Understanding The Bible
"Christmas, Joseph, and the stress of it all"
Dr. Glen Clifton
Matthew 1:8-25; Luke 2:1-7

"Christmas, Joseph, and the stress of it all" (A Pre-Christmas Message)
By Dr. Glen Clifton 1.

Psychologists tell us that the Christmas season is the most stressful of all the holiday seasons. There are more 911 calls, more suicide attempts and more people calling in about loneliness that at any other time. Why? Stress!

The holiday season certainly can be stressful. I know I get stressed during this time of the year. Why? Because I’m the guy that has to get the Christmas tree straight. Let’s be honest guys, let’s have a time of bonding here. It is tough to get the Christmas tree straight. My favorite carol is: “oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, why can’t you stand perpendicularly?”

There are some other things men get stressed about. Men stress over giving. Face it, we don’t take hints well. One guy said his wife wanted to travel, so he gave her a map. That didn’t cut it! One mans wife said she wanted flowers, so he bought her several packages of seeds. That didn’t go over either.

Men, let me help you out. Here are some specific hints on what not to buy.

    1.   Do not buy anything for the kitchen….she wants out of there…
    2.   Do not buy anything related to weight loss or self-improvement, that is if you want to live….I’m serious….
    3.   Do not buy jewelry - - what your wife likes you can’t afford, and what you can afford, she won’t like….
    4.   Do not buy anything that you have to know her size. It’s best to give a gift certificate - don’t get the wrong size - even if it is expensive - especially if it is too small.

However, men, our stress is nothing compared to what that guy went through the first Christmas. I’m speaking of Joseph. Hey, we don’t know much about him, except that he’s usually on the front of the Christmas card leading the donkey.

Talk about stress! They made a trip and he didn’t e-mail ahead for a motel room. Men, have you ever done that? Arrive in a town late in the afternoon and evening, with no reservations made in advance, and everything is full. You drive-around and drive-around, and “no vacancy.” The children are tired and hungry, the wife is saying, “I told you to... ” Yeah, I know that none of you have been through this….yeah, right!

Well, Dr. Luke tells us that when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, there were no hotel or motel rooms available. Every woman just knows that he was lost, and wouldn’t stop and ask for directions. What are you ladies laughing about? Oh, you’ve been there and done that.

Most of us can identify with Joseph. Personally, I really can picture his frustration, insisting to the innkeeper that he needs a place to stay, and the innkeeper saying, “That’s not my fault.” And Joseph declaring, “it’s not my fault either, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you why.” Talk about stress.

In the fall of 1775, the manager of Baltimore’s largest hotel refused lodging to a man dressed as a farmer. The manager thought that his lowly appearance would discredit his inn. The man left and found another room in another place. When the manager discovered that the man he had refused a room was none other than Thomas Jefferson, then vice-president of the United States, he sent him a note. Jefferson replied by instructing his messenger: “tell him I have already engaged a room. I value his good intentions highly, but if he has no place for a dirty American farmer, he has none for the vice-president of the United States.

In the same way, when the lord Jesus came into this world, there was no room at the inn. And, after more than 2,000 years nothing has changed. There are “no vacancy” signs displayed in many a heart and many a home, and many a business... because there is no room for Jesus.

In fact, not only is there no room, but the opposition to Jesus is growing. The Christmas”Grinches," and the anti-Christian bigots are in an all out attack. Here are some examples:

    1)   The New York board of education has prohibited any display of a nativity scene in the New York City schools. They allow the Jewish menorah and the Islam star and crescent, but no nativity scene displayed. No room for Jesus!
    2)   In Frederick County, Maryland, a school employee was barred from handing out Christmas cards with a Christmas message. No room for Jesus!
    3)   In tupelo, Mississippi, elementary school students were led to chant and celebrate kwanza, but permitted to sing Christmas carols only after school officials removed any reference to Jesus. No room for Jesus!
    4)   In Covington, Georgia, the ACLU filed suit against the public school district because its calendar designated December 25 as Christmas, thus advancing a religion. No room for Jesus!
    5)   In little rock, Arkansas, city council changed its annual parade from the Christmas parade to the holiday parade, so as not to offend non-religious people or those of other faiths. I certainly hope nobody tells them that holiday means holy day. But, that’s beside the point. No room for Jesus!
    6)   In Denver, Colorado, where we lived, the annual Christmas parade of lights changed its name to the winter parade of lights. And, last year they banned a float that had the words: “merry Christmas.” No room for Jesus!

I could list many more, but you get the point.

The truth of the matter is: you may try, but you really can’t take Christ out of Christmas. To try to take Christ out of Christmas is like trying to take heat out of fire, or wet out of water, or oxygen out of air, or notes out of music. The truth also is: that many do leave Christ out of their Christmas. They have all the trappings, but not the truth. They have lots of things, but no Christ. In December, they go through all the routine, the trees, the decorations, the lights, the gifts, the giving and receiving of gifts, all the activities. But, no Jesus! And, without Jesus….stress!

Why did Joseph have stress? Already, his little betrothed wife-to-be had divulged that she was pregnant. (v. 18) the Mosaic Law was very specific about this. The law said that a woman who was guilty of being unfaithful should be stoned to death. But, this man Joseph was a remarkable man. We all devote a great deal of attention to Mary, and rightly so. Mary also deserves allot of credit. She was an outstanding young woman that god chose to be the mother of our lord. When god picked marries, he picked the right girl.

Joseph now faced the predicament of his life. Listen: the words “a just man and not willing to make her a public example” show a deeply troubled spirit. Joseph was literally torn between obeying the law (which would be to expose Mary to the authorities), and his love for her. I can’t even imagine the stress he was going through. He was perplexed, troubled and disappointed. His imagination must have been running wild. He felt deceived, experiencing jealousy and rage. His mind told him that marries had committed “whoredom” against him. Yet, in all this, he cared and loved her deeply and did not want to hurt her. What a man!

Remember this: Jesus’ birth creates a predicament for every man, in that every man is now forced to make a decision about Christ and his claims.

And, we must remember that god also chose Joseph. God made no mistake about choosing him either. A hot-headed man would have had her stoned to death. Or made her a public example by exposing her. He was not that kind of man. He was a gentle person. He was in love with her, and he did not want to hurt her in any way, although he felt that she had been unfaithful to him. (v. 19)

Then Joseph listened to the lord. (v. 20). The angel of the lord appeared to Joseph to make it clear what was happening. This prevented a tragic situation. Hey, have you listened to the lord and his claims on your life?

You know... I hate the over-commercialization of Christmas. Baby Jesus has given way to Santa Claus, trees, tinsel, gifts, food, and I could go on... but, we also live in a day of the over-spiritualization of Christmas. Today, we have the idea that god picked out this cute little couple and placed them into a nativity scene. Then, beautiful people from all over the world brought them gifts, as a choir and orchestra, in tuxedos made beautiful music. That isn’t how it was! They were real people living in the real world. Joseph wondered (and stressed) about what to do. He was worried about their journey, what they would eat, where they would stay. Joseph lived in the real world. There was stress on both Mary and Joseph.

Spiritual decisions in everyday life have their difficulties. Joseph’s decision to marry Mary was difficult. Do you think, for one minute, that he had known about a virgin - conception? Yet, Joseph, hearing from god, believed the unbelievable! Listen: faith is always a part of good decisions. Even good decisions can be difficult. Good decisions don’t come with a slide rule or a computer. They often, are not rational.

Dr. Charles lowery said that while studying for his PhD. In psychology, he took a class in philosophy. He remarked that, “it is like looking for a black cat in a dark room. We discussed ‘syllogisms’ - two premises that come together and if true, you reach a logical conclusion.” He said the previous owner of his textbook had made his own syllogism in the margin. It said, “God is love. Love is blind. Ray Charles is blind. Therefore, ray Charles is god.” Duh? Philosophy and psychology don’t hold the answers of life! Faith does!

For Joseph... Jesus’ birth necessitated a special revelation. Verse 20 says, “While he thought on these things...” Joseph did what he should have done. He got alone with god to think and pray through the predicament. Because of his obedience, god met his need. Being a “just and godly” man, he got alone with god. Vs. 19-20 the right frame of mind is essential in order to hear and receive the message of God.

Just as faith held the answer for Joseph, faith holds the answer for us. The bible says that Joseph was a gracious or upright man. Matt. 1:19 he could have run away, had she stoned to death, or divorced her. But, he loved her. And he accepted by faith what the angel of the lord had told him: to love and accept Mary as his wife. But, you and I all know that living in this flesh there is stress.

Just like Joseph, the vast majority of persons called by god are from humble stations in life. Paul wrote, “for you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called...” I Corinthians 1:26-27 you and I must learn to say “yes” to god’s call, as most reject his call. Even Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 20:16

Oh, one other tidbit on Joseph: in Matthew 1, beginning verse 2, it says “Abraham begat Isaac.” And for the next 13 verses, there is a whole lot of “begetting.” Then, verse 16 states, “and Jacob begat Joseph.” You would expect it to continue by saying, Joseph begat Jesus, but it does not say that. Instead it says, “Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary.” Matthew is making it clear that Joseph is not the father of Jesus!” Although he is the husband of Mary, he is not the father of Jesus. The record clearly states that Jesus Christ was virgin born.

Today, we all know, in hindsight, that Jesus came into the world because we are condemned to die because of our sin. But god loves and accepts us. He is gracious to us. God’s word says, “and she shall bring forth a son,  and you shall call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

The name Jesus, the Hebrew form is Joshua, (Yashua, literally means “Jehovah is salvation,” or “savior.”

By faith, Joseph was able to see the good in this situation because he was able to see god in it. Of course, it helped to have the angel show up and talk to him, I know that. But, today we have the whole story in the bible and still stress over menial decisions that come before us. We have seen so many Christmas programs that we forget that it was an angel and not some man in a white sheet. Today, we have the Holy Spirit who speaks to us.

For Joseph Jesus’ birth wrought a great act of obedience. Very simply, Joseph obeyed God. Despite the predicament, despite the traumatic situation, Joseph obeyed! He did what god said. Can you visualize this scene? The pregnant fiancée, the gossiping friends, the neighbors questions, the tax deadline, the appearance of an angel, the evil king. And you think you have stress? What a situation! What a lesson in ‘obedience!

God’s angels were excited about the first Christmas. Let’s get excited about this Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is to take Jesus where he needs to be taken. That’s what Joseph did! Whether it was to Bethlehem, or a foreign country, or across the street, or to the market place, Joseph took Jesus. Joseph teaches us the spirit of Christmas.

As my children were growing up, I wrapped a few presents for my family. My children took one look those presents, and although they didn’t know what was in them, they knew dad wrapped them. Not like their mother, Dee, as her packages were always wrapped perfect.

After his stress Joseph realized that Jesus was wrapped by god. Joseph believed that Christmas was real, and the rest of the year was pretend.

This Christmas, I hope the tree is straight, but more importantly, I hope the story is straight….and that your life and mine is straight.

It’s not the tree or what’s under it, only that you realize that Jesus died on a tree for you and me. This year, when a man in a sheet (with wings) announces that the lord has come, believe it, and do what Joseph did - take Jesus wherever he needs to be taken.

Would you make Jesus the lord and savior of your life today? “Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your heart….” Hebrews 3:7

Copyright 2006, Dr. Glen Clifton
Used by permission

"Running The Race of  Life"
by Dr. Glen E. Clifton

1.  Dr. Clifton and his wife Dee, have been retired to Florida for 4 years. He has been kept busy preaching up and down the Treasure coast since he moved here.  He can be contacted for speaking engagements at (772) 336-3992.

Clifton, Dr. Glen E., Brief Biography