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December 24, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I. Mary’s mysterious past
Today we’re going to take a look at a pretty famous passage for most people who have been in church. This is the story of Jesus’s birth. In order to set things up, I want to ask you to put yourself in these shoes for just a second and think about it like this: Imagine that you’re a Hollywood casting director and your job is to go scour the world and try to find talent for a movie, and you’re employed by a movie studio to find a lead role in perhaps one of the greatest or most expensive movies in a generation. This movie has the potential to make 2 billion (that’s “B” billion) dollars-worth of profit, and you have to go find a person who is going to play the lead role. No pressure, right? -because if you get this wrong, you have the potential to make a 2-billion-dollar flop. If you get this right, and you have the potential to create, or at least to continue, a legacy.
This is what happened a couple of years ago. Nina Gold, who was a casting director for the Disney Corporation, went out looking for an actress for a specific role. She looked all over the United States trying to find this woman, and no matter how hard she looked, she wasn’t finding in the U.S. who she was looking for. So, she started to broaden the search a little bit.
She looked in Europe, and there was this television actress who was basically a nobody. She had done a couple of TV spots in England, but beyond that, Daisy Ridley was a nobody when Nina Gold found her. Nina Gold said to the producer, “This is your girl. This is the woman that you need to trust with a 2-billion-dollar role in the movie.”
Let me ask you. Do you make the recommendation to bring Daisy Ridley before she plays this character? Do you ask her to come audition for this part? The truth is, you’re making a 2-billion-dollar bet on this young woman, and after the movie is released, she becomes a world-wide sensation.
Now, let’s just be honest for all of you Star Wars freaks out there. It’s just a movie, right? It didn’t really happen in a galaxy far, far away. It’s just science fiction…but it’s a pretty important role.
Today I want you to consider who God chose to be the parents of Jesus. Perhaps, based on what you know, if you were to think about it this way, this may be the most important role for a married couple in all of human history. Maybe this couple is more important than Adam and Eve, and when God selects these two people, Mary and Joseph (most of you know the story), they are nobodies.
Look, they’ve got no experience. She is a virgin. They’re not even married yet. They’ve got no education. They’ve got no background. The only thing that either one of these two has going for them is Joseph’s birth family. If you were to ask them to turn in a resume to become the most important parents in the world, the resume would be blank, and God selects these two people out of everybody in history to become the mom and the stepdad of Jesus.
Here’s what the Bible is going to show us today when we look at the story from Matthew chapter 1: These two are nobodies. They’re about as small and insignificant as you can get, and here’s one of the things that the Christmas story teaches us: God sometimes uses small people, and he uses them for big moments in history. And because they’re small, God’s glory shines all the greater; God’s glory shines all the brighter.
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
Now, I want to ask you honestly, how many of you know anything about Mary before the angel appeared to her and told her that she was going to become pregnant, before she was selected to become the mother of the Lord, the Lord of lords and the King of kings? How many you have any idea who this woman was before this incident? The truth is, everything that we know about Mary, we learn from this moment forward. We don’t have any idea. She’s an unknown. She is about as small and as insignificant as you can get before the angel shows up to her, before God announces, “Hey, guess what. You are going to become the most famous woman in history.”
Literally, bar none, there is no close second; no one will ever have the reputation, the Twitter followers, that Mary the mother of Jesus will have, and when God selects her, this woman is a nobody with nothing going for her. She’s really got no past. All we know about her is she’s engaged, and she’s engaged to a good man, and in the midst of all of this, the angel shows up and a woman who is still a virgin becomes pregnant by the power the Holy Spirit.
Now I want to ask you, why don’t we know anything about her? Why doesn’t the Bible have a ton of stuff to say about Mary before the angel shows up, before the Holy Spirit puts the child Jesus in her womb? Maybe part of the reason is because it’s not who she is that’s important. It’s really not even what Mary did that’s important. What’s really important in the Christmas story is what God did through this woman, and perhaps one of the reasons why the Bible doesn’t tell us anything about Mary is so that we don’t worship her; we worship the God who did this through her, and so that she takes the proper place in all of this.
If you think about it, these are some pretty messed up circumstances that God uses to bring the birth of his son to the world. A woman is pregnant, and the baby’s daddy is not her fiancé, and everybody in town knows that this girl is pregnant, and that man that she’s engaged to is not her husband, is not the baby’s daddy. It’s about as messy as you can get, and by the way, her fiancé finds out about it and decides, I’m going to kick her to the curb, because I know how these things happen, and what she’s claiming can’t possibly be true.
This is the mysterious past that’s happening when Mary finds out that she’s about to have a baby. Physically, this unknown peasant woman becomes perhaps one of the most famous woman, if not the most famous woman in human history.
II. Joseph’s simple purity
Let me tell you a little bit about Joseph, because Joseph, all we know about him from the Bible until this moment, is that Joseph is a good man. He’s a godly man. He’s a righteous man with a good heart, and instead of him killing his fiancé, which he has every right to do (in fact, the law kind of infers that he should do that), he decides he wants to put her away privately. Legally, Joseph is about to become the legal guardian for the most important human being who’s ever been born. Let that sink in for just a second. A Palestinian carpenter is about to become legally responsible for the most important human being ever to walk on planet Earth. Here’s what the Bible tells us about how this went down between the Lord and Joseph in verses 20 and 21:
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph knows the birds and the bees. You and I understand the birds and the bees. This woman is claiming to be a virgin, and she is also obviously pregnant. Because Joseph is a good man, the Old Testament law kind of requires Joseph to deal with this publicly, and if you were to publicly disgrace her, it means she’s probably going to die for this. Joseph loves Mary. I’m sure his heart is crushed when he finds out that she’s pregnant, so instead of doing what he can or should do to this woman, he decides to simply put it away. I’m going to move on. I’ll probably never get over it, but I’ll find somebody else.
It takes God stepping-in in the form of an angel. Now y’all know that in the Bible, angels don’t show up very often, and when they do, it’s kind of a special occasion. It’s almost always to some significant people in God’s plan. Typically, what the angels say is, “God’s about to ask you to do something that’s insane, and it might get you killed, but if you trust him, he’s going to be with you in the whole process.”
That’s what the angel shows up and says. “Joseph, I want you to do something that’s insane, and everybody is going to ridicule you for the rest of your life for this, but just trust that God is at work here.”
Jesus will save his people not from the Roman Empire, the tyrants that are ruling the land, not from the law, not from the circumstances, and not from natural disasters. He’s going to save people, all people for all times, at a level that nobody else will ever be able to deal with. He’s going to deal with people about what’s happening inside their souls. He’s going to save people at the sin-level or at the soul-level, and Joseph has an incredibly important role to play, not just to name this baby, but he’s going to be the father who’s going to influence his culture and teach him the law, and he’s going to be the guy who shows him how to be a good Jewish boy.
Do you remember when Jesus becomes a man, and he starts to perform miracles? It’s blowing the minds of people around him, and the crowds are making this statement: “Wait a second. This boy is a carpenter’s son. How can a carpenter’s son pull off what this guy is pulling off? I know who his daddy is, and this doesn’t add up. A carpenter’s son can’t do the kinds of things that Jesus can do. Luke chapter 2 gives us a hint here. At the end of Luke chapter 2, the Bible tells us that as Jesus grew up, he grew up stronger, and he grew up smarter, because his mama, Mary, physically nursed him and took care of him. He grew up spiritually, because God his father, taught him. In fact, when he was a teenager, he was in the Temple blowing the minds of priests and theologians with how much that he understood. The Bible also says that he grew up with wisdom in front of men, and I’m convinced Joseph played a role here.
Imagine for just a second that God is saying, “I want my son to be born into your family, and I want him to learn from you. In fact, I kind of want him to become like you.” Ladies, imagine that of all the people in human history, God says, “You are the one that I’m going to use to bring my son, the most important human being that’s ever lived, the King above all kings and the High Priest above all priests, into the Earth.” Imagine the pressure for that responsibility. God in an instant changed Joseph’s life. God in an instant changed all of humanity. In fact, you could argue this is the most important moment in human history, really.
Think about it for just a second. Your calendar marks this date. Maybe Joseph’s just sitting around, twiddling his thumbs thinking, God, I want you to do great things through me, and I’m available; I’m willing. God, do whatever you want to do with me. Do whatever you want to do through me. Then God says, “Joseph, I’m going to use you and your fiancé, Mary. I am going to literally split time in half with this moment. Everything before this moment we’re going to refer to for the rest of human history as ‘before Christ’. Everything after this moment, we’re going to use the phrase ‘anno Domini’, in the year of our Lord. This is the moment that will mark history forever, and Joseph, you and your unknown wife, Mary, are the couple that I’m going to use to do this with.
III. Jesus’ unlikely parents
Maybe it was because Joseph was faithful to God. I don’t know, because we don’t have any background. Maybe it was just being faithful in the small stuff that God said, “Alright, Joseph, now I’m ready to give you a really big mission.” Mary, we don’t know anything about her before this moment. Joseph, the only thing that we know about him is that he was poor and he was pure, but really, the central character in the story is Jesus, and what the Bible is telling us today is that these are pretty unusual circumstances. These are the most unlikely parents that you can possibly come up with. Spiritually speaking, Jesus really only had one parent. It’s God his father, but God used this woman and that man to become the relations that he would bring the Savior of the world through. Listen to how the Bible concludes the story in Matthew chapter 1, starting in verse 22:
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ ” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
The wording Immanuel, it is a word that says, “God the Creator leaves Heaven, comes among his creation, and becomes like his creation to rescue his creation from the messes they’ve made.”
You know, five years ago, the state of Georgia conducted a statewide survey, and they asked people about what they believe. They asked people about religion, and during the course of that survey in 2012, they asked the question about Jesus. Here’s what the survey said: Almost everybody in our community knows about a guy by the name of Jesus, but we’re really confused as a community about who Jesus really is.
In 2012, when asked the question in Muscogee County, how many people believe that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah? 47% (almost one out of every two people in our community) said, “I believe there was a guy by the name of Jesus, but he certainly wasn’t the Jewish Messiah. He wasn’t the one the prophets told about.” If you live in Harris County, the statistic is better, but it’s only a little bit better. 45% of Harris County said, “I don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Jewish Messiah.” Basically, in our community, one out of two people say, “I know there was a guy by the name of Jesus, but I can’t understand, nor can I accept, that he really was the Son of God, God come from Heaven to dwell among us on Earth.”
Perhaps the reason why people struggle with that idea, is because I know the birds and the bees, and the way that Mary got pregnant does not add up. But maybe some of the reason why people struggle with that, is because of who Mary and Joseph are. “God, are you serious right now? Of all the people in human history, this is the couple that you’re going to choose to be the parents of the King of all kings, that great High Priest, your Son, God made into flesh?”
If there is a miracle above all miracles, I’m not sure if the birth of Christ isn’t more important than the resurrection of Christ. In fact, this miracle is so mind-boggling, there’s no way to really put it into words. This is the “Oh my God!” moment in the Bible where you and I in reverent worship say, “God, are you serious right now? Think about it. God, you can look over all of human history. You can look over 10,000 years of human history. You can choose anybody you want, and you’re going to choose her and him? I mean, why don’t you pick the emperor and empress to bring the King of kings to the Earth? Why didn’t you choose the high priest and his wife to bring the great High Priest to the world? Why didn’t you choose somebody in our day? Why didn’t you choose a prime minister or president? Why isn’t it Donald Trump and his wife? (Well, I kind of know the answer to that one) But what about a president before Donald Trump and his wife? Let’s say…Ron and Nancy Reagan? Why didn’t you pick a couple like Ron and Nancy Reagan? You could’ve used them if you wanted to. I realize that the presidency is temporary, but still it seems like you should’ve chosen a more significant couple. It seems like you should have chosen better circumstances than this Palestinian carpenter and this nobody of a girl. Of all of the people that you had a chance to choose, God, why on earth would you choose them?”
And here’s what you probably realized already. You probably already beat me to this. There really are no small people when it comes to God. Did you hear what I just said? In God’s grand plan, when you become available, when you become willing, there are no such things as small people. When you make yourself available to God, God can and sometimes God does do great things, incredible things, through his people.
You see, God’s glory shines brightest sometimes when the circumstances and the people involved are the darkest and the dimmest. Sometimes it’s when your life is gray that God can make brilliant his glory. Sometimes when your circumstances are dark, he can make his glory shine incredibly bright. Sometimes got intentionally chooses people who are nobodies and nothings, so that he can make his glory all the greater, so that we don’t look at his parents; we look at the God who sent Jesus, not the parents who raised Jesus.
Sometimes God takes a nobody, somebody who’s insignificant, and he does incredible things through him/her…like a nobody from Georgia, a girl with no background, nothing going for her. He sends her to New York City to go impact some children, and this nobody by the name of Lindsay becomes a huge influence for change in a handful of middle school children’s lives. God took her from Georgia to the Bronx and put her in a middle school teaching reading and writing, and that woman is making a huge impact on a handful of students who will probably never forget her for the rest of their lives. This woman is amazing!
The truth is that God can take simple, small, insignificant people who are just available and have nothing else to offer, and he can do incredible things. Look what he did through Mary. Look at what he did through Joseph. Look at what he’s doing through Lindsay. He can do the exact same thing through you.
We’re wrestling with the question, “Why God? Why did you choose these two?” And maybe part of the answer to that question is because when this baby is born, you don’t have to go to a palace in Rome to see him. You don’t have to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. If you want to come and bow before this baby, you can meet him in a barn. He’s lying in a feed trough, and now he is available or accessible to anyone on Earth. Just look at the parents that God selected. God had any couple in human history to choose from, and he chose Mary and he chose Joseph. And God can do things every bit as great through you, if you’re available.
• I realize that Jesus came to offer me scandalous grace. Today, I surrendered my soul to Jesus for the first time.
– I’ve felt insignificant to God lately. Today, I was encouraged by the story of this simple couple.
+ I want God to do great things through me next year.
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever been given at work or school? How did you handle it?
- People often feel important if they know someone important. Do you know anyone famous?
- How should it affect the self-esteem of us who know God personally through the death of Jesus? Does your relationship with Christ give you a sense of self-worth?
- God gives big missions to people who are faithful in the small things. What is a small challenge of faith that you struggle with?
- Did Mary have a great faith before the birth of Jesus, or was Jesus’s birth the thing that made her faith great? (Explain your answer.)
- What will your family do tonight and tomorrow to celebrate the birth of Christ?
- Thank God for bringing his son into the world through the simplest circumstances.