TEXT: Matthew 2:13-23
I read this fictional Christmas correspondence between Martha Stewart and Erma Bombeck to remind me that Christmas isn’t always picture perfect.
Hi Erma, This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you what I have been up to. Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom, and made a blanket in peaches and mauves. Now it’s time to start making the place mats and napkins for my 20 breakfast guests. I’m serving the old standard Stewart 12-course breakfast, but I didn’t have time to make the tables and chairs this morning, so I used the ones I already had. I did take time to make the dishes to use for breakfast from Hungarian clay, which you can get at almost any Hungarian craft store. Well, I must run. I need to finish the buttonholes on the dress I’m wearing for breakfast. I’ll get out the sled and drive this note to the post office as soon as the glue dries on the envelope I’ll be making.- Love, Martha Stewart
Response from Erma Bombeck:
I’m writing this on the back of an old shopping list, pay no attention to the coffee and jelly stains. I’m 20 minutes late getting my daughter up for school, packing a lunch with one hand, on the phone with the dog pound, seems old Ruff needs bailing out, again. Burnt my arm on the curling iron when I was trying to make those cute curly fries. Still can’t find the scissors to cut out some snowflakes, tried using an old disposable razor…trashed the tablecloth. Tried that cranberry thing, frozen cranberries mushed up after I defrosted them in the microwave. Oh, and don’t use Fruity Pebbles as a substitute in that Rice Krispie snowball recipe, unless you happen to like a disgusting shade of green! The smoke alarm is going off, talk to ya later.- Love, Erma
I don’t know anybody who enjoys the Martha Stewart picture perfect Christmas. Kids get sick, people lose their jobs, people even die. Trouble doesn’t take a holiday even at Christmas. That shouldn’t surprise us: even the first Christmas wasn’t picture perfect . In the midst of all the miracles and joy, there were a lot of hasslse, and a lot of hurting. Look with me in Matt. 2:13-23 and let’s see the hassles, the hurting, and the hope of Christmas.
1. HASSLES (v. 13-15)
What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer? “If I could work my will…every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” Charles Dickens put those words in the mouth of Ebenezer Scrooge but honestly, I’ve seen people who also complain about the hassles of Christmas.
Christmas costs too much, too much time in shopping and decorating, too much stress trying to get everything done. But don’t feel bad—it was a hassle for Joseph and Mary, too.
The first hassle was Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, but not officially married. Joseph was ready to call the whole thing off until an angel explained the situation. Would Joseph have liked the angel to explain the situation to mom & dad and the rest of the family? Imagine the hassle Mary endured as an unwed mother, the hassle of a wedding, the whispers and guessing: why Joseph would do such a thing, or who would of thought such a thing of a nice girl like Mary?
But the hassles are just beginning. Not long after the wedding the Emperor every male Israelite to return to their birthplace and pay a new tax—a bill Joseph hadn’t planned on paying, a trip he hadn’t planed on making. His bride is ready to give birth, now this extra expense and trip they need to take (do hassles of Christmas bills and Christmas trips sound familiar?)
Joseph scrounges up the money, they head out for Bethlehem, where they meet another hassle: no room in the inn. With a wife about to give birth, Joseph settles for the only accommodations available: a stable. In that dirty stable surrounded by stinking animals, without a doctor, without a nurse, without an epidural, Mary gives birth and everything is OK.
But not for long. V. 13 records after Jesus is born, an angel brings a message to Joseph: Take Mary and the baby to Egypt. King Herod is going to try to murder the baby.
How would you respond? Lord, enough is enough! Why don’t you zap Herod with an aneurism, or a heart attack? Haven’t we been through enough? But Joseph pack up his family, and strikes out for Egypt, where he will get a job and set up housekeeping for awhile.
Over and over Joseph and Mary endure hassle after hassle all for the sake of the Baby. But notice something else: for every hassle, GOD PROVIDES HELP.
- He sends Angels to explain what He’s doing.
- He provides funds them to get to Bethlehem, and saves as reservation in the stable.
- He sends the Wise Men’s gifts to finance the rescue Jesus from Herod.
Over and over the story reminds us God always provides help to deal with our hassles.
He does the same thing for you and I. No matter what kind of hassle you may be having right now, or would be having, GOD OFFERS YOU HIS HELP.
- He’s not Santa Claus, but He will give you what you need if you ask Him.
- He won’t always save you from every pothole in the road, but He will give you grace to keep going.
- He won’t knock off everybody who threatens you, but He will protect you and guide you.
You might argue with me saying, “Pastor, those helps came from people not from God…” But I want to tell you that God owns everything and He can use people, situations, even unbelievers to provide help for those who are in need.
While crossing the Atlantic on an oceanliner, F.B. Meyer was asked to address the first class passengers. At the captain’s request he spoke on “Answered Prayer.” An agnostic who was present at the service was asked by his friends, “What did you think of Dr. Meyer’s sermon?” He answered, “I didn’t believe a word of it.” That afternoon Meyer went to speak to the steerage passengers. Many of the listeners at his morning address went along, including the agnostic, who claimed he just wanted to hear “what the babbler had to say.”
Before starting for the service, the agnostic put two oranges in his pocket. On his way he passed an elderly woman sitting in her deck chair fast asleep. Her hands were open. In the spirit of fun, the agnostic put the two oranges in her outstretched palms. After the meeting, he saw the old lady happily eating one of the pieces of fruit. “You seem to be enjoying that orange,” he remarked with a smile. “Yes, sir,” she replied, “My Father is very good to me.” “Your father? Surely your father can’t be still alive!” “Praise God,” she replied, “He is very much alive.” “What do you mean?” pressed the agnostic. She explained, “I’ll tell you, sir. I have been seasick for days. I was asking God somehow to send me an orange. I suppose I fell asleep while I was praying. When I awoke, I found He had not only sent me one orange but two!” The agnostic was speechless. Later he was converted to Christ.
When Christmas is full of hassles, remember God is full of help. Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, A very present [lit., an abundantly available] help in trouble.
Are you struggling with some Christmas hassles? Why not turn to God for help? But Christmas can not only be full of hassles,
2. HURTS (v. 16-18)
Pain doesn’t take a holiday.
A lady was married to a police officer—a healthy man in his forties, father of a fairly large family. One Christmas Eve, he began to have chest pains and within a very few hours he had died, leaving his wife a widow, his kids without a dad. In his tombstone on the right side dash it says, Died Dec. 24.
I wonder how does that widow feel at Christmas time?
Christmas is a very painful time for many. Sometimes it’s grief missing a loved one who has passed on; sometimes it’s living in a sick or handicapped body. The single person or a single mom or dad dreads spending another lonely Christmas wondering why. Families of military men and women miss loved ones even more at Christmas than any other time. Christmas can not only be full of hassles, but also full of hurt.
One might ask the Lord, “Lord, why do You allow such pain and heartache on Christmas?” But the truth is Christmas has been full of hurt ever since Jesus was born.
The particular pain in this story comes after Joseph and Mary leave Bethlehem for Egypt. Herod tried to fool the Wise Men into showing him where this “King of the Jews” would be born so he could eliminate any competitors for his throne. When he figures out the Wise Men have fooled him, it sends him into one of his characteristic rages, and he gives orders for his troops to ride out to the little town of Bethlehem on a special mission.
The soldiers see fear on the faces of the people as they ride in. Nobody knows for sure why they are there. Perhaps they start rounding up all the families with small children. From that group they sort out those with small sons. Finally, they call out the families with small sons 2 years old and younger. Then they start carrying out their orders.
Mom, can you feel the horror of the moment you realize what they’ve come to do? I imagine the soldiers kill some moms and dads to get to the children. How many of them call out to God to save their sons? But in the end, it doesn’t make any difference. These innocent children are slaughtered like lambs, and horrified parents are left clinging to the corpses, screaming in grief, as the soldier ride away. Nobody even tells them why their little boys were murdered.
But we know why: because Jesus got away. “Lord, why didn’t you send an angel to all those families to warn them? Lord, why didn’t you strike down Herod before he could do such a horrible thing? Why did you allow such pain, suffering, and death at the birth of Your Son?”
I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered about these questions, but I imagine these devastated families did. I know many of us ever since wonder why God allows such pain and suffering, such devastation and death—especially at Christmas!
“Lord, why did you take my husband/wife/child/mom/dad away? Father why do I have to suffer through another Christmas all alone? O God, why do you leave me here, hurting and helpless in this sick body? Lord, why do I have to hurt so much at Christmas?”
I don’t have all the answer, and even if I did, I’m not sure answers would heal your hurts. All I really know is that God made a promise to all of us who are in pain: He promises His PRESENCE.
C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our joys, speaks to us in our difficulties, and shouts to us in our pain.”
Psalm 34:18-19 “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
Where are you Lord when I’m hurting? I’m right here, My precious Child. Lord, why do you allow me to hurt so bad? You couldn’t understand, My beloved child if I told you. But trust Me when I say you never suffer alone. When I don’t stop the pain, I will hold always hold you, I will always comfort you, always be there to help you keep going until the day I take the pain away.
Pro golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer, which later went into remission. He wrote about his reaction to his diagnosis: I can honestly say I never said, “Why me?” There are two ways you can react to something like this. you can say, “Why me, God? Why me?” Or you can do an about-face and run to God and cling to him for your security and your hope. That’s what I did.
God almost never answers “Why” questions. More likely than not He will not take away the pain or grief. So what can you do? What Paul Azinger did: run to God and cling to Him like a hurt child clings to his father. If Christmas is bringing you hurt, why not run to your Father, cling to Him, and let Him comfort you?
Christmas cannot promise no hassles, or no hurting. So what does Christmas offer to hassled, hurting people?
3. HOPE (v. 19-23)
Someone has said, “We can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only a few seconds without hope.”
The longer I live, the more I realize how untrue that statement is. There are plenty of people who live a lot longer—days, months, years—without hope.
- People can live decades bearing the heavy burden of shame and guilt of wrong choices, with no hope of forgiveness, no hope of peace.
- People can spend all their lives looking for meaning, for purpose, for direction,
People can live and die with absolutely no hope that they will live again after they take their last breath on earth.
- Do people live without hope? Millions do. But nobody has to live without hope.
The Boy Who lived, born in Bethlehem, snatched from the jaws of Herod, offers you Hope beyond your wildest dreams. Because He lives, you and I can have hope today.
Vs. 19 tells us the Baby outlives the wicked king Herod who tried to kill him. History tells us Herod’s kingdom is divided up among his heirs. An angel announces to Joseph it’s safe to go back to Israel, so once again the little family packs up and hits the road. But Joseph is a little uneasy returning to Bethlehem under the reign of Herod’s son Archelaus. His fears are confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus: Archelaus was as bloodthirsty as his father. He began his reign by slaughtering 3000 leading men of Israel. So after praying Joseph and his family to go to Nazareth, where Jesus spends the rest of His growing up years, waiting for the day He will fulfill His mission.
This mission is why Herod couldn’t kill Him, the reason why Jesus didn’t die as a Baby. The Bible explains it this way in John 13:1 “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father…”
Jesus didn’t die in Bethlehem as a Baby because His hour had not come. It would not come until many years later, when Jesus would willingly, purposefully lay down His life on the Cross to offer us hope.
That Baby in the manger grew up to be the Man on the Cross, and that Cross is what brings hope to the hassled, hurting people who need the hope of knowing God cares about them, the hope that God can help them start all over again, can erase their past and give them a hope of eternal life.
That’s why you and I can celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the Hope God gives us through His Son: hope for today, for tomorrow, and for eternity. God doesn’t offer us a hassle free or hurt free life, but He does offer us a hope-filled life through our faith in Jesus Christ.
That night when shepherds heard the song of the angelic host caroling near,
A deaf man turns in slumber’s spell, and dreamed that he could hear.
That night when in the cattle stall slept mother and child in humble fold,
A cripple turned his twisted limbs and dreamed that he was whole.
That night when o’er the new born babe a tender mother rose to lean,
A loathsome leper smiled in sleep and dreamed that he was clean.
That night when to the mother’s breast the little King held secure,
A harlot slept a happy sleep and dreamed that she was pure.
That night when in the manger lay the Holy One Who came to save,
A man turned in the sleep of death, and dreamed their was no grave.
What shall be our gift to Him? What shall I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I’d give Him a lamb,
If I were a wise man I’d do my part.
What shall I give Him? I know…I’ll give Him my heart. – Christina Rosetti
What hopes lie sleeping in your heart this morning? Jesus Christ—the Baby born in the Bethlehem—the Boy Who lived, the Man Who died, offers you hope in spite of all your hassles, in the midst of your hardest hurting. In Him Christmas offers us hope.
Singer/songwriter Michael Card writes: “All we could ever imagine, could ever hope for, He is. … alive in an impoverished baby in a barn. That is what Christmas means–to find in a place where you would least expect to find…everything you could ever want.”
This evening, Jesus Christ invites you to come Him, and hope again. Hope in spite of all the hassles, hope beyond all of the hurting—hope you can find right now, by bowing at His feet, believing His Word, and accepting His love. Won’t you come today and find Hope in Him?