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A Christmas Divorce ::

One of our collection of as-yet unpublished Christmas resources.
This is written by NEIL ATWOOD, was first used Christmas 1997,
and is based on Matthew 1:18-25

Source: Author – unpublished in Perspective

Divorce is a horrible messy business. It affects most families. Resulting in: undying bitterness, financial difficulties, broken relationships, poor attitudes communicated to the next generation, fear, disloyalty, lack of trust, difficulty in loving other people.
Fortunately, that has never touched our family directly, but we know many families where it has.
Divorce is a failure of relationships that leaves bruises that seldom heal fully.

Remarkably, the Christmas story starts with divorce.

You recall from the reading from Matthews gospel, we meet Joseph and Mary who were engaged. Different customs to ours. To be engaged was virtually to be married, it required a divorce to escape from. Hence, the start of the Christmas story has right in the middle, that ugly word divorce! That horrible thing that we are so familiar with. Joseph and Mary were engaged, virtually married, when Joseph has bought to his attention the clearest of all possible evidence: His fiancé had been involved in wrongdoing, and she is pregnant.. She has been disloyal to him. She has cheated on him. She does not love him.

It’s bad enough to suspect someone that close to you is doing the dirty on you, but to have the proof…. devastating and humiliating. Proof that either she had been cheating, OR that the two of you had been engaged in wrongdoing—what would the neighbours think?! They could only draw two conclusions: Either you had done wrong, or she had done wrong behind your back.
So, right at the start of the gospel narrative, Matthew 1, we are faced with the clearest of evidence of just what we really are like as human beings, how frequently we fail at human relationships.

Maybe you have escaped the touch of divorce in your immediate family, but don’t be too cocky, because all of us have attitudes within ourselves that lead to the fracture of human relationships and especially the fracture of the relationship between us and God.

But one thing that should strike us here, is Joseph’s response to the news. Despite our initial reaction to verse v19, Joseph sought to do the right thing.. He didn’t want to put Mary to shame, so he resolved to settle things quietly.
But of course whether he was trying to do the right thing or not, the result was the same: the relationship had to be broken off, there had to be a humiliating divorce for Mary and Joseph.

But you and I know as a matter of historical fact that they were not divorced. Isn’t that extraordinary?! Why were they not divorced, have you ever asked that?

We have two options: Either they were engaged in wrong doing, of which they should be ashamed, and decided not to divorce. Or something absolutely extraordinary was going on here, that Jospeh did not take the ordinary way out of the situation, that made him change his mind. Either something really tasteless was going on – the usual tale of human sinfulness and lust, or something so breathtakingly wonderful that it creates joy in the hearts of all who hear it.
And you and I know what the Bible says. We know that there was nothing in the slightest grotty or underhanded in this whole situation. That despite appearances, what we have here is not something smutty and disgusting that we don’t want to talk about, but something so beautiful that our spirits are uplifted with joy and praise – that God himself had injected himself into human history, that the child to be born was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

Instead of lust and dishonour, there is purity and trust in God.

What did Joseph think? He was in the middle of it wasn’t he? He had to decide whether he believed the inevitable sad old tale, or whether he believed that something had happened that had never happened before.
Joseph had that choice, and we have that choice. Joseph made the right choice and stood by his fiancée and believed that God was at work.

In that way Joseph speaks for all of us, who believe that in Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, we see at last a new hope for the world, the possibility of a fresh start in human relationships and a fresh start in our relationship with God – all through J and M’s willingness to stick together, and of course because of the Son of God himself – Jesus.

So why did he come?

The way he came has told us that something extraordinary, something new, something fresh has come into the world. But what is it about his coming that gives it this newness, this great hope? Very simply, the Bible tells us here: “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… ”
Jesus is the saver, the ones who saves us from our sins. We don’t mind savers, we are rather fond of the people who save us – bush fire fighters, emergency rescuers, surf life-savers, and so on. We don’t mind savers when we see that our peril is real. Jesus is a saver, a life saver – not from the surf, we are told here clearly that he saves us from our sins.

What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that he stops us from sinning – you only have to hang around a church for a short time to find that out! On the contrary, he saves us from the consequences of our sins. For God has declared that those who sin, offend him. He has declared that those who sin should be punished and that the wages of sin is death.
God has declared that there is a great divorce between him and us, that we are his enemies. Because we have sinned. God has declared that all the pain and suffering that we see in the world (the stuff we try and blot out at Christmas time) happens because we have sinned against him.

But he hasn’t left things like that. He has come into the world as his son Jesus. Look again how simply he says it – “he will save his people from their sins.” His people mind you – those who belong to him, those who put their trust and confidence in him, those who give themselves to him.
Don’t you see that unless we do realise that misery, that we can’t have a happy Christmas? Unless we see just how far we have slipped away from God, unless we see that we are all divorced from God, unless we take that on board, we can never have a truly happy Christmas.

You cannot have the joy of Christmas unless you realise how deeply you are divorced from God, and how wonderfully Jesus Christ has bridged that gap and bought his people back to God.

Are you truly happy at Christmas? Have you been truly happy at Christmas since you were a child? The tinsel doesn’t make us happy. The presents don’t – even giving the presents doesn’t make us deeply happy. The food and family reunions are great events sometimes… and not so great events at other times. They don’t bring deep and lasting happiness.

No matter how frantically you try to create a happy Christmas for yourselves and others around you, a deep lasting happiness escapes us. We can see the truth all around as we see the community that we live in desperately trying to stuff life in the corpse of Christmas with Santa Clause, tinsel, turkey and lots and lots of alcohol.

That is the great divorce.

A truly happy Christmas belongs only to those who belong to Jesus. Then, and only then can you really appreciate the joy of Christmas.

Have you the joy of Christmas?
Have you the saviour who brings the joy of Christmas?

If you don’t know that saviour, then the true joy of Christmas will continue to escape you.

“Hark the herald angels sing,
glory to the newborn king,
peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled!”

Happy Christmas!

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Christmas and Easter are THE big preaching opportunities for most churches – which is why they have their very own section at Perspective.

This section is a little different to the others. Here, you will find many cut ‘n’ paste, ready to go out of the box resources for those two times of the year when we find good numbers of non-church people coming to our meetings.
Again, the caveat applies: Don’t be tempted to grab a Christmas talk from here and simply read it out at your church. Rather, see these as sources of good ideas, structures and stories that you can readily adopt and integrate into your own creations.

As always, contributions are encouraged. See the Contact page for how to submit your resources.