What Next?

WELL, CHRISTMAS HAS COME and gone and New Year’s Eve is just a memory. How are you feeling about 2012? Are you excited? Are you cautious? Are you simply resigned to it happening?
The reality is that, regardless of how we feel about the coming year, there is a very good chance that it is going to happen, with or without your permission.
We have very little control over the coming of the New Year. What we do have control over is how we react to the events of the next 365 days regardless of whether they are good or bad.
Ultimately it will be your choice whether you allow the events that come into your life to make you a better person or a bitter person. Others may determine what happens in your life, but only you will determine what happens in your heart.
So, as we bid farewell to 2011 and hello to 2012, let’s do so looking forward to the New Year as an opportunity to do great things for God and to allow Him to do great things for us. It’s a brand new year with brand new possibilities, if we are only willing to see them and claim them.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Reflection of Tomorrow

A Reflection of Tomorrow
So here is the question:  When do your put Christmas away?  We usually do it on New Year’s Day. You know; take down the tree and Christmas cards, remove the lights from outside the house, pack up the nativity scene.  And before the first day of the new year is finished so is Christmas, at least for another year.  And I would suspect that in a less tangible way that for most folks they will put Christmas away early tomorrow morning.  I don’t mean the trappings of Christmas, I mean the essence of Christmas.  You know, what Christmas is all about.
For the past month the talk has been about Jesus and his birth, about Angels and Magi, Shepherds and mangers.  But that will be done today when the sun goes down.  For many people, and unfortunately many who identify themselves in some way with Christ and his church the baby Jesus will be packed up with the manger scene and tucked away until Easter. 
Yesterday our total attendance in all of our services was a little over 640 and on Easter Sunday we normally have in excess of 350 in attendance.  And I’m not complaining, I love Christmas Eve and consider it one of our primary outreach events.  And for the non-churched, non-aligned, non-committed I think it’s great that we have the opportunity to present the gospel to them in such a positive way.
But there are people who we saw last night, who we won’t see again until Easter Sunday who if you asked them would tell you that they were Christians, that they follow Jesus.  And yet they seem quite content to leave Jesus either in the cradle or on the cross.
And that certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, 2000 years ago at the first Christmas and then 33 years later when Christ was murdered there were those who were participants in the event and yet it had no impact on their lives whatsoever.  It was merely an incident that happened and they moved on and never looked back.
The Inn Keeper and Soldiers Were There  How could they know that by simply doing their jobs they were assured a place in history.  Granted we don’t know their names but out of all the Inn Keepers since the beginning of time this is the one whose story stands out, simply because he said “We have no room”.  And of the uncountable number of Roman Soldiers who served during the reign of the Roman Empire these men who mocked and tortured Jesus are the one who have been immortalized in books and paintings and movies. 
The inn keeper’s story is recorded in Luke 2:7 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.
The innkeeper wasn’t being malicious, he didn’t have anything personal against Mary and Joseph he just didn’t care.  The inn had been packed for days with the census going on and his inn was packed.  Maybe.   I don’t know if the inn was actually full or if we need to take a closer look at the phrase, there was no lodging available for them.
You see Luke didn’t say that there was no room in the inn, what he said was there was no room for THEM in the inn.  I wonder if demand had outstripped supply and prices had soared beyond the reach of the ordinary person.  I wonder if there would have been room in the inn if Joseph had of been Herod’s carpenter? 
The soldiers get more than a verse but it’s all part of the same story John 19:2-3 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.   But it wasn’t anything personal.  They would have done the same if it had been Barabbas or any other criminal.  It was just a way to break up their day and their cruelty was an impersonal cruelty. 
The mocked him because they could, they were in power and he wasn’t, they considered themselves to be right and him to be wrong and saw it as their right.  But at the end of the day they had forgotten the one whom some called King of the Jews.
The innkeeper and the soldiers are symbolic of the vast majority of people on that Christmas day.  The innkeeper didn’t know that it was the son of God he had turned away and the soldiers didn’t know it was the son of God they had nailed to a cross, it was just business.   
Isn’t that the way it is today?  People rush about their business, they go here, and they go there.  There are trees to find and trim, Christmas lights to put up, presents to buy and wrap, a turkey to stuff and cook.  The entire season has become a cult in itself.
And there are a lot of people out there who are not antagonistic about the real meaning of Christmas, they just don’t care.  They really don’t care that Christ was born, they don’t care that he lived for 33 years, they don’t care that he died on a cross for them, and they don’t care that after the third day he rose from the dead.  For them there was no Christmas Eve service, no Christmas day service, no Christmas story or Sunday School pageants.  They’ll get a few paid days off work, a turkey dinner and presents, it’s like the old Toyota ad said “Who could ask for anything more?”
There was a more antagonistic presence at both the first Christmas and the first Easter and they were a father and son.  You see Herod and Herod Were There.  You will recall in the Christmas story the wise men from the east first came to Jerusalem to ask directions to the Bethlehem and the new born king.  Herod asked the Magi to come back and let him know where he could go to worship this child but his motives were less than pure. 
You see 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.  We are told 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. 
33 years later Jesus was introduced to another Herod, this one was Herod Antipas, the son of the man who slaughtered the innocents in Bethlehem.  And this Herod had blood on his hands as well.  The account is given in Luke 23:7 When Pilate learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. So you understand the time sequence, Jesus has been arrested by the high priests who don’t actually have any authority to do anything to Jesus, so they off load him onto Pilate demanding Jesus execution.  Pilate can find no legal or moral reason to execute Jesus so he figures that he can get rid of the problem by delegating it to Herod, the Puppet king of the area. 
Luke tells us that Herod had heard about Jesus and was delighted at the opportunity to actually meet this teacher that everyone was talking about, but this wasn’t the Jesus Herod was expecting.  Herod demanded answers, Jesus remained silent, Herod demanded that Jesus perform miracles, and Jesus remained silent.  So Herod had him beaten and sent back to Pilate, even though he knew it was the wrong thing to do. 
You understand that Pilate was looking for a way to spare Jesus’ life, even if he was too cowardly to do it himself.  Herod had the opportunity to shine, to be more of a man than his father was and to do the right thing.  But he didn’t.  The scriptures say that Herod mocked and ridiculed Jesus.   I wonder if Herod knew what his Father had done 33 years before.  If so could he connect the dots?  Probably not something you bragged about.  Unless you were a Herod.
And I would suspect that neither Herod the Great nor his son really gave their actions another thought.  They were not only ambivalent toward what was happening at that first Christmas and Easter they were downright antagonistic.  
Herod was definitely hostile to the true meaning of Christmas. Sociologist Robert Lynd said “There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.”  Herod would fall into the second category of people. 
It’s not Christmas that people like Herod really resent; it is the religious nature of Christmas.  They are kind of like the two ladies who spotted a cross in a store window at Easter, and one commented, “Some people will try to put religion into everything.” 
People like that like Christmas, but they’d prefer to keep Christ out of it.  They would have us trade the manger for a toy store, they would have us swap Jesus for Santa and exchange the cross for a Christmas tree.  And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, unless they replace what Christmas is really about.  My kids used to light up around Santa, but the fat man in the red suit had to take a back seat to Jesus Christ.
There were other’s there as well and I’m a little disappointed in their stories, you see The Shepherds and the Roman Centurion Were There.    Luke 2:8 & 16 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. . . They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 
I hate to malign the shepherds but I tend to think of them as flash in the pan Christians.  Like who wouldn’t be impressed, talk about an engraved invitation.  They had this great choir of angels who told them about the Christ child, and that moved them to action.  Listen to Luke 2:17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
But that’s all she wrote, we don’t hear any more about the shepherds, no aged shepherd making his way to the cross to weep at the feet of Christ, as he saw the fulfilment of the promise.  None of the disciples were shepherds; there were no surprise witnesses at the trial of Jesus. No they stayed in Bethlehem, for them it was too far to travel to get to Calvary.  When the chills and thrills stopped they were assimilated into everyday life.
At the cross there is an Eureka moment on behalf of one of the men who took part in the crucifixion. Luke 23:47 When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” In the NIV it reads Luke 23:47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” But again there is no mention of the centurion again. Doesn’t show up in the upper room with the disciples, don’t read about him being a witness to other Roman soldiers, tradition is silent on his fate, and very seldom is tradition silent if there is even a whisper of a story.
Do you remember the first miracle that’s recorded in John’s Gospel?  It was when Jesus was at the Wedding in Cana and he turned the water into wine.  Listen to what the Bible says right after that, John 2:23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him.
And why not, it’s easy to believe when someone feeds 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, it’s easy when someone turns 180 gallons of water into wine, it’s easy to believe when a multitude of the heavenly host proclaim the truth from a celestial choir loft.
It’s not always as easy to maintain that belief when you’re sick, the kids are crying, the washing machine is overflowing and the car won’t start.  Or when you get laid off work, your spouse leaves you and your parents are dying.  All of a sudden belief isn’t nearly as easy, but hey that’s life.  We can’t live forever in the manger at Bethlehem.  The reason the Christian faith and the Christian Church has survived and flourished over the past 2000 years is that there have been some who after the angels have gone, and the heavens are still, and life is life, they still believe.
There are those who profess to keep Christ in Christmas and they do, the problem is not only do they keep Christ in Christmas they leave him there on Boxing day.  The shepherds were an integral part of Christmas, but I really wish that we saw them again somewhere outside of Bethlehem. 
Mary and the Angels were There  The only common denominators that we see in Jesus birth and death, besides Jesus were the angels who announced his birth and resurrection and his mother.  The angels, that was in their job description and Mary was there because Jesus was her son.  But there was more to it than that, her life was changed forever by the child that she had that day.  Every moment of every day would be changed from that point on.  You see Mary’s was not a half-hearted experience, or a part-time commitment.  She was 100% committed to the child she called Jesus.  She was there at the cross when her son died and when Luke lists the beginning of the church in the book of acts he writes Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
And that is what He is looking for today.  He wants us to come to the manger with the same attitude as Mary when she said “I am the Lord’s servant.” 

A Reflection of the Cradle and Grave

Transitions, in all of our lives there are transitions.  Times when our lives change and the lives of those around us change.  You know what I’m talking about because there are events that you are thinking about even as I speak.  Births, deaths, graduations, weddings, baptisms. 
Transitions, times when our lives change.  And we have this innate desire to make those events special, to do the very best that we can.  That’s why newborns often come home dressed in brand new finery to a newly decorated nursery filled with all kinds of “Stuff” they can’t really appreciate.  If we were simply doing it for them it would be a waste because they don’t know and they don’t care.
At the other end of the spectrum is death, and for some reason we often feel that we need to send off the dearly departed in style, spending money we really can’t afford to spend to impress who?  Obviously not the dearly departed, they are beyond impressing, perhaps it’s to let people know how much we loved our father, mother, husband, wife or child although I would think that if our love was that important that it would be testified to in our lives. 
Most of you have seen my smart car, so do you really think I’d be impressed to be buried in a $10,000.00 coffin?  My desire is to be cremated and have my ashes spread in the cove on Grand Manan where I played growing up.  We used to have four litre ice cream container set aside for my urn, with “Denn’s Ashe’s” written on it in magic marker but then it got used for dog food. 
Regardless we try to do the transitions up right. 
Over the past couple of weeks we have been preparing to recognize a transition that affected the entire world.  The birth of a child, and not just any child, a child who was the Son of God, a child who was God himself.  
And in three months or so we will mark another transition, Easter.  And we will be pausing to reflect on the death of the one whose birth we are celebrating tonight. 
And it’s in ironic that both the birth and death of the most important person to ever walk this earth were not marked by splendour but by simplicity.   
He began his earthy life in a borrowed cradle and finished it, thirty three years later, in a borrowed grave.
As we look at Reflections of Christmas we see the reflection of the grave of Jesus in the cradle of Jesus and we wonder:  “How far could from a borrowed cradle to a borrowed grave? 
If you were to ask a tour guide the answer might surprise you
because “Geographically, it’s closer than you might think.  If we could pull down a map and take a look we would discover that you only have to walk down the road about a kilometre and a half, and then take a left and it would only be eight kilometres to the city gates of Jerusalem.”   
Think about it, it is just a two-hour walk from the sleepy little town of Bethlehem where Christ was born, to the bustling streets of Jerusalem where Christ was crucified.
You know it’s not far at all and there’s a lot of history on this road.  Why it was in Bethlehem that Rachel was buried, and it was to Bethlehem that Naomi and Ruth came, and Bethlehem was where Ruth married Boaze. 
King David was born and raised in Bethlehem and 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.
It was to this little town that the carpenter Joseph came from Nazareth with his young, pregnant wife to be counted in the census ordered by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.  No it’s not very far at all from Bethlehem to Calvary, geographically speaking.
And Historically there wasn’t a lot of time between the cradle and the grave.  Compared to the Millenniums that have come and gone since God spoke the world into being, thirty-three years is a relatively short period of time.  It really isn’t that far from the starlit eastern sky of Bethlehem to the darkened midday sky of Jerusalem.  There is only a short lifetime between singing angels and tears of joy, to cursing soldiers and tears of grief.
Just a few short years from swaddling clothes to a crown of thorns, from dimples and stubby fingers to blood stained cheeks and nail pierced hands.  And yet as close as it might be, it is a sad fact of life that not many have made that thirty-three year journey from the cradle in Bethlehem to the grave at Calvary.
It is much more comfortable to talk about a cooing baby than a bleeding corpse.  The journey should be a short one but too many people prefer the cradle to the cross. 
It seems much less offensive to read to our children the words  Luke 2:10-11 “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
Rather than to read  Luke 23:33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross.
And yet it was the same author who recorded the events in Luke 2 and Luke 23. The two passages both speak of the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, and yet many still prefer Christmas trees to Easter lilies and they try and separate the one from the other.
Everyone loves Christmas with its bright lights, upbeat music and gifts in pretty paper.  People who may give very little attention to God and the Church pay a great deal of attention at Christmas time, even if it is unintentional.  And even though we whine about the commercialization and secularization of Christmas we need to realize that whether society wants to admit it or not, they are joining in the celebration of Christ’s birth. 
Every advertisement for Christmas keeps the name of the Messiah in front of people.  And while Zellers may not play “Victory in Jesus” or “For a thousand tongues to Sing” they proclaim the birth of Christ to everyone in the store with “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” being played over their PA.
But Easter is different, even though there have been attempts to capitalize on it as a holiday it runs a distant second to Christmas.  People prefer to talk about births and babies rather than crucifixions and corpses, but whether we want to admit it or not there is but a short distance between the borrowed cradle and the borrowed grave.
And it’s not simply a matter of history of time, of celebrations.  You see Theologically too many people are content to leave Christ in the cradle.
Video (Christmas Connection)
A Christ child is a safe Christ because he makes no demands on our life.  However the birth of the child in Bethlehem would be of little consequence without the death of the man on Calvary. 
We may not be as blatant with the question of “Whatever happened to the baby Jesus?”  But I think it is relatively easy to leave Jesus in the manger.
Christ didn’t remain a child, he isn’t forever an infant.  Listen to what Luke wrote in Luke 2:52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
So what was Luke saying?  Simple, Jesus grew up.  The child grew and matured; he became a toddler, a pre-schooler, school aged, teenager and an adult.  And then as an adult he was crucified on a cross at Calvary for you.
You see theologically without Calvary, Bethlehem was in vain.  Christ could have been born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, taught and healed and performed miracles and then died an old man and all we would have had is a wonderful example to follow. 
It took the sacrificial death of Christ to take away the sin of the world.  The converse is also true.  Calvary would not have been the redeeming event it was if God had not chosen to enter this world as a child and to live as a man.  It was not a man who was born in a cattle stall, neither was it a god.  And it was not a man who died on Calvary’s cross, nor was it a god.  It was Jesus Christ, God incarnate.  100% God and at the same time 100% man.  And it is here that the paradox of the incarnation leaps out at us.
No one here can fully explain how Christ was conceived in the womb of a virgin, his father being the Holy Spirit.  But that doesn’t in any way alter the fact that he was conceived in the womb of a virgin and his Father was in fact the Holy Spirit.  In the same way none of us could ever adequately explain how Christ, dying on a cross could cleanse my soul from its sin, 2000 years later.  But it did.  
Theologically it is just a short distance from Bethlehem to Calvary.  So why don’t we make the trip?  Why are we content to stay in Bethlehem when there is so much waiting for us just 8 kilometres down the road?  After all Bethlehem holds the promise of eternal life but it’s Calvary that holds the gift of eternal life.  And without believing the theology of the birth of Christ and his death and resurrection we can’t really believe in Jesus. 
Came across this story and quote this week.  Christopher Hitchens is an atheist, actually he was an atheist he died just a few days ago and while it is easy to say you don’t believe in God on this side of eternity it will be impossible to ignore God on the other side of eternity. 
And Hitchens wasn’t just the run of the mill, “I’m too cool to believe atheist” he was a militant atheist, an: everyone else should be an atheist type of atheist. He is the type of atheist that George Orwell described in Animal Farm when he wrote “He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).”   
Hitchens wrote the book “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”   And last week I read an interview of Christopher Hitchens by Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. 
And Sewell felt that the book’s criticisms were mostly directed at conservative Christianity, which she freely admits that she is not a part of.  She claims she doesn’t believe in the virgin birth, the atoning power of Jesus’ death or his bodily resurrection, maybe you know of pastors like that.   And so she asked the author, “Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”
And here was the response that Christopher Hitchens the militant non-apologetic atheist made.  And I quote “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”
What makes you a Christ follower is that you follow the Christ who was born of a virgin in a borrowed cradle and you follow a Christ who rose from the dead leaving behind an empty borrowed grave. 

Keeping Christ in Christian

You find truth in some of the strangest places.  I was reading an article online a couple of weeks ago, Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell was interviewing atheist Christopher Hitchens.  Hitchens who passed away last week, talk about “all dressed up and no place to go”, was the author of “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”  
Rev. Sewell, a liberal pastor,  felt that the book’s criticisms were mostly directed at conservative Christianity and so she asked the author,  “Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?” 
And Hitchens said and I quote, “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that He rose again from the dead and by His sacrifice, our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”
So, you would think if an atheist can figure that out it must be a fairly straight forward concept.  The question then has to be: How come there are churches that would deny the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ and his atonement and yet still call themselves “Christian” Churches?  
Maybe for some the challenge shouldn’t be keeping Christ in Christmas but keeping Christ in Christianity.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Reflection of Trust

She was a critical piece of the puzzle.  And she truly is what makes Christmas Christmas.  She was the original Madonna and she put the word “Virgin” in songs two thousand years before “Like a Virgin” became a hit.   Through the years she’s been called The Holy Mary, Saint Mary, The Blessed Mother, The Mother of God and on and on and on.  But in the Bible she is simply called Mary.
Max Lucado has twenty-five questions that he wants to ask Mary the mother of Jesus; here are a few of my favourites.
What was it like watching him pray? 
When he saw a rainbow did he ever mention a flood? 
Did you ever feel awkward teaching him how he created the world? 
When he saw a lamb being led to the slaughter did he act differently? 
Did you ever try to count the stars with him . . . and succeed? 
Did he ever come home with a black eye? 
Did he have any friends by the name of Judas? 
Did the thought ever occur to you that the God to whom you were praying was asleep under your own roof
Did you ever accidentally call him father? 
What did he and his cousin John talk about as kids? 
Did you ever think, That’s God eating my soup?
Mary is my hero.  She was the one chosen to change the diapers of God.  But before that she was just a young lady, with all the dreams and aspirations that young ladies 2000 years ago had.  She was going to get married and she was going to raise a family.  Nothing complicated.  And the first part of the plan was already coming together in the scripture that was read earlier it says Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. The plan became derailed however with the next line in that passage, But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And I know that there are folks out there who poo poo the entire idea of the virgin birth, and even some pastors and churches who say that it’s not possible for a virgin to conceive and then they assure their people that it’s not really necessary to believe in the Virgin birth.   They would tell you that Matthew simply meant that Mary was a young woman, or perhaps a young unmarried woman. 
If you’ve ever been to Greece then you might have had the opportunity to visit the “Parthenon” in Athens.  This is considered to be the most important surviving example of Classical Greek architecture.  It was built around 400 years before the birth of Christ and it was dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena, here is a stature of her which is called Athena Parthenos, or literally Athena the Virgin.  Parthenon the building literally meant the Virgin’s Room.  Why is that important?  Because the Greek word Parthenos is the word that is used time and time again to describe Mary.   
And really there are only two options, either Mary was a Virgin or someone other than Joseph got her pregnant before the wedding. 
Entire sermons have been preached on the Virgin birth, as a matter of fact I have preached entire sermons on the virgin birth, but the bottom line is you either believe it or you don’t believe it, the choice is yours.  I believe it.
It was Mary who was there when Jesus was conceived, it was Mary who was there when Jesus was born, it was Mary who was there when Jesus was murdered. 
Two weeks ago I spoke about Mary’s husband Joseph and the part he played in the beginning of Jesus’ life and then we looked at another Joseph.  Joseph of Arimathea who was there when Jesus died and who gave up his own tomb for Jesus’ body to be laid in.  The title of that message was “A Reflection of Sacrifice.” 
Today’s message is entitled “A Reflection of Trust” and Mary the Mother of Jesus is not the only Mary who plays an integral part in the story of Jesus.  
There was another Mary and we find her at the end of the story.  She has been vilified and deified.  Her name is Mary Magdalene and through the years she has been surrounded with myth and legend.  With the exception of Mary the mother of Jesus there is no other woman from the bible who has been the subject of so much discussion and speculation as has Mary. 
In the year 591, Pope Gregory the Great in a sermon preached to a gathering of Bishops declared that the Mary of Luke 8 was indeed the sinful woman mentioned in Luke 7 and was actually a prostitute.  If I had done that people would say; “interesting theory Denn has”, but when you’re Pope and considered infallible when you say someone’s a prostitute then they are a prostitute.
It wasn’t that Gregory had anything against Mary; he was simply using her for an illustration of how Jesus can change your life.  I’m not sure the sermon had the effect Gregory was hoping for because we are told a Magdalene cult spread throughout Europe.  
The French were so taken with Mary that they made her French. Around 1260, a Dominican monk published the Golden Legend, which claimed that after Jesus’ death Mary had fled Jerusalem and ended up in southern Gaul. Her spirit, the story said, protected the French, although she must have been on vacation between 1914 and 1945.
Later the Catholic Church apologized and in 1969, declared that, for the first time in 1400 years Mary should not be thought of as the sinful woman of Luke. I guess you’re only infallible while you’re still alive. And then in 1988, Pope John Paul II called Mary Magdalene “apostle to the apostles” in an official church document and noted that in Christians’ “most arduous test of faith and fidelity,” the Crucifixion, “the women proved stronger than the Apostles.” 
At different times in history Mary of Magdalene has been identified as Lazarus’s sister, the “sinful” woman mentioned in Luke 7:32 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8 that would be the entire “Cast the first stone” story, but there is no evidence for any of those theories.
Mary came back to the lime light in Dan Brown’s novel that swept to the top of the best sellers list at turn of the century.  In the Da Vinci Code Mary has been lifted to a new level for millions of readers and movie goers.  If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie the hypostasis is that Mary Magdalene and not Peter was the head apostle, that it was Mary whom Christ had entrusted his church with and Mary who was supposed to lead it.  That she was removed from her position by Peter and the other apostles because they resented her leadership and that she had to flee to France in order to save her life.  And it is in France that her descendants still live.

The book and movie also tell us that not only was Mary an important disciple of Christ’s but that she was also his wife and was pregnant with his child, a daughter named Sarah when he was crucified.  And that is the secret that is hid in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci. 
The major part of the book’s theory lays in the interpretation of Da Vinci’s painting the Last Supper.  We are all familiar with it, if not here is a picture of the painting. 
Now the Bible tells us that the Last Supper was attended by Jesus and his 12 apostles.  But in the Da Vinci Code we are told that this person here is not actually John but instead is Mary Magdalene. 
What do they base that on?  First of all it’s based on how girly John looks, but really what does that tell us, look at Phillip, he’s not as pretty but he could be a handsome woman. Artists of that era and Leonardo in particular tended to paint young men in a feminine manner, here is Da Vinci’s painting of John the Baptist.  Then the book tells us that everyone knows the V is the feminine sign, I didn’t, but presumably everyone else does.  And here we see the V.

Here is a secret they don’t tell you in the Da Vinci Code, Leonardo Da Vinci painted the last supper 1000 400 years after Christ and his Apostles celebrated the Last Supper, and he wasn’t working from a photo.  Here’s a painting of the last supper where all the Apostles are black, and here is one with all the Characters from Star Wars, Da Vinci could have painted them all Smurfs and wouldn’t doesn’t mean anything.
All we really know about Mary Magdalene is what the Bible tells us.  If you were to look in the Bible for Mary Magdalene you would find twelve instances recorded, all in the four Gospels.  We know that she was from the community of Magdala, from her name, which if we pull down our trusty map of Israel we see here is the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem.  And right here on the Sea of Galilee we discover the community of Magdala, here is a picture. I know, not much of a village, it’s actually no longer there. 

In Luke 8:1-2 we read He took his twelve disciples with him along with some women he had healed and from whom he had cast out evil spirits. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons . . .  So from that one passage we know that Mary followed Christ as a disciple, that Christ had delivered her from seven demons, we don’t know what those demons were and if anyone tells you what they were they are simply speculating, read my lips we don’t know.  What we do know is that it was a life changing experience for Mary.

The next time we see Mary is at the cross  Mark 15:39-40 When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene . . . 

But her devotion didn’t stop at the death of Jesus, we read in Mark 16:1 The next evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary the mother of James went out and purchased burial spices to put on Jesus’ body.
 And in John 20:11- 18 we are told that she was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection, John 20:18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.  And that is all we know about Mary.  We know that Jesus changed her life and she in turn committed her life to him.

Two Mary’s one story.  But what do they share, besides their name?
Jesus Changed Their Lives  Two lives changed by the introduction of Jesus.  Jesus Literally made all the difference in their lives, there can be no debating this.  It wasn’t as if they met Jesus and life continued with very little change other than what they did on Sunday morning.  Their lives were turned upside down and inside out, nothing would ever be the same.   For them Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians were a reality 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
In his mother’s case it may not have been for the better, at least not in the practical sense.  We kind of get the highlights, Mary was engaged to Joseph, she became pregnant by the Holy spirit, she travelled to Bethlehem with Jospeh, Jesus was born, they got married and they all lived happily ever after.  The end.
But do we stop and think about the upheaval in her life.  Her plan, I’m sure, was to get married and then get pregnant, not the other way around.  Her plan never included the scorn of people in her community, the distrust, if only for a while of her fiancé and ultimately the stress of raising the Son of God.
Think about it.    We all worry about messing our kids up but what if you had the added pressure and responsibility of that child being the child of God?
Mary Magdalene’s life was radically changed as well.  We don’t know all the details of what the Bible meant when it tells us that Jesus cast 7 demons out of Mary.  Most of us are so far removed from that part of the spiritual realm that it is like something from fiction.  In a church service in Ghana I had my first encounter with someone controlled by a demon and it wasn’t pretty and I didn’t understand all that was happening but that doesn’t mean it was fiction.   
We have to assume that those demons manifested themselves in a way that would have limited what Mary could do and had a negative effect on Mary’s life, because from the point of her deliverance on she is identified with Jesus and his apostles.   No more would her life be directed by forces beyond her control, she had choice a new path and a new direction.
Jesus did not come so we could have the same old same old, if you have chosen to follow Jesus your life should be different, because you have chosen a different path than the majority.
In both cases their lives changed for one reason and that was because They Trusted God  So we know the story.  An angel appears to Mary and tells her that she is going to have a child, when she objects that this is impossible because she is a virgin.  Because regardless of how you want to play around with the original Greek it is summed up in Mary’s statement in Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” Because Mary doesn’t actually use the word virgin here instead what she is saying is “I have never been with a man.”  And the angel’s response is one of my favorite verses in the bible because it is here that the angel tells Mary,  Luke 1:37 “For nothing is impossible with God.” Nothing, No-Thing is impossible with God.  We often quote this when we want to do the impossible but what it tells us it that when God wants to do something nothing will stop him. 
But the most awesome part of the story is the very next verse where it says Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
That’s the tough one isn’t it, it’s all well and good to say you believe that God has your very best at heart, it’s easy to say that you believe that God can do anything.  But Mary was basically saying not only do I believe it here, in my heart,  but I’m allowing you to work it out in my life.  I may not understand it, I might not even agree with what you are proposing but you are God so bring it on.
She willing gave up her reputation and her plans for the future in order to be obedient to God.
When Jesus delivered Mary Magdalene from the seven demons she never looked back.  We are told that she became one of those who followed Jesus.  There is an interesting note in the scripture that we read earlier remember Luke 8 where Mary was counted with those who followed Jesus, at the end of that passage about who was in the group it says Luke 8:3 . . . and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.   
You see Mary was one of those who not only gave of herself and her life and her time she gave of her finances, she trusted that what she gave to Jesus would last forever and that she would have what she needed.  But her trust went deeper than that because we are told that when the majority of Jesus disciples had deserted him Mary was at the cross.  Still trusting that God was in control she did was she knew was right.   And when it appeared that for all intents and purposes that Jesus had lost, when his dead and broken body was taken from the cross, Mary was there.  And when it would appear that Jesus’ enemies had won and his cold dead body was laid in the tomb, Mary was there.  And the next day when the disciples had scattered, in the cold dawn of the early morning we are told that Mary had already gone purchased the things that would be necessary to embalm her friend. 
And it was because of that trust and commitment that it was to Mary that Jesus first appeared after his resurrection.  
Mary his mother may have been the first there at his conception and birth but it was Mary Magdalene who was the first to witness his victory over death, the first to realize that Jesus wouldn’t be kept in the cradle and couldn’t be kept in the grave.
 And as we close my prayer for you this Christmas season is the same as Paul’s prayer for the church in Rome 2000 years ago
Romans 15:13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Come on Ring that Bell

I said I’d do it and I did it.  This week I volunteered with the Salvation Army to tend a kettle in the mall. 
I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get a bell, so I downloaded an app for my smart phone.  What says Christmas like a bearded fat man , wearing a Santa hat, shaking his phone next to a kettle?
And it was an interesting evening.  I was surprised at those who wouldn’t meet my eyes, although maybe that had to do with the phone and Santa hat.  I noticed that the majority of those who gave were over forty or under fourteen.  Interesting.    The gifts ranged from a few cents to a twenty-dollar bill and for a number of people it wasn’t the first time this year they had put money in a kettle.
And there were a couple of highlights. An older gentleman came over and offered to buy me a coffee, an obviously Muslim couple, (she wore a veil) wished me a Happy Christmas and a number of people thanked me for the work that the Salvation Army does in the community.  Overall a good evening.
I said I’d do it. . . and I’ll do it again.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Hark the Herald Mall Muzic

I heard it amongst the hustle and bustle of the season, in the commercial clamour of a shopping mall. My mind was a million miles away as I rushed about my day, and I really wasn’t prepared for it, but I heard it anyway. Above the busyness of the day, and through the fog of my daze, the words slowly broke through, “Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!”
One of my favourite things about going into the Christmas season is knowing that for the next month the world will willingly do what they would have problems with the church doing; publicly and loudly proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. Songs of praise and adoration will be sung about Jesus in the most unlikely places by the most unlikely people, and they’ll enjoy it. I think that’s a hoot. What a great opportunity it is for believers to remind people what they are singing about and what they are celebrating.
The Angel told the shepherds “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!” 2000 years later the news is still good, the joy is still great, and you will be somebody’s angel if you just take the time let them know.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Reflection of Sacrifice

He’s always the forgotten one at Christmas.  Oh we remember the Christ child, how could we forget him, even in the shopping malls they sing about the birth of Christ and his name is even included in the very word Christmas.  Without Christ there would be no Christmas and so he’s remembered.  And his mother, you remember “Round yon Virgin.”  After all the virgin birth was pretty spectacular, wasn’t an everyday occurrence.  And we are still talking about it.  And to give Mary her due it took a lot of faith to trust God for the miracle that he had promised.  We even remember the bit players in the drama, we talk about the shepherds and the Wiseman, we cast them in the Christmas pageants and talk about how lucky they were to be a part of the first advent.  The innkeeper even gets a speaking role and he’s basically the villain of the piece.  Who’s forgotten?  Joseph, you know Mary’s husband, the man who would raise Jesus the Son of God as Jesus the Son of Joseph.
We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph; we know that he was a carpenter, that he lived in Nazareth and that his family was originally from Bethlehem.  We know that his father’s name was Jacob, that he was a descendant of David.  We know that it was Joseph that the Angels came to in a dream to warn about King Herod looking for Jesus, and he took his family to Egypt. We know that when Jesus was 12 years old that Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and we know that Joseph taught Jesus his trade.  But then we don’t hear any more from or about Joseph after that.  We presume that because at his crucifixion Jesus asked John to care for his mother that Joseph died before Christ was crucified.  In Mark 6:3 he is identified as Mary’s son and his brothers are named but there is no mention of Joseph so it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Joseph died before Christ began his ministry.  And we know that Joseph was considered to be the Father of Christ.
You know the story; Joseph was engaged to a young girl from Nazareth named Mary.  Historically and culturally we can almost assume that they had been engaged from Childhood, although we don’t know that, and you know what happens when you assume right, yeah sometimes you’re wrong.  And so we don’t know how long they had been engaged but we do know that they had entered into the last stage of their engagement, which was known as the Betrothal.  Now Betrothal was much more serious than our engagement.  It lasted for about a year and was a legally binding contract, which could only be broken by death or by divorce. 
I’m sure that the couple was doing all the things that couples do to get ready for weddings.  You know the bride is rushing hither thither and yon, and she keeps asking the groom, so what do you think honey, is this right, should we do that, what about flowers, and the reception.  And Joseph being the good groom is nodding and smiling and saying “whatever you think dear.”  And I don’t know exactly how she broke the news to him, but at some point in all of the wedding arrangements she must have done a “I’m so excited about this, and what with Rachel coming for the wedding, and Martha, and Elizabeth, did I tell you that Elizabeth was pregnant?  I did, that is such a neat thing, you know I’m pregnant too, maybe the boys will play together when they grow up, do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as the beef?”
And Joseph does a “whoa, what did you say?” and Mary would respond and say “Do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as beef, you know in case there are vegetarians there?”   “No not that, the other part.”
“Oh, you mean about Rachel coming down, didn’t I tell you?”  Seriously I don’t know how Mary did it, how do you tell you fiancé that you’re pregnant and it had nothing to do with him.  Maybe she read him the Christmas story out of Luke.  However she did it though it must have left him completely stunned, how could she possibly have betrayed him, and then expected him to believe that entire line about her still being a virgin.  The father was the Holy Spirit, right, like what turnip wagon did she think he fell off of?
And the conversation must have ended with Joseph feeling betrayed and Mary feeling hurt because he didn’t believe her and he doubted her integrity.  But what could he do, he had trusted her, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but for her to go and . . . it just wasn’t right.  So what was he to do?  Well there were a couple of options, he could have her stoned to death, according to the law that was the punishment for Adultery and during the betrothal period it would be considered adultery.  The other option of course was to simply break off the engagement, but remember that by this time it could only be done with a formal divorce. 
The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man, and so he decided to simply go through with a quiet divorce so Mary wouldn’t be disgraced publicly and get on with his life.  But life is never that simple is it?  That night as he tumbled into a trouble sleep, something remarkable happened.  An Angel appeared to Joseph, I wonder if Joe’s first thought was “I knew I should have skipped the chilli and ice cream before I went to bed.”  Well the angel had a message and it was “trust her, Joseph, trust her.”  The angel explained how the child that Mary was carrying was indeed the Son of God and that Joseph needed to go ahead with the wedding.
It’s kind of interesting what happened here.  Perhaps you’ve never noticed it, or if you have then perhaps it didn’t bother you.  In  the scripture that was read this morning it says Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
You say, “Ok, what’s the problem?”  Well no problem really but In Luke Chapter 2 we are told how Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to take part in the Census listen to what it says in Luke 2:5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
Kind of beat that one around for a while, Matthew says Joseph took Mary home as his wife, but Luke calls Mary, Joseph’s fiancée.  I wonder, and I realize that I’m speculating but I wonder if Mary had to live with Joseph and his family until the wedding because her parents wouldn’t let her stay when they found out she was pregnant?   
I wonder if the wedding was perceived to be a shotgun wedding?  What type of wedding would it have been?  After all they didn’t have shotguns back then.  I remember a friend calling me and telling me that he and his girlfriend were getting married and it was going to be a formal wedding, that her father had painted the shotgun white.  We really don’t know much other than they were married and the scriptures tell us that she remained a virgin until Jesus was born.  The children she had after Jesus belonged to Joseph.  If you know the Christmas story you know that the Roman Authorities called for a census and that everyone had to return to the town of origin and for Joseph that meant taking his pregnant wife, probably by donkey from Nazareth here in the south, 75 miles to Bethlehem where the child would be born.  Not the type of trip recommended for someone who was 9 months pregnant.  When Angela was 8 1/2 months pregnant we moved back from New York, but she got to drive a brand new Plymouth, my dad would say she would have better off with a donkey but he’s a Ford man.
33 years down the road another Joseph appears in the story of Jesus.  This one is more obscure, if that’s possible than Mary’s husband was and instead of being at the beginning of the story we find him at the end of the story. 
It is after Jesus has been betrayed by Judas, after Jesus has been arrested by the Romans, after Jesus has been tried by Pilate, after Jesus has been beaten and crucified, after Jesus had died.  You ever wonder what  was going through Mary’s mind at the point? It wasn’t enough that she had to watch the torture and death of her first born son, the child who had been conceived in such a miraculous way but I’m sure the practical implications were weighing heavy on her mind.  She was far from home, it was the beginning of the holiday weekend, what was she going to do with the body of her son? 
Maybe the practical questions hadn’t even started being asked yet, perhaps they hadn’t even crossed her mind with all she was going through, and really who would blame her if she hadn’t thought that far ahead?  But it had crossed the mind of someone because we read in Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.
We don’t know a lot about this man called Joseph.  We know from this account that he was from the town of Arimathea, which was a suburb North West of Jerusalem. We know that he was wealthy, and from reading Mark 15:43 . . ,Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.   We know that he was part of the Sanhedrin and he that was Kingdom minded.  Luke tells us in Luke 23:50-51 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders.  And from John 19:38 we discover Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body.   And from that tradition and legend has added some details.
Tradition tells us that Joseph was Mary’s uncle and that he was a tin merchant.  Because of his business legend says that had travelled to the mining community of Cornwall England which was renowned for its tin. As a matter of fact some legends even say that he took his Great Nephew Jesus to Cornwall when he was still a child.    And that’s why William Blake’s poem says:  And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
Legend continues to say that because of that connection and history that Joseph was later recruited by the apostles to take the gospel to England and that on the journey he took the cup that Jesus had used at the last supper, which of course began the legend of the Holy Grail.  But all of that is just legend.  But what is it that we actually learn from this story?
Two Josephs one at the beginning of Jesus’ life and one at the end, linked together by the love they had for Jesus, but did they share more in common than their names?
They Saw a Need. There were two things that were very apparent at each point in the story, in the beginning Jesus needed a father and at the end Jesus needed a grave.  It was as simple as that.  Recent statistics are telling us that more and more children are being born out of wedlock and to single moms, either by choice or by oops.  And it really isn’t that big of a deal in today’s society.  Although it still presents all kinds of challenges.  But there is certainly less stigma than it was a generation ago, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen a generation but there was more stigma attached to it.
If we could step back in time 2000 years we would discover that regardless of the circumstances surrounding the conception of Jesus his life would have been exponentially more difficult had Mary not had a husband.  She would have no income, no support system.  Instead of being Jesus the son of the Carpenter he would have been Jesus the son of that woman.  Life would have been hard for Mary and hard for Jesus without a Joseph in the picture. 
It was Gloria Steinem who famously said “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”   Maybe in Gloria’s world but certainly not in Mary’s world.  God knew that there would need to be a father in Jesus’ life and a husband in Mary’s life, and it was Joseph who was asked to fill those roles.
So when Jesus was born he needed a father, and thirty three years later Jesus needed something that was a little more practical, and that was a grave.  Jerusalem was 70 km as the crow flies from Jesus’ home town of Nazareth, I’m not sure how far it would be if the crow had to walk and carry a body. You see there were no hearses to take a body from point “a” to point “b” and so there was a very practical question about what would happen to the body of Jesus when he was removed from the cross.
Historians tell us the drama of Jesus death could have ended three ways.   Three things could have happened.  1)  The Romans were notorious for simply leaving the body of executed criminals on the cross as an example for others.  Birds of prey would feed upon them and eventually they would decay and fall off the cross to be picked at by animals.  Some scholars have speculated that the reason Golgotha was called the Place of the Skull had nothing to do with the shape of the hill and everything to do with the skeletal remains left lying about.  2) That didn’t apply if the person who was executed was Jewish.  We read in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone has committed a crime worthy of death and is executed and hung on a tree, the body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In this way, you will prevent the defilement of the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession.  The Jewish authorities felt that applied as well to those crucified and so the bodies had to be taken down before sunset.  That is why the thieves on either side of Jesus had their legs broken, to speed up their deaths.  But it was already determined that Jesus was already dead.  But if there was nobody to claim the body than it was simply disposed of in the garbage dump.  3) A relative or family member could claim the body. 
So from a practical point of view something had to be done for Jesus burial, his body wasn’t just going to bury itself.
They Made a Decision  God didn’t force either of the Josephs to do something to meet the need that was presented.  God doesn’t force us to do things in this life, that wouldn’t really be fair would it?  I mean after all, Him being God and us not being God that would kind of put us at a disadvantage. 
In the case of Mary’s husband, nobody else knew about the need except Mary.  It wasn’t posted on Craig’s list or Kijjie, “Needed someone to stand if for father for child of the Holy Spirit.” 
We don’t know how Mary told he fiancé that she was expecting but we do know what his immediate response was Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
And really who could blame him? 
You might be thinking “Well didn’t Joseph trust her?”  It wasn’t a matter of trust it was a matter of common sense.  Mary was pregnant, as far as Joseph knew there was only one way for Mary to get pregnant and he knew that he hadn’t been a part of that equation.  It wasn’t simply that she was pregnant but she had broken his trust she had cheated on him, and there was another man involved somewhere somehow.  There were a pile of things that Joseph could have done other than break off the engagement that would have publically shamed Mary and humiliated her instead he decided to simply break off their engagement.  And that wasn’t even a rash decision.    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.” 
And the angel talked about prophecies and trust and responsibilities and at the end of the encounter we read Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.   And maybe you might be thinking, “It wasn’t his choice, God commanded him to do it.”  And I’m sure that you’ve always done what God wants you to do right?  And that includes not lying.  God commanded Joseph but it was still his choice, at the end of the day Joseph could have said no and walked away.  Or he could have said “yes” and resented it, making life unbearable for Mary and her child.  But as far as we can tell he was the husband that Mary needed and the father that Jesus needed. 
As private as the Jesus’ first need was, the need to have a father, his last need the need to have a grave, was just that public.  Perhaps people hadn’t connected the dots that Jesus would have to be buried but the need was there.  And Joseph met that need. 
Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.   I don’t know how many people were there that day who could have done something, but Joseph didn’t wait for them to do something he did it.   He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus body.  He didn’t hope that someone else would do it, he didn’t assume one of the apostles or Jesus family would take care of it, he did what had to be done. 
In too many cases “Everyone thought someone would do it and in the end no one ending up doing it.”
But Jesus didn’t just need a tomb to be buried in, he needed a tomb to rise from.  Because the Romans and the Jews knew where Jesus was buried and because it was a tomb carved from rock with a rock that sealed it, because it was in a location that the Romans could post the guards the Jewish religious leaders had demanded, there could be no arguing with the resurrection.  
And in each case They Paid a Price.  Sometimes we think of paying a price as a financial statement, and that is part of the equation.  In the case of Mary’s husband when he choose to accept Mary as his wife and Jesus as his son he was saying that he was prepared to pay the cost associated with that decision.  He would house the Son of God, he would feed him and clothe him and pay for school field trips.  Every parent knows that there is a tangible, financial price that has to be paid for our children. 
And Joseph of Arimathea gave up his tomb, a tomb that the bible tells us had never been used.  So you understand that this wasn’t just a loan this was a gift.  It wasn’t like giving someone a book to read and then getting it back, or letting someone use your car for the afternoon.  When Joseph put Jesus body in the tomb he no longer had the tomb.  He was going to have to go out and buy himself another tomb.  Don’t know what the tomb had cost, but it had cost something and people weren’t lining up offering their tomb.
But the price went beyond dollars and cents.  One of the descriptions that was given of Joseph, the husband of Mary, was that he was a righteous man.  So you probably understand what the scandal would have cost Joseph in the matter of his pride.  2000 years ago people could count the same as they can today.  I remember hearing my father say “The First one can come at any time the next one takes nine months.”  But we all know that for the most part they all take nine months.  And Joseph’s family knew that and Joseph’s friends knew that and Nazareth was a small town so he would have had to put up with the snickers and sideways glances and the damage that happened to his reputation because for some people all they would remember would be that Joseph and Mary had to get married.
But Mary’s husband wasn’t the only Joe who would sacrifice his pride for Jesus. The scripture don’t tell us a lot about Joseph of Arimathea, but they do tell us that he was a rich man and that he was a member of the religious aristocracy. 
The bible doesn’t just tell us that Joseph gave up his grave, he also gave up his pride.  He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus body, that involved acknowledging that Jesus meant something to him, even if it was costly to be associated with someone who had just been crucified as a criminal.  But the story doesn’t stop there.  We are told that this rich religious leader took Jesus’s bloody, broken body down from the cross, that it was Joseph who prepared Jesus’ body for burial and it was Joseph who personally laid the body of Jesus in the tomb. 
Not sure those things fell in the job description of “Rich Religious Leader”  but they had to be done and Joseph was willing to do it.
But theirs weren’t the only sacrifices made listen to the words of Paul in  Philippians 2:5-8 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
So this Christmas take time to think of the sacrifices that were made 2000 years ago and don’t let the next three weeks rush by without at least acknowledging that they were made for you.