Christmas Dreams: Fulfillment
December 25, 1988 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Matthew 2:22-23
“What kind of preacher do you have?” a man asked an acquaintance. “He is a lighter of lamps in a dark world,” came the reply. Believe me, that is a marvelous compliment for any preacher. Of course, Joseph was not a preacher. In fact, so far as we know, he never spoke a word during that First Christmas. However, the more I have focused my mind and my heart upon this simple carpenter of Nazareth, the more I have become convinced that he, too, was a lighter of lamps in a dark world!—and the lamps he lighted help to illumine our way through the darkness of our world.
To be sure, we know little about Joseph apart from the fact that God spoke to him in four dreams. Yet when we study carefully those four dreams, we gain a portrait of a man worthy of our highest praise and honor. Too often we have forgotten him or ignored him in the Christmas story, but my friends, I believe him to be a man deserving a place of special prominence in that story which is told in more homes, to more children, in more lands, in more languages, and in more ways than any other story ever told.
We looked at Joseph’s first dream, titled “Embarrassment,” where God told Joseph: “Take Mary to be your wife for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Then we looked at his second dream, “Banishment,” where God said to Joseph: “Take the child and flee into Egypt to escape from Herod.” Next came the third dream, “Postponement,” where God said to Joseph: “Take the child and go where there is hope and promise and ultimate victory.” Now, we come to Joseph’s fourth Christmas dream. I call it “Fulfillment.” The message is simply this: Christmas is a gift from God to us—a gift wrapped in a marvelous mystery and containing a priceless treasure. So let us unwrap the gift together and behold the treasure…
Christmas is God’s gift to us wrapped in a marvelous mystery.
God told Joseph in the dream to take the child to Nazareth and there the Messiah would grow from childhood to adulthood. Of course, that was the fulfillment of what the prophets had predicted. Remember, please, that Nazareth was not much of a place. Nazareth was not mentioned a single time in the Old Testament. Most people believed that when the Messiah came he would come to one of David’s cities—either David’s birthplace in Bethlehem, or David’s capital in Jerusalem—but certainly no one would have expected to find the Messiah in Nazareth, a miserable little hamlet which no one had ever heard of and which was out in the middle of nowhere. It is really hard to imagine a more ignominious place to take the Messiah. Yet God told Joseph in the dream: “Take the child to Nazareth.” Joseph, once again demonstrating his unwavering obedience to the word of God, took his little family to Nazareth, thus fulfilling what was spoken by the prophets. Let me be specific at this point.
You see, popular opinion held that nothing good could ever come out of Nazareth. In fact, people so looked down on Nazareth that to be called a Nazarene was an insult, a slur. But that fulfilled what so many prophets had said—namely, that the Messiah would be scorned and ridiculed. Furthermore, Nazareth did not even appear on the maps of that day. It was such a frightfully ordinary and inconspicuous place that most people did not even acknowledge its existence. That fulfilled the words of the prophets that when the Messiah came, he would be so ordinary and inconspicuous that most people would not be drawn to him. But that is what it meant for the angel to tell Joseph to take the child to Nazareth.
Peter the Great, the ruler of Russia, periodically would lay aside his royal robes and dress in the common garb of his day. Then he would go down to the marketplace to mingle among the masses, to listen to them, to feel their needs, to sense their mood. He was a king, incognito. That is what happened in the fourth dream—God, the king, came down to this earth and wrapped Himself in the ordinariness of a place called Nazareth. He was the king incognito.
The American Dream is described as the potential for one to rise from a “log cabin to the White House.” But the story of Jesus Christ is exactly the opposite. It is not a story that begins in lowliness and rises to glory—rather it is a story that begins in glory and descends to lowliness. It is the story of God laying aside the crown of heaven and becoming the carpenter’s son. It is the story of Jesus Christ becoming less than He was so that all of us might become more than we are.
I cannot explain that. It is a mystery. But the fact is that through this marvelous mystery, countless millions of people have found the secret of triumphant and victorious living. “Empires have gone down before Him. Through His influence great movements of reform have swept the earth. In His name, men and women of every age and race have ‘wrought righteousness and stopped the mouths of lions and out of weakness have been made strong.’ After nineteen centuries, we baptize our children in His name; when love and marriage come, His is the blessing we invoke and at His altar we plight our troth; when life is over, it is beneath His cross that we lay our dead; and it is in His message of eternal hope that we find our comfort. Ten thousand times ten thousand times, He has broken the chains of evil habit, and set the prisoners free, and put energy and victory into wasted lives. There are those in this church now who would unhesitatingly ascribe every virtue they possess, every victory they have won and every holy thought which is theirs, not to their own resolution or resources, but to the saving might of Christ alone.”
That is the glorious mystery of Christmas—that one who was wrapped in the common ordinary garb of Nazareth could be the Saviour of the world. It is a mystery, yes, but it is a glorious, strengthening, empowering, life-giving, life-changing, death-defying, death-defeating mystery.
In other words, Christmas comes to the most ordinary places and the most ordinary people. There is no place so obscure and no life so humdrum that the Lord of glory will not be at your elbow and by faith in your heart.
And Christmas is God’s gift to us containing a priceless treasure.
In response to the angel of the Lord in this fourth Christmas dream, Joseph took God’s Son into his own home in Nazareth, and into his own heart. Now the Gospel would be fulfilled—that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Some years ago there was a remarkable missionary named Dr. George Healy. He was a medical doctor, but he also possessed four Ph.D. degrees—one in tropical medicine, one in sociology, one in anthropology, one in theology. Dr. Healy and his wife, Winifred, went to be missionaries in Liberia in Africa. She was expecting their first child at the time. Once in Liberia, they traveled to where the paved road ended, and then on foot they journeyed 17 days beyond to establish a mission in a remote part of Liberia. There they built a church, a school and a hospital. The people to whom they ministered came to the school to learn and to the hospital to be treated, but none of them ever came to the church. Sunday after Sunday, morning and evening, Dr. Healy would lead worship and preach, but no one ever came except Winifred Healy and their little son. When the boy was four years old, he was taken ill. George Healy quickly diagnosed the problem as a particularly virulent and dangerous fever. The father called upon all of his medical knowledge and skill to try to save the life of his son, but the boy died. The father built a small wooden casket and the mother lined it with soft leaves. They put the body of their only son into the casket, and the father picked it up and carried it through the village toward the place of burial. As they went past the blacksmith’s hut, the blacksmith asked George Healy what he was carrying. Healy replied: “I am carrying the body of my son.” The blacksmith said: “I will help you.” Understand, please, this was the first time in all the years that they had been there that anyone offered help of any kind. When they reached the grave, the father tried to conduct the service, but he could not. He fell to his knees and covered his face with his hands and shook with sobs. The blacksmith watched him weeping and then turned and went back to the village saying to everyone he met: “The white man cries just like one of us.” The next Sunday morning, when George Healy and his wife went to the church, to their amazement every person in the village was there. And so it continued, week after week after week. When George Healy came back to America and told that story, a friend of his said: “It is a shame that your son had to die in order for you to be able to reach those people.” George Healy looked at him and said: “Yes, it is a shame, but that is what God Himself had to do.”
My friends, that is the greatest Christmas gift of all: God so loved that He gave His only Son. I think Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, somehow understood that. He took God’s Son into his home in Nazareth and into his heart—and as a result he found a purpose for his life within the greater purposes of God. We can do the same.
Not too many years ago in England, a very rich man was married to a woman he loved. They lived in great joy on a huge estate not far from London. Four years later, his wife died while giving birth to their son. Immediately, he hired a housekeeper to look after the little boy while he tried to put his life back together. Though crushed by his loss, he gradually began to transfer his love to this little boy, so much so that his life began to revolve around the life of his son. Then once again tragedy struck. At age twelve, the little boy contracted a rare illness, and within a matter of months, he was gone. The death of his son drained all the light and life out of that man. The housekeeper, of course, left since there was no child to care for—and the man withdrew behind the walls of his estate, becoming a total recluse. Years later, after his death, they searched through his papers to find a will. None was found. They finally decided to auction off his belongings. The old housekeeper, poor woman that she was, knew she could not afford to purchase any of the gorgeous items with which the house was furnished, but she went to the sale anyway. At the sale, she saw on the wall a photograph of the little boy she had so loved and cared for, and she decided to bid on the picture. No one else wanted it, so she got it. She took it home, and because it was so dusty and dirty from neglect, she took the frame apart in order to clean the glass. When she did, she found taped to the back of the little boy’s picture some important looking papers. She took them to the attorney. He read them and then he said: “You will be pleased to know that you have inherited the whole estate. The father decided that he would leave everything he had to the one who loved his son enough to buy this picture.”
This is Christmas. Today, God says: “To anyone who loves my Son enough, I give all the glories and treasures of heaven.” My beloved, if you take Jesus Christ into your home and into your heart today, then I promise you, this Christmas will be your best Christmas ever…