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!
Readings: Micah 5:1-3; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
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).
Titus 2:11-14 and Luke 2:1-14
So how much room is there in your home and heart for Jesus?
Let’s watch this video!
The kids play is pretty direct – especially the people shutting their doors on Jesus! No room in the inn – the doors kept shutting.
But there was a plan!
GOD”S PLAN seldom lines up with ours. We sometimes think that our spiritual lives have no connection with the ordinary things and the people around us in the world – with our political systems – our finances – our social lives – the complications of our society today.
It may seem to some that Christians hide away in church from all of this. The point is – it is all God’s! God’s world and God’s people.
Paul writes to Titus and reminds him of this universal and international intention of God: 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
While we recognise that Mary and Joseph were uniquely open to God – other people who probably weren’t that open are also used by him:
- Caesar Augustus for one – issued a census that meant Mary and Joseph would be in the right place for Jesus to be born – Bethlehem.
- The innkeeper – who did not recognise the significance of who these three were – yet made a plan out of compassion – and set the tone for Jesus’ life amongst ordinary people and creatures of the earth.
- The shepherds – not your average literate bible-knowing church goers of the day. God gets their attention Why? Because he uses humble ordinary people for his purposes. The first visitors model for us the simple obedience that should be ours. More about that tomorrow!
The innkeeper – the man who made a plan – who could have been a kiwi with a “she’ll be right” attitude – organised a place where God affirms the simple things of creation and the humility of this new King. An upside down Kingdom indeed.
Are you prepared to go to any lengths to let Jesus in? Are you really wanting him in your life – in every part of it? There is a danger that we leave Jesus outside of those places that we regard as not very spiritual.
Well he made that stable a palace. And he can make your workshop, your garage, your office, your street – a place where his presence is known. And especially our homes. What a comfort to those who live alone – through choice, circumstance, bereavement or poverty. We can have this Son of God right there with us. Psalm 68:6 is such an encouragement – “God sets the lonely in families”. The church can become such an extended family.
There needs to be room for Him in our inns of every shape, size and description.
Readings: Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-112
So have you had any major revelations recently? I’m not talking about a sudden realisation that you are getting older – or that you have to pack up that Christmas tree as it is 12 days since Christmas day today and Christmas as a season is officially over!
I’m talking about revelation! Seeing the light maybe – like the wise men who followed the light of that star!
For Paul – in the reading from Ephesians – the revelation he received was the unveiling of a mystery. Verse 6 tells us the details:
6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
For Him – as a Jew and a Pharisee – he needed a revelation! Like Peter needed a vision when it came to changing his mind about associating with Gentiles.
You have to understand that they had nothing to do with Gentiles! Like we in our own way don’t associate with people who are different.
This was a radical shift – and the shift is seen at the time of Jesus’ birth – the wise men – the magi who come to worship Jesus – are Gentiles, perhaps Gentile kings – and they are worshipping a Jewish baby.
What really grabs me in the Ephesians reading today is verse 12:
12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
The NRSV gives us this translation of verse 11 and 12:
3:11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,
3:12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
I prefer this version.
The key word which resonates with modern people is the word ACCESS.
Think of all the times you get the message ACCESS DENIED – on your modern phone, internet, on an ATM – if you don’t have the right password access is denied.
In Christ we have access to God! Great news! And Paul expands this by saying – “with boldness and confidence through faith in him!”
The idea that non-Jewish people could have access to God is radical! And we are non- Jewish Gentile people too!
This is stunning news – …we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.. . This is the mystery that was revealed to Paul – the revelation from God that shifts the foundation of everything.
Paul also says this in Galatians 3:27-28 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
All these barriers come tumbling down!
And – sadly – we keep putting them up again! We create new ones or reinterpret the ones we read about in Galatians 3.
The idea that God wants people of all backgrounds and cultures to be part of his family should not be a major surprise for us. It does not take a revelation to figure out the basics. If you think about it – the fundamental teachings of Jesus are about breaking down barriers.
Think of his teaching in a nutshell –
- a new commandment I give unto you – that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 13:34 – repeated in John 15:12 & 17)
- He reinforces the Old Testament teaching – love your neighbour as yourself. (Lev 19:18 repeated in Matt 19:19 & 22:39 and Mark 12:31)
- He takes it further by telling us to love our enemies. (Matt 5:44 & Luke 6:27,35)
And the most famous parable that undergirds his teaching? I’m not sure what you would choose – I would say the Good Samaritan.
A friend of mine wrote about this from a different perspective this week. In short, Jesus was a great story teller. The idea of someone walking from Jerusalem to Jericho is absurd. That they would get mugged is quite likely.
The real issue is the question that churches like to pose – who are our neighbours exactly? And the contrast between the failure of the religious men to help with the kindness of the Samaritan is radical! More than that, the Samaritan would have been expected to finish the guy off.
They (Jews and Samaritans) would have despised each other. My friend concluded:
A “good Samaritan” is NOT simply someone who does something good. A Good Samaritan goes the extra mile for someone whom he himself could legitimately despise.
And his application:
1. Find and serve your enemies.
2. Visit your prejudices and repent of them
Some great challenges for the New Year then?
As we celebrate the amazing access we have to God – let’s not be selfish! We have a treasure that is meant to share – the Good News of Jesus.
Let’s really ask God to shine a little light on our lives – revealing to us a new sense of urgency to be obedient – and to reach people that are on His heart.
- To deal with our prejudices
- To step out into new adventures as we reach people who are different this year.
- And as we reach out to people we don’t like or who don’t like us – and serve them.
A WORD ABOUT PASSION
Here’s a thought. Paul is writing from jail. He’s in jail for proclaiming what had been revealed to him.
That’s passion. He writes this profound letter from prison. And – to top it all – this whole letter is not an essay on theology. Yes it is an essential letter for us to understand what we are meant to be as the church.
These passages are in the context of a prayer –are bracketed by prayer.
That’s what made him who he was. That’s his heart. He was compelled to share the revelation that God wanted all people in His family – and that he made this possible through Jesus. Hence his prayer and his appeal for his readers’ prayers for him!
HERE’S MY NEW YEAR’S VISION and DREAM!
Are we going to politely listen to another 52 sermons this year untouched?
Going from here saying – well that was interesting?
Or will there be an impact on our lives, our lifestyle, our passion and our prayer life – which is the same thing as our relationship with God. A revelation! Will we get it? Will you get it??
Is your view of God big enough to grasp the potential for real transformation of yourself and this community.
Read Ephesians 1:15- 19 – does this not grab your attention? People’s prayers reveal their passion!
And then read Ephesians 3:13- 21 – and get a sense of the expectation Paul had as he prayed.
And the letter ends with his teaching on the armour of God:
It ends with this in chapter 6, verses 18 to 20:
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Being in Jail did not deter Paul when it came to passion to proclaim this revelation!
Roll on 2013!
May God speak to you and fill you with a taste of this passion and excitement!