Sometimes Christmas just comes at the wrong time of the year. Christmas is supposed to come when everything is going well. Christmas means that we are cheery and bright doesn’t it? Christmas arrives when our hearts are singing “Joy To The World,” not when our souls are troubled and dry. Christmas is not supposed to accompany words like “anxiety, chaos, depression, or despair.” Yet, for many people who are dragging themselves towards Christmas Day, songs like “Silent Night” and “Joy To The World” stir emotions of loneliness, fear, and dread instead of delight.
If you are feeling like Christmas has come at the wrong time of the year this year then take heart my friend – you are not alone. There was a man long ago who felt that Christmas had come at the wrong time of year, a time when he was riddled with mixed emotions and anxiety about some news that he had been given. The man that I am speaking about this morning is Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Stop and think for a minute. Here is a young man who is planning his wedding. He was booking flights to Hawaii, making hotel reservations on Maui, and planning candlelight dinners for he and his new bride. In an instant, in the blink of an eye he is told, “Mary is going to have a baby.” “WHAT? Not my baby she isn’t!” Talk about ruining a man’s plans for Christmas! Joseph was riddled with anxiety. What should he do? Should he make a scene, confront her and chastise her? After thinking about it for awhile Joseph decided to break off the engagement quietly. He came to his senses. He loved Mary. He didn’t want to embarrass her even more over the embarrassing situation. He decided to break off the engagement quietly, but his heart was anything but quiet. He was broken. He was feeling all alone and wondering what he did to drive her away. Who of you, if given the same news Joseph was given, would feel any differently? And at Christmas time to boot.
Just then an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and spoke to him. Let me read to you what happened. Turn to Matthew 1:18-23 and follow along with me.
18This 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. 19Because 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. 20But 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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,? because he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23″The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” -which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:18-23)
Many people forget that the angel appeared to Joseph “after” he had heard the news that Mary was going to have a baby. Joseph had time to consider the ramifications of his soon-to-be-bride coming up pregnant out-of-wedlock. It had to have been a horrible time in Joseph’s life.
Maybe you can relate because there have been times in your life, before the Lord showed up, when you felt all alone, frustrated with life and those around you, riddled with anxiety or fear, and wondering why your life was unraveling at the seams.
I came by to tell you this morning that Immanuel, Jesus, is still with us even to this day. We are not alone. We are not alone. He still shows up, not always at the time we want Him, but He shows up right on time.
Yesterday morning I was here at the church practicing for the Christmas concert with our choir. Helen Basey told me that Rick Ronck’s mother had died. Then, when I got home, there was a message for me that Rick’s mother had died unexpectedly at 4:30 am Saturday morning. I called Rick and Jan’s home and spoke to Jan. Jan told me what had happened and I shared with her for a little while. She gave me the number of Rick’s mother’s home in Enid, where Rick was staying, and I told her to please let us know if there is anything that we can do.
As we were getting ready to hang up Jan said, “Mike, God is so good. This morning, after I spoke with Rick, I went in to read my devotion for the day. I thought this is going to be interesting what God has to say today. When I opened it to the devotion, written at the top were the words, “The Lord Dwells With You.”
I called Rick later in the day and we talked. Rick’s heart is broken as well you can imagine. I shared what Jan had told me and I said, “Rick, you are going through one of the toughest things that you will ever have to go through, but God wants you to know that He is with you.” We prayed together on the phone and I thanked God that He dwells with us even when we are in the dumps.
My friend, that is the real meaning of Christmas. That is the message God sought to send to all of His creation on that first Christmas morning. Immanuel – God is with us! God is with us brothers. God is with us sisters. No matter where you are or in what state you find yourself in this Christmas season God wants you to know that He has not, nor will He ever abandon you – He is with us.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow learned that lesson long, long ago. Henry had been filled with sorrow since his wife tragically died in a fire in 1861. He could not figure out how such a good woman, such a loving wife could have her life cut short. To make matters even worse the Civil War broke out that same year, and it seemed this was an additional punishment.
Henry’s son was called to fight in the war and Henry worried and wondered about how his son would fare on the field of battle. Two years into the war, Henry had not heard from his son in some time and he began to worry. Christmas was approaching and no news of his son’s whereabouts was eating at Henry. Then, just before Christmas, Henry received word that his son had been killed. Henry was angry. No, Henry was mad! He went outside and he shook his fist at the heavens and cursed God. Henry said, “God I hate you. You’ve taken my wife and now you’ve taken my son! I hate you God!”
While Henry was outside he heard the churchbells ringing in the distance. The song that was ringing out was “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” When Henry heard the line, “Peace on the earth, goodwill to men from heaven’s all gracious King” he became insensed. He shouted, “Peace, peace – there is no peace!” No matter how loud Henry’s voice grew the bells continued to play in their quiet, peaceful way the praises of God.
Henry went inside and later that night, deep in sorrow and grief, he took a pen and he began to write. The words that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that night are still with us today, but greater still is the fact that Henry learned deep in the dark of night that there is peace, lasting peace in the God who dwells with us.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.
At this Chirstmas time whether you are in sorrow or in joy you can know that God is not dead, neither does He sleep. He knows your every need and longs to comfort you and be that special friend you need. Seek Him at this Christmas time instead of the outward manifestations of the season. He will give life real meaning and your heart real peace, the peace that passes all understanding.
The Lord dwells with you. Immanuel – God is with us. People have learned that lesson since the morning the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem’s manger and people are still learning that lesson even today.
Sometimes we learn the lesson as we pull ourselves through the trials that we face in life. God shows us in marvelous ways that He is with us. Other times we are taught that lesson by those around us who have found God’s comforting presence even in their darkest nights. One such lady learned the lesson from a little girl. She wrote of her story this past week in
an e-mail that I received.
It was only five days before Christmas. The spirit of the season hadn’t yet caught up with me, even though cars packed the parking lot of our Houston area Target Shopping Center. Inside the store, it was worse. Shopping carts and last minute shoppers jammed the aisles. Why did I come today? I wondered. My feet ached almost as much as my head. My list contained names of several people who claimed they wanted nothing, but I knew their feelings would be hurt if I didn’t buy them something. Buying for someone who had everything and deploring the high cost of items, I considered gift buying anything but fun.
Hurriedly, I filled my shopping cart with last minute items and proceeded to the long checkout lines. I picked the shortest but it looked as if it would mean at least a 20 minute wait. In front of me were two small children a boy of about 10 and a younger girl about 5. The boy wore a ragged coat. Enormously large, tattered tennis shoes jutted far out in front of his much too short jeans. He clutched several crumpled dollar bills in his grimy hands. The girl’s clothing resembled her brother’s. Her head was a matted mass of curly hair. Reminders of an evening meal showed on her small face. She carried a beautiful pair of shiny, gold house slippers. As the Christmas music sounded in the store’s stereo system, the girl hummed along off-key but happily. When we finally approached the checkout register, the girl carefully placed the shoes on the counter. She treated them as though they were a treasure.
The clerk rang up he bill. “That will be $6.09” the clerk said, as the boy laid his crumpled dollars atop the stand while he searched his pockets finally coming up with $3.12. “I guess we will have to put them back, ” he bravely said. “We’ll come back some other time, maybe tomorrow.” With that statement, a soft sob broke from the little girl. “But Jesus would have loved these shoes,” she cried. “Well, we’ll go home and work some more. Don’t cry. We’ll come back,” he said. Quickly I handed $3.00 to the cashier. These children had waited in line for a long time. And, after all, it was Christmas.
Suddenly a pair of arms came around me and a small voice said, “Thank you, Sir.” “What did you mean when you said Jesus would like the shoes?” I asked. The small boy answered, “Our mom is sick and going to heaven. Dad said she might go before Christmas to be with Jesus.” The girl spoke, “My Sunday school teacher said the streets in heaven are shiny gold, just like these shoes. Won’t mommy be beautiful walking on those streets to match these shoes?” My eyes flooded as I looked into her tear streaked face. “Yes,” I answered, “I am sure she will.”
How was it that such small children could face the prospects of their mother going to Heaven with such courage? How could the kids be so excited to buy their mom a pair of slippers, gold mind you, that would match the golden streets she would be walking? Immanuel, God is with us. God was with them and He is with us!
The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 34, 18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. Immanuel – God is with us! God is closer than we are to ourselves my friend if we will only allow Him to comfort us, to heal us, and to make His presence known to us. God uses all of kinds of ways to come to us.
Let me tell you another story. I don’t know why, but this Christmas I have been drawn to the stories of Immanuel, the ways that God is coming near to those who are in need. Let me tell you about Bobby and the way God drew near to a man who needed His presence.
Bobby was getting cold sitting out in his back yard in the snow. Bobby didn’t wear boots; he didn’t like them and anyway he didn’t own any. The thin sneakers he wore had a few holes in them and they did a poor job of keeping out the cold.
Bobby had been in his backyard for about an hour already. And, try as he might, he could not come up with an idea for his mother’s Christmas gift.
He shook his head as he thought, “This is useless, even if I do come up with an idea, I don’t have any money to spend.” Ever since his father had passed away three years ago, the family of five had struggled.
It wasn’t because his mother didn’t care, or try, there just never seemed to be enough. She worked nights at the hospital, but the small wage that she was earning could only be stretched so far. What the family lacked in money and material things, they more than made up for in love and family unity.
Bobby had two older and one younger sister, who ran the household in their mother’s absence. All three of his sisters had already made beautiful gifts for their mother. Somehow it just wasn’t fair. Here it was Christmas Eve already, and he had nothing. Wiping a tear from his eye, Bobby kicked the snow and started to walk down to the street where the shops and stores were.
It wasn’t easy being six without a father, especially when he needed a man to talk to. Bobby walked from shop to shop, looking into each decorated window. Everything seemed so beautiful and so out of reach. It was starting to get dark and Bobby reluctantly turned to walk home when suddenly his eyes caught the glimmer of the setting sun’s rays reflecting off of something along the curb. He reached down and discovered a shiny dime. Never before has anyone felt so wealthy as Bobby felt at that moment.
As he held his newfound treasure, warmth spread throughout his entire body and he walked into the first store he saw. His excitement quickly turned cold when salesperson after salesperson told him that he could not buy anything with only a dime.
He saw a flower shop and went inside to wait in line. When the shop owner asked if he could help him, Bobby presented the dime and asked if he could buy one flower for his mother’s Christmas gift. The shop owner looked at Bobby and his ten cent offering. Then he put his hand on Bobby’s shoulder and said to him, “You just wait here and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
Bobby waited, he looked at the beautiful flowers and even though he was a boy, he could see why mothers and girls liked flowers. The sound of the door closing as the last customer left, jolted Bobby back to reality. All alone in the shop, Bobby began to feel alone and afraid.
Suddenly the shop owner came out and moved to the counter. There, before Bobby’s eyes, lay twelve long stem, red roses, with leaves of green and tiny white flowers all tied together with a big silver bow. Bobby’s heart sank as the owner picked them up and placed them gently into a long white box.
“That will be ten cents young man,” the shop owner said reaching out his hand for the dime. Slowly, Bobby moved his hand to give the man his dime. Could this be true? No one else would give him a thing for his dime! Sensing the boy’s reluctance, the shop owner added, “I just happened to have some roses on sale for ten cents a dozen. Would you like them?” This time Bobby did not hesitate, and when the man placed the long box into his hands, he knew it was true.
Walking out the door that the owner was holding for Bobby, he heard the shop keeper say, ” Merry Christmas, son.” As he returned inside, the shop keepers wife walked out. “Who were you talking to back there and where are the roses you were fixing?” Staring out the window, and blinking the tears from his own eyes, he replied, “A strange thing happened to me this morning. While I was setting up things to open the shop, I thought I heard a voice telling me to set aside a dozen of my best roses for a special gift. I wasn’t sure at the time whether I had lost my mind or what, but I set them aside anyway.
Then just a few minutes ago a little boy came into the shop and wanted to buy a flower for his mother with one small dime. When I looked at him, saw myself, many years ago. I too was a poor boy with nothing to buy my mother a Christmas gift. A bearded man, whom I never knew, stopped me on the street and told me that he wanted to give me ten dollars. When I saw that little boy tonight, I knew who that voice was, and I put together a dozen of my very best roses.” The shop owner and his wife hugged each other tightly, and as they stepped out into the bitter cold air, they somehow didn’t feel cold at all. Author Unknown
God drew near at Christmas to the shopkeeper and God drew near to the little boy who wanted to be a blessing to his mother. I can guarantee you that when that mother recevied those roses – God drew near.
Isn’t it amazing how God draws near when we need Him? Isn’t it wonderful how creative He is in drawing near to the brokenhearted?
On Friday morning I went to visit Sim Tigert who was in St. Anthony’s hospital with a blood clot in his leg. Do you know what Sim wanted to talk about? It wasn’t it ailment. It wasn’t the doctors or nurses who were taking care of him. It was the scores of people who had called or come by to visit him while he had been in hospital. He mentioned your names one by one and said of you, “What a wonderful young woman she is!” “He is a super guy!” You might not have even known it, but God drew near as you took the time to go and visit His precious child.
After I left the hospital I went to see Bob and Phyllis Jaggers. All of you know the trials that Bob and Phyllis and their family have faced, but you might not know that Bob and Phyllis have been going through training lately. They are being trained to go and visit people that have suffered from having a stroke. When I heard them tell me the stories of their training, the people they have met, and how excited they are about going to visit these people who are facing uncertain times I was so encouraged. I will guarantee you that when Bob and Phyllis go visit these broken and anxiety riddled people – God will draw near.
God is drawing near to someone this morning. You might not have come here for that reason, but He is drawing near nonetheless. His arms are long enough to embrass all of us. They are strong enough to hold all of us. They are comforting enough to wipe every tear from our eyes. God is drawing near to you. Will you draw near to Him by asking His Son Jesus, the Gift of Christmas, into your heart?