
Or is it a battle for you to trust all this?
Well, beyond just that, God is asking all of us to believe that if we put him first in every area of our life and seek to honor him in everything, it will lead to a more fulfilling life.
Do you believe that? Do you trust that? Is that easy for you? Or do you have to fight for that?
Beyond that, God is asking that even though some of us, this Christmas, are facing medical challenges that have us scared, financial shortages, vocational setbacks, family heartbreaks – God is asking those of us who are facing very difficult situations this Christmas to believe that he is a good God – that somehow, someway, he’s going to orchestrate all of these circumstances into a plan that winds up being good for you, as Romans 8:28 says.
Maybe you’re saying, “That’s a stretch for me this year. That kind of trust is going to take some work.”
You see, the Christmas story, if it teaches us anything, it teaches us that trusting God demands a lot of work.
I’ve never really understood people who think Christianity is for the fainthearted. To me it’s one of the most intellectually and volitionally demanding faiths in the world.
I mean you’ve got to have mental discipline and a lot of strength to hang onto a Christian faith in a world like we’re living in. It’s not easy.
And if you think you can just lay back and expect your faith and trust to just grow in an era like we’re living in, you can’t get it done that way.
You’ve got to fight the battle for trust.
You’ve got to read your Bible.
You’ve got to memorize parts of it.
You’ve got to study and learn.
You’ve got to be around people who can reinforce your faith.
You’ve got to make a commitment to a church that will help you when you’re losing the battle.
It’s not easy. But we’re still asked to fight the battle for trust.
Are you fighting it? Are you fighting for it this Christmas?
I think if Joseph and Mary were here today, right at this moment, they would say they had to fight with all their might to win the battle for righteousness, the battle for graciousness and the battle for trust in their situation. I think they’d tell you none of it came easily.
I think they would also add that in the heat of the battle they found help from the Holy Spirit. And I think they’d tell you that when the battle was over, the payoff was worth it a thousand times over.
And I guess I’m here to tell you today to engage in the fight. If we’re going to get this Christmas right, we’re going to have to fight for righteousness and graciousness and trust.
And if we do, we will not only get this Christmas right, we will begin to get every season of the year right.
We’ll begin to get our marriages right.
We’ll begin to get our families right.
We’ll begin to get our friendships right, and our church right, and our work challenges right, and our eternities right.
But we’re going to have to fight for all that. And we’re going to have to realize it’s not going to be easy.
Alright, before we sing a closing song, I’d like to ask you to look at the Christmas child – Jesus in the nativity.
It’s a little staggering to think about it – that the Savior of the world lies in a bed of hay; that the hope for the human race came as a child.
But when I look at that scene, I think, “Man, I am so glad Joseph and Mary fought their faith battles as valiantly as they did.”
They got Christmas right.
But today is our day. This is 2020. We’ve got a couple weeks between now and Christmas Eve. And I hope every one of us will fight valiantly for righteousness, for graciousness, and for trust.
I think you’ll be glad you did.
Blue Oaks Church