Christmas sermon series: God's Greatest Gift
We have tremendously high expectations of Christmas. We want everything to be perfect. We have pictures in our minds of children playing, church choirs singing, and people smiling and getting along. But often it is not that way. It is supposed to be, as the song says, "the most wonderful time of the year" and the "hap-happiest season of all." But for many it will be a very difficult time because something has interrupted the joy. It may be sickness, or death, or divorce, or loneliness.
We look to the Christmas season to be a time of perfect peace, harmony, and joy. But the first Christmas was not that way. It was an interruption.
Interruptions can happen at any good time. Consider the timing of Joseph and Mary's interruption. They were engaged to be married. Like Christmas, an engagement is supposed to be a wonderous time. But it was during this time that an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would miraculously, as a virgin, conceive and give birth to the Son of God. What joyful news! Yet, what an interruption! How would she explain her pregnancy to Joseph? Would he believe her? Would he be willing to take on that responsibility? This was not in their plans. And yet, she accepted it.
We know how Joseph responded. He didn't believe her. How could he? His plans for a happy home with the woman he loved were dashed before his eyes. His life, as well as hers, had been powerfully interrupted.
Last Christmas season I received a call from my dermatologist's office. Early in December I had a dark spot removed from the top of my left ear. The surgeon didn't think it was anything to be concerned about, but they would send it off for analysis. If it were okay, they would send me a letter. If there was a problem, they would call me on the phone. Several days later, as I was sitting in my office, Teresa told me Dr. Monheit's office was on the line. I knew immediately that the growth was melanoma. I went home and cried. My Christmas season was overshadowed with a dark cloud of fear as I wondered if the cancer had spread. Interruptions can come at any time.
If we are not careful, our response to an interruption can send us down the wrong path. Joseph nearly went down the wrong path. When he discovered Mary's pregnancy, he was devastated. He couldn't buy her story about a virgin conception. As much as he loved her and wanted to be with her, there was nothing to do but divorce her.
A betrothal - an ancient engagement - was much more binding than today's engagements. The only way out of one was divorce. In fact, Joseph had the right to have her stoned to death for infidelity. Yet because he was a good man, he did not want to harm her or even embarrass her. He would divorce her privately. This was Joseph's human response to a powerful interruption. But what a mistake it would have been.
Often an interruption brings on a knee-jerk reaction. We make decisions that, if we were better informed, we would not make. We must be careful that when we face an interruption, we don't just react according to our own fears and feelings.
The key to handling an interruption is to get God's take on it. Thankfully, God rescued Joseph from his error. I can imagine Joseph, having learned of Mary's situation, tossing and turning in bed, trying to decide what to do. Finally, he decides. He will divorce her privately. But while he is sleeping an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and says,
"Joseph, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife. What she says is true. The child in her womb 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. This is in fulfillment of what God said through Isaiah the prophet, 'The virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and He shall be called Immanuel meaning 'God with us.'"
Joseph awoke with a changed mind. He would not divorce Mary. He would take her as his wife and help raise this miraculous child. He had gotten God's perspective of his interruption.
When you encounter an interruption, whatever it may be, don't react according to your own feelings and thoughts. Seek God's direction. Remember Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths" (HCSB).
Here are three words to remember when you encounter an interruption.
The first thing to do when your life is interrupted is stop and pray. Pray for guidance. Pray for courage. Pray for help. When you look to God He will help you.
Put the interruption in the proper perspective. How bad is it really? How long will it actually be important? What difference will it make in eternity?
Keep in mind that God, in His providence, is still in control of your life. Nothing can happen to you without the leave and notice of your Father. He still has all of the hairs on your head numbered.
Interruptions can at times positively redirect our lives. This was true of Joseph and Mary. Their plans were interrupted, but oh what an interruption. Can you imagine a more wonderful privilege, or a more challenging responsibility, than to be the human parents of the Son of God? The direction their future took was not what they had planned, but it was so much better.
Have you ever considered that God could do that kind of thing in your life? Not that you would be made the parents of the Son of God, but that God would take what seems to be an interruption, an unforeseen problem, and use it to set your life on a new and better path.
Whatever interruption you may be enduring right now, why not look at it in a different light, and ask, "God, are you using this to do something great in my life?" Then begin to look for the marvelous things He will do.
Whatever interruption you may be experiencing this Christmas, there is one thing you can do: stop and give thanks to God for Jesus. And as you praise and thank God, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, something of the peace that Jesus came to bring will be yours.