Christmas Dreams - “I am dreaming of this kind of Christmas!”
A Christmas where God gives directions!
I have two stories to share. One about a little girl and one about a little boy. The little girl’s story is this video. Here are her thoughts about Christmas. (A Very Special Baby Clip)
Now the story about the little boy. John Chilcote asked me last Thursday, “Did you hear about that little boy in Massachusetts?” And I said, “What little boy in Massachusetts?” Well, it turns out there’s a huge controversy between the school system and this little boy’s father. The little boy John referred to is a 2nd grader and the son of a man named Chester Johnson.[i] They live in Taunton, Massachusetts and his son attends Maxham Elementary School. Sometime around December 2 his son’s class was given an assignment by their teacher. Here’s the assignment. Draw a picture about the holidays. And there lies the controversy. The school is saying the assignment was never given. The father says it was. Needless to say this little eight year old drew a picture. He drew this picture. A stick figure of Jesus on the cross. The reason he drew this picture was because his Dad had just taken him to see the Christmas display at the National Shrine of Our Lady located in Attleboro, Massachusetts where he saw a number of statues including this one. His picture was deemed too violent (the teacher thought he might be a threat to himself or other students) so he was sent home and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation which took place and the boy was permitted to return to school. His father has requested his son be transferred to another school.
Now I can only imagine what teachers – whether private or public have to deal with on a consistent basis. But I find this story particularly interesting because what was meant to be fun ended up anything BUT fun. What was supposed to bring joy ended up bringing pain. Oh my, I wonder if Joseph and Mary ever felt this way! Turn in your Bible to Matthew chapter 2. Do you need a Bible today? The Bible contains good news. The Bible shows us how we are to be saved. Speaking of salvation. Something awesome happened here last Wednesday Night. Carl & Michelle Radom were both baptized. They wanted their baptism to be shared with a few close friends and family but they did permit us to video tape their baptism. Please watch the screens. (Radom baptism clip) Their baptism is extra special because I forgot to turn the heater on. A cold baptism in June is one thing, but in December. Yikes, I am still so sorry. Carl & Michelle, we welcome you as Ministry Partners at Westerville Christian. Salvation is such good news. Tricia and I have good friends in Indiana where Tricia lived and I served in a church. Their names are Richard & Alma Hoel. Alma sent us a Christmas card which said, “Christmas is joy, faith, hope and love… the gift of a Saviour sent from above. Inside the card she wrote, “Jesus is still the best that’s ever happened to us!”
He is. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean life will be easy and comfortable. We finished Matthew 1 so let’s begin with the first verse in Matthew 2. (Read 2:1-3) After Jesus was born (historical records tell us that Jesus was born between 6-4 BC.)
Those same records tell us Herod dies in 4 BC. King Herod was known as Herod the Great. What made him great in the eyes of people was his power and projects. Truth is Herod was allot like the Grinch. You're a mean one, Mr. Herod. You really are a heel. You're as cuddly as a cactus, You're as charming as an eel.
Mr. Herod. The three words that best describe you are: "Stink. Stank. Stunk.”[ii] Actually the best word to describe Herod was paranoid. Always thinking someone was out to get him because usually people were out to get him. He had several of his sons, his wife and mother-in-law all murdered[iii] so to protect his kingdom. Dr. Mark Moore reminded me that the Magi are not stopping in Jerusalem to see Jesus. They are seeking directions from Herod.[iv] But Herod doesn’t know. Find vs. 4. (Read 4-5a) Drop down to verse 7. (Read 7-8a) Drop further down to verse 9. (9-11a)
Apparently Mary & Joseph have moved from a barn to a house. Most Christmas plays have life moving in the fast lane. The truth is several months past from Matthew 1 to Matthew 2. Jesus is probably approaching his first birthday! Maybe Mary & Joseph have decided to just take up roots in Bethlehem instead of going back to Nazareth after all many people still think Mary was a naughty girl and Joseph was stupid for not dumping her.
Staying in Bethlehem would be perfect. Not so fast. Plans change! Find verse 13. (Read 13) What must be going through the mind of Joseph? “I did not sign up for this! First, my wife gets pregnant without my help I might add. But the angel told me what happened. So I’m OK with that. Jesus has been born and Mary’s now my wife – for better or for worse. We say “for better or for worse, richer or for poorer, sickness and in health but what we often mean is better, richer and in health! That’s why love in the Bible is an act of the will, a commitment. It’s not wrapped in emotion because if it was we’d leave as soon as things went south. Or in Joseph’s case – west! Let’s read verse 13 again. This is dream 2 of four separate dreams Joseph will receive in Matthew 1 & 2. In this dream Joseph gets directions! “GO TO EGYPT!” Sounds simple enough doesn’t it! Did you know that the border of Egypt was 75 miles away from Bethlehem?[v] Not to mention how many additional miles they would have to travel once they determined which city they would live in. We’re not talking horsepower here either; mule power at best carrying your wife and one year old son! It’s one thing to get directions from God; it’s all together different to actually listen to them. Grasp verse 14. How inconvenient! Are their any hidden compartments on this donkey for the diaper bag and the pack & play? May I remind you again - what brought joy to Mary & Joseph also brought inconvenience! Why do you think Joseph listened to the angel - packed up his family and bolted in the middle of the night for Egypt? I think one word! FEAR! Fear isn’t always bad. FEAR can be a good motivator. I think without a doubt Joseph was afraid of this angel. As he should be. Yes, this angel probably resembled a man, but I wouldn’t mess with him. The angel’s message is direct. “Get up. Escape. Wake your wife and take your wife and child and go. Sleep another day!” I’m sure a woman asked this question. What if the Three Wise Men were Three Wise Women instead? They would have arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts and most importantly asked for directions![vi]
Joseph didn’t ask for directions but he sure did follow them. Why? FEAR! Angels are messengers from God. Some can do supernatural things. I imagine all angels can do supernatural things, but refrain for only certain reasons or situations. I have received messages – communication from angels – but not the heavenly kind. There are angels in your life but you haven’t recognized them for whom or better yet – whose they are. Angels can come from the most unlikely sources – even a Michigan fan. That’s Cole Brooks. An angel can be your husband or wife, it could be a close friend, your parents, a teacher, a coach. When someone really loves God and it’s obvious they do because they bear fruit and they give you counsel from God’s word – you just received directions! Don’t ignore them!
I think Joseph listened because he was also afraid of Herod. The man was paranoid delusional. Herod will die in 4 BC. Right close to the 1st birthday of Jesus. But he will not give up his throne easily. He does something so cruel in a vain attempt to protect his throne and since he has absolute authority his army carried out his orders. Find verse 16 in Matthew 2. Joseph should not doubt the angel’s words. Herod will kill him, his wife and even Jesus himself, so they head to the perfect hideaway – Egypt. You know Egypt. The very same place Hebrews, Israelites suffered some 400 years of bondage. Egypt was Israel’s arch enemy. But Herod would never think of looking there. What looks like a mistake is God’s provision!
Do you want God to speak to you this Christmas like he did to Joseph? Last week scripture told us to choose faith over fear. And that’s true. Today scripture tells us to fear God’s word! That word might come through an angel. Divine or human. That word might come through a dream. Jews saw dreams as God’s divine communication. They did not see them as strange, but normal and highly encouraged. That word might come through an act of kindness. That word might come from your small group. That word might come this very moment as we studied God’s word together. That word might come through a simple prayer!
A woman named Pegi Tehan one day I decided to take her three children to an ice skating party in a nearby town, but after several wrong turns and several stops to ask directions, she pulled over to the side of the road and suggested they all pray and ask God to help them find the rink. When they finally arrived, they were nearly an hour late. The following week, as they got into the car to go skating again, her five-year-old son said, "Mom, let's pray now and save time!"[vii] Pray! God wants to direct you!
Let’s see how directionally challenged we all are - on the count of three everyone point WEST! If you know the way – don’t be arrogant about it. Be humble and simply point people to Jesus. If you do not know the way. Follow someone who does. And how do you know who does - they fear God’s word. Because when you fear God’s word like Joseph did – you get direction!
If I asked you to draw a picture of the holidays like that little guy in Massachusetts what would you draw? A manger, a stable, a star, three wise men, cool gifts – or a stick figure of Jesus on the cross. What is the message of Jesus on the cross? Jesus was born to die. God loves us so much he even refused to withhold his own son for us!
[iii] Mark E. Moore, The Chronological Life of Christ, 58
[iv] Mark E. Moore, The Chronological Life of Christ, 58
[v] John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary, Matthew 1-7, 40