Christmas Vacation (Matthew 1:18-25)

By | December 4, 2011

A Hollywood Christmas #2


     We all know no matter what time in history you pick, it is not easy being a father. Speaking from his own personal experience, one cynic said children go through four fascinating stages with their fathers. First they call you DaDa. Then they call you Daddy. As they mature they call you Dad. Finally they call you collect.

     I think Joseph had to have been a great earthly father and an even better Dad for Jesus. I think the backstory of Clark Griswald from Christmas Vacation would show that he wanted to be the same kind of Father to his kids as Joseph was to Jesus. And I think there’s a parallel between the two of them. They both had similar qualitites. That’s why I’ve chosen Christmas Vacation as the filter for this morning’s message.


     Joseph was a great father and an even better Dad. He went through so much for the family. At the very beginning, he honored his fiancé, Mary, even when he was disappointed in the outcome of their relationship and all that it meant for their future. He still treated her with honor.

     He was a great Dad because he listened to God even in the midst of his own emotional turmoil. He listened to God during the chaos of the journey to Bethlehem, through the birth of Jesus and all the unexpected guests who showed up, the shepherds and the wise men. He listened to God when Jesus and the family were threatened by a jealous, murderous king Herod.

     He was a good and faithful husband and father as he followed God and lead his family to safety in Egypt. That must have been hard. He was a direct descendant of the Israelites whom God had set free and lead out of Egypt all those years ago.  And now God was leading him back into that land of exile and captivity to wait and wait and wait until it was safe to return home.

     And think about all the things Joseph taught Jesus as he was growing up. Jesus had an extremely keen knowledge of the Scriptures. In the Jewish home it was the father who had the primary responsibility for his son’s religious instruction. While God probably had something to do with it as well, I believe it was Joseph who taught Jesus to love the Scripture as much as he did.

     The life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus wasn’t easy, especially during those years in exile. Scholars don’t really know how long they stayed in Egypt, anywhere from 3 to 11 years. We do know they had moved back by the time Jesus was ready for his Bar Mitzvah (Confirmation) at age 12. But in the midst of all the chaos, all the turmoil and all the confusion of those early years, Joseph persisted and persevered.

     Let’s look at the passage for this morning from Matthew 1:18-25.

[18] Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  

[19] Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  

[20] But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  

[21] She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  

[22] All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:   

[23] “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”   

[24] When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,  

[25] but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.  


     A. Joseph was able to Persevere through all the hardships of those early years because he had a purpose, a God given purpose. Remember what I said last week? The purpose of life is always bigger than our experience of life. The purpose of life is to matter, to count, to stand for something, and to make a difference in this world we live in, even if it’s only in the life of one other person. I believe that. Joseph’s purpose was to be a good father and a great Dad to Jesus.

     And we learn that not by anything Joseph ever said because he never speaks in the New Testament. We have no record of any words Joseph might have spoken. We learn what kind of man Joseph was; what kind of father he was by the life of Jesus. Joseph was Jesus’ human role model of what a man of faith, what a man of God, what a father was supposed to be. Joseph was a great father and was able to persist and persevere in every situation because he had a purpose.

     B. I think Clark Griswald had similar qualities. If you’ve seen the movies you know that he didn’t pull it off with the same grace or panache Joseph had. His temperament was a whole lot different but he too, persisted and persevered during extraordinary chaos. In all of the Family Vacation movies it seemed that no matter how hard Clark Griswald tried, the wheels always came off and everything came from together to apart. Christmas Vacation was no different.

     I think Clark Griswald had a singular purpose; he wanted his family to experience the true meaning of Christmas. He understood the importance of family. At one point early in the movie, he actually says: “Christmas is about resolving differences and seeing through the petty problems of family life.” All he really wanted to do was to make memories of Christmas for his family.

     He had the same kind of tenacity, persistence and perseverance as Joseph. Joseph was just able to keep it together a little better. Joseph never lost his sanity in the middle of all the insanity going on around him. Clark? Not so much. He seemed to live on the edge of sanity or the brink of insanity whichever way you want to look at it all the time. But they both persevered because they had a purpose. For Joseph, that purpose filled him with hope.


     A. And because of that Hope, Joseph was able to pray and to listen to God. His hope, his purpose, his steadfastness, his faithfulness and perseverance are what made that very first Christmas possible. Like Mary, Joseph said “Yes” to God and in one sense, saved the day.

     The main difference between Clark Griswald and Joseph wasn’t the level of their persistence or perseverance. It wasn’t even the amount of hope they had. It was simply the power and presence of God. Clark’s Christmas preparations and expectations revolved around his family and his feelings. Joseph’s preparations and expectations revolved around his family but mostly they revolved around his obedience to God. Joseph understood that obedience to God, even in the most dire circumstance creates a life of substance and character that is filled with Hope; Hope that is lasting and enduring.

     B. This time of year it’s easy to forget God in all of our preparations. It’s easy to overlook the obvious and think, we’ll get to it later. That little voice that is calling us to take time to pray for all the members of our family so they won’t miss the true meaning of Christmas always seems to get hushed by the ring of our telephone or ding of a text message or something else. That urge in our heart spend time in a devotional or to do something loving and unselfish in the name of Jesus suddenly gets overrun by the sheer number of commercials telling us to think only of ourselves. It’s easy to miss the true meaning of Christmas. It takes purposeful preparation to be filled with the heavenly hope of this season.

     Each Christmas season, Charles Krieg, a Pastor in New Jersey, takes his mother into New York City to look at all the decorations and to visit Santa at Macy’s Department Store. He wrote that one year the windows of the department store were unforgettable. 

     The first window had a scroll which read, “The smell of Christmas is in the Kitchen.”  The scene was an old-fashioned kitchen with a black stove and food cooking on it. It was life-like you could almost smell the food.

     The second window was titled, “The Taste of Christmas is in the Dining Room.” There was a long table laden with food that made your mouth water in anticipation. 

     The third window showed a beautiful tree decorated with ornaments and lights, little toys and popcorn strings. The scroll read “The Color of Christmas is in the Tree.”

     The fourth window scroll said, “The Sound of Christmas is in the Carols.” This scene was a group of animated figures singing Christmas carols.

     Then came the store’s main entrance. There was a crowd of people going in and out with their purchases under their arms. He said that if you’d gone into the store right then and there, like most people, you would’ve completely missed a window. If you ignored the entrance and kept on going, you would’ve seen one more window. 

     The scroll in this window proclaimed: “But the Heart and Soul of Christmas is Here!”  In this window was all the elements of the Christmas story, a stable with shepherds and sheep, wise men with their gifts, Joseph, Mary, and center stage, the baby Jesus lying in a manger.

     Joseph understood that the Hope of the world come from the power and presence of God in our lives. And isn’t that why Jesus was born? Isn’t that why He came? So He could be that Living Hope in our midst everyday? Of course it is. That’s why God took off the royal robes, stepped out of heaven and put on the rags of our human flesh and blood.  So Hope could become real and not just a feeling.


     At the end of Family Vacation, in his own deluded way, Clark Griswald feels like he got what he worked so hard to get.

     One of the questions I thought of while working on this sermon, is “At the end, did Joseph feel the same way?” When they finally got to Egypt and safety or when they were finally able to return to Israel and set up shop in Nazareth, did Joseph look up one night and say, “I did it.”

     Not out of a sense of self-satisfaction and pride but out of a sense of humility that God had used him, guided him, strengthened him? Out of that sense of amazement of being a part of God’s larger plan. Remember our purpose in life is always bigger than our experience of life.

     Did Joseph feel that? I think he did. And I think we can too if we remember the purpose of Advent, this season leading up ot the birth of our Savior, is about Preparation. It’s about preparing ourselves and our families to celebrate and re-experience the Hope which is born through Christ. The Hope which gives us purpose, the hope which fills us with persistence and perseverance in the face of adversity.

     The hope that fills us with the refreshment of God.

     The challenge is simple, prepare yourself. Prepare your family. Let Joseph be your role model not Clark. Let Joseph mold your Christmas spirit with patience, persistence and perseverance born of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior who IS with us. Look beyond the lights and the tree and the gifts, look beyond all of the trappings of Christmas and catch a glimpse of the Christ Child. I don’t think it was an accident that Jesus was laid in a manger, an old feed trough. Let the Bread of Life fill you with Hope.


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.