"Do you believe in miracles?"
With a reference to the underdog U.S. men's hockey team's win over the mighty Russians in the 1980 Olympics, the Rev. Clint Newsom asked listeners to open their minds to the possibility of miracles during his "Unsung Hero of Christmas" sermon from "The Stars of Christmas" series at Zoar Baptist Church in Central.
"We struggle with the miraculous," said Newsom, who was installed as pastor of the prominent church on Sept. 6. "In a skeptic's mind, they think miracles can't happen because there is no explanation; by looking at science, by looking at the laws of nature, miracles can't really happen."
But Newsom, 43, said miracles make sense when there is a God. And the miracle and theme of Christmas is God came down from heaven to be "with us."
"The Christmas message rests in the staggering fact that the child in the manger was God … God taking on flesh, skin, feelings, emotions," Newsom said.
The sermon was centered on Matthew 1:18-25 which speaks of Mary being engaged to Joseph, Joseph's reaction to the stunning news of Mary's pregnancy and the angels urging Joseph to take Mary as his wife.
"This chapter is revealing who Jesus is. He is the fulfillment of God's plan to redeem people," Newsom said.
Newsom said he really wanted to talk about Joseph, "but the focus of this text is not Joseph. The focus is God's activities. A miracle is about to happen in this text."
Newsom honed in on five details in the text.
The first detail is "Mary's Embarrassment" found in Matthew 1:18: "The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit."
Newsom explained that Mary's baby was the "promised one" from the line of David. And the supernatural conception is the bedrock of what Christians believe today.
But that wasn't the case for believers then, who many saw Mary as an adulterer.
"There is a scandal in Nazareth," Newsom said. "Joseph is a husband. He's excited to bring his wife home. He's been preparing the home. He's been working hard. He's excited about starting a life and a family together. But there is a problem: She's pregnant. There is only one explanation in the mind of Joseph and the explanation is not good because it's not him."
Don't get caught in the scandal but instead focus on the baby, Newsom said.
"The focus for us is to see who this child is," he said. "We cannot budge on the deity of Christ. The deity of Christ means Jesus is God. He is fully God and fully man."
That's an important connection to make, Newsom said, because the baby Jesus came to take the place for our sin.
"Being fully human, Jesus was able to represent us adequately, sufficiently as a human," Newsom said. "Being fully God, he was able to pay the eternal penalty of our sins. … God in his wisdom ordained a combination of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ."
A second detail Newsom highlighted was "Joseph's Dilemma" from Verse 19: "So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly."
Old Testament Jewish law said Joseph could break off the marriage or worse.
"He was not the child's father, so he had options," Newsom said. "He was a righteous man. He was a law-abiding man. That means he obeys the Jewish laws. … Many times if this happened, a woman caught in adultery, it was a public trial and she was humiliated in front of people. … Joseph had the option to call all his friends together and say grab a stone."
Joseph chose to stay with the woman he loved, Newsom said.
"That's a man's man. That's a real man," Newsom said. "Do we as believers, do we as men, err on the side of mercy, on the side of compassion?"
Joseph's dilemma may have been aided by the third detail — "The Angels' Announcement" — found in Verse 20: "But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."
Joseph believed in the miracle of the child's conception and was willing to be the child's father. Newsom said Joseph may have been putting his own livelihood and even his carpenter business in jeopardy.
"Now, it's not just Mary that's the adulterer," he said. "In other people's eyes, Joseph was taking responsibility" for something that would bring shame from the family, friends and the community.
"You probably won't get a visit from an angel, but you can hear God saying to you, 'Don't be afraid,'" Newsom said.
The fourth detail is "Prophecy's Fulfillment" from Verses 22-23: "Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated 'God is with us.'"
The birth of Jesus was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, Newsom said.
"This prophecy has been really fulfilled in this child," he said.
God is still with us, Newsom said.
"You are included in that us. It's all of humanity," he said. "(God) is not distant. He may move in unexpected ways, but he is active. He is close. He is close to you."
The final detail Newsom pointed out is "Joseph Obedience" from Verse 25: "When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus."
"Courageous obedience, a real man that's selfless, that's self-controlled, that's obedient no matter the cost is the kind of man any woman needs, isn't it?" Newsom said. "It's the kind of man my wife needs. It's the kind of man my children need — selfless, sacrificial, obedient."
As much as Joseph deserves to be recognized for his part in the Christmas story, Newsom reminded listeners to focus on the one who saves.
"The unsung hero of Christmas is not Joseph and (in) our culture it's the same hero it's always been," he said. "We just tend to get distracted and neglect the hero is Jesus. The hero is the savior. Is he your savior?"
Zoar's services are at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Sundays at 11848 Hooper Road. For more information, call (225) 261-3434 or go to zoarbaptist.org.