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Dec 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 22, 2013 – Matthew 1:18-25

What Could Be Big Enough?

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:18-23

INTRO: If we’re not going to waste our time here this morning, the first thing we must do, is stop reading the Christmas story as fairy-tale

– it’s all too easy, with the familiar images
• angels, halos, and serene expressions on the faces of cows, donkey and sheep
• in our culture, the Santa myth is equated with the “baby Jesus myth”

It will help if we begin with Joseph’s shock and frustration over Mary’s pregnancy
– he lived in the real world, so his first thought wasn’t, “It’s a miracle! I’m such a lucky guy.”
• he still cared for Mary enough to not want to disgrace her
○ but they were through – it was over

This part of the story is most like our lives
– we have dreams, make plans, look forward to what lies ahead
• but then, it’s spoiled by an unforeseen complication
○ a job loss, health issue, a child gets in trouble
• perhaps the complication can be overcome, but life will be harder now – the future will come at price
– so the question this story has to answer:
• what could be big enough for Joseph to hang on?
• to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife?

The answer is, God–God is doing something and it’s bigger than Joseph’s idea of a perfect life
– what God is doing is revealed in the two names of the Christ child

“You shall call His name Jesus”

The meaning of the name is given, “He will save his people from their sins”
– the way we have come to understand this statement, it sounds either offensive or irrelevant
• we don’t treat sin as a serious category
○ and we don’t think we need saving
– what Matthew had in mind:
• through their long history, Israel had kept missing the mark
○ they had lost their identity and failed their destiny
• God was going to intervene and put a stop to that
○ he would help them finally get it right and save them from their spiral into the void

Besides church, one other institution still takes sin seriously
– the institution also sees sin as a human disease is Alcoholics Anonymous
• the first step of A.A. is a confession of powerless and a life that had become unmanageable
○ the alcoholic who wants help must admit that they have kept missing the mark
• second step is to acknowledge that recovery depends on outside assistance
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”
○ as the poet said, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2)
– the pressure of missing the mark, of living a life that is below our true selves
• drives us to the realization that we need a savior

Addiction is a universal challenge (Bible uses different language; e.g., slavery, imprisonment)
– it’s a normal function of the brain and nervous system to repeat behavior that produces a reward
• the brain seeks to re-excite specific neural circuits and to regularly release neurochemicals that give pleasure

Gerald May, “Finally, I realized that for both myself and other people, addictions are not limited to substances. I was also addicted to work, performance, responsibility, intimacy, being liked, helping others, and an almost endless list of other behaviors. At the time, it seemed just fine to be addicted to some of these things, but others I would have much preferred to be free of. I had to admit that I had not freely chosen these things; my concern for them was not something I could control. They were compulsions.”

– I came to realize I have been addicted to self-justification — to explain my actions and defend myself
• it is our propensity for addiction that makes real change so difficult
• it is why we experience mental and physical discomfort when try to make real changes

A few years ago, Linda L. gave me a copy of the “Big Book”
– she explained that I had to read the “third edition”
• because that was published before statements specifically Christian were removed
– in it, I read the story of a patent Law attorney, for whom getting hammered every night was a way of life
• one night he came home especially late
• his wife and two men were waiting for him – one of them was Bill W., co-founder of A.A.
○ he said:

“I do not recollect the specific conversation that went on but I believe I did challenge Bill to tell me something about A.A. and I do recall one other thing: I wanted to know what this was that worked so many wonders, and hanging over the mantel was a picture of [Jesus praying in] Gethsemane and Bill pointed to it and said, ‘There it is,’ which didn’t make sense to me.”

– probably because it merely represented religion and he couldn’t see the connection with that and his drinking
○ at first he missed the point: Jesus is the wonder worker; Jesus is a Savior

Men and women of modern times didn’t want a Savior
– they wanted to go it on their own, guided by reason
• and use science and technology to meet their needs and bring peace and prosperity to the world
– but in our postmodern world, we all know that both it and ourselves need saving
• we’re just too cynical to believe its possible
– as for me, I know I need a Savior
• even though I’m not an alcoholic, not living in poverty or starving, not a criminal locked in prison
• I am nevertheless broken – and I’m not free
○ not free from anxiety, my blindness to the plight of others, and over-concern for myself
– if I’m not free, then I try to control you (perhaps I feel threatened by your freedom)
• then I do everything “by the book” — I’m guarded, fearing spontaneity and creativity

Advent is waiting for a Savior
– in the meantime, we are being saved – we are changing, becoming whole
– and we are promoting this salvation to wholeness that Jesus achieves in us

“They shall call His name Immanuel”

– Matthew goes on, “which translated means, ‘God with us'”

To me, the incarnation is Christianity’s most elegant theological truth
– take, for example, the bridge-model of communication:
• to effectively get a message from one mind into another, communication:
○ it must be connected to where message originates — it must accurately reflect the speaker’s intent and meaning
○ it must be connected with the audience who receives it — so that they accurately interpret and understand it
• to make the connection with the audience, the message must come to them in their language, culture, and situation
– it is best if the communicator is native to language, culture, and situation
• that is why, for God to communicate his self-revelation, it was best for him to become human

In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:1, 14)
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature . . . (Heb. 1:1-3)

Early Christian theologians took the incarnation to mean that Jesus is both fully God and fully human
– that is an impossible concept to grasp
• when physicists began to experiment with light, they made an interesting discovery
○ when they ran one sort of experiment, light behaved as a wave
○ but when they made an adjustment to their experiment, it behaved as a particle
• in a similar way that light is both wave and particle, Jesus is both human and God
○ from one perspective, we see the man; from another, we see God
○ there is not a more effective way that God could communicate himself to us than by becoming one of us

That is the theological part of the incarnation, however, we don’t find our answers in the theological part
– we find them in the experiential part of the incarnation

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us–what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 Jn. 1:1-3)

CONC: How do we get to the experience?

  1. Listen to God in the Scriptures
  2. Respond as you listen – with worship, with prayer, with service, with whatever you have
  3. Be fully present in your response
    – do one thing every day in which you are fully present (practice)
    – the divine can enter at any time and God truly does not care what we’re doing when he breaks in
  4. Live with reverence — respect mystery — it is okay to say:
    “I don’t understand. I can’t understand (Ps. 139:6). I don’t need to understand, because I can love, I can surrender, I can act perform a kind and righteous act”
    – we can be freed from our imaginary need to understand
  5. We can sensitize ourselves by looking
    – run an errand to the store or drop by an office, then when we get home, ask, “Was I aware? Did I notice the clouds? The expressions on the faces of others? The aroma of my world?”

What I’m trying to say, is that having Jesus as Savior and Immanuel,
– we are not only waiting for the next Advent
• we are already enjoying a personal Advent here and now

Jesus answered and said to them,
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;
and My Father will love him,
and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
John 14:23


Leave a comment
  1. Scott / Jan 12 2014

    I don’t need to understand, because I can love, I can surrender, I can act perform a kind and righteous act. 🙂

  2. Ranger Bob Butler` / Jan 13 2014

    Thanks, this was inspiring. I am familiar with the AA program, and always felt it was camouflaged Christianity. The Big Book often states people’s lives changed when they were brought to a point of utter desperation and they prayed three words, “God Help Me”. At that point the events in the person’s life begin to change, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I “googled” the word or name Jesus. One entry stated that it is a Greek derivative of Joshua or Yeshua. It stated that it means, “God Rescues”. I have shared that with a lot of people.

  3. Jo Lee / Dec 19 2014

    Ditto Scott. One of my favorite lines too 🙂

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