The Christmas Journey (Part Two) “Men and Diapers” – Matthew 1 and Luke 2

men and diapI want to talk about something that is utterly politically incorrect, and I am concerned that I may get a reaction in my inbox over the next few days. I have a reasonable expectation that my contract (if I had one) would not be cancelled for expressing it, but let me soften any such response by warning you now, I am not suggesting everyone will agree with me, because my view has been tainted by my own flaws and experiences. Here it is… I don’t personally believe that men were given sufficient, instinctive, practical tools to be good at “lone parenting”. Based solely on the men I know up close, I think babies need the practical hand of a momma. I believe if my children were raised only by me, we would visit them in our memories – because they would not have made it through their first twenty years of life. I know, I know, perhaps my deficits are more pronounced than that of other single parent homes that have only a man raising a family. In practical terms, with my limited experience, I just cannot understand how a guy could really pull off parenting. I don’t have the skills for it, and haven’t met other men who really do either. Of course, there is always YouTube and Google. I didn’t check, but I suppose there is a page for “how to diaper a baby” on the net, complete with “pee-pee tee-pee” instructions for changing little boys. I can’t imagine the net missed that engaging bit or emerging demographic!

In my humble defense, I am not the only one who thinks the way I do. Pastor Kyle Meador wrote: “Again, there’s a great deal of Internet research and revisionist thinking going on about these characters in the Christmas story. Some of have suggested that things would have been considerably different if these wise men had actually instead been wise women. And things sure would have been different. If it had been ‘Wise Women’ instead of ‘Wise Men’, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts from Baby’s-R-Us, including diapers, wipes, bibs and formula. But that’s an entirely different story…” (Sermon Central illustrations).

Do you see what I mean? Men just don’t seem, at least in our culture, as equipped to raise a child. For one thing, we lack the physical anatomy to feed a newborn without modern plastics… If you will permit me to suggest that we have such a lack, I want to gently propose that we view the story of several men in the text with both humor and honesty – but I ask you to be a bit understanding toward them. They are men, and trust me, most of us do “mean well”. Each of the men in the story of Jesus’ entrance to the world was in the midst of a growing and learning experience… and though my introduction to the subject has been light, Scripture never is. It engages our heart and transforms our thinking. So with a sober smile, let’s consider a truth…

Key Principle: Because men come from diverse perspectives, they each deal with Jesus differently. Yet, how they deal with Jesus changes the kind of men they become.

Herod: Selfish men use Jesus!

Ladies, I have a news flash: Some men are selfish. I know that comes as a shock! What is more, some of them have even made it to powerful positions, using their selfishness as an advantage in a society of “sheeple” that are often found following the tinsel and that loudest voice in the room. I want to introduce you to a man we know both from the Gospel accounts, as well as from ancient historians and archaeological finds. Meet King Herod called “the Great”. He appears in Matthew’s Gospel as follows:

Mt. 2:3 When Herod the king heard [this], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'”7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found [Him], report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.

In the passage, it is clear that Herod was King of Judea, and that he ruled from Jerusalem (2:3). He was dealing with a group of eastern men who came searching for the new king, marked by the ascension of a newly noted “star” in the heavens. Herod had authority under Rome that allowed him to call a tribunal of the local Jewish leadership, according to the text (2:4) and to pose specific questions concerning their ancient traditions, mostly found in the Hebrew Scriptures. When posed with the query about a coming King, the report paraphrased the work of the prophets like Micah (see Micah 5:2, cp. Mt. 2:6).

herod coin with starFor those who know about the physical finds from archaeology that relate to Herod, you smile when you read this passage. The symbol probably most associated with Herod in antiquity was a star. In perhaps the earliest coinage minted to signal Herod’s rise to power, the obverse of the coin was embossed with a helmet beneath a star in 37 BCE. The star was a common Octavian/Augustan iconography, and appears as a symbol of “the deification of Caesar” by the Senate. Herod later adapted the star inside a diadem crown as his own symbol – or sometimes a star inside a dotted circle. Some scholars suggest the star was from the Numbers 24:5 Messianic symbolism, something Herod co-opted from the Hasmonean rulers (Alexander Janneus) and their kin that he supplanted. The bottom line is this: Herod used stars as a symbol of ruling, and having astronomers visit following a new rising version was unsettling to him and an attack on his public mythology. Coins were the ancient version of billboards in the Roman world, one of the simplest methods of spreading a message far and wide.

Herod accepted the magi as scholars. Though much has been written about them, I believe they were Jewish sages from Babylon, left with the majority when about 50,000 Jews returned to the land of Israel after the captivity. Skilled in astronomy (probably due in part to interaction with the Zoroastrians of that place) they sought God’s guidance from His handiwork in the heavens. That may not have been the best way to find truth then or now, but in the Scriptures God often used people’s flawed methods to speak into their lives. A star got them to Bethlehem. Before we knock it, remember it has taken two thousand years to get a reliable GPS unit to do the same thing! If God could direct Moses with a cloud, He could certainly direct some magi with a star… but this star had significance in the Roman world that it did not appear to have in the Parthian world – it signified “deity” as one who “meets my needs” as Caesar did, and as Herod wanted to be known. The star stung Herod, and his reaction was predictably political…

Matthew includes the “tongue in cheek” note that Herod claimed a desire to know where Jesus was, so that he could WORSHIP Him. Of course, this came from a man who killed even his own offspring that rivaled his throne – but that wasn’t an uncommon thing for men in his position in his day. In fact, nor was his desire to gain control over the “Jesus message” as quickly as possible. News flash: politicians that can MANIPULATE religious belief, USE it to control people and win their favor. They do it for fame, and they do it for favor. Ultimately they do it for CONTROL.

The problem is that Jesus is a STUBBORN SAVIOR. Heaven isn’t so easy to manipulate. God’s standing Heavenly army of millions cannot so easily fooled, so God sent a dream to make clear to the Magi that Herod was not being genuine. God’s messaging systems in the Bible may seem crude, but His ability to invade even the dreams of our sleep should challenge us to re-think what effect texting truly is! Matthew continued:

Mt. 2:16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”

When politicians cannot control Jesus’ message, they try to SHUT IT DOWN. The kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ – but not until the kings of this earth do all they can to fight God for control. Men WANT to call the shots on their own destiny. If they cannot, they will pretend they control what they do not. They will preach about a world without a Creator, without a purpose, and without a destiny. Yet, in all of that, they will long for meaning that is more than about good meals, a few laughs, and aging fragile bodies. One hundred years here won’t be enough, because they have been designed for more. Selfish men use Jesus – and will stop at nothing to silence Him if He threatens their right to control…even though their “control” of anything is a temporary illusion.

Consider how pervasive sin and arrogance had become: On 11 May 2000, a lady found a new e-mail message on her computer, which simply said, “I love you”. It looked innocent enough, perhaps even a bit “romantic”. Like most of us would, in hopefulness she clicked to open the message, and the so-called “Love Bug” hit its first generation of unsuspecting recipients. With lightning speed it raced around the world, bringing politics and business to a halt in several countries. It was a deadly computer virus that caused millions of computer software programs to crash. It was only a one little, but it caused so much contamination. One violator cost millions to suffer… But it’s not the first time that a single virus has caused so much grief to mankind. In fact, it’s a kind of replay of a deadlier virus that hit Planet Earth more than six thousand years ago polluting the first human couple, Adam and Eve. Despite God’s warning not to click on to Satan’s message, they did so with appalling consequences for them and through them to all mankind. That virus is called “Sin”. (From A-Z Illustrations).

Shepherds: Simple Men seek and share Jesus!

Turn to Luke’s account of the night Jesus was born. The familiar story of the shepherds offers the setting for our next observation about the men of Christmas. Luke recorded:

Luke 2:8 In the same region there were [some] shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This [will be] a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds [began] saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

The shepherd’s story is very familiar to most of us. Luke tells us several important details about the men:

They were men of the region surrounding Bethlehem, and on a night during the dry season they were “on the job” camping outside the city with their sheep tucked in a sheepfold. The sheep weren’t out in the field – that isn’t the right way to read the text. The men were outside town in the open areas of the wilderness of Judea nearby. It was night, and sheep don’t eat on the hills at night. The men were likely sitting beside a small cooking fire, in for the night.

The choir wasn’t immediate. First, there was an unexpected visitor appeared (2:9). Like the bush that was on fire before Moses, this visitor got their immediate attention because his appearance was bright – so they were frightened! They weren’t expecting anyone, and they knew this guy wasn’t a shepherd from the next hill over.

The messenger spoke words to comfort them: “Stop being afraid! I have great news!” (2:10) He proceeded to describe in detail the coming of Messiah as a baby, and even details as to the place in Bethlehem they should look for the baby (2:11-12). He told them: “You won’t find the baby in the front room of the home, nor in the middle room of the cave or upper chamber called the ‘kataluma’ – the family didn’t allow that. You will find the child wrapped in the birthing scraps and placed in a manger in the rear of the cave of the Bethlehem home.

Just before the Heavenly Guardians appeared above them, Luke slipped in the directive given to the men to search for the child. It is so subtle, you could almost miss it! The messenger said: “You will find Him…” In other words, I am telling you about this because I want you to do something about it. I want you to go looking for Him. I want you to see what an incredible GIFT God has given man… a SAVIOR! Why? What audience did Mary need on a night after giving birth? None! Yet, God knew there were others that needed verification that the baby was more than He appeared to be, and Mary and Joe’s story had more behind it than just his and her word.

They saw the child, but they saw Him as more than a child. They heard the Word of God concerning the baby – and that made all the difference!

How like them we are, when we who believe the Savior has come stand gazing back into that manger. We don’t see a helpless baby. We don’t see shepherds bowing. We don’t think of Magi and their strange gifts… we see God’s hand giving us what we need. We see a RESCUER coming to pull us from the sweeping tide of sin that we have been drowning in.

I don’t want to take a swipe at the world – I will speak for myself. I am a selfish man. On my knees before Jesus I have found myself to be more than flawed… I am depraved. In myself, if left without the gentle touch of Jesus, I find no good thing. I could kill. I could lie. I could cheat. I could wound those who I profess to love so dearly. Do you think the shepherds were somehow chosen because they were better than all others? I KNOW that is not the case. I know it because I was chosen too – to seek Jesus, and when I found Him to recognize what God’s Word said about Him – He is my rescuer… and I need one!

People who have no commitment to Jesus will simply view Him as a cute baby that came on a selfless quest. They will enjoy the season, and think nothing more about Him when the day is passed. Sure, He was a good man. Sure, He healed sick people, and probably was a pretty good guy to live next door to. Sure, He died believing He could make a difference. If they are CHURCHED, they may even believe He rose from the dead. Yet in all this, they will miss WHO HE IS. He is the RESCUER of man whose fist has been raised in angry mutiny against God.

“I am not like that!” Many will say. Yet they will not surrender their life to the Creator. They will not acknowledge His right to demand changes in their behavior. They want the baby Jesus – the MUTE Jesus. They would like just enough Jesus to fill a manger, but not enough to make them change their selfish lifestyle. The difference between the believer and the unbeliever is usually not whether they believe Jesus came as a baby, but whether He came as a RESCUER from mutiny and the Divine penalty of it. Simple men don’t try to out-think God, they believe what He said about Jesus.

Joseph: Surrendered men value Jesus!

At long last, in our saga about men and the baby Jesus, we come to Joseph – the man close to the center of the story. Here was a guy who truly desired to follow God, but wasn’t sure HOW with all the turns in the road. His story shows up in four segments in the Gospels:

Mt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took [Mary] as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

The time for the census called Joe and Mary back to their ancestral home in Bethlehem. They were “married” but hadn’t consummated the marriage, so it was called a “betrothal” – the last step left incomplete. Off they went from Nazareth. Luke 2 records:

Luke 2: 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,

They arrived at Joe’s family home, and I suspect because the story of the pregnancy was too much for this old Jewish family to believe, they put them in the cave at the back of the house. The baby was born. The shepherds visited and let them know what the angels told them. They presented Jesus at the Temple a week later. Anna and Simeon both prophesied over the child. Time passed. Men from the east arrived when Jesus was a toddler and gave the baby expensive gifts, then left. Matthew tells the story:

Mt. 2:13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. [This was] to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.

The toddler, his mom and Joe stayed outside the realm of Herod the Great’s reach. Bethlehem families probably wouldn’t have thought highly of them if they returned and told how they were warned to leave, but hadn’t told everyone else. The weeping daughters of Rachel would have been incensed. More time passed, and so do King Herod. His death and burial outside of Bethlehem at the mountain called the “Herodion” signaled to the angel to again invade the dreams of Joe’s sleep. Matthew records:

Mt. 2:19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned [by God] in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. [This was] to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.

Joe bounced around more than a ping-pong ball in the hand of God! Three times in the Gospel accounts God re-directed Joe by breaking into his life and revealing truth to him that he did not already know. Each one was an essential direction, and looking back – the reasoning for each one is clearer to US – than it was when Joe received it.

Joseph’s life reads like a textbook on “lessons in resting during God’s re-direction”. If you truly read these few verses carefully – you will be HIT with a lesson that will wallop you in life.

In Matthew 1:20, God opened the door to truth when Joe’s life map got derailed by a baby announcement. He acted within what he knew, and then needed God to direct him in what he did not know. The first dream came in the backdrop of a deep interpersonal confusion. Joseph committed to marry Mary, but she appeared to be unfaithful.

If you pull aside Joe in Heaven someday, I suspect he would tell you that a BIG LESSON in his life was this: “I must understand that God can move in my life in a way that makes no sense to me at that time.” This is part of His Divine Prerogative. He is entitled as my Creator and my Master to do this, and we must not be surprised by this work. After all, isn’t the Bible filled with stories that make this truth obvious?

• Didn’t God push Noah into a building project that made little sense apart from God’s direction?
• Didn’t God lay out a “hard to believe” family expansion for an aging Abraham and Sarah?
• Wasn’t God’s call from the burning bush – a call for Moses, dressed as a Midianite shepherd to stand before a powerful prince – one that seemed mistimed and a wrongly cast part?
• Don’t you wonder if David felt uncertain about God’s protection when the bear appeared to take a young lamb? He didn’t know he was in combat training for giant slaying.

How long will it take for us to recognize that God’s call in our lives is to follow Him, not to figure Him out?

Over and over again, Joe learned a hard lesson…How we respond when we have been disappointed by another’s behavior, or even when we think we have been wronged is a water mark of our real maturity. When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant (likely she told him after the visit of Gabriel recorded in Luke 1:26-38), any one of us would likely have backed Joe up if he stormed out angrily and slammed the door – and we would have been wrong. Who couldn’t understand that reaction? What friend, hurt for Joe, wouldn’t have consoled him that such an outburst was both normal and justified. The only problem is that our understanding would have blocked God’s lesson in Joe’s life. God didn’t pick a short-fused man – He seldom does for the delicate task. A godly person is patient, circumspect and gentle – they are not vindictive when wounded – no matter how deeply.

The bottom line on Joseph’s Christmas lesson was this: God works best with instruments that won’t wrestle Him for control, but will follow His lead. Uncooperative tools don’t get often used.

So let me ask you men: How are you doing in the SURRENDER department? Is God in charge of what you watch, what you listen to, what you laugh at, what you drink and how much, what you eat and how much? I am not asking you to BIND YOU TO LAWS AND LISTS, but to prompt you to the inner nudges of God’s Spirit in regards to your yielded-ness to Him.

You see, it it true… Because men come from diverse perspectives, they each deal with Jesus differently. How they deal with Jesus changes the kind of men they become.

Before I close, I want to mention ONE OTHER DAD – but it is not a fair comparison – for He is no MERE MAN. I want you to think about what the Father in Heaven passed through as He allowed His Son to become a baby, and deal with man’s depravity by a horrible death payment. The best way for me to explain Him, and to describe His love for you might be to end with a story…

Jeannette George tells a story about an experience she had on a short flight from Tucson to Phoenix. Across the aisle from her sat a young woman and her baby, both dressed in white pinafores. The baby had a little pink bow where there would eventually be hair. The mother was smiling, as the baby kept saying “Dada, Dada,” every time someone walked down the aisle. The mother said Daddy was waiting for them after they had been gone for a few days. She was so adorable – quiet – that all passengers enjoyed watching her. Unfortunately, there was a lot of turbulence, making the flight extremely rough, which of course was hard on the baby. But the mother had some fruit and a little Thermos with orange juice in it. Every time the baby cried the mother fed her a little bit more orange juice and a little more fruit. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, the turbulence seemed to spread from the air around the plane right down to that baby’s gastro-intestinal system, and pretty much all of the fruit that had gone down came up. However, the process of coming up was considerably messier than the process of going down had been. It also seemed to have increased in volume tremendously between the going down and the coming up, so that not only were the baby and the mother pretty much covered in it, but so were most of the passengers within a significant radius of the baby, [including Jeanette George, who was telling the story.] Fortunately for the mortified mother, all of the passengers were gracious and tried to help her and tell her it was OK. After all what could she do about it?? The baby was crying, and she looked awful. Even though they didn’t cry, her fellow passengers looked – and smelled – pretty awful, too. The mother was so sorry about it. As soon as they landed, the baby was fine and returned to calling: “Dada, Dada.” The rest of the passengers didn’t recover quite so quickly, being covered as they were in pre-digested fruit. Ms. George said, “I had on a suit, and I was trying to decide whether to burn it or just cut off the sleeve. It was really bad.” Waiting for the plane was a young man who had to be “Dada.” He was wearing white slacks, a white shirt, and he carried white flowers. Now what do you think that clean Daddy all dressed in white did when he saw his baby who had that sticky, smelly stuff all over her clothes and her face and her hair? He ran to the young mother, who handed the baby over pretty quickly so she could go get cleaned up. That Daddy picked up that baby, and he hugged her and he kissed her and he stroked her hair. As he held her close, he said, “Daddy’s baby’s come home. Daddy’s baby’s come home.” All the way to the luggage claim area, he never stopped kissing that baby and welcoming her back home. Ms. George thought, Where did I ever get the idea that my Father God is less loving than a young daddy in white slacks and white shirt with white flowers in his hand? [Jeannette Clift George, “Belonging and Becoming,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 93. Taken from]

My Father in Heaven loves me, and He sent me His Son to prove it. His Son rescued me, and I will ever be grateful!