Birth of Jesus
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.
Our theme this Advent is Down to Earth. Jesus, the Son of God came to earth so that we would know God more completely, and know God as accessible. Experiencing everything from birth to death, we see Jesus as able and willing to understand us in all our challenges, losses, and joys. The first week was Down To Earth Love, God’s unconditional love poured through us to all of humanity. Last week our theme was Down To Earth Humility. The scripture invites us to “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” I spoke of the upside down Kingdom of God:
This Week our theme is Down To Earth Lifestyle.
Any trip to The Storyteller or any other bookstore reveals an amazing array of self-help books. Many of those will be books about healthy lifestyles. We can read the many books on healthy habits, including diet, exercise, and mental health. We can know all the facts, but if not adopt a healthy “lifestyle” it will make no lasting difference. Experience has shown that a diet, for instance, that does not become a lifestyle change will yield results, yet over time, when we go off the diet, the weight comes back on. Many times the weight becomes even greater that before the diet.
In Matthew 1:18-24 we see the lifestyle of Joseph lived out. Joseph was a man of faith, following the God of the Israelites. That very faith was tested in his relationship with Mary. In those days and in that culture, marriages were arranged. After the arrangement was made there would be a betrothal which would last over a period of time. Then would come the wedding and, only after the wedding, would come the consummation of the marriage. When Mary was found to be pregnant the societal and religious norms were very clear. When a woman was discovered to have broken her betrothal by becoming pregnant, she was to be stoned to death. But Joseph, being a man of faith, understood grace. He sought gracious resolution and had decided to “quietly dismiss” Mary so as not to humiliate her or subject her to the ultimate punishment. A dream was all he was given to veer away from the norms. The vision given to Joseph in verses 20-21 was, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” When God gives a vision, God will make provision. Joseph responded with faith – a lifestyle of faith. It wasn’t just one decision to follow God’s vision, but a lifetime of them. Soon after the birth of Jesus, Joseph received yet another dream telling him to flee to Egypt (the opposite direction of his home) so that the life of his son might be spared. Joseph’s was a lifestyle of faith.
We are called to a lifestyle of faith. Yet faith is perhaps the most underutilized asset in the church and in our in daily life. When things get tough, all too often our first response is to rely on our strength, to rely on technology, to rely on others. Faith insists that we first turn to God, and God will fill our lives with the strength we need. God will lead us to people and systems that can help us. But always at the center is the gracious and powerful presence of God.
As with healthy lifestyles, a lifestyle of faith is more than just knowledge. Faith always requires a corresponding action. We believe and therefore we act. We step out in faith regularly, and God shines through.
Mike Slaughter tells a story\ about receiving a gift card for Christmas to his favorite restaurant. The gift was appreciated. But the staff member who had given it to him noted that the gift card she had given him last year, to the same restaurant, hadn’t been used yet. In 2016 the New York Post reported that a whopping $44 Billion in unredeemed gift cards had accumulated since 2008! Cards that were paid for but have never been used. As with our Christian Faith, we too often fail to redeem what has already been paid for with a price! We fail to life a lifestyle of faith.
What does our lifestyle of faith look like? It will, of course, be as individual as we are. We are all called to different visions, yet there is a commonality across all our visions. We are to utilize faith in our everyday lives. Faith that God has a plan for our lives. Faith that God will provide what is necessary for us to fulfil his vision for us. Do you remember the story in Mark 9:22-24? It is a story of a father bringing his son to Jesus. His son was possessed by a demon. After a conversation where Jesus gets the background of what has been tormenting the son, the man says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, help us! Show us compassion!” Jesus responded with, “All things are possible for the one who has faith.” The father’s immediate response was “I have faith; help my lack of faith!” This really should be our lifestyle response in everyday life. ‘Thank you, God, for my faith. Help my lack of faith.’ Life will always be tested, and our faith needs to continually grow to meet those tests with God.
Do we believe God has a vision for us? I truly believe it! Further, I believe that God’s vision for each of us includes a vital and loving relationship with God. It is the kind of relationship where it is natural for us to seek the strength of that relationship in times of decision or difficulty or just everyday living. Beyond that, however, we are to be in service. We are to be in service to God and to those around us. Jesus was a representation of “basin and towel” service. Recall with me John chapter 13. It is the Upper Room, and Jesus disciples are gathered with him for the Passover. It would be Jesus’ last Passover on this earth. As the meal was about to begin, Jesus knelt before each of his disciples and washed their feet. The custom was common in Jesus’ day because of the dust and dirt that would collect on your feet as you navigated streets in sandals. It was usually a servant of slave who would perform this service for the guests of the house. But in this instance Jesus performed this task. Ultimately this act of service wasn’t about feet or foot washing. It was truly about a lifestyle of service. As we heard in the first week of our Advent series, we are to put the interests and needs of others before our own. Part of God’s vision for us is to serve. We are to serve God and serve humanity. But what is a right service? When are we just letting ourselves be used by others? A lifestyle of faith and service is one lad by God. God doesn’t was us to used up for another’s gain. But God does want us to be available, as I have said so many times before, to be God’s hands and feet in this world. God wants us to further the vision of the Prince of Peace. God wants us to be servants of the Risen Christ. A “Down to Earth Lifestyle” entails living our faith and living it in service to God and others. This Christmas, may we find our faith renewed, utilized, and put to work.
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Pastor Paul Grossman