Faithlife
Faithlife

Christmas sermon

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“The Carpenter’s Mantra”

What kind of stock do you put in dreams?  Sometimes they mean little more than the fact that you ate the wrong thing too late.  Sometimes they mean something far more significant.  Let me review the story of a carpenter’s dream, one that changed his life.

 

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." (Matthew 1:18-25, NIV) [1]

·       He was a simple carpenter.

He was a simple carpenter, not that carpentry is a simple business.  As a matter of fact it is a rather complicated and challenging one to many of us.  The basic concepts of “square” and “level” are tantalizing and elusive, maddening even to certain ones of us who sit here today and some who preach.  I have a tool box, not one that I would buy of course.  I found it abandoned in the garage of the first home that we bought and adopted it.  It’s tokenism really, every man should have a box in which to keep his tools – place them there, close and lock the lid and then eat the key – in my case.  There’s nothing simple about being a carpenter or being handy.

Eleven Step Guide to Being Handy Around the House

1. If you can't find a screwdriver, use a knife.  If you break off the tip, it's an improved screwdriver.

2. Try to work alone. An audience is rarely any help.

3. Despite what you may have been told by your mother, praying and cursing are both helpful in home repair ... but only if you are working alone.

4. Work in the kitchen whenever you can ...many fine tools are there, its warm and dry, and you are close to the refrigerator.

5. If it's electronic, get a new one ...or consult a twelve-year-old.

6. Stay simple minded: Get a new battery; replace the bulb or fuse; see if the tank is empty; try turning it to the "on" switch; or just paint over it.

7. Always take credit for miracles. If you dropped the alarm clock while taking it apart and it suddenly starts working, you have healed it.

8. Regardless of what people say, kicking, pounding, and throwing sometimes DOES help.

9. If something looks level, it is level.

10. If at first you don't succeed, redefine success.

11. Above all, if what you've done is stupid, but it works, then it isn't stupid.

·       He was not self-righteous.

Nor was Joseph a self-righteous man.  He knew the ancient Hebrew laws and traditions but he never lost touch with the wood.  He could appreciate it’s natural beauty and he knew how to work with it to produce a final product which he could see before most others.  That’s one of those uncanny things about carpenters.  They can see what it looks like before it’s done.  They understand it’s worth.  The scraps, the things that you and I would throw away hold value to a skilled workman.  That’s sort of a life lesson spiritually isn’t it?

"For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)[2]

Some of us see ourselves as scrap wood, something left over from a more substantial project.  God sees something different.  He sees what you will be when He is finished with you.  And whether you believe it or not, whether you’re co-operating with Him or not, He is working in you, on you even today.

"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6, NIV)[3]

And even worse, we sometimes see others as scrap, waste material because we struggle to see what the carpenter sees, what God sees in another I cannot see except that He considered the lives of every other person in this world worth His existence in heaven and His life on earth.  If you tend to relegate others to the trash heap then it’s time to get corrective lenses because you’re not seeing what God sees.

And if human hands can conceive and fashion beauty from a block of wood then God can build great beauty and benefit from your life if you’ll trust Him to do that.

·       He was a “spiritual” man.

There was no self-righteous spirit within Joseph the Carpenter.  I wonder if he flinched or doubted as Mary told him that she was pregnant.  Somewhere inside I am sure that he did.  He listened and wanted to believe the story of the angel and the promise, but physically pregnant, no human father.  He knew that it couldn’t have been his child because he lived life as he built “square and level” – according to Moses law, sexual union reserved for marriage alone.  How could he accept it?

He tried but he couldn’t do it.  He made his decision.

Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

If he were self-righteous or if he were worried about her infidelity and the shame this might bring, he could exercise law.  It would be his right.  She could be stoned.  Her story was impossible and he would be deemed a fool to even contemplate it.

But he loved Mary, he just couldn’t take her to be his wife.  And one of those long days of working with wood, making it “square and level”, he realized that this situation could never be “square and level” and he carried it to bed once again and found sleep, resolving to put a quiet end to the confusion and turmoil and to begin the process of getting over the relationship.

What concerns and cares have you taken to bed lately?  We dream about the things that we take to bed.

But he wouldn’t sleep soundly . . . .

But after he had considered this an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream

Because God had something else in mind, a greater plan, he could see the end product, beyond what the carpenter could see.

Sometimes God invades our dreams and interrupts our lives.

Did you ever notice how we tend to see catastrophe in our lives when God sees something different.  How about the loss of that job when you are trading your life for dollars and in the process becoming someone that you don’t like.  You can never get back some of the things that you trade.  When health is gone or marriages, relationships in ruin, sanity and you’re financially well off but a time bomb – otherwise. 

So you lose the job you’d never quit.  You think God is not fair.  You think he sits there in heaven planning to take something dear from you, in punishment or some other motivation.  He sees what you don’t see.  I am convinced he’s rescued me a thousand times from dangers that I have never known.

You had better plans like a simple carpenter who anticipated a simple relationship and normalcy in business there in Nazareth.  Not too much to ask from life, surely.  He didn’t want to be a king or a mogul.  Just a carpenter, working with wood, making things “square and level”.

And peaceful dreams in Joseph’s settled mind were invaded by an angel.  And the angel said,

 “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

What would you do?  Has God ever spoken to you in your sleep?  When you’ve gone to be burdened has He ever interrupted your dreams? I know that there are nights when I have come awake with a sermon outline or someone on my mind.

·         Maybe so that you’d get up and read something from his Word that would bring you peace?

·         Maybe because someone you love needs your prayers. 

·         Maybe because someone you don’t love a lot needs your prayers.

"But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" (Matthew 5:44, NLT) [4]

·         Maybe there’s something that He wants you to get that you are not getting.  Maybe in those uncrowded midnight hours there is a message for you.  Maybe you’re awake at night because you haven’t gotten the message that he tries to send you every day.

·         Maybe if you got that message you’d sleep

·         Maybe it involves the acceptance of something that you’re afraid of.

·         Maybe it means a change of address or vocation.  It did for Joseph at least for a little while.

·         Maybe it’s a wake-up call because God knows that what lies ahead of the course that you are charting is something that you won’t like.  Maybe the bridge is out and you’re headed full steam toward disaster.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." (Matthew 1:18-25, NIV) [5] 

Remember that Joseph didn’t encounter the angel in person as Mary did.  He was asleep, in an unconscious state, the scripture would seem to tell us but the angel was there for real in the dream world.

The few specific dreams in the NT all come from Matthew, five of these in the first two chapters. They emphasize the divine care and protection of the baby Jesus. First there was God’s provision that Jesus would grow up in a home with a father and mother and thus avoid the cruelty and shame of being unjustly called an illegitimate child (Mt 1:19–23). The wise men were instructed in a dream not to tell Herod where Jesus was living (Mt 2:12). Jesus was further protected from jealous King Herod by the dream that told Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary and the child (Mt 2:13). On Herod’s death, Joseph was divinely advised in a dream to return home from Egypt (Mt 2:20). Finally, God warned Joseph to avoid Judea, where Herod’s evil son Archelaus reigned, and to settle in Galilee instead.

 

The only other specific dream mentioned in the NT prompted Pilate’s wife to warn her husband, “Don’t have anything to do with this innocent man” (Mt 27:19).[6]

And what did it cost Joseph?

Maybe some people didn’t understand, even family members.  Maybe others thought him a weak fool to tolerate what they saw as Mary’s infidelity.  Maybe people whispered.

But he got to name God’s son, Jesus, Emmanuel.

It cost him his safety and his livelihood.  They fled Herod, refugees to a pagan country.  His life was never quite the same again, never quite “square and level” because never shapes so easily as a block of wood, unless it’s shaped by larger hands.

This is all that we read of Joseph in Matthew’s gospel.  He never appears again after that.  A simple carpenter who passed his trade on to his son and who had the sense to hear God in his dreams.

You know, He’s still with us today, Jesus, Emmanuel (“God with us”).  He still speaks to people in the light of day and the dead of night.  And although we should be tuned to His voice at all times, the celebration of this season ought to re-calibrate the ears and the hearts of God’s people to His heart and to His purpose.  It ought to provide us with some connection to heaven that would keep us from being lost in the clatter of this frantic season

So what can we learn from the earthly father of Christ?  A man selected by God, who was willing to find what others missed at the risk of his reputation and livelihood.

·         Life doesn’t always turn out “square and level”. (Joel and Vicky)

·         There’s always a risk in following the will of God.  The greatest blessings come with great risk and require great faith, not so much the faith to see the end but the faith to take the first step, - to obey.

·         There are times when our reputation will be called into question as we step ahead to follow God.

·         There are times when God will call for a radical departure from what is familiar and comfortable in our lives.

·         While scripture is the final authority in determining the will of God.  God will not ask us to do that which contradicts His written Word.  Scripture is not the only vehicle through which His will is revealed.  Sometimes it’s something as simple as a dream. 

·         Sometimes the best thing that you can do when you’re wondering what God wants, is to go to bed.

Jesus, the Carpenter

My house was falling apart...

I called upon the carpenter

Quickly he came

He looked the situation over

gave an estimated cost

I gave him the OK.

Speedily he went to work

He tore down pride and

ripped into conceit

I watched in horror with

many questions

He never answered, simply

stated, "Trust me."

I saw him pull those nails of malice

And remove selfish ambition

it seemed there was nothing left.

Then he began to build

He established faith where there was nothing

hope where once there was

helplessness

I saw humility where pride

once reigned.

Slowly and carefully now he began

 to build compassion and forgiveness.

Suddenly unsteadiness attacked!

He said, "Fear Not!" and with

patience and perseverance and

faith as the main support

He steadied my home.

He's still at work today

Jesus the carpenter at work in me.

In Jesus divine omnipotence moved in a human arm;

In Jesus divine wisdom was cradled in a human brain;

In Jesus divine love throbbed in a human heart;

In Jesus divine compassion glistened in a human eye;

In Jesus divine grace poured forth in human lips.

-- Lloyd Cory, ed., Quotable Quotations, p. 61.


----

[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 1997. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

NT New Testament

[6]Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Map on lining papers. (Page 643). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

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