I have a like/dislike view of nativity scenes.
– Little figurines in our home… are they decorations or idols?
– Church nativities often inaccurate with wisemen present (they didn’t show up until 1-2 years after Jesus’ birth).
– Nativities often unrealistic with perfect arrangements, but can’t you imagine the chaos? Mary looks remarkably unexhausted for someone who just gave birth. The animals look surprisingly unbothered at being kept from their feeding trough with an infant baby in it. Joseph looking stellar rather than embarrassed or angry for not having a place for his new wife to give birth. And of course the new born babe not crying or needing changed (“all is calm, all is bright”) is nothing short of a Christmas miracle!
While nativities may not be realistic they can be relevant opportunities to discuss the historic events that have changed and engaged the world. Nativity displays can communicate a vision of life, hope, and purpose.
– The scene in its historical setting reminds us the Bible contains truth and historical facts. This happened and we must all deal with the person Jesus in receiving or rejecting Him as Lord & Savior.
– The baby alive reflects the value of life in a society that does not always value babies or children.
– The baby with a family is counter-cultural in a society that devalues marriage, dismisses the beauty of motherhood, and degrades the significance of fatherhood.
– The presence of smelly and lowly shepherds before the newborn king is an open invitation for all to encounter Jesus.
– God uses the meager in mighty ways.
o Bethlehem: A small city, not the capital of Israel, was the birthplace of nation & world’s Savior.
o Manger with swaddling cloths: Underprivileged and unsanitary conditions
o Poor teenage couple
– Angelic hosts pointing to spiritual power and presence of the divine in lives of individuals and families.
o We are often too rushed in the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas. Many dismiss or obscure Christ from Christmas through sophisticated and secular messages. So, nativity scenes cause us to pause, to glimpse and gaze at the mystery and majesty of Christmas. Our culture may view Christmas merely through the lens of economy, but the historicity of events and presence of nativity scenes remind us that Christmas is also about an encounter with the divine.
So, how should we view this inescapable and irrepressible feature of nativity and figure of Christ? Is Jesus merely a baby in a manger? Do Joseph and Mary point us to a deeper understanding of love, marriage, family, and life purpose?
Let us read Matthew 1:18-25 to better understand how Christmas is for us.
EXAMINE Matthew 1:18-25 The Christ of Christmas for Us
Jesus Christ has a family (Matt 1:1-20).
It is significant that when God seeks to change the world He starts with a family. The Gospel of Matthew opens with a genealogy of forty-nine people, some of whom were noteworthy due to the promises of Israel and kingship with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and David (2Sam 7:12); while those same people among many others were suspect and shady characters (Abraham was a liar; David was an adulterer and murderer; Ahaz offered child sacrifices; all were sinners!), and not to mention five women (Tamar who seduced father inlaw; Rahab the harlot; Ruth the Gentile; Bathsheba wife of Uriah and committed adultery with David; and Mary) which would have been unusual in Jewish genealogies. “If one searched the Old Testament for a more unlikely group of candidates for a messianic lineage, it is doubtful one could come up with a more questionable group.” And yet, it was the unlikely and the outcaste that Jesus came to serve and save. Matthew says that Jesus himself would identify with suspect humanity, being called a Nazarene (Mat 2:23), which is likely a slang term to describe one coming from obscurity, or perhaps in contemporary language called a “hick or backwoodsman”.
Significantly, Jesus was born into a family with a mother and father. Even in spite of the fact that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, Joseph played a unique role in Jesus’ growth in manhood and faith (cf. Luke 2:52). Joseph was betrothed to Mary and upon hearing the news that she was with child, he was a righteous man who was unwilling to put her to shame but resolved to divorcer her quietly (Mat 1:18-19). However, God persuaded Joseph that he and Mary were to parent a son birthed by the Holy Spirit (1:20-21). Joseph remained when many others would have renounced the woman and child.
Jesus’ birth into a family instills significance to your family.
è Jesus is available to all. Regardless of your delinquency, or family dysfunction, God still is accessible and pursuing you. Your value is not in your failure but your faith.
è Presence matters more than presents. Spend time with your family at Christmas and make family priorities a goal in 2017.
è Crisis are not just obstacles but opportunities. Joseph’s life plans were different than what God had planned, yet he trusted God in each step: taking Mary as wife, leading and providing for family transitions between a census in Bethlehem and a dangerous refugee flight to Egypt, and return to some sense of normal life as a husband and father. Likewise, at first Mary was greatly troubled but the angel told her troubles were God’s favor upon her (Lk 1:28-29). God is most near to us and performs His greatest work in our crisis not our comforts. Mary’s faith overcome her fears when she trusted the Lord’s promises (Lk 1:38). In your family surprises and crisis, you can trust God’s word to guide and grow you to the right purpose and destination for your life.
Jesus Christ has a focused purpose (Matt 1:21).
In the opening chapter, Matthew lists three designations attached to Jesus’ name. The first is “Christ”, listed four times in the first eighteen verses (Mat 1:1, 16, 17, 18), which means anointed one, and is the Hebrew title for the Messiah. The second and third are in relation to the genealogy, being “son of David” and “son of Abraham”. The line of David links Jesus to God’s royal promise to David for the throne (2Sam 7:12) and the line of Abraham links him to the great patriarch of the people of God. In the title verse, “Matthew’s names for Jesus present him as the fulfillment of the hopes and prophecies of Israel but also as the one who will extend God’s blessings to Gentiles.” He is the one who’s birth and life will be worshipped (2:11) and whom none are worthy (3:11). In other words, there is no Christmas without Christ.
The announcement of Christ’s birth to Joseph was that his name shall be “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). The name Jesus was a common name and a Greek translation of the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning “Yahweh is salvation”. In the Bible, Joshua leads God’s people in battle and victory. Whereas Moses led Israel from Egypt, Joshua led God’s people to the new promised lands of Canaan, and beginnings of the nation’s kingdom. Jesus is a combination and greater fulfillment of Moses and Joshua, as He rescues us from slavery to sin and battles victoriously to lead us into forgiveness and freedom of His eternal kingdom of heaven.
OT names, especially divine names, held far more importance in that culture than in ours, being thought of as linked with or pointing to the actual character and destiny of the individual.
Illus: Alethia Grace (John 1:17); Amiyah Joy (Zephaniah 3:17); Audry Leelah (Psalm 96:6); Avee Elaine (James 1:17)
◊ Jesus saves us from
– Our religion. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, we think our religious actions will help us with God. The Jews viewed the religion so important that they created additional laws (do’s & don’ts) to boost their righteousness. Further, for a Jew to be saved from sin required sacrifices of the priests. The problem is two-fold: 1) Their religious deeds and laws became self-righteous, prideful, and lacked grace toward others. Their religious practices became rote and empty. 2) Their sacrifices for sin needed repeated because of their cycle of sinful humanity. Forgiveness would never be complete or certain unless God performed the necessary action.
– Our rebellion. There is no one who seeks God on their own. We all fall short and are imperfect reflections of whom God wants us to be and do. Yet, even in the midst of our rebellion and rejection of God, He still pursues us in love (Romans 5:8). Christmas shows us that we do not find God but He comes to find us; and Jesus is the Seeker and Savior.
◊ Jesus has passion and zeal for saving sinners (Isa 9:7; Lk 19:10; Jn 2:17) and likewise His people are to be zealous in gospel works (Mat 25:26; Rom 12:11; Eph 2:10; Titus 2:14; Rev 3:19).
Jesus Christ has fulfilled prophecy (Matt 1:22-23).
More than any other Gospel, Matthew writes to show the link between the OT & NT. Matthew lists numerous prophecies that are fulfilled through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In this passage, Matthew emphasizes the virgin birth at least 7x
– v.16 “Mary, of whom Jesus was born” not Joseph was the Father of Jesus
– v.18 “before they came together”
– v. 18 “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit”
– v.19 “Joseph was unwilling to put her to shame
– v.20 Angel to Joseph “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”
– v.23 fulfillment of Isaiah “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son”
– v.25 “Joseph knew her not until she had given birth to a son”
Every book of the OT anticipates the coming Christ-Messiah. The OT prophets spoke frequently of a coming Redeemer and Rescuer. The OT books and prophets were written by different authors and even over many centuries, but together they share a common promise and hope of God’s salvation through His Christ Messiah. And the Gospel’s reveal He has come.
Matthew says “All this took place” (Genealogy, incidents of Joseph & Mary and the virgin birth of Christ) to fulfill what God spoke through the prophets; namely, that God would be our Immanuel – God with us! Matthew’s entire point is that Jesus is uniquely born and unequaled in fulfilling all OT prophecy. Nearly all of the more than three-hundred prophecies have already come true in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, with only a few remaining regarding His second coming.
Peter Stoner in Science Speaks writes, “Now these prophecies were either given by inspiration of God or the prophets just wrote them as they thought they should be. In such a case the prophets had just one chance in 1017 of having them come true in any person, but they all came true in [Jesus] Christ.” Stoner illustrates this by saying it would be like taking 1017 silver dollars, marking a single one of them mixed in randomly and laying them all on the face of Texas, which would cover the state two feet deep; and then blindfolding you and asking you to select the marked coin first try.
à Christmas is the fulfillment of God’s promises over countless centuries, since the beginning of creation (Gen 3:15; Gal 4:4). For many years God’s people worked and worshiped in evil ways and waited for their redeemer. Even at Jesus’ birth, Israel was under the evil empire Rome thinking that God had forgotten His promises. How does this apply to your life? It means that you may be enduring a long extended season of dryness, depression, desperation, or darkness but God still cares and will complete His work. God’s past faithfulness can give you hope to trust in His future fulfillment. You can trust God with hopes & heartaches.
Jesus Christ has transformed lives (Matt 1:24-25).
The Gospel’s not only reveal the identity of Jesus but the influence of Jesus’ life and ministry. In just the announcement and actual birth of Jesus, Joseph’s life is undeniably transformed. Joseph followed through with God’s plan to receive Mary as his wife and the baby boy with the name Jesus. In the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph will even adventure to Egypt and risk his and family’s life under Herod’s evil plot to massacre children in Bethlehem (Mat 2:1-18). Tim Keller says, “The message is ‘If Jesus Christ comes into your life, you are going to kiss your stellar reputation goodbye.’ And this is just Matthew 1. When we get to Matthew 2, Joseph will see that having Jesus in his life means not just damage to his social standing but also danger to his very life. What is the application to us? If you want Jesus in your life, it is going to take bravery… When you come to Christ, you must drop your conditions. You have to give up the right to say, ‘I will obey you if . . . I will do this if . . .’ As soon as you say, ‘I will obey you if,’ that is not obedience at all. You are saying: ‘You are my adviser, not my Lord. I will be happy to take your recommendations. And I might even do some of them.’ No. If you want Jesus with you, you have to give up the right to self‐determination. Self‐denial is an act of rebellion against our late‐modern culture of self‐assertion. But that is what we are called to. Nothing less.”
◊ Jesus can help. Those who know they need a life-change, regardless how drastic, can know that Jesus is the answer. Pray to Him, read His word, connect with His servants through a church family. Jesus can help you if you trust Him as Savior from sin and Lord of life.
◊ Jesus can harden. Those who believe they don’t need any life-changes, much more faith in Christ, can continue rebelling against Jesus. Christmas reminds us that right now God is patient with us, not wishing anyone to perish but to come to repentance (cf. John 3:16; Lk 15; Rom 2:4; 1Tim 2:4; 2Peter 3:9). But, if you continue pushing Jesus away, then your heart will grow hardened and there will be no hope for you (cf. Rom 2:5).
Joseph and Mary are not the main characters of this story. Their roles were important and influential for today. However, both Joseph and Mary realized that their lives were only the background for their son – God’s Son – Jesus to take the center attention. In fact, Joseph’s most important work of raising Jesus was done largely without record. In the world’s eyes, Joseph is unacknowledged, unsung and unrewarded for his role. Yet, Joseph and Mary’s quiet faithfulness is most beautiful. Together they shined the spotlight on what was most necessary: Jesus.
While we consider the courage it may take to be with Jesus, consider that it took infinitely more courage for Jesus to be with us. Christianity is similar to other religions in gods coming to earth, but is distinct in that God descended to earth for the sole purpose of dying for people. No other religion has a God who shows the bold bravery to die on our behalf, and then His prominent power by rising from the dead. Christmas is merry only because God is mighty over death.
è Will you receive God’s free gift of forgiveness of sin and freedom unto life through Jesus Christ?
è Will you reflect the love of Jesus to promote with your life and proclaim with your lips the gospel of Jesus?
è Here I Am To Worship / Silent Night…
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
 Mounce, Robert H, Matthew, vol. 1 of New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991), 8.
 Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary, 70.
 Blomberg, Craig L., Matthew, vol 22 of The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 53.
 Donald Hagner, Matthew, Word Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1:21.
 Thought inspired by http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/lord-deliver-me-from-indifference
 Referenced in Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict, 167.
 Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas, p.56, 58.
 Ibid, 61.