Quite often Christmas cards contain pictures of happy families. Many forget or fail to realize that that single picture was selected out of at least sixty (or six hundred) photo shots. So, the other shots that are more candid and contain the chaos and spontaneous poses are the true reality of everyday life. The story of Christmas with Jesus entering our world shows God cares for our chaos. #ThisisChristmasSPBCMD
This past year Rick & Kay Warren lost their son Matthew due to a suicide resulting from his struggles with mental illness. Kay Warren writes
When I opened the first batch of [Christmas] cards, shock washed over me. Photos of beautiful, happy, intact families cascaded onto my kitchen table. Most were accompanied by a greeting wishing me a joyous Christmas. Some had a signature and the message, “Hope you have a great Christmas.” Others included a standard family newsletter, listing the accomplishments, vacations, and delightful family moments that had filled their year. I grew astonished, then angry, as I realized that none of the cards mentioned that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier, leaving us definitely not having a joyous Christmas.
Some are hardened by grief. They lose their ability to share in other’s happiness. That’s not where I am headed. I am doing my best to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Since Matthew’s death, I’ve attended the weddings of friends, baby showers, graduation parties, birthday parties (well, most of them), because life goes on and it’s not all about me. At the same time, it’s been less than two years since our son took his life. There are still moments when the happiness of others is a piercing reminder of what we have lost and will never have again.
Meanwhile, I am grateful for family and friends who keep walking with us on the path of grief. There are those who enter fully into our tears when we need to cry, who make us laugh at ourselves and at life, who gently inspire us to keep seeking beauty from these ashes, and who point us—with their lives more than their words—to our eternal hope and home. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is possible to be in deep grief and yet experience the joy of the Lord. In fact, it is the Lord’s joy that enables me to keep choosing to engage life and ministry even as I live with a broken heart.
Christmas is not all about glee and grins; often it includes groans and grief. #ThisisChristmasSPBCMD
EXAMINE This is Christmas: Nazarene Matthew 2:23 “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
This is Christmas has looked at 2 names: Jesus/Savior (1:21) and Immanuel (1:23). This third name Nazarene (1:23) means root or branch (cf. Isa 11:1), and more so is intended as a description of disrespect (Jn 1:46; Mat 26:71; Mark 14:67; Acts 24:5).
First, examine the passage context and then return to the significance of this name for Jesus and our reminder that #ThisIsChristmasSPBCMD
After Jesus’ birth there was a bounty on his life. King Herod was a ruthless and evil ruler. When he heard about a newborn deliverer and king for Israel he sought diligently to destroy all male children two years and younger in the region of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a rural region and scholars note there may have been approximately 20 children die that fateful day.
Any death is a tragedy but the murder of children, many children, seems more than tragic; it’s evil. Taking life in such a careless and casual manner is wrong, it’s sinful and against God’s desire.
- Whether the tragedy of Sandy Hook or the Taliban slaughtering students at a school.
Following Herod’s death the next ruler over Israel was Herod’s son, Archelaus. Archelaus was not much different in mass-extermination of Jews, once three-thousand during a Passover pilgrimage with many innocent Jews.
Yet again, God uses every circumstance – even the death others – to bring about His purposes.
Matthew shows the fulfillment of prophecy in the weeping of a nation. Matthew also shows God’s sovereignty to protect the newborn Christ by leading Joseph & Marty to Egypt and then onward back to a city called Nazareth.
What do we see?
God has a purpose in every problem.
At every turn of events for Joseph & Mary is a phrase “the Lord appeared” (Mat 1:20; 2:13; 2:19). The Lord never left them, in spite of all their hardships. God was fulfilling His prophetic promises and was preparing the salvation of all nations across generations (cf. Luke 2:29-32). He was and always will be “Immanuel” God with us.
When reading the Christmas story we see God always has a plan even in our problems. #ThisisChristmasSPBCMD.
- Watching the Macy’s Parade with my daughters and they got excited over many of the cartoon balloons (Spiderman, Snoopy, Toothless…). They lost interest with some of the floats & performers and would walk away. I never knew when the balloons were coming because we watch parades progressively. Only the Director of the parade knows the lineup order because the Director understands the parade not progressively but completely.
- The same is true in life. Our lives happen progressively and all we can do is trust that God has the complete plan. Based on past prophecies and the promises God has made coming true, we can trust God for the future. God is in control and God does care. In our hurts there is hope, in our pain there is purpose.
- Hardship does not remove God’s hearing.
- Pain does not remove God’s promises.
- Suffering does not remove God’s salvation.
à God’s will is discerned through obedience.
- Mary… then Joseph (1:24 “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded… but knew her not until she had given birth to a son”)
- Magi follow the star without knowing the end destination (2:2) and then departed another way after divine dream to avoid Herod (2:12).
- Joseph leading Mary by discerned divine will (2:14; 2:21-23)
- Do we first tell God, show me how, then I’ll commit to obey; or do we say, I’ll commit to obey and trust that You will show me how based on when I need to know…??
- Do what you know God desires then God will show you the rest.
Maybe circumstances in your life cause you to second guess God’s care or control. Many times we view our pain and hardship as God’s absence in our life.
- God, where were you when I lost my job?
- God, where were you when my daughter was taking advantage of by that boy?
- God, where were you when the doctor gave me the news of cancer?
- God, where were you when my friend died?
In the problems of life too often we doubt and dismiss God based on our self-made priorities and plans. We are like King Herod, feeling threatened that our kingdom will be removed or conquered. So, we seek to suffocate the voice of God.
à Instead, we need lives of vulnerability.
- Joseph & Mary both put their reputations and entire future on the line.
- Following Jesus may cost your reputation
- Following Jesus means your future hope is only in His provision
- Mary says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Lk 1:38
God provided salvation for every sinner who repents & receives Jesus Christ.
To zoom in a bit more specific, Jesus was called a Nazarene. Matthew is saying that Jesus himself would identify with suspect humanity, being called a Nazarene (2:23), which is likely a slang term to describe one coming from obscurity, or perhaps in contemporary language called a “hick or backwoodsman”.
Jesus came to the unknown and the undeserving. Jesus’ incarnation shows His sacrifice for our salvation.
In the Middle East, Muslims call Christians Nazarenes with the Arabic letter ن (N). This symbol is posted on house doors or property to identify Christians as targets of Islamic jihad. The hashtag #WeAreN was posted for individuals to identify with those who are persecuted and to show religious tolerance even for Christians.
So, when we affirm Christmas is about Jesus the Nazarene then we are saying that the church’s mission is to go to the unknown and the undeserving just like our Savior did through the incarnation and through His sacrifice.
Christmas calls us to spend and be spent not in materialism but in ministry. #ThisIsSPBCMD
à Who is your mission target? “High 5” to intercede (pray), invite, invest for the gospel
à Have you given $ for our LMCO-SENT? Are you praying and considering participating in 2015?
à Will you surrender and submit your problems in vulnerability to God?
 Blomberg, NAC: Matthew, 70.