We are approaching Christmas Day and we have been exploring how we can experience Christmas through our five senses. We have the sense of hearing, taste, seeing, touch, and smell. Last week, we talked about experiencing Christmas through the sense of hearing. We saw that God chose for us to hear his voice so clearly that he came in human form in the person of Jesus to talk to us just as clearly as I am speaking to you now. This week we will talk about experiencing Christmas through the sense of taste.
Now, we might ask, “How does one taste?” For humans, the sense of taste is found in the taste buds taste buds on our tongue. The tongue detects tastes basically only four distinct flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. There are of course many combinations of those flavors but ultimately we only distinguish among four specific flavors.
So how does one experience Christmas through our sense of taste? Usually, we do that by eating Christmas cookies, cakes, and candy. But senses of taste (sweet, sour, bitter, and salty) can be experienced in and through our lives as well. Experiences which are sweet are pleasant and easy to accept. Experiences that are sour have an acidic taste and involve those moments of disappointment, resentment, and anger. Experiences that are bitter are sharp, pungent and involve unjust behaviors against us. Experiences that are salty are rich with flavor and stay with us. We all have tasted things on our tongues that are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. We all have tasted things through our lives that are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. How might experiencing these taste sensations through the Christmas story help us to hear the story afresh?
Today, I would like us to experience the Christmas story through our sense of taste as we explore the announcement of Jesus’ birth through the experience of his earthly father, Joseph. I invite you to turn to your Bibles to the Gospel of Matthew. Now the Gospel of Matthew is one of four accounts of the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Of those four gospels, Matthew’s is only one of two that describe the circumstances leading to Jesus’ birth.
As we turn to Chapter 1, verse 18, of Matthew’s gospel message, our Christmas story experience began with the taste of sweet. Matthew wrote: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph.” Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. Marriage was the first institution ordained by God. Before there any other human activity or organization there was marriage. The first couple modeled the joy that is found in husband and wife. In Genesis Chapter 2, the Bible says, “A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24, 25). The first husband and wife union was joyful. In today’s story, Mary and Joseph were engaged to be husband and wife. At the time of Jesus, being engaged was a formal arrangement. It was a time of preparing to celebrate. It was a time of sweetness.
We all understand the sweetness of a new relationship with someone with whom we hope for a future. We certainly can experience that sweetness when we find that special person who could become our spouse. But we can also experience that sweetness when we make a new friend. There is joy in seeing that person and talking with them. There is a pleasant and satisfying flavor experienced when a relationship between two people, husband/wife or friend to friend, comes together. When we taste something sweet, we want more of it. I invite you to taste sweetness by eating the milk chocolate kiss in your snack bag. Experiencing the Christmas story today began with Joseph and Mary tasting the sweetness of life which leaves us with a desire for that experience to continue.
As we savor the sweet taste in our mouths, we return to Matthew’s account of the Christmas story. Verse 18, continues, “but before they [Joseph and Mary] came together [had sexual relations], she [Mary] was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” From Joseph’s perspective the sweetness of the Christmas story had changed radically to a new flavor. The story had turned sour. I invite you to taste sourness by eating the lemon drop in your snack bag.
The sour candy seems to have overcome the sweetness we experienced. So strong is the sour taste that the sweet taste is a memory. This was Joseph’s experience. His new life with Mary, the promise of the future, had soured. She was pregnant and not by Joseph. Mary said the baby’s father was not another man. Mary said the baby was conceived supernaturally through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph did not believe Mary. All seemed lost.
We understand Joseph’s feelings. We understand how infidelity can change couple’s relationship. We understand how betrayal of trust between two friends shakes their friendship to its foundation. The psalmist wrote, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers” (Psalm 55:12-14).
The Word of God shares with us that the taste of Christmas is sweet and it is sour. There is sweetness in togetherness and there sourness is hurt. Joseph and Mary experienced sweet and sour and so have we.
Matthew continued and wrote in verse 19, “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph concluded the sweetness of the story was gone replaced by sourness. Joseph did not believe Mary and did not want to disgrace her before others by denouncing her publicly, but he thought he could not continue with his relationship with Mary. He wanted the sourness to end and so he settled on a path based only on his own understanding. We know this because Matthew wrote Joseph “had in his mind to divorce her.” Joseph never talked to God. The Bible told Joseph, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6), Joseph did not ask God into the decision and so Joseph chose divorce. The Christmas story that was once sweet, that had become sour, had now involved divorce which is bitter. I invite you to taste bitterness of unsweetened chocolate.
The taste of bitter is very unpleasant. This the taste of divorce, the end of a relationship, the end of a friendship. Bitterness replaces the sour but it does not restore the sweetness. Bitter is the flavor we taste when we choose not to invite the Lord God into our decisions. In the Christmas story, Joseph and Mary tasted sweetness, sourness, and now bitterness. Absent God, this story would end on a bitter note.
Matthew continued and wrote, “But after he [Joseph] had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.” God had now entered the Christmas story with a messenger to Joseph. The angel said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins…24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Mt. 1:22, 24)
God entered the story and Joseph listened. God did not want the Mary and Joseph’s story to end in bitterness of divorce nor does God intend for our relationships to end that way. God entered the scene and Joseph listened. Joseph and Mary had experienced sweet, sour, and bitter. Now, with God, they would taste of saltiness.
God commanded offerings made to him be seasoned with salt as a sign of the covenant between the Him and the Hebrew people (Lev. 2:13; Num 18:19). Salt transforms whatever it touches. Once salt is added to something, you cannot remove the salt from it. Once you let God into your life you are forever changed. Salt preserves that which is perishable. Once you accept Jesus as Savior you may die but you will never perish.
Is your life marked by the saltiness of a relationship with God through Jesus or is there bitterness in your life? Do you focus on the negative in life? Are you holding a grudge? These behaviors are choices we make. When we engage in the negative and hold grudges two things are true. We have not involved God in our choice and we will become bitter. Are you willing to see things change but unwilling to see yourself change? Do you withhold gratitude toward others? These behaviors are choices we make and they show God is not involved in our choice and we will become bitter. God does not intend for us to be bitter. Bitterness is a sign of unforgiveness. God sent his Son Jesus as God’s instrument of salvation. God sent Jesus as a sign of forgiveness. God does not send bitterness into our life.
Your snack bag is empty. There is nothing there for you to taste that is salty. I have saved that final taste for the celebration of the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper is a reminder that the Christmas story is one of sweetness, sourness, bitterness, ending in saltiness. It is the saltiness of Joseph listening to God and taking Mary as his wife. It is the saltiness of sweat Mary shed in childbirth for her son Jesus. It is the saltiness of the tears Joseph and Mary shed as their held their baby. It is the saltiness that Jesus would require of everyone who followed him saying, “You are the salt of the earth.” It is the saltiness of the sweat Jesus shed in the garden before his arrest and trial. If is the saltiness of tears Jesus shed on the cross for you and for me.
Saltiness is the final taste of Christmas because in the saltiness we remember Jesus. We remember that he has forgiveness us and that we are to forgive others. It is in the saltiness that we remember Jesus’ forgiveness does not just make our slate clean of sin but opens the doors of heaven to us that we can be with him before the throne of God. The saltiness reminds us that until that day before God’s throne, He is still with us now.
Let us come to the Lord’s Table, take of the salty bread and cup, that we would be reminded of God’s abiding presence in your life, the goodness of God, and final taste of the Christmas story. Let us pray.