“The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When Matthew offers up his version of the story of Jesus’ birth, he starts it like this: “The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way.” Now, if you didn’t know the story from there, but you had some rough idea of who Jesus was, you might expect the tale to be one of great action and glory. You might expect it to be a story of power and might. God was breaking into the world. Surely He did it in the most dramatic and impressive way He possibly could have done it so no one would be able to miss it. After all, shouldn’t the creator of the universe enter into His creation with all the pomp and circumstance He was due?
The various creation stories of other ancient gods and goddesses tend to befit their position. Athena, for instance, the Greek goddess of wisdom, sprang fully formed from Zeus’ forehead. Apollo and Artemis, the twins, were born on a secret island to prevent Hera, their father Zeus’s wife, from killing them and their mother. But she found them anyway, sent a giant snake after them, and the infant Apollo wrestled the snake and killed it with his bare hands. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, rose from the waves on a giant seashell, born of the sea foam itself. Notice, I didn’t say any of their stories made any sense. I simply said they were as impressive as the characters were believed to be. They, and many others like them, arrived in grand fashion.
But Jesus? The baby who changed everything? Not so much. Listen to this: “The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.” Now, we talked about this a bit when working our way through Luke’s story earlier this month. Who believed this story on her part? Probably no one. Joseph certainly didn’t. But whether he was driven by his love for her or simply a general righteousness of character, he didn’t do what he could have done. “So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.” And, yeah, we feel sorry for Mary here, but honestly, this was about the best she could have hoped for under the circumstances, and she probably knew it.
In other words, the entrance into the world of this baby who changed everything was marked by brokenness from the get-go. But do you know what? So might your story also be. I’m not going to ask anyone to raise their hands on this one, but I suspect that if we did a poll of the room, we’d discover a pretty high percentage of folks who have brokenness somewhere in their story. Some of you may have a lot of it. Some of you have complicated family structures with multiple kids from multiple parents all trying to figure out how to get along together like some sort of twisted Brady Bunch revival. Jesus understands. Some of you are at odds with your siblings. You simply don’t understand one another and the animosity resulting from that can run pretty high at times. Jesus understands. Some of you have parents who want you to go in directions other than you know you need to be going. They try to push you faster than you are ready to go to get to a place it’s not yet time to be. Jesus understands. Some of you have the world looking at you like you are crazy because of the choices you’ve made and the background you bring to the table. Jesus understands.
Okay, that’s good and all, but how does this really help make anything better? This doesn’t really sound like Jesus changes everything so much as He simply understands it all. He’s been there, which is nice, but His having been there doesn’t mean very much in and of itself. Misery may love company, but if that company leaves you in misery, you’re not all that much better off than you were before having the company.
But you see, it’s not just that baby who changed everything. It is that baby and the message He brought with Him. And what was that message? In a word, the Gospel. Jesus brought with Him good news. It was – and is – the good news that in all of our brokenness that keeps our lives far less pleasant than we would have them be if we could have our way; in all of our sitting around amidst the shattered remains of what was good and right in our lives; in all of our struggling and suffering and worrying and agonzing; in all of our fears that this life may be all there is and then what do any of the things we are doing actually mean; in all of our living with the ongoing impact of sin, there is hope.
When it looked like Joseph was going to take the approach that made perfect human sense in dealing with the news about Mary’s pregnancy, God acted to keep things moving down the path He had started them. He spoke to Joseph in a dream. “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus [which, culturally speaking, meant he was to adopt the boy as his own son and raise Him accordingly]…” Just so we’re clear, Joseph’s doing that would have been viewed with nearly the same amount of suspicion as Mary’s news was. Not a few folks would have learned of this happening and concluded that Joseph really was the father, but neither of them wanted to admit it for reputation reasons.
If all that kept Joseph on God’s course for him, what God said next matters the most for us. Joseph was to move forward with God’s plans “because he will save his people from their sins.” The time had come for God to put into action His plans to deal fully and finally with sin. This little child would grow to be a man who loved the Lord with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, and neighbor as Himself. He would become a man who never once committed a sin, but actively proclaimed and taught about the kingdom of God. He loved everyone around Him without exception or condition. He was fully God and fully man walking around among us, showing us the way to life. And then, when the time came, even though we as a people were nowhere near accepting anything He said as true and adjusting our lives to it, “God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That beautiful baby boy grew to be a man who died for you and for me. As Jesus would later observe to a curious Pharisee, “God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
That baby changed everything because He came bringing with Him the good news that God was putting an end to the division between Him and us. The spiritual conflict that had been raging throughout human history would be brought finally to an end by the Prince of Peace. As the apostle Paul gloriously put it: “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household.”
In the end, what we celebrate now – what we are celebrating this evening together – is the fact that the Gospel changes everything. If you will let it, it will change your life. Maybe it already has. If that’s the case, you need to share this news with someone who doesn’t yet know it. Maybe it hasn’t though. My invitation to you this very evening is to take the steps to make sure that it can. The baby who is the reason we celebrate has made a way for you. You only need to take it. It won’t always be easy to make the kind of sense you’d like it to make, but it will lead you to the life that is truly life; the life you’ve always wanted.
And now, here is the song that inspired the post and captures the heart of what we have been talking about. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!