Immanuel, the Carpenter’s Son

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   Have you ever considered the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective? In Matthew 1:18-25, we see the nativity story through Joseph’s eyes. Although Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us,” he is also the “man of sorrows” and this passage unites both of those truths perfectly. Isaiah said Jesus would be rejected by men (Isa. 53:3), and here he is even rejected by Joseph at first. Like many of us, Joseph’s first response was to reject Jesus but this soon changed as Joseph realized that Jesus was his Immanuel. 
Joseph had to first confront the reality of Jesus. Imagine the shock Joseph must have experienced when he first received the news that Mary was with child.  Mary had just returned from visiting her cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), and her pregnancy is now obvious. Joseph’s initial response was to divorce Mary privately and move on with his life. Joseph and Mary were betrothed and while the couple did not live together or have marital relations during this time; a divorce was required to break the betrothal. Joseph’s decision was legal and merciful – he was trying to do the right thing while showing kindness to Mary. He was caught between law and love, conviction and compassion.

With the aid of an angelic messenger, Joseph then considered the identity of Jesus. God knew that Joseph was struggling with his circumstances and he sent an angel in a dream to help him understand who Jesus was. The angel informs Joseph of two things concerning Jesus – his natures and his names. Jesus has two natures. He is fully God and fully man. Colossians 2:9 says, “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ.” The virgin birth allowed the divine nature and the human nature to unite in Jesus. Jesus also has two names given in these verses: Jesus and Immanuel. The name “Jesus” reveals his humanity. “Jesus” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Joshua” and means “Yahweh is salvation.” This is reinforced by verse 21, “…call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” The name “Immanuel” reveals his divinity.  Immanuel comes from the prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14 and means “God with us.” There was a new name given for God. Not only is His name Yahweh, Adonai, or Elohim, but now His name is Jesus.
After Joseph awoke from his dream, he connected his life with Jesus. Joseph couldn’t respond properly before because he didn’t have all the facts. Now that he knows who Jesus is, he responds by giving his life to him. He linked his life to Jesus. He chose to repent of his decision to divorce Mary and dedicate his life to the baby she was expecting.  He gave Jesus his name.  He gave Jesus a home.  Joseph taught Jesus a trade (Mark 6:3). Joseph connected his life completely with Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus calls us to do; deny ourselves and link our lives with His by bearing our cross and following Him (Matthew 16:24). Like Joseph, our first response to Jesus is to reject him and move on with our lives because His person and teachings go against our fallen, self-centered nature. This Christmas, let us respond as Joseph ultimately did and connect our lives with Jesus our Immanuel.

 This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 18, 2012.

Keep Out of the Red This Christmas

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The Christmas season is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but do we really honor Jesus when we bring unnecessary stress on ourselves? Jesus himself tells us to be free from worry and anxiety (Matt. 6:24-34), yet we seem to celebrate his birth by bringing these things upon us. Jesus acknowledged that the greatest of our worries are financial and this is never more true than during the Christmas season. Here are five ways you can avoid financial stress this holiday season.
1.             Appreciate the blessings you already have
Proverbs 15:16 (NKJV) Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, Than great treasure with trouble.
Did you know the Bible offers a get-rich-quick plan? It’s called CONTENTMENT. 1 Timothy 6:6-8 says that godliness and contentment is “great gain.”  Charles Spurgeon said that small shoes tend to hurt our feet unless we have small feet, likewise, if we have small means we ought to have small desires or else we will be uncomfortable. One of the Puritans wrote, ‘Contentment works not by adding to our circumstances, but by subtracting from our desires.’ 
Contentment should be at the top of our Christmas list! God will provide for our needs (Proverbs 10:3a), but not necessarily all our wants. If God has not promised to provide our wants, should we really be bending over backwards every Christmas to ensure that we have EVERYTHING we want? 
2.             Keep your priorities straight – money isn’t everything!
Proverbs 23:4 (NKJV)  Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease!
We are to gain wealth through hard work (10:4–5; 6:6–11), but some pursue wealth at the expense of family, worship, and rest. This is against God’s plan for us (Psalm 127:2). Moreover, the person who has a strong desire to be rich will be tempted to sin (Proverbs 28:20; 28:22). The wrong attitude toward money can wreck friendships and even destroy a home. “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house…” (15:27, NKJV).
3.             Create a spending plan – BEFORE you go shopping!
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty” (21:5, NKJV).
The wise man lives by a budget or a spending plan. Such a person develops sales resistance: ‘The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps’ (14:15). A spending plan will help you say “NO” to pushy salesmen. Don’t let all the shiny, bright plastic stuff distract you! Stick to your plan!
4.             Don’t go in debt for Christmas
Proverbs 22:7 (NKJV) The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.
The average American has 13 credit cards, spends nearly $1,200 at Christmas, and at least 23% is put on a credit card. In March, a whopping one-third of bankruptcy filings cite overspending at Christmas as a major contributor to their financial troubles! Dave Ramsey says, “You don’t have to buy into the commercial hype that says you must go shopping and come home with a dozen shopping bags and $1,000 in debt. That’s not smart. Or merry. Or festive. Or jolly. It’s just an all-around bad idea.”
In the Bible, debt is regarded as a curse (Deut. 28:44). Debt produces bondage to men. As the familiar adage puts it, “When your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep is your downfall.” Most of the things we buy at Christmas are knick-knackery and consumable products. These are not the kinds of things worth going in debt for!
5.             Give to those with actual needs
‘The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered’ (11:25).
It is no sin to give Christmas gifts, but it is a sin to overlook our duty to tithe to the Lord’s work and give to those with genuine needs. Giving to the Lord’s work is the first priority in your budget (3:9–10). Proverbs also exhorts the wise man to be generous towards the deserving poor. ‘One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed’ (19:17). Do you know a family that has legitimate needs? Put them in your Christmas budget and bless them this year, instead of only giving lavish and expensive items to those who really don’t need it. 
In all the hustle and bustle and noise and lights of Christmas, the essence of Jesus somehow gets easily lost. “The real measure of our wealth,” said John Henry Jowett, “is how much we’d be worth if we lost all our money.” Character is more important than position, and wisdom than possessions. The angels heralded Jesus’ birth by proclaiming “peace on earth” let us not rob ourselves of the peace that belongs to this time of year by making disastrous decisions!