READING: Luke 19:28-44
Did you bring a coat today? What kind, you say. It doesn’t matter. Rain coat. Warm coat. Wind breaker coat. Trench coat. Detective’s coat.
If you read the bible reading today – people had coats when Jesus came riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey. O wait – let’s watch the little guys’ story about the donkey. Then we’ll go back to the coats.
Cool story. Three famous donkey’s hey. Yes. Dave. Dave’s grandad. And the other one. What? Two? Okay but the third one could really speak. (verse Numbers 22:28-31 Balaam’s donkey)
Okay no Palms. A donkey and coats. Coats are good. You could put them on the donkey of you didn’t have a saddle. You could lay them on the floor – if you didn’t have a red carpet. Like that famous man, Sir Walter Raleigh. He put his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. Cool hey!
I reckon you have to do that for Kings and queens. And Jesus was and is a King. Best listen to him when he speaks!
Or just be a donkey carrying Jesus around. So people can see how great he is.
(Prayer for children as they leave)
Talking about coats, I remember very clearly the picture of Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak down over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. There it was in our history notes – that picture has stuck with me.
Trouble is it probably never happened. Blame Historian Thomas Fuller who liked to embellish facts. Walter Raleigh did get his head chopped off after his second holiday in the tower of London. During his first stay in the tower he wrote his first volume of his “History of the world” which was 776 pages long. On the grisly side, his head was embalmed and his widow carried it around with her for the rest of her life.
Now you’re wondering if that’s true. The coat and puddle story sounds more believable.
So, if we didn’t have John’s gospel, we wouldn’t have Palm Sunday. Only coat Sunday at best.
The point is that the genuineness of the accounts of Easter by the four gospel writers supports the historicity of the event. There is no attempt like witnesses protecting each other to line up their versions of the story with each other.
Only Matthew mentions the fulfilment of the prophecy from Zechariah: This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Matthew 21:4-5)
Only Matthew has this dramatic line like a Greek chorus calling out:
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (21:10-11)
Only Luke seems to hint that there were Pharisees in the crowd of disciples. It changes we see the way they try to tone things down. Perhaps they were really concerned that this procession declaring Jesus as King could have dangerous repercussions. Remember in Acts 15:5 that there were Pharisees who became Christians. (It would have been like Christians today belonging to the Green Party or New Zealand first!)
The two things that really stand out in the reading from Luke today are FIRSTLY the words of those calling out:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (v38)
And then the warning to Jerusalem that Jesus gives after weeping over the city:
They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (v44)
- The first one links the proclamation on Palm Sunday with the words of the angels at Jesus’ birth. We are reminded that this is all the same story of Jesus (God Saves) Emmanuel (God with us) Messiah (anointed one) who comes to rescue us. Luke alone spells it out here:
“Blessed is the KING who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
His readers would make the connection. Remember how Herod the Great responded to the wise men’s news about the birth of a king?
Infanticide. The murder of the innocents. Boys up to two years of age.
This time round, we can’t expect anything different. Herod’s descendants are ruling a carved up holy land. Pilate has replaced one of them in Judea.
The power play will unfold. The authorities do not approve. Like Walter Raleigh in the tower of London waiting for his execution for treason, Jesus would be a threat to the rulers of the day once more.
A new king could only mean civil unrest, and Pilate could not allow it if he wanted to keep his job. Yes, he sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, but Antipas has his own agenda. This encounter is portrayed very simply in the film “Jesus”. And in the Passion of the Christ we see a better portrayal of Antipas in my view. You’ll have to read the subtitles as they are speaking in Aramaic. Or Latin.
Perhaps you’d like to watch this extract. It’s actually quite well done.
The Passion of Christ – the events of holy week – are deeply political.
- The second unique passage in Luke about this Coat Day is his response to the city of Jerusalem and his prophetic word about its destruction:
We pick it up in verse 43:
The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.
They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (v44)
Again, its deeply political. The Romans would always put down revolts. You only had the peace of Rome as a privilege – safety, good roads, aqueducts, protection – if you towed the line.
It’s the rejection of the visitation that is fascinating. (v44) Jesus says this:
They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
The original text does not have the word “God” in it. It’s simply a visitation.
Of course, its Jesus who is visiting. Messiah has come.
And they reject him.
The Jewish historian Josephus blamed the nationalists, the Zealots for the demise of the Jewish nation.
Jesus gives another reason of course. By rejecting him, Israel has chosen the way of judgment. It has missed the day and the moment.
What was true of the Jewish nation can also be true of individuals. To miss Jesus is to miss the time of visitation and face accountability before God.
So – consider this. Jesus comes marching into your life today.
- Riding on a donkey.
- Or on a bus for that matter. He visits you either way.
What are you going to do?
- Shout Hosanna?
- Hail Him as king?
- Try to go for a softer option – don’t shout too loudly, you might upset the authorities. Hush!
- Or will you miss his visitation altogether?
The consequences of ignoring who he is and what that means for our lives, our priorities, our decisions, our relationships, our finances, are all challenging. This is a great time to reflect on where Jesus is in our list of priorities.
There are a whole series of opportunities this Holy Week to gather and reflect on what it means for us now, and in eternity.
- We call it holy week. It must grab our attention.
- Our Korean friends who pray every morning up in the lounge have asked to move to the church at 5.30am each morning this Easter week. They take it seriously.
- We have options to reflect on Jesus’ coming on Tuesday morning, Thursday night, Friday morning, and Sunday at Sunrise.
I’m not a prophet, but each year I can predict who will be at which service.
His is my 7th Easter. Go on. Surprise me. Come to something different.
This is about Jesus’ visitation – riding into our lives and being welcomed as King.
How about it? How do we welcome Him? Or are we just not too fussed about it all.
Reading: Matthew 2:13-23 (following the Christmas play)
(3rd Sunday of Advent when we light the pink Christmas candle of joy on the Advent wreath).
At Messy Church / Messy Christmas this month we had a story which had this key line in it: Keep Calm and Carry On. And the people responded each time: It’s Messy. Christmas.
And it doesn’t get much messier than this today.
- Jesus on a mad King’s hit-list.
- The massacre of the innocents – all those little boys slaughtered.
- Jesus the refugee – anticipating perhaps the 65 million refugees in the world today.
- A dad with international travel plans that appear out of nowhere – virtually overnight (in a dream). (Joseph, you could have given us some warning!)
- Settling in Nazareth! What a strange choice…. Nazareth! Can anything good come out of there? (John 1:46 – the words of Nathanael).
So how much JOY do you think they “enjoyed” in those early years?
Great question really. I’m not sure they were in it for the joy ride. (Like the people in “Jingle Bells” laughing all the way on their sleigh).
It speaks to our lives – when they are not ordered and predictable, when God is at work stirring us up to listen to his voice, open ourselves to dreams, and being willing to be sent where He wants us to go. To speak to the people He wants us to speak to. To be vulnerable. Even ostracised. To live a roller-coaster life – which is the closest it gets to a “joy ride”.
How are you doing when it comes to being flexible for God’s plans?
What kind of Joseph or Mary would you have been? How would your marriage have coped? Would you have gone off in the right direction? Or headed for a port to escape like Jonah did?
And would you children have been obedient like Jesus?
Remember the one thing said about him as a boy.
Two things matter actually – his words about being in his Father’s house, and the gospel writer Luke’s words about the boy Jesus.
Listen to the whole passage – he had been “lost” but not really in the story in Luke 2.
Luke 2 ends with this: Luk 2:49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luk 2:50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Luk 2:51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luk 2:52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
Will you grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people in your future? Especially you young people who are the age Jesus was when that was written.
If you grow like that – you’ll know real joy.
Christmas joy does include the yummy things and great presents. I “enjoy” the carols too.
But nothing beats the deep joy in our hearts when we are listening to God and going where He wants us for His purposes. Being who he wants us to be.
The Joy of the Lord will be our strength, said the prophet Nehemiah in 8:10.
King David wrote this: God will fill our hearts (lit: You have filled my heart ) with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound in Psalm 4:7.
Knowing the Creator is always far better than knowing even the joys of his creation. God’s gladness invaded David’s heart.
And that happens when obedience is the goal, not the joy itself. When we have a true undivided heart for God.
What is in your heart then?
As C. S. Lewis points out, we will never know joy by seeking it.
Joy or gladness comes as a side-effect of the presence of the living God.
When Lewis became a Christian, he was in his words “surprised by joy.”
May you too be surprised by joy. This Advent and beyond.
May a pink candle be lit in your life every day!
Family Service story – “The day Jesus died.” by Robin Palmer. (A story for children of all ages – with a kiwi flavour and idiom).
So they were having Passover supper – Jesus and his friends – remembering how Moses got their families way back in the day out of Egypt.
And they were eating away – and wondering when Jesus would become a real soldier kind of king and beat up the Romans who had just taken over their country…
And Jesus said – “this is the last time I will have this party with you – until the end of the world as we know it..”
“That’s no good” they said.
And then he told them that one of his friends would rat on him and get him arrested by those same horrible Romans.
“That’s no good” they said.
And they were looking at each other thinking: “I wonder who it is who is going to spill the beans and get Jesus into trouble…” What a rat.
The next thing they were arguing about who was more important in their group.
“That’s no good” he said.
“You have to be the ones who do the dirty work and slave away for others – not be their boss.” Said Jesus.
“That’s no good” they said.
And then Jesus had a little word with their leader, Peter – warning him to be strong – that things would be difficult – and that he would pretend not to know Jesus when he was arrested and locked up.
“That’s no good” said Peter. You know me. I’m not like that.
‘Yeah right” said Jesus. Let’s wait and see…
So they went out to the garden – because Jesus wanted to pray as he knew things were going to get tricky. “Please keep an eye out here” he said to them “and pray too that you will be strong”.
They fell asleep.
And when he came back and found them sleeping he said:
“That’s no good.”
Well then the one he said would rat on him came down the path leading a crowd of people – and kissed him like a brother.
Peter got mad and pulled out his sword and chopped off a man’s ear – actually he probably missed his head but you know Peter.
“That’s no good” said Jesus. And he fixed the man’s ear.
And they took Jesus away.
“That’s no good” they said.
And Peter was warming himself by a fire outside the jail – and some people said – “you’re with that Jesus in jail. You should be there too!”
“That’s no good” thought Peter.
“Jesus who?” he said to the people.
So they left him alone. Very alone. And a rooster crowed and he felt really bad. Extremely bad.
“That’s no good” said Peter.
So they brought him before the Roman chief called Pilate. They lied about him, saying that he did heaps of bad things. And that he was a king. And that he was causing trouble. And trying to overthrow the government.
“That’s no good” said people who knew the truth. He’s actually a good guy who makes people better.
Pilate heard he was from the area called Galilee.
“That’s no good” he said.
Herod looks after those people. He’s the king there. I’ll send him there and see if Herod can make this go away.
He did. He sent Jesus to king Herod. Herod was pretty pleased about this as he’d wanted to see Jesus and find out more about what people said he could do. Like magic stuff.
Jesus said nothing when Herod asked him heaps of questions.
“That’s no good” said Herod in an angry voice. Who do you think you are?
The soldiers dressed Jesus in fancy dress like a king and teased him badly.
Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate.
Pilate was fed-up. He didn’t think Jesus deserved to be killed. But he knew that if he didn’t sort this out there would be riots as the people had turned ugly. He would then be in trouble with his boss in Italy.
The mob kept crying for Jesus’ blood.
“That’s no good” he said.
So he set another evil man free – Abbas’ boy – who was a terrorist – he set HIM free to please the crowds – which he liked to do at Passover.
And Pilate sent Jesus to be killed. And his friends and family said;
‘That’s no good!”
So they made Jesus carry this heavy cross. He was already pretty messed up because they had whipped him till be bled.
And he stumbled and fell. And the Roman soldiers in charge said:
“That’s no good.” We’ll never get home for tea.
So they found a random bloke from Africa and made him carry the cross behind Jesus.
And they banged nails into his hands and feet and raised up his cross on the hill.
And it was hard for Jesus to breath – he had to push down on his feet to keep his lungs open.
And he looked at all those people he loved – the ones who nailed him, the one who ratted on him, the one who said “Jesus who?” and the ones who yelled out “kill Jesus!”
“That’s no good” He thought.
‘Father in heaven – forgive them because they have really lost it,” – he called out as he prayed.
He saw his mum there, tears streaming down her face. And his best friend he loved so much.
“That’s no good” he thought. This is terrible for them too.
“Mom” he called out “John can be your boy! John mate – look after mum like your mum! Please John!”
And the bad guys nailed up there on their crosses next to Jesus were wondering what this was all about. This was Jesus the good guy suffering and dying with them.
The one yelled at Jesus – “hey you could fix this mess!”
But the other said:
“That’s no good.”
He shouldn’t be here with us. Please remember me when you are a real king one day!
Righto – said Jesus. You’ll be there with me!
“Sweet as” said the man, wondering a bit how that would work – but pretty pleased to be included anyway. The other bad guy said: “that’s no good.”
So it got dark at midday – which was strange since the sun was usually really bright by then. Pitch dark – dark dark – for three hours.
Pretty spooky really.
And Jesus called out: “Father, I place my life into your hands!”
And he died.
And the people who loved him so, so much cried loudly: “That’s no good!”
And a kind and generous man with his friend wondered what they would do with his cold limp body. So they got permission to bury him in a new grave in the meantime. It was the day of rest as the sun went down. They could not clean him up – but they did wrap him in cloths – like his mum did when he was a baby.
So they did their best and put him in the grave – which was like a cave.
His other friends – with sore hearts – watched and waited.
This big boulder – a huge stone – was rolled in front of the door of the tomb.
And when they went home for the Sabbath celebration, he was dead and alone.
Until the Sunday morning.
God looked down on the cemetery and said to himself:
“That’s no good.”
Readings: Luke 9:37-51; Luke 13:31-35
How do you respond to warnings or threats?
We don’t know much about the Pharisees who come to warn Jesus that Herod is planning to kill him. We do know Herod Antipas. John the Baptist encountered him in a rather grim way. Jesus was rattled by his cousin’s death I am sure. He was not impervious to grief and sorrow. His weeping at Lazarus’ death reminds us of that starkly in that shortest verse of the Bible in John 11:35.
But he is not put off by the threat. And he goes into prophetic mode. The imagery is graphic and colourful. And bold.
Foxes and hens.
People would have expected him to talk about eagles – following Old Testament verses like Deuteronomy 32:11
But this was a specifically political moment. And Jesus was an astute politician.
To use an eagle as a metaphor or simile would have conjured up associations with the Roman authorities and their eagle.
So he uses a chicken. A brooding mother.
In the first verses of the Bible, few translations capture this brooding image which is attributed to the Spirit of God.
The NIV puts it like this: Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen 1:2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The Message captures the Hebrew best: Gen 1:1 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth–all you see, all you don’t see. Gen 1:2 Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
Don’t be fooled by the casual style of The Message. The Presbyterian professor Eugene Peterson who gave us this version is a top Hebrew scholar.
The image of the Spirit here is of expectancy prior to birth or creation. Why should the image of the Son be any different?
Jesus’ hen is the mother who is trying to gather the chicks together in a storm – but they are stubbornly staying in danger rather than coming under her wing.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets, abuser of the messengers of God! How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, Her brood safe under her wings– but you refused and turned away!
The fact that he calls Herod a fox is interesting. It had the same connotations as it does today. Sly, stinky, sneaky, sleazy, slippery fox. Well those were my words in my children’s stories I used to tell – except that the hero was “Ronny the rooster” who overcame his fear of the dark and ninja-kicked the marauding fox out of the hen house.
Listen again to Luke 13: Luk 13:31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
Jesus’ response is blunt: Luk 13:32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’
What do you make of his response? His goal was probably his resurrection, or at least the completion of his task as Messiah.
Calling someone a “fox” in antiquity would not necessarily imply that the person is sly; instead, it could portray the person as worthless, slanderous, treacherous or (often) cunning in an unprincipled manner.
Jesus is direct and deadly serious. He clearly knows what his mission is, and is not about to be derailed by a member of the Herod family.
He is not pastoral in his response. There is no polite thank you to the Pharisees for their warning. He probably knows that the messengers are up to no good. Perhaps their motive was to get him out of their area as it interfered with their popularity.
Jesus’ mission to the demon possessed and sick was all about the ordinary people. They were signs of the Kingdom he proclaimed, and the Kingdom teaching would have been the thing that got Herod anxious and explains his plot to kill Jesus. His father had tried when Jesus was an infant – so it ran in the family – that paranoia.
He knew that Jerusalem meant potential death as we see in the next verse: Luke 13:33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
Maybe he wouldn’t die in Galilee, but he would in Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He had set his face towards that city. In the NIV we read that he “resolutely” set out for Jerusalem. It was a deliberate choice – he resolved to do it.
And so the lament for Jerusalem follow. It’s not a judgment – but a sadness as they are not willing – and their house will be left desolate.
To go back to the barnyard image, Jesus us the hen! Tom Wright talks about fire in this story. It’s an interesting angle. He writes:
Fire is as terrifying to trapped animals as to people, if not more so. When a farmyard catches fire, the animals try to escape; but, if they cannot, some species have developed ways of protecting their young. The picture here is of a hen, gathering her chicks under her wings to protect them. There are stories of exactly this: after a farmyard fire, those cleaning up have found a dead hen, scorched and blackened – with live chicks sheltering under her wings. She has quite literally given her life to save them. It is a vivid and violent image of what Jesus declared he longed to do for Jerusalem and, by implication, for all Israel. But, at the moment, all he could see was chicks scurrying off in the opposite direction, taking no notice of the smoke and flames indicating the approach of danger, nor of the urgent warnings of the one who alone could give them safety.
- T. Wright (2004-01-01). Luke for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 171-172). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
WHAT ABOUT US?
Christ has given his life for us. He is the hen who has risked his life in the face of the marauding foxes, or fires. He set his face towards Jerusalem and was undaunted by the cross.
What do we do in return? The questions for us today are challenging.
- Are we derailed from our true calling? Are we not sometimes more daunted than undaunted? For Christians in other parts of the world – being faithful often means risking their lives.
- For us – what is the cost? Do our lives lead to the cross?
- Can we make sense of our lives as part of the establishment of God’s Kingdom in the world? Or are we frightened from our mission by the probable threats from those who don’t share our kingdom values? Or just embarrassed?
Perhaps for Lent we need to give up fear, and take on courage! Set sail in our own “resolutions”.
At least we must not give up. We need to surrender to God and keep on keeping on to the end!
READING: Matthew 2:1-23
I loved teaching boys, especially little ones. We used to sing this song with our year 1s and 2s – “you can be happy…” and there is a verse which goes “you can be friends with me, I can be friends with you…” where they used to shake hands. I usually had 40 little boys “being friends” in a rugby scrum on the floor. Probably not best health and safety policy, but no one ever suffocated.
Celebrations of joy for boys are often quite robust. They keep doing it until about age 25 when the brain is finally fully formed and adolescence ends.
It would not be unusual in my year 1s and 2s when we did colouring in of the nativity scene at Christmas for dinosaurs and volcanoes to appear behind baby Jesus, or soldiers with guns and tanks to trundle over the hill behind the stable.
Actually – they were onto something. With the guns and tanks I mean.
Hence the delight in the gory version of “Jingle Bells” so aptly sung in the play today.
Our idyllic Christmas with trees and gifts is not the norm for most of the world.
We were watching the interview “Hillary meets Oprah” this week where Oprah Winfrey talks about the day when she heard that this big fella who dominates the season with a “ho ho ho” apparently is a legend. She was 12, and probably should have worked it out by then.
The thought was that there would be no Christmas. They were poor. Dirt poor.
That night some nuns dropped off food and gifts. It changed her life.
She learnt to give later and went through African villages setting up a tent and giving clothes and toys to kids who never had Christmas.
Later on she found that the clothes were valued the most.
I remember one of my three children at about 5 wailing “I didn’t want a jersey” – which granny had lovingly knitted. Captured on video forever.
Oprah’s kids valued the clothes because they were an equalizer. Everything before had been hand me downs. These were new clothes. They empowered those kids. The toys were secondary.
Which they are mainly. They break or get upgraded these days.
The point of this?
Christmas is messy. Jesus ends up as a refugee. Hundreds of mums have their babies – little boys up to 2 year old – slaughtered by the aging Herod who had already bumped of a number of his own sons and many others in his paranoia. In fact, he gave instructions that when he died hundreds of Jewish nobles were to be killed – key people in every village whom he had rounded up and brought into the Hippodrome when he was dying – so that people would really mourn his passing and not throw a party. Thankfully they ignored that order.
He was a troubled man indeed. Mind you he had ten wives, two of whom shared the same name. Herod the great reigned for 33 years. The Jerusalem temple project he began took decades to complete, and was eventually finished in AD 63 only to be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans.
Appropriately the only remaining part today is the wailing wall.
Jesus was a refugee. Suddenly the wisdom of the magi makes sense – they needed gold as a resource to finance their travels as a young family. They flee to Egypt on account of Herod – saved by the wise “wise men” who didn’t report back to the despotic king.
The passage is matter of fact as time progresses. God keeps in touch with Joseph through a dream:
Mat 2:19-21: After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
Then of course the backstory is known to us. Herod was dangerous as long as he lived, but when he died it was still interesting. They say that where there is a will, there are relatives. Herod had written six wills, the last only 5 days before he died. Augustus the Emperor has to sort out the mess as each son (who had not been killed by their nice dad) had a claim to something.
The Kingdom is divided into three between Archelaus, Antipas and Philip. Herod. Antipas we meet again in March next year at Easter. Evil men and their evil children are part of the Christmas story. Not very joyful.
The story today ends with this:
Mat 2:22-23: But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Joseph was a smart man. Any member of Herod’s family and he needed to keep Jesus safe and well away.
Lessons for you kids?
- Be thankful for the dad you have. It’s not that bad you know. An attitude of gratitude makes you healthier and happier anyway. He’s not horrible Herod. Parents do say weird things sometimes. Like “if you get yourself killed doing something stupid, don’t come running to me”. And when they say that they feel like killing someone, it’s not true. They don’t really do it! Anger is sometimes an expression of love.
- And be joyful at Christmas. Joy comes from knowing that you are really loved, never mind what gifts you get. And – people who love you don’t always give you what you want. They know better because they usually know best. Trouble is our kids only figure that out when they have their own children one day. Spare a thought for those who get nothing at Christmas.
- Don’t miss the point of Christmas either. Even when things are horrible, God still sticks around. Jesus was born in a messy place to make it better. Part of our job until he returns is to make the world better – right where we are.
Ask Him to help you if things are messy in your life. He likes that.
The end. (aka Amen – we agree).
Sermon ― Bill Davey ― Elder at BBP
Reading: Matthew 2: 13 ― 23 – New International Version
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (See: Hosea 11:1)
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: (See: Jeremiah 31: 15)
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.”
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt
20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for
those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father
Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
Our current Lectionary highlights three elements in our text for clarification:
“The flight into Egypt,” “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” and “The Return to Israel”
Before we examine the text let us underpin two principles from the teaching of Jesus:
In Matt. 5: 17 ― Jesus taught:
“I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets
but to fulfill them (Law / Torah ― the teachings of God) !” (NIV)
In John 10: 10 ― when talking about a “Good Shepherd, Jesus taught:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)
“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (NAB)
In our text today, we find Jesus ― the Incarnate Son of God as a new-born totally dependent on his parents, and upon the super-natural care for his nurture, protection and provision, including that of His parents.
What does our text show and teach us?
It compares the Way of Herod ― in his Humanity with the Way of God
King Herod displays a particular example of his way of humanity!
[Pride / Independence / Deceit]
We find King Herod: ― ever promoting self-interest with evil manipulation and deceit:
― He deceived the Magi with his lies, claiming a wish to worship the God-child;
― He then arranged the slaughter of the Innocents,
(all boy children under 2 years of age) in Bethlehem.
the “Slaughter of the Innocents” (Matthew 2: Verses 16 to 18)
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31: 15)
During the octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighbourhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod.
Sacrificed by a wicked monarch these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him.
Our Christmas joy is tempered by a feeling of sadness. Our thought goes principally to the glory of the children, of those innocent victims, who are now in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.
Those children became known as the “infant Martyr flowers”; the Church’s first blossoms, martyred by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.(Sermon of St. Augustine)
Question: Why is the greatest gift of the unconditional love of God set alongside Herod’s [Pride, Independence and Deceit], acts of extreme cruelty and human savagery? (Comparison? Paradox?)
The Way of God ― (His Divine Plan)
― Prophetic links to this New Testament passage when referring to the Messiah.
(See: Hosea 11:1) ― Out of Egypt I called my Son!
(See: Isaiah 11: 1 ― The branch of the stump of Jesse!
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him-
The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD —
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”
(and see Micah 5:3) ― when she who is in labour gives birth!
What can we learn from Joseph and Mary?
― Two unplanned journeys ― one into Egypt, and then a return from Egypt!
both journeys inspired by God for the protection of His Child (The Son of God),
and marked by super-natural timing in the most testing time of circumstance.
Dreams guided Joseph about the when, where and how to journey to Egypt. Vv 13-14
Dreams guided Joseph about the when, where and how to return to Israel. Vv 20-23
Dreams guided Joseph about his decision to go to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.
― Joseph ― Listen to God and pray for guidance even as you obey Him!
― Mary ― Listen to your husband and pray for his guidance!
― By trusting the faithfulness of God ― We can listen to, and obey God, without question!
Our Church culture traditionally teaches us to: Know God; Serve God; Love God!
Today we have considered how important it is to: Listen to God;
Obey God; Live ― as if you are in the presence of God ― because you are!
We have noted the contrast between the way of King Herod and the way of God:
“Slaughter of the Innocents” and the
“Unconditional love of God ― the Gift of His Son ― Jesus!”
We have identified some key elements of the plans of God:
― the prophetic aspects of the unfolding truth of the escape to and from Egypt;
― the detailed dream-inspired decisions of Joseph and Mary;
― the key examples of Listening to God and Obeying God, without debate.
Important to learn: How well will I or we listen to, and obey God, in this coming year?
How well do I or we know the way of our Lord?
Let us pray: . . . .
Lord help us to: Listen to you O Lord; Obey you O Lord; and Live ― as if we are ever in your presence ― because we really are!
Acknowledgement of www.electronicprayerbook.com
Readings: Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Here we are in the middle of Advent – on the Sunday where the theme is JOY – and we have enjoyed an amazing modern yet traditional children’s pageant.They told the Christmas story using borrowed adults from the congregation as actors and had angels prompting four different parts of the audience to call out at key moments in the tale. What a wonderful time. Every time we heard the word “angel” our sector leapt up and cried out “glory to God”. You get the idea! Great to see everyone having so much fun in celebrating this old old story.
And then the story “Annie’s Treasure” followed – for our little ones and oldies to enjoy together. The Gospel of Jesus the baby in the nativity scene with scarred marked hands. Jesus the boy whose birth we celebrate with joy – who was Jesus the crucified suffering God.
The candle for this Sunday in Lent is pink – while all the others are purple. Pink represents joy and reminds of times when people were more austere during Lent and not very festive. The pink candle let them off the hook, if you like.
Tidings of comfort and joy are desperately needed by so many at this time. For the families of those tragically killed in Connecticut, the happiness of the season is horribly marred with terrible shock, horror and grief. Such depth of comfort is needed.
Of course each day tragedies unfold around the globe, especially where little ones and innocent mums suffer from the ravages of war and terror. Perhaps we are immune to the endless bad news that we see on TV each day.
One has to say again that JOY is a far cry from the Happy Christmas that so many seek. Joy and the biblical idea of rejoicing is really deeper, richer and wider. It is so profound that Paul captures some of this sense when he writes in Philippians 4:4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
For those in the depths of despair and grief at this time, the Lord is at hand too and only He in time can help them to deal with their pain. They may, in time, find the peace of God through prayer and petition. So too we in our anxiety need to look to Him for peace. So many people face illness, loneliness through bereavement, and real need at Christmas. We continue to love them and pray for them. I encourage you to take some time to visit them or give them a call.
John the Baptizer features again in the Gospel today, in a continuation of last week’s reading. He continues to spell out the implications of his message calling for repentance in order to prepare the way for God to act. If people were to heed his message (in its practical applications of justice and sharing) there would be joy for many millions rather than the ongoing suffering we see. In verse 8 John bluntly declairs: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And he continues in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3: “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
That would bring great joy to many if it were applied today. And John continues with clear instructions to tax collectors and soldiers that involve fair play and justice. For many that would bring great joy were such acts real in their lives.
Christian joy was something that came a lot later in the story. Yes there was rejoicing at His birth. But soon afterwards there was the “slaughter of the innocents” as the political ramifications of the birth of this King were played out by the paranoid King Herod the Great. There were weeping mothers on that day too. And years later after three years of powerful teaching with signs and wonders, Jesus’ confrontation of the truth in the lives of the rich and powerful culmunated in his execution on Calvary (the hill of the skull). And of course John – this powerful preacher and prophet – had been executed by another of those in the Herod dynasty – Herod Antipas.
It is some time later – after Jesus’ resurrection and Ascension – that this passage in Luke 3 begins to become a reality. In verses 15 and 16 we read these words: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
The ultimate source of transforming power was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – God in action in people making the life of Jesus real to them. It is no coincidence that the fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5 read, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (5:22). Joy is something that God works in us by His transforming Spirit. It seems clear that we can’t “cook these things up” on our own. The fruit of the Spirit makes real transformation possible. A few of these fruits of character in the mix and the world again would be a better place.
Last year around this time I wrote these words on a related theme. I would like to revisit these thoughts as they take us further:
During the week ahead I would ask you to read Luke 1:1-25. It’s the story of the conception of John who features so much in these Advent readings as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. The anointing of the Holy Spirit on the infant John in his mother’s womb – before his birth – interests me. This man is anointed early on for his unique prophetic role in history. (Actually read the whole of Luke 1 as it explores the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary).
John lived a reclusive life and preached a tough message in a challenging context of an occupying force and religious leaders who had lost the plot. He was the last great prophet in that tradition. God raised him up in power and people repented of their sins.
Here’s a thought for you. You can sing the right songs – whatever that means for you – you can modernize or traditionalize your worship and church life. You can get it all right, so to speak, and have great sermons. You can run great programmes and do amazing things that bring delight to those who listen.
But there is no joy in what you do without the work of the Holy Spirit. The true joy is much wider and deeper – born out of a relationship of transformation by Jesus through the Spirit. It was through the Holy Spirit that John was empowered from the beginning. And despite his destiny he persistently pointed to Jesus the greater one. He made it clear that he was not the light – Jesus was. How much more we as ministers, elders, youth leaders, children’s workers, and members of the church and all its organisations. We are not here for our own pleasure. We are called to point to Jesus, and to minister to the world – showing the light of Jesus with joy and integrity. We are to reflect his light and shine in our world – in the power and joy of the Holy Spirit. Without His anointing we may miss God and miss the point of it all.
May the joy of Jesus become yours again! May we seek and experience the true anointing of the Holy Spirit in all we do.