The Mystery of Egypt

So here we are at the end of the first chapter in the Story of Jesus. If you have been with us since the beginning of the advent season then you know that we have been looking at some of the mysteries of Christmas. We started with the mystery of the Virgin Birth and how it had been prophesied hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah and we looked at various reasons of why we should believe that Mary was a virgin. The bible foretold it and she affirmed it when the angel Gabriel told her that she would become pregnant she replied by saying Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” In the original language she doesn’t actually use the word Virgin she says “I have never been with a man”
But the ultimate reason is that Jesus could only have one father and you will either believe that Joseph the Carpenter was Jesus’ father or you will believe that God the creator of the Universe was Jesus’ father, but they can’t both be Jesus’ father.
Then we looked at the trip that Joseph made with the very pregnant Mary, a trip that took them from Nazareth, up here just 24 Kms southwest of the Sea of Galilee to Bethlehem which was 120 kms away over rugged terrain. A trip that probably would have taken them the best part of a week and in the very best of situations they would have ridden donkeys. Donkeys! You ever ride on a donkey? You ever ride on a donkey 9 months pregnant?
You would have to wonder what would ever possess a man to take his very pregnant wife on that type of journey. Madness or perhaps there was another explanation or two. Within the scriptures we discovered the answers. The first part of the answer lies in the Old Testament, it was prophesied by the Prophet Micah. You will remember that King David was considered the greatest king that Israel ever had, and he was born in Bethlehem and throughout the Old Testament it was declared that the coming Messiah would be a descendent of David and Micah wrote this hundreds of years before the birth of Christ: Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
But the second part of the answer is not found hundreds of years before Christ’s birth but at the very time of Christ’s birth. Luke 2:1-4 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home.
Not sure that Mary and Joseph would have seen it as a fortuitous situation but it certainly meant that they were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.
And when they arrived in Bethlehem, they discovered either that they should have made reservations or they had made them and they were lost because we are told that Luke 2:6-7 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
If I was planning the birth of the Son of God I think I would have taken care of that detail, the angel Gabriel is all over this story and he either forgets to find them a place to stay or books them into a stable.
There have been times that we have arrived at a place where we had made reservations and probably should have stayed in a barn. But as with the rest of the story there was a reason, it was not simply by happenstance or by error that the son of God would be born in a stable.
From his very conception we see the hand of God; it would be naive to think that the birth place of Jesus was accidental. And so because of the humble birth place of Christ it was accessible on that first morning even to those who proper folks wouldn’t have invited into their homes . . . shepherds. And two thousand years later Jesus remains accessible to each of us, regardless of our place on the social registry or the fortune 500.
And just two days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus, sang of Virgins and Bethlehem, of mangers and shepherds and for most of us the Christmas story finished as the shepherds returned to their fields and the Wise Men silently headed east returning to their mysterious home.
But while most of us would end this part of the story with a period the bible uses a comma, because it is here we discover “The Mystery of Egypt.”
Let’s go back to the story. You will recall how on their way to Bethlehem the Wise Men stopped into Jerusalem where they paid their respects to King Herod who wasn’t really a King but was kind of a puppet Governor whom the Romans let rule over a small portion of Palestine. But it was his portion of Palestine and he was insanely suspicious, with the emphasis on the insane part of that statement, suspicious of those he thought were a threat to his rule. We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he had murdered his wife, mother in law and two sons because he thought they were trying to oust him, and maybe they were but it was Caesar himself who commented “It is safer to be Herod’s pig then his son.”
When Herod heard there was a child born who was to be the King of the Jews he was furious and began planning bad things for the baby Jesus. Gabriel shows up again warns the Wise Men to skip the Jerusalem part of their trip on the way home and that’s where we pick up in our story.
Matthew 2:13-15 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
And that is really all we know. The Holy family fled to Egypt, stayed for an indeterminable period of time and then returned to Palestine. The bible doesn’t elaborate on where they lived, although if you travel to Egypt today traditions of the Coptic Church will direct you to any number of spots that they claim were notable spots in Jesus’ childhood.
A little aside here, for many of us the church is cleanly divided into two sections: Catholic and Protestant. And yet around the world there are parts of our family that have a long history. The Coptic Church, or Egyptian Orthodox Church is said to have been started in AD 42, by Saint Mark, that’s only ten years after the death and resurrection of Christ.
While we are giving a time in history that Mary and Joseph returned to Palestine, the bible tells us they stayed there until Herod’s death which history tells us happened in AD we don’t have a definitive birth date for the birth of Christ. Many scholars have estimated
Back to the story; We kind of see Egypt as a strange place for Joseph to take his family but that is because we see it from our time and perspective. Two thousand years ago it was a Roman Province where Greek was spoken, it wasn’t that far away from Jerusalem only 100 miles or so, but still outside the reach of Herod and there was a certain familiarity about it, not to mention the symbolism wrapped up in Jesus making the same trip the people of Israel had made when Joseph’s family had fled there to escape a famine in Palestine 1700 years before.                                    
And while we don’t know a lot of the details concerning their stay in Egypt there is a great story that is told in tradition. When Joseph and Mary were on their way to Egypt, they were waylaid by a group of highway men. One of the outlaws wanted to murder them and steal their belongings.
But another of the group stepped in and protected the family, tradition tells us that he looked at the Christ child and said, “O most blessed of children, if ever there comes a time for having mercy on me, then remember me, and forget not this hour”. So, the legend says that the next time Jesus and the thief met was at Calvary where Dismas hung on the cross next to Jesus and there he found forgiveness and grace. Great story isn’t it?     Is it true? I have no idea but it is a great story.                        
But what do we learn from this brief interlude in this young families’ Life?
We Discover It Was a Story of Trust Mary and Joseph must have been overwhelmed with all that was going on. They get to the end of this gruelling journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem only to discover that for whatever reason the village inn had no room for them. Some kind soul allows them the use of a stable where their first child is born. Do you remember the birth of your first child? You can’t really believe it’s happened, even though you had nine months to prepare. You have to count all the little fingers and toes and then you count them again, hardly able to comprehend how tiny and perfect they are. Almost like baby toes and fingers. Then there are endless discussions of who the baby looks like until you final settle on Uncle Moe, the one with no hair and no teeth.
And then a flock of shepherds show up, do shepherds come in flocks? Babbling about angels and wanting to see the baby. And then it was the Magi with their gifts and talk about how they had travelled hundreds of miles across the desert in search of this child who would become a king. A little overwhelming for a Nazarene carpenter and his young bride.
And just when Joe thinks that maybe things have settle down and he can finally get some sleep his dreams are interrupted by an angel, again. Matthew 2:13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Joseph must have been thinking every time an angel shows up he got some strange story and request. First it was when he was still reeling from the bombshell that Mary had dropped, that she was going to have a baby and that the father was the Holy Spirit. He was already to break off the engagement when an Angel showed up letting Joseph know that everything Mary said was true and commanded him to marry her and call the child Jesus. And he did.
Now this, he was to believe that not only did King Herod know that Jesus was born, I’m sure he was thinking “Like what’s with that? I’m just a carpenter and he’s a king, how’d he find out we haven’t even put the announcement in the newspaper yet. And besides why should a grumpy old man care enough about our child to want to kill him?”
It’s surprising how often God reveals extraordinary plans to ordinary people. Noah, I want you to build me an ark. Sarah and Abraham you are going to have a baby in your old age. David I want you to take on the giant Goliath with just five stones and sling shot, and on and on it goes.
Mary you are going to have a baby, even though you are a virgin. Joseph, Mary is going to have a baby even though she’s still a virgin.
And now this. It’s not for the ordinary that we have to trust, those are just things we do. And that’s probably why we have verses in the scriptures like Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.

And why the prophet tells us in Isaiah 12:2 See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.
And why Jesus assured his apostles and us: John 14:1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.

 And so there will be times that we don’t understand, and those are the times we have to trust that God knows what he’s doing.

 I love the response of Joseph throughout the Christmas story. He finds out Mary is pregnant and decides to call off the wedding, that night he is visited by an angel who tells him that it’s going to be all right and that he needs to marry his Fiancé. His response is found in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
After Jesus is born an angel visits and tells Joseph that Jesus’ life is in danger and they need to leave the country , we read about his response in Matthew 2:14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother,
When Herod dies Joseph is visited once again by the angel, one would think that they should be on first name basis by now, and he is commanded to return to Israel, his response? Matthew 2:21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.
So more than anything we discover It Was a Story of Obedience
Is trust trust if we don’t act on it? Do you trust that the ice is thick enough to walk on? Will you walk on it? I love the story of the man falling over the bank. As he’s falling to a certain death he manages to grab hold of a branch and as he dangles he yells, “Help, help!” From above he hears a voice call out, “this is God, I’m here to help you.” “Thank you” He hollers back. The voice responds you need to trust me. Do you trust me?”
“Yes, he responds, I have trust you” “Then let go of the branch!” There’s a pause and the man calls out again, “Is there anyone else up there?”
We talk about trusting God but until we act upon that trust then trust is just a word.
We see how the bible is full of examples of trust, even when it didn’t seem to make sense, but the reason they are there is because the trust was acted on.
There are probably other instances were God called upon people and they said they trusted him, but when He asked them to do whatever it was to demonstrate that trust they hedged. And that’s why we don’t read about Harold in the lion’s den, or Bob killing the giant, or Fred building an ark.
Jesus offers us grace and forgiveness and in return he asks for our love and obedience. And sometimes we bristle at the thought of having to obey, but the commands of Christ aren’t set there to ruin our fun, they are set there for a purpose. Do you remember in the book of Matthew one of the religious leaders asked Jesus what the most important commandment was? In reply Jesus reached back into the Old Testament and answers Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, ” ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Love God and love others. And when you get right down to it that is the sum of Jesus teachings.
Love God and love people. And so when he tells us not to murder or steal or commit adultery he is simply telling us to treat other people right. Was the command to not cheat on our spouse put there to ruin our fun or to protect our families? When we are commanded to not take the Lords name in vain, not to have other gods and to take time out to worship him they are part of the Love the Lord your God.
And finally It Was A Story Of Faith Joseph had no guarantees, God didn’t hand him the plan written down so he could show Mary or that he could take out once in awhile to look at to reassure himself.
The directions were a little vague, “Go to Egypt” there was no address, not contact person for when he got there, no promise of a job. In the book of Hebrews Paul defines what faith is Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
That could have been written about Joseph, time and time again. He had an assurance about things he could not see.
But what does this mean for today, December 27th 2009? Well first of all it reminds us that we need to trust God. We need to trust him with our career, we need to trust his with our family, we need to trust that he loves us and has the very best at heart for us, but being in the centre of God’s will doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there will be no problems. But it does mean that he will be with us through the times of trouble and problems.
And it means that we need to obey him, to do as he commands and put our trust into action.
And that will only happen when we believe what we cannot see.

Ready or Not

Penn of Denn

So are you ready? According to some, it is now less than three years away, the end of the world that is. That’s right, according to some doomsayers, December 21st, 2012, marks the end of the 5,125-year cycle of the Mayan calendar.

What does that mean? It depends. To some, it means various doomsday scenarios, others feel that it simply signifies that the cycle will start over, much like in a much simpler fashion Saturday brings about the end of the week and on Sunday the week starts over. Others feel that it was just the point where the Mayan calendar makers got tired of making calendars.

But those who take it serious, are really taking it serious to the point that NASA has been getting emails from teenagers who are worried the world is doomed.

Here is what we do know from the bible. We do know that this world does have a life span, a best before date so to speak. And we know that that date is not 11:11 GMT on December 21, 2012, because Jesus told his apostles in Matthew 24:36 that nobody knows the day or hour when that will happen. Presumably that includes Mayans.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

    
 

    
 

 

The Mystery of the Stable

Everybody loves a good mystery and the Christmas story if full of mysteries, full of whys and hows and whos. If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks you know the theme we have chosen for this advent season is “The Mysteries of Christmas”
We started with the Virgin birth. One of the main stays of orthodox Christianity. The Apostle’s Creed reminds us when we recite “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”
But there are folks, including those who profess to follow Jesus who either dispute the virgin birth or ignore it. But it is the very essence of who Jesus was, he was not the son of a man and a woman like we are, he was and is the son of God and as such he wasn’t born in the usual way but had a wonderful marvellous birth and conception where his Father stepped outside of the very rules that he put in place, where two cells become one and then become two again. And he started with just one cell. Not because the act of sex and reproduction is dirty or sinful but simply because it is ordinary and here we are talking about the conception of the Son of God and that isn’t ordinary. And besides God couldn’t be Jesus’ father if Joseph was Jesus’ father.
And that is why we are told by the prophet Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
And then the next week we looked at the journey that Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth, a small town south west of the Sea of Galilee, to Bethlehem a village situated just outside of Jerusalem, a journey of 120 kms. Not a long journey today in comfortable cars on nice roads but for Joseph it would have been a trip that would have taken at least four days and more likely a week, on foot or by best case by donkey, while accompanying his wife who was about to give birth or as some versions of the Christmas story reminds us, was great with child. And we discovered that the answer to that Mystery could be discovered in the past and in the present.
The reason was connected to the past because the Old Testament contained prophecies saying that not only would the Messiah be born of the line of King David but that he would be born at the birthplace of King David. Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
Why were all these prophecies put in place, as a check system so the people of Israel would know that the Messiah was indeed the Messiah. Born of a virgin, check, born in Bethlehem, check and so on.
But the answer was not only in the past but it could also be found in their present, we know the story how the Roman Government decreed that a census would be taken and everyone would return to their ancestral home, in Joseph’s case that was Bethlehem. So it wasn’t a matter that they wanted to make the trip they had to make the trip.
And we all know what happened next, we sing about we see it in pageants and Christmas Cards, we all know the story. (Born in a barn video)
This is what the Bible records Luke 2:6-7 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.
It is interesting that this verse tells us that Mary gave birth to her first child, not her only child but her first child. Seldom do we stop and think about it but Jesus grew up with siblings; the scriptures tell us that he had brothers and sisters. But I digress, back to story.
This morning we are looking at: The Mystery of the Stable. I mean face it, if you were God, master of all things, creator of the universe and all that exists where would you want your child born? A beautiful home? A Palace? A nice hotel? How about a barn? No, probably not a barn. But that was it, the word of God doesn’t actually tell us that he was born in a barn, or even a stable but it does say that they laid him in a manger. Because most of us are city folks we aren’t familiar with the term manger, other than at Christmas time or when we spell manager wrong. As a matter of fact I grew up around horses and barns and I don’t think I ever used the term manger. But because of the Christmas story we all know what a manger is.
And again for those who do their bible study off of Christmas cards we picture this small lonely shed like structure all by itself, surrounded by singing angels and worshipful shepherds. But, hate to burst your bubble, but. . . The bible tells us that the shepherds left their fields and went into Bethlehem and we are told that 2000 years ago there was a structure in many communities called a khan and we are told that historically a khan was like a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. And so as a part of the historic landscape of Bethlehem, there would be this communal area where travellers could house and care for their animals. Kind of a . . . parking garage.
But at the heart of this story we discover humanity divided into two groups, and those two groups exist today and each one of us belongs to one of those two groups. Don’t you love it when something can be reduced to the very basics? There are not a hundred choices from which we have to choose, not fifty or even twenty or ten. Just two.
And so the first group we become acquainted with Those who said “No” To Jesus. I suppose there is an honour of sorts to be the first person to reject Christ.
The innkeeper is really the first villain in the story. I mean what type of person would turn away a pregnant lady who was as the King James version puts it was “Great with Child”? That’s the polite way of saying that Mary was a big as a house.
We often think of the Inn with a big no vacancy sign flashing in the window, but it wasn’t that there wasn’t room in the inn, that isn’t what the scripture says. Luke 2:6-7 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. What the Bible tells us is that there wasn’t room for them in the inn, and there is a difference
If we take that to it’s logical conclusion the assumption is that there wasn’t room for them but there was room for others.
Perhaps they innkeeper was keeping the room in case he received a better offer, maybe he knew that as more and more people arrived in Bethlehem for the census that any vacant rooms would become a commodity. You think how pricey even the most modest of rooms will be in Vancouver two months from now. And so perhaps the Innkeeper was just hedging his bets, it wasn’t a personal decision, just an economic one.
And it wasn’t that they were asking for the room for nothing. Again we often mix up tradition with actual facts. We have been conditioned from years of Christmas specials and Christmas cards to perceive the home that Christ was born into as one of poverty, and that probably wasn’t the case.
Joseph wasn’t poor, he was a carpenter a tradesman, he wouldn’t have been wealthy but I’m sure that he would have been considered middle class in that day and age. I’m sure that when Joseph gathered up Mary and headed for Bethlehem he probably came prepared they weren’t looking for charity. But perhaps greed on the innkeepers part meant that the room was priced well out of their reach.
And as unfortunate as they may have been at least it would have simply been a business decision in contrast to the other option.
Maybe he just didn’t want their type there, maybe he has something again people from Nazareth. “Sorry we don’t have room for you people.”
Were they “You peoples”? Apparently for some folks they were. Do you remember the story found in the first chapter of John’s gospel when the apostles were first gathering around Jesus? The story is found John 1:45-46 Philip went off to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from there?”
So perhaps the innkeeper just didn’t like folks from Nazareth. You might be wondering how he knew where they were from. There is a hint found a life time later when Jesus has been arrested, you might recall that Peter is warming himself outside of where Jesus was being questioned and he finds himself being accused of being one of Christ’s followers. A charge he denies, and then we read this Matthew 26:73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
Peter was from the same area as Joseph and Mary and ultimately Jesus. Never actually think of Jesus having an accent do we? From the movies we assume that if Jesus had an accent it was either British or American. That was what we technically refer to in preaching as a tangent.
Or maybe they just didn’t want a lady who was obviously about to go into labour in one of their rooms, there was the entire plenty of hot water and clean sheets thing, the potential for a mess and not to mention all the screaming that might disturb other guests, transitional labour is nothing to laugh at.
We don’t know why there was no room for them in the inn but we do know is that the innkeeper would not be the last person to reject Christ. And today when Jesus is rejected it’s just like at the inn it’s not because there is no room in the person’s life instead there is no room for Christ in their life.
There’s room for all kinds of things, career, family, habits, ambition and maybe even religion but not for Jesus
And sometimes it’s because a person really doesn’t want to pay the cost, and sometimes they are hoping a better offer will come along and sometimes they are just playing a long shot that they can live like hell and still make it into heaven.
But there were also Those who said “Yes” To Jesus
When we read the Christmas story we often focus on the fact that there was no room in the inn, however there was room in the stable. And the stable did belong to somebody, and that somebody allowed Mary and Joseph to move in, perhaps just for the night, maybe longer. We don’t know how long they stayed in the stable. Long enough for Jesus to be born, long enough for the shepherds to visit, but apparently they moved out before the Magi go there because Matthew tells us in Matthew 2:9-11 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary.

You gotta figure that at some point a woman became involved. “You put her where?” “Well you march yourself right out there and invite them in while I get the spare room ready.”
A couple of things, the offer of the stable would have been commendable if that was all they had. Seriously, if whoever owned it said “I don’t have room anywhere else but there is the stable.” And they went out and prepared it and cleaned it up and made Mary and Joseph comfortable.
But it would have been a different kettle of fish if they had something better and all they offered was the stable. Would have been a completely different story.
Christ explains the same principle in a very familiar story found in the gospel of, you are familiar with the story, Jesus is standing at the back of the temple next to the offering box and a widow drops in two small coins and we pick up the story in Mark 12:43-44 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
It’s the same in our lives the same gift can be given and for one person it is a sacrifice and for another it is just a bauble.
Regardless of why Jesus and his family ended up in the stable it did serve a couple of purposes. And again it is wise to remember Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
If you remember the story the first people invited to come to Jesus were the shepherds and we have to assume that they would have felt a lot more comfortable coming to a stable than coming into an inn or a private home.
“Mort, there are a bunch of shepherds at the door; they say they’re here to see the baby.” And not only that but how inconsiderate would it have been for God to have brought a bunch of shepherds into someone’s house with all of the mess and inconvenience that would have involved.
The shepherds were apparently an important part of the Christmas story, and God made it easy for them to take part.
I think the stable was instrumental in Jesus being accessible to all people. There is something about his humble birth that says He is there for all of us.
Often, not always but often, those born to a privileged life never understand those who are less fortunate than they are, even if their fortune was an accident of birth. We all remember Marie Antoinette’s comment when she was told that the peasants were upset because they had no bread, “If they have no bread than let them eat cake.” Actually if you go a little deeper you discover that when that comment was first reported Marie Antoinette was 10 years old and living in Austria, and while we don’t know for sure who said it historians feel that is was probably Maria Therese of Spain the wife of King Louise XIV of France. That was free, just another one of those educational services that Cornerstone provides.
And so Christ began his life not at the top of the economic and social ladder but at the bottom.
It is interesting to note and perhaps to ponder on that Christ began his life born in a stable that belonged to someone else and ended his life buried in a tomb that belonged to someone else. Not always one for inspirational poems and readings but I do love this one. (One solitary life)
Let’s end this morning with a quote from William Barclay who wrote “That there was no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the over-crowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search–and his rejection–go on.”
And so this Christmas the question is the same as it was on that first Christmas morning over 2000 years ago: Will you make room for Jesus?

Party Crashers

Penn of Denn

Did you hear about the couple that crashed the White House party? Apparently, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, somehow faked their way into a reception at the White House, that was being held in honour of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It has yet to determined how the pair gained entrance to the event, but the Salahi’s claim of having been invited, is being denied by the authorities. They did, however, get to schmooze with both the President and Vice-President while they were there. They obviously have, as my Daddy used to say, more nerve than Dick Tracy.

What started as a publicity stunt, might ultimately land them in court and maybe jail.

The bible tells us that there will be those who will try to get into heaven without an invitation. They will talk about how they were good enough and sincere enough and how they surely deserved to be let in. However, the word of God is very clear that there is only one way to gain an invitation and that is through the grace and forgiveness of God and unlike an invitation to the White House, all you need to do for an invitation to heaven, is ask.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

    
 

    
 

 

Inoculation


I had my H1N1 vaccine a couple of weeks ago. Since the clinic was at the church, all of my usual excuses for skipping the flu shot; can’t find the time, it’s not convenient etc., were rendered moot.

We all know the theory behind being vaccinated or inoculated and usually it’s a good thing, but. . . and we all know that after the “but”, comes the truth. It was Leslie Weatherhead who said, “The trouble with some of us is that we have been inoculated with small doses of Christianity, which keep us from catching the real thing.” Interesting, but sadly true in all too many cases.

The way you can tell if you have actually caught the flu, is by how much it impacts your life. If it doesn’t really affect your life, than maybe it wasn’t really the flu. The same can be said about Christianity and the impact it has or doesn’t have on your life.

Even though you think it might be too late for you, we would be wise to not repeat the same mistake with our kids. That’s assuming you want them to catch the real thing.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

    
 

    
 

 

The Mystery of Bethlehem

Mystery of Bethlehem
The theme we have chosen for this advent season is “The Mysteries of Christmas”. Last week we looked at the Mystery of the Virgin birth, how God Almighty the creator of the Universe stepped into the stream of human history to introduce his Son to the world. In that message we discovered that the Virgin birth was necessary because it fulfilled the prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
And really if you were God and you were coming to the earth, it would be a special occasion and it should happen in a special way. And I know that there are those who say “Well a Virgin birth is impossible.” Sure, but the same God who wrote the laws of nature surely is able to step outside the laws of nature.
So if you have been following the story, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her the exciting news, she’s going to be a mom, even though she is still a virgin, they work out the details but then there is the entire process of telling her parents and her fiancé, in Australia we’d say that would be a bit of a sticky wicket. And you can imagine that Joseph, the man she was engaged to wasn’t all that excited to hear the news. “You’re pregnant and you want me to believe the father is the Holy Spirit. Got news for you little lady, I didn’t just fall off the turnip wagon, we are through and maybe you can convince sell that story to some other sucker.”
And really you can’t blame him. Sure we know the story but he didn’t until the same angel appears and tells him in Matthew 1:20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” There was more to the conversation but the end result is found in Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Have you ever noticed how people communicate? Some people give you just the essentials, and others go to great extremes to make sure that you know the entire story and everything that led up to the story. I just want to shake them and say “Spit it out.”
Matthew and Luke are like that as they tell the Christmas story. Last week when I looked that the Virgin Birth I looked at Luke’s account. And he spends 30 verses and over five hundred words telling us the story. And that doesn’t include the back story that he tells about how Mary’s cousin Elizabeth became pregnant.
What does Matthew do? One verse, forty words: Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The same thing happens with the events that follow, Matthew tells us in Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. Which if you just want the story is kind of cool. Kind of Like “Denn was born in Chatham when Diefenbaker was King.” But really that doesn’t tell you the whole story does it? Why Chatham? Mom and Dad weren’t from the Miramachi, they didn’t stay there very long and I didn’t go back for almost forty years.
Matthew answers the “where” and when rather nicely Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. But there are a lot of questions that he leaves unanswered. And some of those questions are answered in Luke’s account and other’s we have to dig for. The most obvious question is “Why Bethlehem?” If we pull down one of our trusty maps we discover that Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived is up here, twenty four kms from the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and thirty kms inland from the Mediterranean Sea, a small village that was obviously the family home to both Mary and Joseph. And Bethlehem is way down here, about 120 kms away. For us that isn’t an insurmountable distance depending on how you drive and what the roads are like it would take you between an hour and two hours to make the trip. When I was in Sierra Leone I made a trip of eighty kms going from Makeni to Kamakwie hospital in four and a half hours but this trip was worse than that.
Mary was not just pregnant Luke tells us about the trip in Luke 2:4-5 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. Obviously pregnant. Hmm, love what it says in the KJV it says she was great with Child. And you know what I mean; there are some women who are obviously pregnant and others who are great with Child.
120 kms, across rugged terrain, if you believe Christmas Cards Joseph walked and Mary rode on a donkey. That makes sense but we don’t know it for sure. Maybe they both rode donkeys or maybe they both walked. Most of the time the drawings and paintings imply they are all by themselves making the trek but most likely they were travelling with a group or in a caravan probably for the safety that numbers provide. But regardless of whether they were travelling alone or with a group it was doubtful they could cover more than thirty kms a day and so the trip would have taken a minimum of four days and possible as long as a week.
But the question remains: Why? What would possibly possess you to head out on a journey of this type with your wife who was great with child?
Matthew tells us it was a Matter of the Past The problem in Canada is that we have no real sense of history, oh we can talk about Cabot and Champlain and Frobisher, we can point people to a 250 year old church in Halifax and a 350 year old house in Quebec, and in two years we will be able to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first church service on Caton’s Island. But really we are just babies. Sure it’s been four hundred years since the European settlement of Canada began but 400 years isn’t much. There was a four hundred year gap between the Old and New Testament.
Bethlehem is one of the communities that is sacred to the Jews, Christians and Muslims and all for various reasons but what they all share is that those reasons lie in Bethlehem’s past.
The first time Bethlehem is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 35:19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). This is Rachel, the wife of Abraham’s Grandson Jacob and it happened 1700 years before Christ was born. 1700 years. Do you have any idea what our history was like 1700 years ago? But I regress. It was also in Bethlehem that the story of Ruth took place; you can read all about that in the book of Ruth. It is a great story of integrity and Character. But for the Jews the most important thing about Bethlehem is that it was the birth place of an unlikely King. Which would be a great title about the birth of Christ but isn’t.
If you are familiar with your Old Testament history you will know that in the early years of Israel they were ruled by Men and women called Judges, some who were good and some who were not so good, but the people of Israel wanted to have a king like all the other kids. And so a man named Saul was appointed King. And if you think we sometime pick people with unlikely qualifications today listen to this 1 Samuel 9:2 His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land.
He might have been tall and good looking but he stunk at being a king, he started off well, he was obedient to God and tried to do the right things but eventually he started to think that he could do better by himself. And so it was decided that they would need to find a new King and the search was on, God appointed the Prophet Samuel to find the new King 1 Samuel 16:1 Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”
And maybe you know the story, Samuel arrives in Bethlehem and tells Jesse the news and it was kind of like Cinderella, Jesse trots all the boys out for Samuel to take a look at. The first one out of the gate impresses Samuel and he says 1 Samuel 16:6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”
But God reminds him in 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Possibly a lesson we still need today.
And seven sons were brought out and seven times God said “Nope” until finally 1 Samuel 16:11-13 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.” “Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.” So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.” So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.
That boy who was tending sheep of course became King David who took Israel to her peak of military and political influence. And it was from his lineage that the Promised Messiah would come, but more than that it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the birth place of David. Hundreds of years before Mary and Joseph set out on their journey the prophet Micah wrote in Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
Let’s always remember that the New Testament does not stand alone that the back story can often be found in the Old Testament. If you remember the Christmas story the Wise Men were directed to Jerusalem by the star and when they inquired about the baby king they were looking for King Herod asked the priests and religious leaders what the Magi were talking about. Their answer is found in Matthew 2:5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: And then they quoted Micah 5.
And so part of the why to Bethlehem lies in the past.
The lesson we learn is that not everything can be judged or answered in the here and now. That applies to why we do things and how we do things, the yesterday often helps explain today. How we treat people often goes back to how we were treated by people in our past. Our world view can often be explained by the teachers and influential people from our past. You can’t really understand Cornerstone until you understand our history.
Now let’s skip over to Luke’s version of the story
Luke 2:1-4 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.
Luke Tells us It Was A Matter of the Present: You understand the significance here right. There would come a time that Jesus’ bona fides would be questioned. Was he really the Messiah? Did he really fulfill the prophecies? Was he really who he said he was? And the teachers of the law would look not only at whether or not he fulfilled them but how he fulfilled them.
Maybe people would think it was all an elaborate scam thought up by Mary and Joseph. You know when people are expecting their first child they often dream of what that child will be and do when they grow up. Maybe they will be a Doctor or Prime Minister or the next Sydney Crosby, or perhaps the next Tiger Woods, without the entire adultery thing.
So maybe Mary and Joseph were hoping that their little boy would grow up to be the Messiah and they knew the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem so while Mary was great with child they made the four day trip. You say “That would be crazy Denn!” You watch the news? I’ve seen people do crazier things.
I’m not saying that is what happened, I’m just saying that eventually there could be potential for people to think that’s what happened.
But what if they didn’t have a choice, what if it could never be said that they were all part of a grand plan to scam the world into believing that their son was the Son of God by choosing to have their child in Bethlehem?
Not only that but this prophecy thing was important stuff, not to be trifled with. What if there was the chance that even if Mary and Joseph were given Angelic direction to go to Bethlehem they hedged. You know at the last minute decided they didn’t want to put the extra miles on donkey, or Mary wasn’t feeling well or Joseph had gotten behind in some of his carpentry work, or didn’t feel he could take the time off with a baby on the way.
So while they might choose to disobey a heavenly decree, for whatever reason, and don’t judge them, they would be much more apt to obey the law of the land, especially when it was enforced as strictly as Rome enforced it.
The question then is was Caesar used as a puppet? Or was the divine plan simply put into place to coincide with the plans of Rome? Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. Not anytime but the right time.
I don’t know if the Micah prophecy had even entered into Mary and Joseph’s thoughts, if with all that they were going through at that point in their lives if it was even on the radar. “We need to get the nursery ready, buy a crib, get a donkey baby seat and go to Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy made five hundred years ago.” But it was part of the plan. And I’m sure when they heard the news that they were going to have to make the trip to Bethlehem they may not have been thrilled.
“Great just what we need, Mary is ginormous, I have a big job going on for the Steinberg’s, our new house isn’t ready yet and now this.” But it was just what they needed, or at least it was what the Kingdom needed.
But ultimately it was a matter of obedience. Obedience to the laws of man and obedience to the direction of God. Maybe Joseph needed the first in order for the second. God is good; he provides us with a way and sometimes makes it easier for us.
How often do we need that nudge? I am sure there have been times in my life when I have done the right things and come out smelling like roses but I didn’t do the right thing enthusiastically, and maybe not completely willingly.
And sometimes we don’t understand why God allows what he does, and maybe will never understand on this side of eternity so all we can do is believe and claim the promise of Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Even when we don’t understand it, and may not understand it on this side of eternity and even when we wouldn’t have done it that way.
I mentioned to someone once that I was making a list of questions for when I got to heaven but they reminded me that we would have perfect knowledge when we got to heaven and wouldn’t have to ask those questions because then we would know.
We will be like: there are a few things I’d like to know. And then it will be the big eureka moment. Aha!
You remember the story, the Wise men had stopped in Jerusalem and asked for directions, and King Herod had consulted with his religious advisers who told him about the prophecies of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem and he asked the Wise Men to bring him news of the baby he was planning bad things for the baby Jesus. But an Angel appeared to the Magi and warned them not to return through Jerusalem and so we read in
Matthew 2:16 Herod was furious when he learned that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, because the wise men had told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier.
It was a Matter of Sin

There is one mystery of Bethlehem that isn’t as easy to explain and it has less to do with the goodness of God and more to do with the evil of man. And Herod was evil and extremely suspicious that others were trying to take his power, he murdered his wife and mother in law as well as three of his sons. Barlcay tells us that Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had said “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son” Which was a lot more poetic in the Greek where the word for Pig was Hus and for Son was Huios
Some people wonder why genocide like this wouldn’t be mentioned in history. Well, remember that at the time Bethlehem probably had a population of no more than 2000, less than half the population of Kingswood. So we are probably talking the death of 25 or 30 children tops. In a time when murder and unrighteousness was so wide spread the only people who would have been outraged at this tragedy would have been the parents.
But this is one of those questions of “Why didn’t God prevent this tragedy?” Why are there starving children in Africa, why do people get cancer? fifty feet to the port or starboard and the Mont-Blanc would have missed the Imo and the Halifax explosion would have been averted.
Why? because we live in a broken world and because in this case an evil man was in charge. Could God have stopped him? Yep, could God stop us every time we decided, notice I said decided, to sin? Yep, sure could but he has given us this gift called freewill and sometimes we use it to hurt people intentionally or unintentionally.
I would suspect that before Herod issued that order that he thought “this might not be a good idea” and then he went, “Oh well.” Just like we do. But I would never kill anyone, or hurt anyone. I guess it’s all degrees.
Had Herod obeyed the laws of God and of the land which say “Do not kill” the tragedy would have been averted. If Tiger Wood had of obeyed the law of God that says “Do not commit adultery” the media would have had less news to report last week, he wouldn’t have hurt his wife and possible broken up his family. I guess the thing to remember is that we are responsible for the decisions we make.
Joseph and Mary decided to be obedient to God, Herod decided to play the part of the villain but in both cases they were choices they made. So the question is what choices will you make?