The Golden Box

The following message is taken from Matthew 1:18-25, delivered on November 28, 2010 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA 

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving.  It happens to be one of my favorite holidays of the year.  Thanksgiving in the United States has traditionally become a time for families and friends to get together, eat too much and give thanks. Some other interesting facts about Thanksgiving are:

  • The first Thanksgiving in the United States was celebrated in 1621 with 52 Plymouth Pilgrims and approximately 50 Native Americans.
  • Currently, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States and on the second Monday in October in Canada.
  • President George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in the year 1789 and again in 1795.
  • Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation in October of 1863 and officially set aside the last Thursday of November as the national day for Thanksgiving. In 1941 Congress passed an official proclamation and declared that “from now onwards Thanksgiving will be observed as a legal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November.”
  • In a letter to his daughter sent in 1784, Benjamin Franklin suggested that the wild turkey would be a more appropriate national symbol for the newly independent United States than the bald eagle (which had earlier been chosen by the Continental Congress). He argued that the turkey was “a much more respectable bird,” “a true original Native of America,” and “though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage.”
  • Professional football has been played on Thanksgiving Day since the first all-pro league formed in 1902.The Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have played home games on Thanksgiving since 1934 and 1966, respectively, in a series called the Thanksgiving Classic.

Important stuff!  Lots of unnoticed truths about one of our favorite holidays of the year.  But as we leave Thanksgiving behind and look towards Christmas, I wonder if there are some things associated with the first Christmas that we’ve taken for granted, or possibly overlooked.  It is not just a day for exchanging presents, but a reflection upon God’s greatest gift.  Christmas has a deep religious meaning to all who call themselves Christians.  As we begin the season of Advent, I’d like to take Christmas from the idea of each of the four gospels.  Today, we will look at the story involving Joseph from Matthew chapter one.    

 I.  THIS GIFT WAS EXCEPTIONAL BECAUSE OF HIS MIRACULOUS ARRIVAL. (Matthew 1:18-19; Luke 1:34; Galatians 4:4)

Matthew 1:18 reads: “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. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.”  Reading this, we might ask: “Why did Joseph want to divorce Mary?  For the answer, imagine if you were Joseph.  You’re in love and engaged to be married.  And your betrothed is pregnant!  It is not like she comes right out and tells you.  After all, Mary is still trying to figure this thing out.  After all, she had never known a man.  When the angel approached her with the news, Mary was surprised saying: “How can these things be?  I have never been with a man (Luke 1:34).  But Joseph did not assume a miracle.  He assumed the obvious.  Maybe Joseph notices her change in size.  Maybe he put two and two together and assumed that Mary was unfaithful?  Whether he relished the idea or not, we see his feelings in verse 19: “So he desired to put her away secretly.” 

In first century Judaism, there was a profound sense of honor and shame associated with marriage and sexuality.  Joseph could not follow through with something that would tarnish his reputation or Mary’s.  Since the carpenter thought Mary was unfaithful, he had to do something.  New Testament scholar Donald Carson gives us a helpful commentary on the situation.  “Because he was a righteous man, Joseph therefore could not in conscience marry Mary who was now thought to be unfaithful.  And because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose her to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph therefore chose a quieter way, permitted by the law itself.”  Joseph had a skewed understanding.  He was misinformed.  He did not know the mind of God; that is until he was visited by the angel. 

God is a god of the impossible!  In Luke 1:37, after the angel explained to Mary her pregnancy and that of her relative Elizabeth, he gave the reason for both.  He told Mary: “…for with God nothing shall be impossible.”  Often we are reminded of our own limitations.  What is it that you need to be reminded of God’s omnipotence?  Maybe you’re here this morning and you need God to intervene in that strained marriage; that estranged relationship, that situation at work.  Please know that the Advent of Jesus reminds us that God is the god of the impossible.  This gift was exceptional because of His miraculous arrival.  Secondly…

II. THIS GIFT WAS EXCEPTIONAL BECAUSE OF HIS BLESSED MISSION. (Matthew 1:20-23; John 10:10; Isaiah 7:14)

Notice verse 20: “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 that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”  God knew what Joseph was thinking.  If this noble yet loving man going to be kept from privately divorcing Mary, God’s servant, than God had to do something.  Joseph had a skewed understanding.  He was misinformed.  So the Lord, in His providence, set the angel to correct Joseph.  His message must have both startled and relieved him.  Mary was not unfaithful.  God was doing something new!

As believers, it is critical that we understand the Scriptural account of Christ’s birth that has been accepted almost uniformly in the church for the past 2,000 years.  If Jesus were not miraculously born from a virgin, then He is not the mediator between us and God- the mediator that we so desperately need.  Notice how the Heidelberg Catechism teaches the benefit we receive from Jesus’ miraculous birth: “That He is our Mediator, and that, in God’s sight, He covers over with His innocence and perfect holiness the sinfulness in which I have been conceived.”[1]  Leslie Savage wrote: “A baby’s hands in Bethlehem; were small and softly-curled.  But held within their dimpled grasp the hope of all the world.”[2] 

This holiday season, consider your need for Jesus as a mediator between you and a perfectly holy God.  So many go through life, banking that heaven will be theirs because they were good enough and that God is loving enough.  But such false teaching does not recognize that Jesus Christ is the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” His very name means “Savior.”  “Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went there because they were so good and so holy…. Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever arrive there any other way but by forgiveness of sins.”  “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”

Being saved from one’s sins is intensely practical, for who here does not deal with regret and remorse over some foolish mistake, some immoral choice or some way gone astray.  What we feel is relevant is not always pertinent.  As David Mills writes, that what some people in this world: “…feel (is) relevant will be that which diverts him from the painful contemplation of his own sins and helps him move along the trajectory he has plotted for himself—to improve, as he understands it, but not to change.”[3]

One of Matthew’s intentions is to show how Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  Matthew 1:22 reads: “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “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.”  Our passage has much to say in how we understand the spiritual implications surrounding Christmas.  As we sang in our opening hymn, Jesus is known by a host of names.  He is Emmanuel, Dayspring, Wisdom from on High and the Desire of Nations.  But there is something special about Him being “God with us.”  Jesus was the ultimate missionary, leaving His home, coming and making his dwelling among us, showing us the way to the Father, being the way to the Father.   

Verse 24 tells us of a happy conclusion: Not much else is known  about Joseph.  Many believe he died at middle age.  But he goes down in history as one who did what God asked of him.  “And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, 25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”  Such a statement of obedience and integrity! 

Christ coming to our world was a sign of God’s love.  He Himself was a message of salvation and how to all who would trust in Him.  It reminds me of the story of the Gold Wrapping paper.  The story goes that some time ago a mother punished her five-year-old daughter for wasting a roll of expensive gold wrapping paper.  Money was tight and she became even more upset when the child used the gold paper to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree.  Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift box to her mother the net morning and said: “This is for you, Momma.”  The mother was embarrassed by her earlier overreaction, but her anger flared again when she opened the box and found it was empty.  She spoke to her daughter in a harsh manner.  “Don’t you know, young lady, when you give someone a present there’s supposed to be something inside the package?”  She had tears in her eyes and said: “Oh Momma, it’s not empty!  I blew kisses into it until it was full.”  The mother as crushed.  She fell on her knees and put her arms around her little girl, and she begged her forgiveness for her thoughtless anger.

An accident took the life of the child only a short time later, and it is told that the mother kept that gold box by her bed for all the years of her life.  Whenever she was discouraged or faced difficult problems, she would open the box and take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.  In a very real sense, on that Christmas night so long ago, each of us was given a golden box filled with unconditional love.  That box is Jesus Christ.  There is not a more precious possession anyone could hold.  Much like the mother, we don’t understand its meaning at first.  But when our eyes are opened to its purpose, our lives are changed. 


[1] The Heidelberg Catechism (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1962), 42. 

[2] Swindoll’s Book of Illustrations, 294. 

[3] Quote taken from David Mills, “Preaching Without Reaching: The Irrelevance of Relevant Preaching,” July/August, 2007 issue of Touchstone emagazine. 

 

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