Gotta Hate that


You gotta hate it when a plan doesn’t come together.  When Jason Best heard that a local theatre was going to be showing the controversial movie “The Interview” he began to see dollar signs.  Best said that he heard all the hype about the movie and its limited showing and purchased $650.00 in tickets with plans to resell them at a higher price (scalp them) online and make his fortune or at least double his money. 
The plan fell apart when Sony announced it was streaming the film online for half the price on sites like YouTube, Hulu and Netflix and apparently nobody was willing to pay the inflated price.
Now the thwarted scammer is crying foul and is demanding a refund from the Esquire theatre.  Management at the Esquire see it different, they say they don’t view Mr. Best as a customer but as “a businessman who was trying to recoup a loss at the theater’s expense.”  And not a particularly ethical business man either, after all, scalping tickets is illegal. 
And that wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out and no one was supposed to know what he had done, but he should have known better. After all, the Bible clearly tells us “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Sorry George


Well, that learned him.  And it certainly acted as a deterrent because he never did it again.  But what if he didn’t do it the first time? Just recently a South Carolina resident was exonerated 70 years after he was executed.  And that my friends is why I’m opposed to capital punishment. 
In 1944 George Stinney Jr was arrested for the murder of 7 year old Mary Emma Thames, and 11 year old Betty June Binnicker.  Within 90 days he had been tried, convicted and executed.  His trial lasted 3 hours, the jury deliberated for 10 minutes and 53 days later they executed him sitting on a phone book because he was too small for the electric chair.  He was 14 years old. 
That is what happened to an African American child accused of killing two white children in the Deep South 70 years ago.  But do you think Stinney is the only person, black or white who was executed for crimes they may not have committed? And you can’t undo an execution, you can only apologize.
One thing we have discovered through the years is that our justice system isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and we have to live with that, but people shouldn’t have to die for it.  
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Christmas Without Grace

If you think of Grace at all at Christmas it probably
relates to the short prayer that you will say over the dead bird at Christmas Dinner
and you probably wouldn’t necessarily think of Amazing Grace as a Christmas
song but you can’t really celebrate the Christmas Story without seeing Grace
written all through it.
Now before we go much further we probably need to define
what we mean by the word “Grace”.  Grace
is one of those words that can have a multitude of meanings?  For example here are the definitions given by
Collins English Dictionary:
Grace:
Definitions
noun
  1. elegance
    and beauty of movement, form, expression, or proportion
  1. a
    pleasing or charming quality
  1. goodwill
    or favour
  1. the
    granting of a favour or the manifestation of goodwill, esp by a superior
  1. a
    sense of propriety and consideration for others
  1. (plural)
    1. affectation of manner (esp in the phrase airs and graces)
    1. See in
      someone’s good graces
  1. mercy;
    clemency
  1. (Christianity)
    1. the free and unmerited favour of God shown
      towards man
    1. the divine assistance and power given to man
      in spiritual rebirth and sanctification
    1. the condition of being favoured or sanctified
      by God
    1. an unmerited gift, favour, etc, granted by
      God
  1. a
    short prayer recited before or after a meal to invoke a blessing upon the
    food or give thanks for it
  1. (music)
    a melodic ornament or decoration
And while those are good
definitions of grace I like mine better. 
“Justice is getting what you deserve, Mercy is getting less than you
deserve and Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.”
And while I have used this
definition for thirty years it’s not original with me.  It was over thirty years ago I heard a
preacher by the name of Stuart Briscoe for the first time and Stuart defined
Grace that way and I liked it.  As a
matter of fact I loved the way that Stuart taught and that probably shaped me
as a young preacher.
One of those funny stories, the
first time I heard Stuart I was a staff pastor in NY, the next time I was
pastoring in Truro then we moved to Australia and had only been there a year or
so when Stuart came to town and I’ve heard him a couple of times since we’ve
been back in Halifax. I feel like Stuart and I are linked by Ruth 1:16 . . . “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn
back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people
will be my people, and your God will be my God.”
So to reiterate: 
“Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is getting less then you
deserve and grace is getting what you don’t deserve.” 
To illustrate, suppose one of your children misbehaved.  No that won’t work, because I know that your
children never misbehave.  So you will
have to imagine that one of your children had misbehaved, still a bit of a
stretch but work with me.   Your child
has misbehaved and because it’s 2014 you can’t spank them so you banish them to
their room until they are 18.  That is
justice, getting what they deserve.  But
after an hour or so you start feeling sorry for them so you tell them it’s all
right they can come out now.  That is
mercy getting less than what they deserve. 
But then you say, “You know what, let’s go for an ice-cream.”  That is grace, when they get what they don’t
deserve. 
And so we will hear that folks are looking for the Justice
of God.  Trust me when I tell you that we
don’t want to get what we deserve.
 Solomon tells us in Proverbs
21:15
Justice is a joy to the godly, but it
terrifies evildoers.
And maybe you’re thinking “Sure but I’m not an
evildoer.”  How do we measure evil and
good and bad?  Do you have to be a Hitler
or Stalin, or a Bin Laden to be evil? 
What about the fact that justice is a joy to the godly?   How do we measure being godly?  Do you have to be a Mother Theresa or Billy
Graham to be Godly?
Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-20 But God shows his anger from heaven
against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever
since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through
everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal
power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
And then for
the next 22 verses he lists what these folks have been up to, it wasn’t just
“Big” sins, granted murder is there, we can understand that.  But the list also includes things like: they
didn’t worship God, they traded the truth of God for a lie, and they were
backstabbers and didn’t keep their promises. 
They were greedy, hated some people and Gossiped about others.  And then after listing things which most of
us have to some degree or another participated in he ends by saying, 
Romans
1:32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to
die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.  And then in the next verse he says Romans 2:1 You may think you can condemn such
people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse!
Yikes, no, justice definitely isn’t what you want from
God. 
One of my favorite scriptures is Ephesians
2:8-9
God saved you by his grace when you
believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation
is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about
it.   Which is very similar to what Mark Twain said “Heaven
goes by favour (grace); if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog
would go in.”
Luke
2:8-9
That night there were shepherds staying
in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the
Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.
If there Was No
Grace, The Shepherds Wouldn’t Have Been Invited
If there is
one scene that seems to shout Christmas to us it would be the shepherds on the
hillside staring in wonder at an angel choir in the sky.  And we all know the story and Christmas
wouldn’t be complete without the keepers of sheep pressed in tight to see the
one who would be called the Lamb of God. 
And although they weren’t lead characters, the shepherds
were part of the chorus in the production of the first Christmas.  When I was in high school our school was
known for the great musicals we put on. 
And during my three years we performed The King and I, South Pacific and
the Music Man.  And when they were
casting the musical they would cast the male lead and the female lead and then
the supporting roles.  And all those
roles had names, and were highlighted in the program.  And then they got to the bulk of the players
and they were called the Chorus.  And
that’s where I ended up, in the chorus. 
But you couldn’t have the musical without the chorus.  If you just had the leads you wouldn’t have a
musical you would just have a small ensemble.
In the same way there were the leads in the Christmas story,
Mary and Joseph, the angel Gabriel and the baby Jesus.  They get top billing.  And then there were the supporting roles.  The innkeeper, King Herod and the Wise
Men.  They got second billing.   And then you have the chorus.  That would be the angels and the
shepherds.  If you were doing up a
program from that first Christmas they would be listed in a group after all the
others in the play it would say “and the shepherds.”
But they weren’t just peripheral or window dressing they
were a vital part of the story. 
But do we ever stop and think about who the shepherds
were?  And you are probably thinking
“Well that’s a no brainer Denn, they were shepherds.”
For most of us the closest we’ve ever come to a shepherd is
wearing a wool sweater and eating lamb chops. 
And so because when we think of shepherds we immediately shift to the
Christmas story we have kind of romanticize who they were what they did.  But really they were just guys who watched
sheep.  Probably wasn’t an intensive
training program for the job and they probably weren’t anywhere near the top of
the economic heap.  Nor would they have
been near the top of the social heap or even the religious heap.


The problem was their jobs, the demands of the flock were so
great that even if the shepherds were inclined to be religious all of the rules
and regulations of Judaism, with the various hand washings and other parts of
the ceremonial law, were out of their reach, so they could never really be
“Good Jews.”  It wasn’t that they were
hostile toward their religion it just didn’t matter because life had pushed it
aside.  Their father’s had probably been
shepherds before them and this was the life they knew.  If there was a word to describe them it “Apathetic” 
And yet God reached out to them and invited them to be a part of his
story. 
That was me, before my best friend invited me to church it
was simply irrelevant in my life, I didn’t have anything against the church, it
just wasn’t a part of my life.  And yet
God stepped and interrupted my life and invited me to join His story. 
And maybe that is where you are today, you are here but only
because it’s easier than not being here. 
A spouse or a parent or a child has pressured you to be here, you’re not
hostile to the church but it’s just not where you are at right now.  But God’s grace is being extended to you
today. 
Matthew
2:1-2
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,
during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern
lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We
saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
If there Was No Grace,
The Magi Wouldn’t Have Been Invited
   


We know very
little about the Magi, but we do know that they were from the country of Persia
which is now Iran.  And we know that the
Magi were originally from a tribe of Medes who tried to overthrow the King.  When their little coup failed they put their
political aspirations behind them and chose safer work as holy men, priest and
teachers of Kings.   It was from this
occupation that we discover that Magi is the root word of Magic.  Now we don’t know why the sign came to these
men, maybe it was there for everyone but only these few choose to follow. 
Regardless of
the reason, it was the Magi who followed the star to visit the Christ child,
and maybe it was simply to signify that Christianity would ultimately be for
the gentile as well as the Jew. Because even though Jesus came as the Jewish
Messiah we are told that there was this sense of expectancy over the entire
area of the world concerning the coming Messiah of the Jews.  The belief was summed up by the Roman
Historian Suetonis when he wrote “There had spread over all the orient an old and established
belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judea to rule the
world.”
While the Shepherds reacted in surprise
to the announcement of the birth of Jesus for the Magi they were anticipating
their invitation.   This was what they
were looking for, they were excited because they had been anticipating the
event.  Maybe this is where you are at,
perhaps because of a life event you feel a need to connect with God
Every once in a while I meet
someone who is God aware and are actively trying to connect with their
creators.  They are seekers.  Perhaps it’s because a child was born or a
parent has died or maybe you just sense a deep yearning in your soul that can
only be filled with the eternal.  And God
is still offering his Grace to seekers today we are told in Psalm 105:4 Search for the LORD and for his strength;
continually seek him.  And God
promises us in Jeremiah 29:13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you
will find me.
But it’s wasn’t only the
apathetic and the seekers who were invited to the party on that first Christmas
morning.  Let’s go back to the scripture
we started with this morning.  Matthew 2:1-2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,
during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands
arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw
his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
If there Was No Grace
Herod Wouldn’t Have Been Invited
Maybe this is a bit of a shock to you, after all Herod has
received a lot of bad press through the years. 
You ever get the feeling that sometimes we need to tear heroes and
historical figures down just on principal. 
In Australia they talked about the “tall poppy syndrome” and that was
the desire to pull anyone down who had risen among the herd.
In Herod’s case it may very well have been valid.  Now granted he wasn’t perfect but he wasn’t
entirely bad either.  After all he wasn’t
called Herod the Great for nothing. 
Herod was half Jew and half Gentile. 
He had curried favor with the Romans during the civil wars in Palestine
and kept the locals in line for the Romans.
While this did nothing to endear him to the Jewish
population it endeared him to the Romans and if nothing else Herod knew which
side his bread was buttered on.  In 47 BC
he was appointed Governor of Palestine and seven years later he was appointed
King by Octavian who you would know better as Caesar Augustus.  Not even Provincial Governments can do patronage
like that, appointing somebody King.
The title Herod the Great wasn’t simply an empty title, he
kept peace in Palestine throughout his reign which was not idle task, he
rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, built many great fortresses including the
mountain top fort of Masada.  In the year
AD 12 he underwrote the cost of the Olympic Games in Greece and was named the
games “Perpetual President.”  And he
wasn’t all bad, during the lean years he stopped collecting taxes, boy there’s
a suggestion, and in 24 BC he had his gold plates melted down to buy corn for
the poor.
But he did have one small, little problem.  I mean face it we all have one problem or
another don’t we.  Herod’s problem was
that he kept killing people.  Not just
anyone, just anyone he suspected might be a threat to his leadership.  You see he was insanely suspicious and
paranoid and he was always afraid that people were trying to usurp him.  Not that they weren’t.  And the older he got the more suspicious he
got until someone even referred to him as a “Murderous Old Man”
During his reign he had his wife Mariamne executed along
with her mother Alexandra, his eldest son Antipater, his middle son Alexander
and his third son Aristobulus.  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
When Herod was 70 he felt that he was near the end and he
retired to Jerico and had some of the most notable and distinguished citizens
of Jerusalem arrested on trumped up charges. 
On his orders they were slaughtered at the moment of his death.  You see Herod knew how people felt about him
and he said that he was determined to have tears shed at his death.  It worked.
And so it was as this old man
who was crippled with hate and suspicion was told about the one who would
become King of the Jews.  And by this he
was a little disturbed. The Bible says in Matthew 2:3 When Herod the
king heard this, he was troubled, “troubled” now there’s an understatement. Herod got
ugly.  And when his plans to find the
child and do him in failed, he flipped. Matthew 2:16  Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived
by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all
the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two
years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the
wise men.  The only thing that saved Jesus was that an Angel visited Joseph in a
dream and told him in Matthew 2:13 Now when they
had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream,
saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay
there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy
Him.”
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.
Herod
represents all those who are hostile to the claims of Christ.  God interrupted Herod’s hate filled life to
let him know that there was a new King in town. 
And the implication was that Herod didn’t have to react to that news
bitterly, he lived in the Jewish culture and would have known the predictions
of a coming Messiah who would offer grace and salvation.  And he could have welcomed and embraced the
Messiah, but he didn’t.
Does
God still offer grace to those who are hostile to his claims and his Son?   There is a story told in the book of Acts
about a man named Saul whose man goal in life seemed to be to eradicate the
early church.  He was there when Stephen
the first Christian Martyr was killed, and we are told in Acts 8:1 Saul was one of
the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. and
the next time we see Saul it is recorded in the next chapter Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul
was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s
followers. Definitely hostile, and yet God reached down and through his
grace invited him to be a part of the Jesus story and we know him as the
Apostle Paul, probably Christianity’s greatest theologian and statesman who
introduced Christianity to Asia and Europe and wrote a good part of the New
Testament. 
One of my favorite hymns is
Come Thou Fount and it was written by Robbie Robinson.  When Robinson was invited to join the Jesus
story he was with a group of young men who had gone to heckle and throw stones
at Methodist preacher George Whitefield. 
It took three more years before he accepted the invitation but he
started out hostile to the claims of Grace and Christ.
And maybe you know a friend a
spouse a child who would have nothing to do with the Jesus story who is now a
part of it, all because of Amazing Grace.
But here is the great part, have you ever noticed how God
reached out to each of these groups. 
With the shepherds, the apathetic He made sure they would be comfortable
in approaching His Son, think about it? 
Where was he born?  In a stable,
had he been born in a nice home they would never have felt welcome, and yet God
reached out to those who didn’t even know they needed reaching out to.
For the seekers the Magi, who
were astronomers he set a star in the sky, relevant to them, but millions of
others saw the start but never saw the significance.  And to Herod he sent the Magi, men who would
have been familiar with the Royal Courts of Persia and would have carried the influence
necessary to sway the King, imagine the shepherds trying to get in to see the
King.
How is God invited you to join
the Jesus story?  And what will you do
with his offer of Grace this morning?
 

Cancelling Christmas


It’s funny, not funny ha-ha but funny strange, how quickly we lose interest.  This summer when the victims numbered in the hundreds, news about the Ebola crisis was everywhere.  There were fund raising efforts happening and you couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on the television without reading or hearing dire predictions.  But now, not so much.  You have to hunt to discover that while those who were predicting an apocalypse weren’t anywhere close to being right that Ebola still continues to ravage the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.  Perhaps we lost interest because they are so far away or maybe we only have a finite ability for empathy on that scale. 
In an attempt to prevent further spreading of the disease Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma has announced that Christmas has been cancelled.  Not Christmas itself, just the public celebration of Christmas.
I would suspect that Christmas will be celebrated in Sierra Leone even without the public gatherings, and the President understands that.  Because even though Sierra Leone is predominantly a Muslim country President Komoma is a member of the Kissy Dockyard Wesleyan Church and understands that Christmas is something that happens privately in the heart and not necessarily publicly on the streets.
    
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Christmas Without Miracles

Have you ever heard the phrase “The Magic of
Christmas”?  Probably, if you google that
phrase you get almost 29,000,000 hits. 
Everything ranging from albums of Christmas music to campaigns to
provide toys to underprivileged children, to children’s books, to more
inspirational plaques than you can count. 
It was Norman Vincent Peale who wrote “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold,
everything is softer and more beautiful.”
What people are talking about isn’t the hocus pocus, Harry
Potter type of magic, instead it is the soft fuzzy emotional type of magic that
is a feeling.
This morning we aren’t talking about magic, but we are
talking about miracles. And there are some folks who would like to take the
miracles out of Christmas, they would do away with the miraculous and instead
hand us an event that could happen without the hand of God being evident
throughout it.  And if that is the case
then Christmas is just an event, hardly worth remembering let alone celebrating
2000 years later. 
So this morning I’m not trying to convince you of the
realities of miracles, after all it was Nancy Gibbs is
an editor and writer for Time magazine who summed it up when she wrote “For the truly faithful, no miracle is necessary. For those
who doubt, no miracle is sufficient.”
Instead, this morning I simply want to tell you what we
would lose if we had a Christmas without miracles. 
So, this morning let’s not
start at the beginning, but six months before the beginning where we read the
story of a couple named Zacharias and Elizabeth.  What we know about this couple is that
Elizabeth was related to Mary the Mother of Christ and that Zacharias was a
priest and his wife was from a family of priests.   And we
know that they were childless, not by choice but by chance, a tragedy for most
folks who it happened to but for a priest it was a double tragedy in that there
would be no son to carry on his priestly responsibilities. 
And we know that they were
older, again how old?  We don’t know, old
enough to be mentioned, but perhaps because it was in relation to their child
bearing years maybe it was just relative, maybe they were old in their late
forties or early fifties.  Not sure.
The story happens on a day while Zacharias was performing
his priestly functions.  By this time in
history there were more priests than there were jobs for priests, so they took
turns working in the temple, good work if you can find it.  And Zechariah’s turn came up and he was
chosen to enter into the temple and offer the sacrifices and while he was in
there the strangest thing happened. 
He’s doing the things he supposed to be doing, preparing the
sacrifice, getting it ready to be offered, preparing his prayers and the
scriptures he would read as part of the ceremony and God interrupts him, with
an angel. 
And Zechariah was a little spooked; actually he was a lot
spooked.  After all he was supposed to be
alone in the altar area, there were no windows just lit by flickering torches,
maybe he’s whistling as he worked.  And
all of a sudden he’s no longer alone.  I
don’t think he was spooked because there was an angel there, I think he was
spooked because there was anyone there.
And if we read through the conversation the Angel, who
identifies himself as Gabriel, I know don’t get me started, tells Zechariah
that his and his wife’s prayers are going to be answered that they will be
parents and that their son will do great things for God. 
And after the angel drops this
bombshell, I mean good news, on Zechariah he gets this response; “What?”  Actually that was a rough translation his
actually words were Luke 1:18 Zechariah said to the
angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is
also well along in years.”
My wife is well along in years,
that charitable, love how it is put in the King James Version  Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I
am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.   Guys just a hint, not sure that “well
stricken in years” is the most appropriate way to describe your wife’s age.
You got to love this, for years
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son, They had been praying so long it
had become rote and I don’t think they really expected it would be answered and
had never stopped to consider what would happen if it was answered, there would
be diapers to buy, a house to be baby proofed and they’d have to get a baby
seat for the camel.
Presumably they knew what
caused babies and presumably they had been trying that particular technique
without success so the assumption would have to be that there would have to be
something miraculous about this.
And to be fair, it may not have
been disbelief as much as curiosity that caused his reaction, he knew the other
way wasn’t working so what was going to change?
If you don’t know the rest of
the story it would appear that Gabriel was a little sensitive about not being
believed because he responds by saying in Luke 1:19-20 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of
God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you
didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the
child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Boy, do you know where I’d be
if folks who don’t always believe the promises of God lost their voice?  Yeah, preaching to a very quiet church.
And you know the rest of the
story, Elizabeth conceives and they have a son they named John who we know as
John the Baptist.  It was John who
preached repentance first and it was John who announced the ministry of Jesus.
And his birth was a miraculous
birth, so if there were no miracles in the story of Jesus There Would Be No John to Announce Him But John’s wasn’t the only
miraculous conception in the Christmas Story. 
The main event revolves around a miraculous conception.  You know the story.  Mary a young woman in a small town is engaged
to be married and before that happens an angel appears and tells her that she
is going to have a baby.  Her first
response was probably “That’s cool, I’ve always wanted to be a mother.”  And then he drops the bombshell and tells her
the time line, and her response is found in Luke
1:34-35
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this
happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will
be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
We call it the “Virgin Birth” and it has become such an
ingrained part of the Christmas story that it’s the only time little children
can use the word “Virgin” and not raise eyebrows.  We sing about it, put in on Christmas Cards,
read it in the Christmas story do we actually believe it? 
Do you know there are churches
and preachers who don’t believe in the virgin birth?  Seriously. 
I’m not sure what they believe, we do know that Mary and Joseph were
engaged to be married and if that was the extent of the story then we’d have to
assume that perhaps they were engaged in a little more than wedding
preparation. They wouldn’t be the first couple or the last who’s first born was
a little premature.  Or as my Daddy used
to tell me “The first one can come at any time the
next one takes nine months.”

But that wasn’t all of the story, when Mary breaks the news to Joseph he was
upset, because he knew that he wasn’t the father.  So where does that leave us?  Either Mary was a virgin, as she claimed, and
who should know better, or God’s son was conceived as the result of a betrayal.  You see two thousand years ago in Jewish
culture the one year period before the marriage vows were actually taken was
called the betrothal and it was considered as binding as a marriage.  Which is why when Joseph heard the news the
bible tells us in 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.  The NIV is closer to the
meaning of the original when it says Matthew
1:19
Because Joseph her husband was a
righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind
to divorce her quietly.

So if we were to take the
miracles out of Christmas There Would be
No Extraordinary Birth
And you might be thinking: so what?  Well the prophecies concerning the coming
messiah stated that he would be born of a virgin.  But more than that we are talking God coming
to earth.  How should he come?  The same way that you and me and Genghis Khan
and Adolph Hitler were conceived and born?
The prophet said that God would
chose a sign, and he did, he stepped outside the boundary of natural laws
that say that in the act of conception a male and a female would each
contribute a cell which would become a new person.  Instead God did what had never happened
before and has not happened since and that is he produced a child with only one
cell.  You read in the papers about same
sex parents, don’t believe it can’t
happen.  It takes ingredients from a boy
and a girl to make a baby.
But the miracles didn’t end at
conception.
The next
part of the story involves the world’s second oldest profession, It wasn’t the
world’s oldest profession but it was close! 
I mean you know what the world’s oldest profession is right?  That’s right, farming.  Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain the oldest
was a farmer, thus making that the world’s oldest profession.  What were you thinking? 
And Abel
the younger brother was a shepherd making that the world’s second oldest
profession. 
We all know
the story, the shepherds are in the field watching their sheep when suddenly an
angel appears with a message. “The Messiah is here!” and then that angel is
joined by a whole flock of angels who are proclaiming the goodness of God.
In its most literal sense the word “angel” as used in the
original language simply meant messenger now that doesn’t negate who appeared
to the Shepherds that first Christmas. 
These weren’t just messengers, these were Heavenly messengers. Luke
tells us in Luke 2:13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies
of heaven—praising God. . .   
Now most of us don’t get Angels in the traditional sense to
tell us about Jesus, and if you did, cool. 
But the majority of us do get a messenger with news about Jesus. 
We see a great example of this in John 1:40-41 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was
one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went
to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which
means “Christ”).   Andrew heard
about Jesus from John and then Simon heard about Jesus from Andrew.
 
Who was it that told you about Jesus for the first
time?  Who was your angel?  My angel’s name was Reg, which is kind of a
strange name for an angel when you think about it, but it is what it is.
For most of us, we don’t just stumble into
Christianity.  I mean it does happen
sometimes, and when it does it makes a great story.  For example, Billy Sunday was a professional
baseball player for the Chicago White Stockings and one Sunday afternoon in
1886 he and some of his fellow players had a few beers and were wandering
through the streets of Chicago where Sunday heard a street preaching team from
the Pacific Garden Mission. 
And the rest as they say is history.  Billy Sunday became a Christ follower and
went on to become the Billy Graham of his time, or more correctly Billy Graham
became the Billy Sunday of his time. 
Over the course of his ministry Sunday preached to a 100 million people
and recorded over a million converts, and that was without television or the
interwebby thing.
But most of us have someone,
friend, family or a co-worker who brings the message to us and invites us to
come. Paul spells it out for us in Romans
10:14
But how can they call on him to save them
unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never
heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
And so it was on a lonely hillside outside of Bethlehem that
the Angels came and told the shepherds about Jesus.  It takes a miracle to provide angels in a
field mesmerizing a group of shepherds You understand that without angels, the
shepherds would never have heard the story of the Messiah.  Without Miracles There Would be no Shepherds to Welcome Him
And the story continues. Actually this miracle goes back
probably even further than the story of Elizabeth and Zachariah.  And it began in a country that was called
Persia then but now we call it Iran. 
What symbolizes Christmas more than the picture of the Magi
kneeling in adoration before the new born messiah.  Across the desert sand they had come, mile
after mile and they weren’t a part of a flash mob, they didn’t hear about Jesus
via Facebook or Twitter they were following the promise of a distant star. 
And the Magi of the East made their pilgrimage across the
sea of sand to the little town of Bethlehem to worship at the cradle of Christ.
  
We call them the Three Kings, but we were
never told they were kings or that there were three of them.  In the original language they are referred to
as Magi, and tradition tells us that they probably came from Persia.
And in the scriptures we are told that they brought 3 gifts,
which is probably why we always think there were three of them. 
You’ve probably all heard what
would have happened if it had of been three wise women instead right?
They
Would Have Asked Directions
They
Would Have Arrived On Time
They
Would Have Helped Deliver the Baby
They
Would Have Cleaned the Stable
They
Would Have Made a Casserole
They Would Have Brought Practical
Gifts.
The story is told in Matthew 2:9-11 . . .And the star they (the Wise Men) 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, and they
bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave
him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And we still create tradition, if you go to many churches
this time of year you will hear that the Magi never saw the new born Christ,
instead we are told that they arrived two years after Jesus was born.  The rational? 
They refer to where the Bible says that they went to the house where the
baby was so maybe a room opened in the inn the day after Jesus was born, the
scripture tell us that Jesus was born in a stable, they don’t tell us how long
he stayed in the stable.  Imagine what
happened when the innkeeper’s wife discovered that he had put a pregnant woman
in the barn. 
They talk about how it would have taken the magi two years
to make the trip, but if God could put a star in the sky to guide the wise men
he could have put it there so they arrived on time, that’s why we call them miracles. 
And finally the proponents of this new tradition point to
the fact that Herod ordered the death of all male children under the age of
2.  So what? The man was a kook.  When he was on his death bed he ordered that
some of the most distinguished people in Jerusalem be arrested and killed at
the moment of his death so some tears would be shed.   I want to know why Mary and Joseph and Jesus
would have hung around Bethlehem for two years after the census was finished,
inquiring minds want to know.  Didn’t
Joseph have a carpenter shop to get back to?
Regardless of when the Magi arrived it was a miraculous journey
and if we take the Miracles out of Christmas Then There Would be no Magi to Worship Him 
The first Christmas was a Miraculous Christmas, and that’s
the way it should have been.
The greatest event in human history has to be when God came
to dwell amongst us. And how should that have happened?  Should it have been an everyday event that no
one noticed? Or should there have been some element of wonder attached to
it? 
I know that there are people who deny the events of the
first Christmas because they can’t believe that things like that could happen
and perhaps that’s why the Bible says 1 Corinthians 1:18 I know
very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the
road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the
very power of God.  Perhaps we
could change that just a bit to read 1 Corinthians 1:18 I know
very well how foolish the message of Christmas sounds to those who are on the
road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the
very power of God.

What Friday?


Last week I heard a teenage girl ask her father “Is Black Friday a holiday?”  When he assured her that Black Friday was not a holiday and that she would have to be in school she seemed puzzled as she was sure that it was.  After a little bit of back and forth he suggested that maybe she was thinking of Good Friday.  She conceded that it was Good Friday that she was thinking of and then asked the obvious question: “What’s the difference?”  And her father didn’t have an answer.  He probably knew what Black Friday was, after all it has gone from being a strange American phenomena to becoming an important part of the retail culture in Canada in just a few short years. But Good Friday?  Not a clue.
That was a reminder again for me to not take for granted the continuing spiritual heritage of our community or country. But on second thought I’m not sure I would have been able to articulate the actual meaning of Good Friday before it actually meant something to me. 
The crucial thing isn’t that people can simply explain events like Christmas, Good Friday and Easter but that they actually have the opportunity to experience why those events are so important.   
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.