Take the Child to Your Home (A Christmas Message)
Rev. Wayne Mueller
Children have become increasingly offensive to the ego-driven American who is in hot pursuit of personal happiness. Frankly, children just cost money and get in the way. Like pets and loud noise, children are categorically banned from a lot of rental housing. In church children must sit in the back. In the theater they must be taken out at the first sign of a whimper. In our public schooling their precious future often becomes the pawn of aspiring politicians.
We spend millions of dollars annually on drugs that prevent the conception of children. We abort a million and a half of those who are conceived. Of those who are born we permit many to die because they are not born with the degree of physical perfection we are willing to accept. It is almost as though life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were irrevocably linked to getting rid of kids.
That must make you wonder how many people these days can really enjoy the celebration of Christmas. You see, Christmas is about children. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a child. Christmas demands, even of adults, the kind of childlike faith that understands the importance of the birth of the baby Jesus. That’s why we pause at this Christmas to consider what the coming of the Christ-child means. We’re going to take a look at children through the eyes of a man who was forced to see Christmas in terms of a child.
That man is Joseph. You can read his story in the Gospel of St. Matthew 1:18-25. The first Christmas greeted Joseph rather abruptly. He learned that his fiancee, Mary, was pregnant. Even though Joseph knew he was not the father of the child, he had no intention of shaming the woman he loved. At the same time he was not willing to accept Mary’s child as his responsibility. St. Matthew writes, “Because 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” (V. 19).
The child in Joseph’s life was a complication. It strained a trusted relationship between himself and the woman he loved. Joseph may have had the typical prideful reactions of a man who was cheated. Life was not going to be what he had planned. He would have to look for another wife or give up his thoughts of marriage and family. This child seemed to be throwing a wrench into his manly machinery.
Joseph may have had his thoughts about how to handle all of this, but God had other thoughts. God sent his messenger angel to Joseph to create a childlike faith in his heart. The angel 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” (v.20). Think of the simple trust God created in the heart of Joseph to believe this impossible explanation of his wife’s pregnancy. There was no common sense explanation. There was no precedent in nature. There was only the voice of God declaring that this was his doing, his miracle, his will.
All Christmas faith is childlike faith. It accepts what is offered with complete trust. A child listens to his parent because he has not reason to doubt. When you stop to think about it, that is how God asks us to look at every child he brings into the world. I am your Father. Trust that this is my gift. Yes, babies cost money. To single mothers they are an embarrassment. Babies carried to birth betray the shame of unfaithful boyfriends who have been caught in their sin. To money-minded Americans babies are an obstacle to educational and career advancement. To too many people little babies are just a monkey wrench thrown into the machinery of life. They are something to be despised, something to be removed, something to be avoided at all costs.
A simple childlike faith, however, accepts babies as gifts of God, regardless of the seemingly difficult context into which they are born. When he created men and women, God asked them to receive children as a blessing into their life. Jesus himself took the little children into his arms and blessed them. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven was made up of children and those who believed like little children. St. Paul asks Christian parents to bring up their children in the knowledge and training of the Lord, presupposing that Christian parents will have and rear children if they are able. God’s promises will mean nothing, however, if we are hellbent on economic and social logic. But we are God’s children. We know our Father does not lie to us when he says that children are his gift.
What can possibly create a faith that is willing to receive a baby as a blessing against all possible odds? Take a closer look at Joseph and see what worked that kind of trust in his heart. The angel explained to Joseph that the baby Mary carried would be the promised Savior of the world. “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” (v.21). Joseph was not just a religious person. He was not a naive man who would believe any story about how his fiancee became pregnant. He was one of God’s chosen people who believed in God’s promises of sending a Savior from sin. He was a thoughtful man who knew that his hope of eternal life did not depend on his doing the right thing, but on the God’s promised Messiah who would rescue him from punishment.
Our attitude toward babies and children is also closely tied to our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior from sin. Jesus saved us by taking our place before God. As our substitute Jesus lived a human life without sin from beginning to end. St. Paul writes, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). That human existence for Jesus began at the time of his conception. In the Apostles’ Creed every Christian confesses that the man Jesus, the person Jesus began when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.
Our Substitute Jesus became human at the point of conception. Think of what that means. God’s concern about saving each of us started at the point of conception. And thank God that his love for us began at that point, because each of us must confess with David in the Psalms, “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (51:5). If conception is the point at which I need God’s help and the point at which God’s concern for my life began, then that’s where my faith in Christ leads me to begin my concern for the life of others. A baby with prenatal abnormalities is also a baby for whom Jesus was conceived, lived and died. A baby born with Down’s Syndrome is also a baby for whom Jesus was born, for whom Jesus died and for whom Jesus rose to life.
A simple, childlike faith is often ridiculed in a complicated adult world. There may have been more than a few people in Joseph’s day who thought he bought a piece of ocean front real estate in the middle of the desert when he lovingly received Mary as his wife. But Joseph’s faith was well founded. And he followed through all the difficult times. St. Matthew records the facts: “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (vv. 24,25).
Christmas is a time for babies and children. But the year has 365 days. If we are to follow through on our faith even in tough times, our faith too must be well grounded. Acceding to the sentimentalism of the season and oohing and aahing over manger scenes will not provide the commitment to honor human life from conception to death. That kind of trusting faith requires firmer ground.
The story of Joseph allows us a look at the kind of foundation a follow-through faith must have. What was the source of Joseph’s childlike faith? What led him to make a 180 degree turn in his planned course of action? What made him take into his house a mother of a child that was not his own? What gave Joseph his firm trust in God’s promises of a Savior from sin? St. Matthew answers that for us when he interrupts the story of Joseph with his aside: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him “Immanuel” — which means “God with us”‘” (vv. 22,23).
Joseph was not a man given to dreams or visions of angels. We know of no occurrence of this in his life before or after the angel appeared to him to tell him about Mary’s baby. The reason Joseph so willingly accepted this angel in this dream is from Holy Scriptures. Joseph knew from his study of the Old Testament prophets that what the angel was telling him was the same as what God had already promised hundreds of years before. Joseph’s simple, childlike trusting faith was founded on the message of the Bible.
That Bible-based foundation for Christmas faith is available to all of us. Every day the Holy Spirit of God seeks to create and strengthen faith in my heart and yours. He makes this effort through his message in the Bible. In the Bible we learn of God’s great love for all sinners and his promise to send a Savior. In the Bible we learn of the coming of Jesus and what he did to rescue us form the mess of our own sins and mistakes. In the Bible we learn how God gives us the strength for living the kind of life that pleases him and influences the unbelieving world. And yes, in the Bible we learn about babies and human life: how God creates human life at conception; how the person Jesus himself was conceived as a child; how God promises that children are a blessing; how God encourages us to love children and care for them.
May this Christmas be for you a time of babies and children. Even if there is not a child in your home, may you rejoice over how marvelously God made you in the womb and protected you to this day. May God give you a childlike faith — a simple faith — a faith that trusts in his promises in the face of the complicated troubles of this world. And when your faith wavers, may the Holy Spirit lead you back to your Bible to learn again about the Baby Jesus, his conception, his birth, his life, his sacrificial death, his resurrection and forgiveness he offers to those of us who have grown so old and tough and calloused and so adult that we no longer appreciate a child or what it means to be one. Lord, lead us to take the child into our home the Christchild and every child. Amen.
Prayer: Forgive me, Father, for not loving all your children. Forgive me for my tough, money-grubbing, adult insensitivity to what is truly important in your kingdom. Remind me that unless I receive your kingdom as a little child, I will never enter into it. Forgive the selfishness and hardness of my heart so that the baby Jesus can enter in. Remove my guilt with his forgiveness. Strengthen my faith through my reading and study of the Bible. Return me with thanksgiving to the fellowship of the children of God in public worship at my church. Make me bold to speak up for the value of human life in the name of Jesus. Keep my faith simple and pure so that when I die I may come home to life in your home. In the name of the Christchild, I pray. Amen.
April 20, 2018
April 15, 2018