Isaiah 9:2, 6
Matthew 1:18-23

A lady named Mary Northrup reports that she was in labor for 23 hours for the birth of her first child. 23 hours of labor is not that unusual. I am sure that some of you gals sitting here could top that. What made Mary’s circumstance noteworthy was that Mary’s husband, Mark, presented her with a 2-foot tall trophy inscribed with the words, “For a championship delivery; thank you. Love, Mark.”

I doubt that Joseph could afford a trophy for his betrothed wife, Mary, but he gave her something of far more value. For no matter how delicately Matthew describes the situation, it is evident that although Joseph is Mary’s husband to be he is not the father of the infant in her womb. This creates a dilemma; a Christmas dilemma for Joseph. What’s a feeler to do?

Now in accordance with his legal rights under Jewish law, Joseph has two choices: (1) He can break off their engagement publicly; embarrassing her and her entire family by parading Mary’s sin before the community. Or (2), it was within his rights to have her publically stoned. So what’s a feller to do?

Matthew indicates that Joseph has a gentle and compassionate side, who BEGS TO DIFFER with the harsher side of the Jewish law. He determines he will break off the engagement quietly in order to spare Mary any further public humiliation.

Joseph, in other words, is a BEG TO DIFFER kind of guy. To the Jewish Law that said “stone her” Joseph said, “I beg to differ.” To a society that said ‘at least publicly humiliate her’ Joseph said, “I beg to differ.” To friends and family members who were probably encouraging him to “divorce her, even if quietly,” Joseph said, “I BEG TO DIFFER!”

Joseph’s attitude reminds us that the message of Christmas has been I BEG TO DIFFER from the very beginning.

To an entire world that was engulfed in spiritual and theological darkness God said, “I BEG TO DIFFER.” I am sending a great light that will never be extinguished. The prophet Isaiah predicted it “You who walk in darkness will see a great light” (9:2). In his Christmas story, John wrote about it after the fact, “a light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall never overcome it” (1:5).

Samuel Rayan, writing in Gifts of Many Cultures, says of candles that they are “a protest at midnight; lighting a candle is a nonconformist gesture.”

Lighting a candle in the darkness says, “I BEG TO DIFFER.” And so God said to the darkness, “I BEG TO DIFFER” I am sending a great light that will never be extinguished.

To a Greek and Roman culture that believed that gods were off limits to humans, God said, “I BEG TO DIFFER.” I am going to come among you, be born like you, walk like you, work like you, live like you and yes die like you.

Shortly after Joe Torre was named manager of the New York Yankees’ TV announcer Phil Rizzuto suggested to him that managing could be done better from high above the baseball field from the level of the broadcasting booth. Thoughtfully, Torre replied, “Upstairs, you can’t look in their eyes.”

In Jesus, God decided to get up close and personal He BEGGED TO DIFFER with those who were saying you can’t know who God is, God is far off, God is unapproachable for in Jesus, God came down on the field to look us in the eye.

Christmas insists that God is a BEG TO DIFFER GOD!

So to every person who feels that because of what you have done, or left undone you are not worthy of the love of God; indeed, that God has given up on you, God says, “I BEG TO DIFFER!”

In my favorite Christmas text, Paul writes:

In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son; born of a woman, born under the Law, in order to redeem those under the curse of the Law” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Paul is telling us that God’s theology DIFFERS from our theology. From the time we are little lads and lasses, we are mistakenly led to believe, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

And we try, don’t we, to be good? But you know what? When we are honest with ourselves we have to admit we have habits we can’t break, thoughts we don’t want emotions we don’t like, fears and insecurities we can’t hide, regrets and resentments we can’t let go of. We say things we wish we would have never said. And ultimately, we are, all of us self-centered and we know it.

To a world that says we get what we deserve, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth God says,

I BEG TO DIFFER! I know full well what you are, how you live, what you think. I know you better than you know yourself. And I am willing to accept you as you are, if you are willing to accept what I have done for you in My Son Jesus. I have sent Him to the little town Bethlehem, fully expecting Him to be nailed to a cross just six miles up the road in Jerusalem in order to set you free from the curse of trying to earn My favor.

I was standing in line at Target Saturday morning and this magazine with a painting of Jesus on the cover and the single question: “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a great question and I highly encourage each and every one of you to consider your answer to that question. I believe it is the question of the ages and deserves careful deliberation by every human being.

Who do you say Jesus is? 90-95% people say they believe in God. But the defining question is, “Who do you say Jesus is?”

Like 90% of humanity, Bono, the lead singer in U2, believed in God. Of course, he just like all of us, had heard of Jesus. He just didn’t know what to believe about Jesus.

That is, until after returning home from a long tour, he returned to Dublin and attended a Christmas Eve service. At some point in that service, Bono grasped the truth at the heart of the Christmas story:

It dawned on me for the first time, really: the Christmas story. There I was sitting there, and tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of God in picking a particular point in time to come among us. It’s actually logical. Love has to become an action. Love must be made flesh.

I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out does not come back to us, that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious consequence of death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity. 1

A pastor of an orphanage/church was working feverishly on his Christmas Eve sermon when the floor mother appeared at his study door with yet another crisis upstairs. Christmas Eve day was a difficult day for the emotionally disturbed kids. Three-fourths of them are able to go to a home, and those who don’t react negatively to empty beds and changed routine. So the pastor followed her upstairs muttering under his breath about interruptions.

This time it was Tommy. He had crawled under a bed and refused to come out. Not a hair or a toe was visible to the pastor so he addressed the cowboys and bucking broncos on the bedspread. He talked about the brightly lit tree in the church lobby next door with the beautifully decorated packages underneath. But not even a stir.

Still fretting at the time, he dropped to his hands and knees and lifted the bedspread. All he could see in the darkness was to enormous blue eyes. Anyone else would have grabbed Tommy and pulled him out. But this pastor was a BEG TO DIFFER pastor who knew it wasn’t grabbing and pulling that Tommy needed. He needed to develop trust; a sense of deciding things on his own initiative. So crouched there on all fours, the pastor launched into the menu of the special Christmas Eve dinner to be served after the service. Silence. There was no indication that Tommy either heard or cared about Christmas.

And so at last because he could think of no other way to make contact, this pastor got down on his stomach and wiggled in beside the boy. He reminded Tommy of the Christmas carols that he and the other children were going to sing. He talked about the candles in the window and how they were going to conclude their service by singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

And as he waited, patiently now; a small, chilled hand crept into his. “You know Tommy, it’s kind of close quarters under here. Let’s you and me get out here and see if we can stand up.” And so they did.

All the pastor’s pressure was gone, for you see, he had his Christmas sermon. Hadn’t God called us to, as he had called to Tommy, from far above? With His stars and mountains and His whole majestic creation, Hadn’t he pleaded with us to come to Him and love Him?

But it wasn’t until that first Christmas, until God stooped to earth itself, until He got down on all fours and came among us in the midst of our loneliness and alienation that we, like Tommy, dared to stretch out our hand and take hold of love. 2

On this Christmas Eve, as we, like Tommy and friends, conclude this service by singing Silent Night, I encourage you to reach out your hand and take hold of the love of God as it has been revealed in His Son, Jesus.

1 U2 Singer Bono Contends, “There Must Be an Incarnation
Quoted in Matt Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us (InterVarsity Press, 2011), p. 28-29

2 Carter, Henry. “Take Hold of Love” in Christmas Stories for the Heart. Compiled by Alice Gray. [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, © 1997], pages 28-30.