A Little Good News Story

If you are a Metro reader then hopefully you caught their “happy Edition” published on December 23rd.
Across Canada, all seven editions of the Metro committed to publish only positive news, at least for that day. 
Cathrin Bradbury, Metro’s Editor-in-Chief, introduced the edition with a brief editorial, speaking of hope and optimism, a sentiment that seemed particularly fitting for the edition before Christmas.
And so, in the Halifax Metro we read about the donor who donated 16 new bicycles to the Salvation Army for Christmas and the top children’s names last year in Nova Scotia, (William and Olivia if you are interested).  Internationally they covered the story of how Bana Alabed, the seven-year-old girl who has been tweeting from eastern Aleppo, has been safely evacuated to Turkey. And piles of other “good news”.
And while I understand that we can’t hide from all bad news, sometimes it’s nice to take a break.  And as Christians we need to remember the promise of the Angel, “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
Regardless of what we read in the paper, watch on television or see online, the reality is that in Jesus we have good news that will bring great joy to all people.

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

The Story of a Prophet

The Story of a Prophet
We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over
and over again.  If you close your eyes
you can almost picture them, the Old Testament words that are read each year
during Advent.  The words of Isaiah and
Micah that relate to the coming messiah. 
They are repeated in sermons, songs and printed on Christmas cards.
Most of us can even recite bits and pieces
of those prophecies some are from the Prophet Isaiah  “For unto us a child
is born, unto us a son is given.”  and
“The Lord
himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She
will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with
us’)”
And Micah’s word about where Jesus would be
born But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people
of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from
the distant past.”
And those words were read and repeated for
hundreds of years within the Jewish community as they looked to the one who
would free them from their oppressors and restore Israel to the glory it had
experienced under King David.
And all of those prophecies were fulfilled
when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. 
The Old Testament Prophecies have all the
earmarks of a great story as they point toward the coming Messiah.  They are repeated in sermons, songs and
printed on Christmas cards.
We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over
and over again. But there is another story, a story seldom told that is part of
the Christmas Narrative as well.
Over the Christmas season our theme has
been “The Story Seldom Told”  so instead
of focusing on the Mary and the birth of Jesus we looked at Elizabeth and the
birth of John.
Instead of looking at the 3 Kings, who were
actually weren’t kings, they were identified as Wise Men and there was no
number mentioned,  so instead of looking
at the undetermined number of men of non royal descent  we looked at the two kings who were actually
mentioned by name in the Christmas story, King Herod and King Jesus. 
And last Sunday instead of spending time on
the journey that Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem which
fulfilled the prophecy of Micah we looked at how they had to flee Bethlehem and
go to Egypt to escape the jealous wrath of King Herod who saw in this new born
child a threat to his leadership.  And
that journey fulfilled another prophecy. 
Tonight we aren’t going to focus on the
prophecies concerning the birth of Jesus, instead we are looking at the prophecy
concerning the purpose of Jesus.
Maybe you remember looking at your newborn
child and imaging all the possibilities wrapped up in that tiny person.  And who someday they would provide for you in
your golden years. 
In Luke chapter 2 we read how Mary and
Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated and circumcised.   I would suspect that they saw this as an
incredible opportunity, Jesus was probably the only one of their children to be
presented to God at the temple. The rest probably were presented at the
synagogue in Nazareth where they lived.
And it was during the dedication service
that they encountered a man named Simeon. 
We don’t know a lot about Simeon. 
The bible doesn’t record that he was a priest or a religious leader we
are simply told that he was righteous and devout and that the Holy Spirit had
come upon him.
And on the day that Jesus’ mother and
Joseph took Jesus to the temple we read Luke 2:25-32  At that time there was a man in Jerusalem
named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the
Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had
revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came
to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was
there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign
Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.  I have
seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.  He is a
light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
Here is the story of a man who was living
in the hope of a promise.  The bible
tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the
Messiah.
And when I read the words of Simeon I
realized that I was reading words of hope, a hope realized and a hope foreseen.
A hope for today and a hope for
eternity.  A hope for Simeon and a hope
for the world.
A Hope for me and A hope for you.
Tonight, Jesus offers us the same hope that
was offered to Simeon.  When this old man
looked down at the 8-day old baby he saw hope. 
It would be almost another 2000 before Carl
Sandburg would be born, but what Simeon saw in the baby Jesus is
captured in Sandburg’s words. “A baby is God’s
opinion that the world should go on.”  In this case it was the
reality of John
3:16
 
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so
that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.   
That first Christmas happened because in
God’s opinion the world should go on, and not just go on but to go on with
hope.
 
And for the next 33 years Jesus
offered hope to the world, and ultimately hope to us.  Which is why it is written in Matthew 12:21  And his (Jesus’) name will be the hope of all the
world.
So let’s jump into the Jesus story: Matthew 4:23  Jesus traveled throughout the
region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News
about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.
Jesus
Offers Hope in the Face of Broken Bodies 
Time and time again through the story we
read the words “Jesus healed”.  He healed
the blind, the crippled, the lepers and those who were oppressed by demons.  He healed with his touch and he healed with
his words.  There was even one occasion
recorded that he healed a lady who simply touched his garment as he walked by.
Men, women and children who perhaps had
given up any hope of ever being whole, and Jesus gave them that hope.  Shrivelled legs were restored, sightless eyes
given sight and silent tongues spoke.
And I truly believe that God still heals
through the power of Jesus today.  Does
he heal every one every time?  Be pretty
crowded if he did.  We live in finite
bodies, Paul describes it this way in  2 Corinthians 4:7  We now have this light shining
in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this
great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from
ourselves.
And I do not believe that it is a cop out
to say that the final healing for the Christian is death, and that is why Paul reminds
us in 1 Thessalonians
4:13
 And now,
dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the
believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
But sometimes, God pushes aside the natural
laws that he puts in place and a supernatural healing takes place.  And that is why we pray for people to be
healed.  It was John
Wimber one of the founders of the Vineyard Church who said “When we prayed for no one, no one was healed.  Now we pray for lots of people and some
people are healed.”
There is a great statement in the book of
Romans where Paul   Romans 4:18  Even
when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—
Maybe this evening you feel that you have
no reason for hope, like Abraham I would encourage you to keep hoping. 
And for the Christian there is hope that
even surpasses a healing hope. 
Because every person who was ever healed by
Christ, eventually died.
Which leads us to the next part of the
story
Mark
10:17
 As Jesus
was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt
down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   Jesus was asked that
question over and over again throughout the gospels. 
And the question is still being asked
today, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Tonight let me assure you that  Jesus
Offers Hope in the Face of Eternity 
When
Simeon looked into the eyes of the Christ Child he said Luke 2:29-31  “Sovereign Lord, now let your
servant die in peace, as you have promised.  I have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared for all people.
Where did Simeon see God’s salvation?  Not in a set of rules or religious
obligations but in this child.
Salvation
is a Person, and not something that you do to earn your way to God.
Salvation
is a Person, and that Person is the Lord Jesus Christ. You either know Jesus or
you don’t know him.  You’ve either
entrusted your eternity to Jesus or you haven’t. 
And
Jesus himself was very clear that he isn’t one way to salvation but the only
way.
John 14:6  Jesus told him, “I am
the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through
me.
And that hope that we have is a hope based on the assurance
of the word of God when we are told in 1 John 5:13  I have written this to you who believe in the
name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.
I was talking to someone this past week and
they had commented on hearing  a preacher
say that they hoped their children didn’t miss heaven by 18 inches. 
They were speaking of the 18 inches that separate
the mind from the heart.
I hope that not one of you will miss heaven
by 18 inches, that you will allow your belief to make the journey from your
mind to your heart.
And maybe you are thinking, “well that’s
well and good for others, but I’ve done too much, God couldn’t forgive me or
use me.” 
There is no sin that God cannot forgive and
no person that God cannot use.
In John’s gospel we read a story where
Jesus arrives at a well on one of his journey’s and there he meets a gentile
woman who had been married four times and was living common law with her partner.
Now listen to the offer that Jesus makes to
the woman,  John 4:14  Jesus said “But those who drink the
water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring
within them, giving them eternal life.”
And this woman discovers what we all need
to know and that is,  Jesus Offers Hope in the Face of Hopelessness  Pretty sure that this unknown lady
figured that God had probably given up on her much like many of her neighbours
had. 
It was no accident that in a time when the
community well would have been a gathering spot for the village women, this
woman was alone. 
The bible is full of people who had blown
it, and God proves over and over again that his grace is enough.  It was enough for the woman at the well, it
was enough for Denn Guptill and it is enough for you.  If you choose to accept it. 
I don’t know what you’ve done or where you
are tonight but like Simeon if you look to Jesus you will see light of God’s salvation. 
And so as we come to the end of my message
my prayer for you is the same as Paul’s prayer was for the church in
Ephesus. 
Ephesians
1:18
 I pray
that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the
confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich
and glorious inheritance.
Advent Candle Lighting.
Luke 2:32
 “He is a light
to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

The Story of a Birth

The Story of a Birth
We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over
and over again. 
this is the beginning of the Christmas story
and it has all the earmarks of a great story. 
You hear it this time of year in sermons, songs and read about it on
Christmas cards. 
Of course, it’s the birth of Jesus, and we
all know the narrative.  How an angel
came to a young girl named Mary with news that she would be the mother of the
Messiah.  Her only objection was that it
would be impossible because she was still a virgin.
To which the angel replied by telling her
that it might be impossible under the laws of nature but that all things were
possible for the author of the laws of nature. 
Including virgins having babies. 
Because while Mary would be the mother of the Messiah the father would
be God himself.  And while under natural
law both mom and dad would each contribute a cell and those two cells would eventually
become billions of cells by the time the baby was born. 
But in the case of Jesus there was one cell
and the miraculous.  And in that is the
entire mystery of the incarnation, Jesus 100 % Man and 100 % God. 
 
We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over
and over again. But there is another story, a story seldom told that is part of
the Christmas Narrative as well.
I would invite you to stand for the reading
from God’s word.
Scripture
You see even though the Angel visited
John’s father before he visited Jesus’ Mother, and even though John was born
before Jesus was born, the story of John’s birth is a story seldom told at
Christmas.   And yet the story of John’s
birth is not only a vital part of the story of Jesus’ birth but the story of
John’s ministry is a vital part of Jesus’ ministry.  They weren’t just related, their births,
their lives and even their deaths were woven together with a common thread. 
So, if you don’t know the story, John’s
parents were an older couple by the name of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  And we know quite a bit about this couple.  We know that Zechariah was a priest, that
they were good people, that Elizabeth was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus,
in some way and we know that Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless.
And the childless part wouldn’t have been
an issue if they were younger but we are told they were “old” and they had come
to the point in their lives that they had to admit they baby wagon had passed
them by. 
Most of that is summed up in Luke 1:5-7  When Herod was king of Judea,
there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly
order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of
Aaron.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to
obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.  They had no children
because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
We don’t know how old they were but it was
old enough to be mentioned, probably culturally in their fifties?
And the fact that they had no children
would have been a personal tragedy in a society and a culture where children
were seen as a blessing from God and compounded because of their birthright,
they were both from priestly families and the priesthood was passed from Father
to Son.
But they had probably had come to the point
of accepting that children would never be a part of their marriage, perhaps
they doted on nieces and nephews, but for the most part they had probably
become fairly comfortable with their lives, and that was about to change.
If we keep reading, we discover that one
day while Zechariah was serving in
the temple he was visited by an Angel who had a message for him. 
Most of you know the
story, especially if you were here for Mother’s Day, but this is what he was
told Luke 1:13  But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid,
Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a
son, and you are to name him John.
And that promise is what brought us to the
passage that was just read for us. 
And while most of us think of the birth of
Jesus as the beginning of the story, the beginning of the story really goes
back to the birth of John.
In
Some Ways, the Story was the Same
There are many parallels between the story
of John and Jesus and they can’t be ignored. As a matter of fact, when Gabriel
was telling Mary about the miracle that was going to happen in her life he
references what was happening in Elizabeth’s life.
So let’s jump ahead a little bit to a more
familiar Christmas reading. 
Luke
1:34-36
 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.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant
in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth
month.  
The first thing we discover is that Mary
and Elizabeth are related.  Now we don’t
know how, the NLT and NIV simply say they were relatives while the KJV calls
them cousins.  
There are some who would say this is a
mistake because Mary was descended from David’s line and Elizabeth from
Aaron.  But that’s just dumb.  If it was just a straight line that wouldn’t
be a family tree it would be a family stick. 
Maybe the ladies were related on their mother’s sides.
Angela and I are distantly related, don’t
look at me that way, we’re from a little island that has a fairly shallow
genetic pool to fish in.  But the
relationship is through Angela’s mother’s mother and my father’s mother, who
were third cousins or something silly like that. 
The word that was used originally by Luke
simply meant they were related, and when I know I’m related to someone, but I’m
not sure how . . . they’re my cousin. 
And while we don’t know how closely related
they were, it was close enough that Mary could travel to the town where her kinfolk
lived and spend three months living with Elizabeth and her husband. 
But it wasn’t just the relationship they
shared with each other that they had in common, they also shared a relationship
with God.   In both accounts the gospel
writer makes sure we understand that Mary and Elizabeth were considered to be
righteous and obedient to God’s will. 
When Luke begins the story by introducing
us to Elizabeth and Zechariah he writes, 
Luke 1:6  Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in
God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.  At least one
commentator suggests that in the culture at that time for a woman to be barren,
that is unable to have children, was considered to be as much a spiritual
problem as it was a physical problem.  If
children were a blessing and a couple couldn’t have children it must be because
they didn’t deserve a blessing 
But that theory doesn’t really hold water
because all you have to do is look at some folks who have been able to
reproduce to see that there is no spiritual requirement there, and apparently
no intellectual requirement either.
But to make sure that people understood
that Luke the Doctor very clearly states that this couple was a righteous
couple who had pleased God.
Later in the story when Gabriel is telling
Mary that she has been chosen to carry the Messiah in her womb he tells her in Luke
1:30
 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have
found favour with God!
And
Mary and her cousin, or her whatever are the first two people in the New
Testament who we are told were filled with the Holy Spirit, we read in  Luke
1:35
 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.  And
it isn’t very much further in the story that we read,  Luke 1:39-41  A
few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town
 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.
 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Interesting the first people chosen to
start the Gospel story were women, and the first 2 people that the New
Testament records were filled with the Holy Spirit were women.  Hmmmmm.
Another thing that Mary and Elizabeth had
in common was that they were both childless. 
The children who were promised to them would be their first born.  And there would be no doubt for either one of
them that what happened would be far beyond their own power and ability and
would rest entirely with God.  And while
this part of the story was the same for both ladies it was also very different
and we’ll come back to that in a few minutes.
And in both cases their sons would die way
too young, each of them in their early thirties.  And they would die violent deaths that were
caused by their righteousness.  And in
both cases, all they had to do was back away from what they said and their
lives would have been spared and in both cases they refused.  Not because they had a death wish but because
they knew what was right.    
It was Edmund
Burke who said “The
only thing necessary for the
triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  And neither John nor
Jesus were willing to do nothing.
And while in many ways Elizabeth’s and
Mary’s stories were the same, In Other
Ways, the Story was Different
Probably the largest way the story was
different was what I reference earlier.  They
were both childless but they were childless for different reasons.  When Gabriel tells Zechariah that he and
Elizabeth will have a son, Zechariah raises one objection.  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.” We’ve gone down
this road before but it’s kind of fun, listen to how this was written 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.  Here’s a hint guys,
when you are describing your wife or her age “well stricken in years” is never
appropriate.  
So the reason that Elizabeth didn’t have
children was because her and Zechariah couldn’t have children.  It probably wasn’t for lack of trying, or
lack of wanting, as a matter of fact when Gabriel breaks the news to Zech he
tells him that their prayers were going to be answered.  Actually Gabriel tells Zechariah that his
prayers will be answered, we don’t know what Elizabeth’s prayers were in
regards to getting pregnant at that stage in her life.
But the reason that Mary was childless was
because she was a virgin, plain and simple the language and the words that Mary
uses when she is told that she will be a mother are beyond debate.  Luke 1:34  Mary
asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
2000 years ago people had figured out how
babies were made and Zechariah knew they had been trying for years and it
hadn’t worked and Mary knew that she had never tried.  The end result was the same.  Neither Mary or Elizabeth were mothers at
this point.
And because that was
different what happened was different. 
As far as we know Zechariah went home, conveyed the message of the angel
to Elizabeth, they tried and again and made a baby. 
That conversation must
have been interesting.  “An angel told
you we are supposed to do what?” 
“Seriously Elizabeth, I’m not kidding.” 
But in Mary’s case it
was instantaneous, one minute she wasn’t pregnant and the next minute she was,
which technically is true in all cases but you know what I mean.  Remember when she said that she was a
virgin?  Here was Gabriel’s response: 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.  Presto. . .Prego. 
So, you understand the
conception and birth of John was improbable,
the conception and birth of Jesus was impossible.
  Which is why Zechairiah and Mary would
both ask the same question “How can this be?” 
And the Angel Gabriel’s response answers the question for both of
them.  Luke 1:35-37  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.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become
pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in
her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”
The second area that was the same but
different was how John and Jesus died. 
Both mothers would eventually lose their sons, we don’t know if
Elizabeth lived long enough to have her heart torn out with the death of her
son, but Mary certainly did. 
And while they both died at the hands of
weak leaders, they died for different reasons.
Carlos A. Rodriguez  summed it up when he
wrote,  “Dear
church, John the Baptist died for exposing the sins of others. Jesus died to
actually pay for the sins of others.
John was great, but
we should not follow his model. Our model is Christ. So let’s stop telling the
world how bad their sin is and lets start sharing how good the Father has
always been.”
And then thirdly,  The
Two Stories Make the One Story Complete
Sometimes it’s easy to look at the
Christmas Story and only see the story from the Christmas cards and Christmas
Carols but each of the Seldom Told Stories that we will look at are an integral
part of the story.  The is nothing
incidental about them.  There were all
kinds of things that happened when Jesus was born, but only some of them are
recorded.  So, we have to assume there
are lessons to be learned from them.  And
you know what happens when you assume, sometimes you’re right. 
So, what do we learn from the story of
John?  A few things actually.
It’s here we discover that “Prayer delayed is not prayer denied.” I wonder how many times
Zechariah and his bride had questioned whether God even heard their
prayers.  But their son was to be born not
at any time but at just the right time.
Paul writes in the book of Romans that
Jesus came at just the right time, not any time but at just the right
time.  Which means that John had to be
there at just the right time as well for him to be a part of the story.
Elizabeth’s pregnancy would be an
encouragement for Mary and John’s ministry would be an encouragement for Jesus
and those things couldn’t have happened at just any time, they had to happen at
just the right time.
The story of
John preaching repentance isn’t just an aside. 
 John prepared the ground for
Jesus.  It was his preaching about repentance
that opened the people’s hearts to hear Jesus. 
He had tilled the soil for Jesus to sow.
The crowd that
John had gathered around him had primed the pump for Jesus, so to speak.  Hundreds of people had heard John speak of
the coming Messiah and there was an air of expectancy when John finally pointed
to Jesus as the promised Messiah. 
I wonder if
Elizabeth and Zechariah ever wondered how the son they had raised to be a
priest ended up wandering the wilderness as an itinerant preacher?  But you have to wonder how many people would
have listened to John if he had of been just been one of the many priests who
were living in Israel at that time.
There is very
little that we accomplish in life that isn’t accomplished with the help of
others.  If you see a turtle on a fence-post
you know that he had some help getting there.
And we
discover that God uses who God wants to use. 
He used an elderly lady who was most likely highly regarded in the
community as the wife and daughter of a priest.
And he used a
young lady who was engaged to a simple carpenter who because the scandal of her
town by becoming pregnant before the wedding.  
All that was required was their faith in and obedience to God.
And they must
have been very special for God to entrust John and Jesus into their care.
And while it
comes at the end of the story not the beginning we discover that doing the
right thing often has a price that must be paid. 
I get tired of
people who preach that as long as we are good and obedient we will be
blessed. 
There will be
eternal rewards, that’s true but it doesn’t always translate into earthly
blessings.
Both John and
Jesus did the right things and it cost them their lives. But we are still
charged with doing the right things.
And that’s the
way it is.

Truth from an Unlikely Place

You find truth in some of the strangest places.  I was reading an article online awhile ago, Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell was interviewing atheist Christopher Hitchens.  Hitchens who passed away in 2011 was the epitome of “all dressed up and no place to go”, he was also 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.

Story of a Journey

We all know the Story; we’ve
heard it over and over again.  If you
close your eyes you can almost picture them, Mary, Great with Child, on a
donkey.   Wow while that may be an accurate description
I’m not sure that any woman ever, would appreciate being described that way. Ranks
right up there with, “She was as big as a house.” 
However you might describe Mary’s
physical state the reality was that Mary was 9 month pregnant and probably riding
on a donkey, if she was lucky.
If
we pull down one of our maps we discover the trip that took them from Nazareth,
up here just 24 Kms southwest of the Sea of Galilee to Bethlehem which was 120
kms away over rugged terrain. 
A
trip that probably would have taken them the best part of a week and in the
very best of situations they would have ridden donkeys. Donkeys! You ever ride
on a donkey?  You ever ride on a donkey 9
months pregnant? 
You
would have to wonder what would ever possess a man to take his very pregnant
wife on that type of journey.  Madness or
perhaps there was another explanation or two. 
Within
the scriptures we discovered the answers. 
The first part of the answer lies in the Old Testament, it was prophesied
by the Prophet Micah. 
You
will remember that King David was considered the greatest king that Israel ever
had, and he was born in Bethlehem and throughout the Old Testament it was
declared that the coming Messiah would be a descendent of David and Micah wrote
this hundreds of years before the birth of Christ:  Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village
among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one
whose origins are from the distant past.
But the second part of the answer
is not found hundreds of years before Christ’s birth but at the very time of
Christ’s birth. Luke 2:1-4 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed
that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to
their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a
descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient
home.
Not sure that Mary and Joseph
would have seen it as a fortuitous situation but it certainly meant that they
were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.
The trip from Nazareth to
Bethlehem is a very familiar part of the Christmas story and it has all the
earmarks of a great story.  You hear it
this time of year in sermons, songs and read about it on Christmas cards. 
We all know the Story; we’ve
heard it over and over again. But there is another story, a story seldom told
that is part of the Christmas Narrative as well.
Please
stand with me for the reading from God’s word. (Matthew
2:7-14)
You see, when we think of the
journey of Christmas we think of the part of the trip before Jesus was born,
but there was another trip, and that is a Story that is seldom told.
Let’s go back to the story. 
You will recall how on their way
to Bethlehem the Wise Men stopped into Jerusalem where they paid their respects
to King Herod who wasn’t really a King but was kind of a puppet Governor whom
the Romans let rule over a small portion of Palestine. 
But it was his portion of
Palestine and he was insanely suspicious, with the emphasis on the insane part
of that statement, suspicious of those he thought were a threat to his
rule.  We mentioned a couple of weeks ago
that he had murdered his wife, mother in law and three sons because he thought
they were trying to oust him, and maybe they were, but still, that’s kind of
harsh
When Herod heard that there was a
child born who was the King of the Jews he was furious and began planning bad
things for the baby Jesus. The Angela Gabriel shows up again warns the Wise Men
to skip the Jerusalem part of their trip on the way home and that’s where we
pick up our story.
Matthew 2:13-15 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the
Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and
his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because
Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for
Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s
death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called
my Son out of Egypt.”
And
that is really all we know.  The Holy
family fled to Egypt, stayed for an indeterminable period of time and then
returned to Palestine. 
I’m
not a woman so I’m not sure which would be worse, making the journey to
Bethlehem while 9 months pregnant or making the journey to Egypt shortly after
having given birth, but it is what it is.
The
bible doesn’t elaborate on where Joseph and the holy family lived or what they
did while in Egypt. But, if you travel to Egypt today traditions of the Coptic
Church will direct you to any number of spots that they claim were notable in
Jesus’ childhood. 
A
little aside here, for many of us the church is cleanly divided into two
sections:  Catholic and Protestant.  And yet around the world there are parts of our
family that have a long history.  The Coptic
Church, or Egyptian Orthodox Church is said to have been started in AD 42, by
Saint Mark, that’s only ten years after the death and resurrection of Christ.    
While
we aren’t given a time in history that Mary and Joseph returned to Palestine,
the bible tells us they stayed there until Herod’s death which history tells us
happened in 4 BC.  So while we don’t have
a definitive birth date for the birth of Christ the assumption of many scholars
is that it happened between 6 and 4 BC.
Back
to the story; We kind of see Egypt as a strange place for Joseph to take his
family but that is because we see it from our time and perspective. 
Two
thousand years ago Egypt was a Roman province where Greek was spoken, it wasn’t
that far away from Bethlehem, if we pull down our map again, here is Egypt, the
border is less than 100 Kms, but still outside the reach of Herod and there was
a certain familiarity about it.
Not
to mention the symbolism wrapped up in Jesus making the same trip the people of
Israel had made when Joseph’s family had fled there to escape a famine in Canaan
1700 years before.
Recently
someone commented that the people of God were saved when they fled from Egypt,
and the son of God was saved when he fled to Egypt.  Interesting.                                        
And
while we don’t know a lot of the details concerning their stay in Egypt there
is a great story that is told in tradition. 
 
When Joseph and Mary were on
their way to Egypt, they were waylaid by a group of highway men. One of the
outlaws wanted to murder them and steal their belongings.
But another of the group stepped
in and protected the family, tradition tells us that he looked at the Christ
child and said, “O most blessed of children, if ever there comes a time
for having mercy on me, then remember me, and forget not this hour”.
So, the legend says that the next
time Jesus and the thief met was at Calvary where Dismas hung on the cross next
to Jesus and there he found forgiveness and grace.  Great story isn’t it?    Is it true?  I have no idea but it is a great story.     
In
the Coptic church, there are a few noncanonical texts called “the
Infancy Gospels”.
These texts have never been accepted as the word of God, but
in one called The
Gospel of Pseudo-
Matthew And in this book we read this
account, “And it came to pass, when the most
blessed Mary went into the temple with the little child, that all the idols
prostrated themselves on the ground, so that all of them were lying on their
faces shattered and broken to pieces; and thus they plainly showed that they
were nothing.”   That account happened in a place called
Tell Basta, and if you were to visit  today this is what you would see.  (picture)
And
our Coptic brothers and sisters would say this was a fulfillment of Isaiah 19:1  This message came to me concerning
Egypt: Look! The LORD is advancing against Egypt, riding on a swift cloud. The
idols of Egypt tremble. The hearts of the Egyptians melt with fear.
But,
traditions and legend aside, what can we learn from this brief interlude in
this young families’ Life, from the biblical account?
We
Discover It Was a Story of Trust Mary and Joseph must have been overwhelmed
with all that was going on.  They get to the
end of this gruelling journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem only to discover that
for whatever reason the village inn had no room for them.  Some kind soul allows them the use of a
stable where their first child is born. 
Do you remember the birth of your
first child?  You can’t really believe it’s
happened, even though you had nine months to prepare.  You have to count all the little fingers and
toes and then you count them again, hardly able to comprehend how tiny and
perfect they are.  Almost like, baby toes
and fingers.  Then there are endless
discussions of who the baby looks like until finally you settle on Uncle
Moe.  You know, the uncle with no hair
and no teeth.
And then a flock of shepherds
show up, do shepherds come in flocks? Babbling about angels and wanting to see
the baby.  And then it was the Magi with
their gifts and talk about how they had travelled hundreds of miles across the
desert in search of this child who would become a king.  A little overwhelming for a Nazarene
carpenter and his young bride.
And just when Joe thinks that maybe
things have settled down and he can finally get some sleep his dreams are
interrupted by an angel, again. 
Matthew 2:13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the
Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and
his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because
Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  Joseph
must have been thinking every time an angel shows up he gets some strange story
and request. 
First it was when he was still
reeling from the bombshell that Mary had dropped, that she was going to have a
baby and that the father was the Holy Spirit. 
He was already to break off the engagement when an Angel showed up
letting Joseph know that everything Mary said was true and commanded him to
marry her and call the child Jesus. And he did.
Now this, he was to believe that
not only did King Herod know that Jesus was born, I’m sure he was thinking
“Like what’s with that?  I’m just a
carpenter and he’s a king, how’d he find out? We haven’t even put the
announcement in the newspaper yet and Mary hasn’t posted it on Facebook.”  And even if Herod knew why should a grumpy old
man care enough about their child to want to kill him?”
It’s surprising how often God
reveals extraordinary plans to ordinary people. 
“Noah, I want you to build me an ark.” 
“Sarah and Abraham you are going to have a baby in your old age.”  “David I want you to take on the giant
Goliath with just five stones and sling shot”, and on and on it goes. 
Mary, you are going to have a
baby, even though you are still a virgin. 
Joseph, Mary is going to have a baby even though she’s still a virgin.
And now this.  It’s not for the ordinary that we have to
trust, those are just things we do.  And
that’s probably why we have verses in the scriptures like Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own
understanding.
 And why the prophet tells us in Isaiah 12:2 See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him
and not be afraid.
And why Jesus assured his apostles and us:  John 14:1 “Don’t let your hearts be
troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.
And so there will be times that we don’t understand, and those are
the times we have to trust that God knows what he’s doing.
I
love the response of Joseph throughout the Christmas story.   He finds out Mary is pregnant and decides to
call off the wedding, that night he is visited by an angel who tells him that
it’s going to be all right and that he needs to marry his Fiancé.  His response is found in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and
took Mary as his wife.
After Jesus is born an angel
visits and tells Joseph that Jesus’ life is in danger and they need to leave
the country , we read about his response in Matthew 2:14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child
and Mary, his mother,
When Herod dies Joseph is visited
once again by the angel, one would think that they should be on first name
basis by now, and he is commanded to return to Israel, his response?  Matthew 2:21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of
Israel with Jesus and his mother.
I
like the New Living Translation of the Bible, it’s what we use on Sunday at
Cornerstone, but sometimes the other translations say it better.  For example in the NIV we read Matthew 2:13  When they had gone,
an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he
said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until
I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
Do
you see the commands?  “Get up”, “Take
the Child”, “Escape to Egypt” “Stay there until I tell you”
Now
let’s read the next verse in the NIV  Matthew 2:14-15  So he got up, took
the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,  where he stayed until the death of Herod.
If I could sing, I would sing “Do
you see what I see”.  “He Got Up”, “He
took the Child”, “He left for Egypt”  “He
Stayed”
So
more than anything we discover It Was a
Story of Obedience
Is
trust trust if we don’t act on it?  Do
you trust that the ice is thick enough to walk on?  Will you walk on it?  I love the story of the man falling over the
bank.  As he’s falling to a certain death
he manages to grab hold of a branch and as he dangles he yells, “Help,
help!”  From above he hears a voice call
out, “this is God, I’m here to help you.” 
“Thank you” He hollers back.  The
voice responds “You need to trust me.  Do
you trust me?”
“Yes,
he responds, I trust you”   “Then let go
of the branch!”  There’s a pause and the
man calls out again, “Is there anyone else up there?”
We
talk about trusting God but until we act upon that trust then trust is just a
word.
We
see how the bible is full of examples of trust, even when it didn’t seem to
make sense,  but the reason they are
there is because the trust was acted on. 
There
are probably other instances were God called upon people and they said they
trusted him, but when He asked them to do whatever it was to demonstrate that
trust they hedged. 
And
that’s why we don’t read about Harold in the lion’s den, or Bob killing the
giant, or Fred building an ark.
Jesus
offers us grace and forgiveness and in return he asks for our love and
obedience.  And sometimes we bristle at
the thought of having to obey, but the commands of Christ aren’t set there to
ruin our fun, they are set there for a purpose. 
Do
you remember in the book of Matthew one of the religious leaders asked Jesus
what the most important commandment was? 
In reply Jesus reached back into the Old Testament and answers Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your
heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest
commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two
commandments.”  Love God and love others. 
And when you get right down to it that is the sum of Jesus teachings.
Love God and love people.  And so when he tells us not to murder or
steal or commit adultery he is simply telling us to treat other people
right.  Was the command to not cheat on
our spouse put there to ruin our fun or to protect our families?  When we are commanded to not take the Lords
name in vain, not to have other gods and to take time out to worship him they
are part of the Love the Lord your God.
And
It Was A Story Of Faith  Joseph had no guarantees, God didn’t hand
him the plan written down so he could show Mary or that he could take out once
in a while to look at to  reassure
himself. 
The
directions were a little vague, “Go to Egypt” there was no address, not contact
person for when he got there, no promise of a job.  In the book of Hebrews Paul defines what
faith is Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for
will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
That
could have been written about Joseph, time and time again.  He had an assurance about things he could not
see.
And
the story continues, Matthew 2:19-20  When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to
Joseph in Egypt.  “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother
back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are
dead.”
And
finally, It Was A Story Of Deliverance  God’s deliverance may have been the
outcome, but God’s deliverance was dependent on Joseph and Mary’s Trust,
Obedience and Faith. 
Too
often we get into messes in our lives because of choices we make.  And often those are the time that we have
chosen to not believe God and have chosen not to obey God.  If Jonah had of had the faith to believe that
God knew what he was doing and obeyed him he would never have ended up in the
belly of the whale.
But
what does this mean for today, December 18, 2016?  Well first of all it reminds us that we need
to trust God.  We need to trust him with
our career, we need to trust his with our family, we need to trust that he
loves us and has the very best at heart for us, but being in the centre of
God’s will doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there will be no problems.  But it does mean that he will be with us
through the times of trouble and problems.
And
it means that we need to obey him, to do as he commands and put our trust into
action.
Today
you can decide if you are going to trust God.  
Are you willing to put your life in his hands. 
Are
you willing to believe what you might not be able to see?

Back to the Future

It has been over thirty years since Doc Brown warned Marty McFly about the dangers of messing with the space-time continuum, and yet apparently, a group of physicists want to give it a try.  Two professors from Griffith University in Australia and one from the University of California have decided that maybe time travel isn’t just a thing of novels, movies and television shows.  
Professor Howard Wiseman, from Griffith University, recently stated, “In the well-known ‘Many-Worlds Interpretation’, each universe branches into a bunch of new universes every time a quantum measurement is made.”  Indeed!
Have you ever thought about being able to visit the past?  Have you ever wondered if you were able to go back to yesterday, would you be able to change today, and make the world a better place?
Could you have stopped the Holocaust? Or prevented 9/11?  And if you did, how would it effect the space-time continuum?
With apologies to Doc Brown and his compatriots, here is the reality: nobody can change the past, but everybody can change their future.
3,000 years ago, Solomon reminded us that there is a time for everything and our time is today.  And I truly believe that there is a person for every time.  And why couldn’t that person be you?

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

Story of Royalty

The Story of Royalty
We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over
and over again.  If you close your eyes
you can almost picture them.  Riding
their camels across the desert at night, the moon highlighting their royal
robes and crowns against the stark desert sand.
It is a very familiar part of the Christmas
story and it has all the earmarks of a great story.  You hear it this time of year in sermons,
songs and read about it on Christmas cards. 
A favourite Christmas Carol even honours
them,
“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.”
Which of course sounds better than “We
undetermined number of men of non-royal descent”
In the bible, they are described as wise
men and there are no numbers mentioned. 
Sometime around 600ish the wise men were promoted to Kings, some feel
that perhaps it was a reaction to Psalm 72 verse 10 where we read   Psalm 72:10  The
western kings of Tarshish and other distant lands will bring him tribute. The
eastern kings of Sheba and Seba will bring him gifts.   
Of course, while some Psalms are referred to
as Messianic Psalms, which simply means they were written about the coming
Messiah, Psalm 72 isn’t one of those.  It
was simply written about King Solomon and his reign.
So, the bible never refers to the visitors
as Kings or even alludes to it and the early church never identified them as
kings.  And while their actual numbers
are never mentioned the fact that they brought 3 gifts has set their numbers at
3.  But the story of the Kings remains a
part of the Christmas story that most people are familiar with.
We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over
and over again. But there is another story, a story seldom told that is part of
the Christmas Narrative as well.
I would invite you to stand for the reading
from God’s word.
Scripture:
Matthew 2:1-8
So, while there were kings mentioned in the Christmas story there were
only two and they didn’t come from the east. 
Let’s go back to the scripture
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.”
The two kings didn’t arrive on camels; they
didn’t arrive carrying gifts and they didn’t arrive from the east.  The only two kings mentioned in the Christmas
story were King Herod and King Jesus. 
And while both kings are mentioned here,
and while they would both hold the title “King of the Jews” their kingdoms,
their objectives and their methods  were
diametrically opposed.  As they would say
in Australia “They were as different as chalk and cheese.” 
The first King mentioned was King Herod,
and this was Herod the Great to be specific, not his son Herod Agrippa who we
meet later in the story when he executes John the Baptist. 
And Herod was not a nice person. 
Now 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 above the herd, that is if
poppies come in herds.
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 Jewish 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 but it made him a favourite of 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. 
The other king in the story of course is
Jesus.  He has just been born, but
already there are those talking about his destiny.  There was no hesitancy in what the Wise men
asked, they didn’t say “The one who will be called king of the Jews.”  They didn’t say “The one who someday will be
king of the Jews.”  There were looking
for the new born king of the Jews.  The one
who was the King of the Jews.  And that
must have been a shock to Herod because he thought he was king of the
Jews.  
And throughout the story we see this theme
of Jesus being king surfacing.  When
Jesus called Nathanael to follow him we read this exchange John 1:49  Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King
of Israel!”
When Jesus makes his triumphant entry in
Jerusalem on what we now refer to as Psalm Sunday we read this Luke 19:36-38  As he (Jesus) rode
along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him.  When they reached the place where the road
started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing
as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had
seen.  “Blessings on the King who comes
in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
And when Pilate is interrogating Jesus
after his arrest and before his crucifixion he asks Jesus in  Luke 23:3 So
Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  now listen to
Christ’s reply  Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
At no point, does Jesus ever stop people
from calling him king.  And when he was
crucified we read in John 19:19-22  And Pilate posted a sign over him that read,
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  The place where Jesus was
crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and
Greek, so that many people could read it.  Then the leading priests
objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He
said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate replied, “No, what I have written,
I have written.”
But while we have two kings in the story
they were very different kings.
Herod’s
Kingdom Was Defined by Hate and Selfishness 
Herod had one motive and one desire, to be
the most powerful man in Israel.  He
wanted to be loved and if he couldn’t be loved then he wanted to be
feared. 
The title Herod the Great wasn’t simply an
empty title, he kept peace in Palestine throughout his reign which was no mean
feat and during that time he rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, it would later be
destroyed by the Romans. 
What is referred to as the Western Wall or
Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is kind of a part of that structure.  It was the retaining wall that was built to
hold Herod’s temple.  It was deemed too insignificant
for the Romans to destroy but has been considered on of the holiest sites in
Israel over the past two thousand years. 
 You can see in this picture of
the Western Wall, the temple was where the trees now are. 
But even Herod’s motives behind rebuilding
the temple were mixed.  Historians feel
that rather than motivated by a spiritual motive that it was done so that he would “have a capital city
worthy of his dignity and grandeur.”
The King also built several great
fortresses including the mountain top fort of Masada, but they weren’t as much
for the protection of the nation as they were for the protection of Herod and
his family in case of war or revolt. 
They were big “Panic Rooms”
In the year 12 BC he underwrote the cost of
the Olympic games in Greece and was named the game’s “Perpetual
President.” 
For Herod, it was all about Herod.
But with all of Herod’s attributes he did
have one small, little problem.  I mean
face it we all have one problem or another, don’t we? 
Herod’s 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. 
Augustus stated at one point “It is safer to be
Herod’s pig then to be his son.”  It
was a bit more poetic in the original language because in the Greek hus
is the word for a pig, and huios is the word for son. 
When he was 70 and felt that he was near
the end he retired to Jericho and had some of the most notable and
distinguished citizens of Jerusalem arrested on trumped up charges.  On his orders, they were to be 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. 
Fortunately for the dignitaries, Herod’s
son and sister refused to carry out his wishes and had the hostages
released.  Which is again a reminder that
your last wishes are just that, wishes. 
And if wishes were horses then beggars would ride.
And so, it was
that this old man who was crippled with hate and suspicion was told about the
one who was the King of the Jews.  And he
was a little disturbed at the news. The Bible says in Matthew
2:3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, “Disturbed” now there’s an understatement, that’s like
saying Donald Trump is a little strange.
Herod got ugly.  And when his plans to find the child and “do
him in” failed, he flipped, went from disturbed to seriously psychopathic or
maybe sociopathic, I always get those mixed up. 
If you don’t know the
story.   The wise men are warned in a
dream to not return to Herod, so they bypassed Jerusalem on their way
home.  And Joseph also had an angel
appear to him, telling him to take his wife and his new born son and to flee to
Egypt. 
And that was a good
thing for them because Herod in a fit of rage, ordered that all the boy
children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem would be slaughtered. 

On the other hand, Jesus’
Kingdom Was Defined by Love and Sacrifice
From the very beginning the birth of Jesus
was defined not by what he could get but what could he give.  We keep going back to John 3:16 but that is
where the Gospel begins.  Before the
angel came to Mary, before there was a Mary there was a plan and that is summed
up in John 3:16  “For
God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone
who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
And throughout his ministry we see Jesus
giving of himself, whether it was when he was healing the sick, feeding the
hungry or teaching the crowds it was never about Jesus, it was about others and
it was about the Father.
And this theme is mentioned again and again
in the bible.  Jesus himself told us Mark
10:45
 “For even the Son of Man came not to be
served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Paul would write about it 1
Timothy 1:15
 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it:
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. . .
When God created humanity, he created men
and women to be in fellowship with Him, and they were, until they chose not to
be.  The story of humanity’s rebellion is
told in the book of Genesis, the first book of the bible. 
It’s there we read how God had place the
first couple in a beautiful garden with only one condition.   There
was only one rule.  How would you like to
live a life with only one rule?
And they chose to rebel and disobey that
one rule, and they set the pattern for all of us.  It’s why Paul wrote Romans 3:23
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. And
while that statement may sound hopeless it is followed with a statement of hope,
Romans 3:24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are
righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty
for our sins.
There is a gap between us and God that we
cannot bridge on our own.  The prophet
writes in  Isaiah 64:5-6  . . . We are constant sinners; how can
people like us be saved?  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we
display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn
leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
The answer to
Isaiah’s question “How can people like us be saved?”  comes at the beginning of the Christmas
story. 
Remember the
angel has come to a young lady named Mary and tells her that even though she is
a virgin she will become pregnant with the son of God.  Leaving her with the difficult task of
telling her fiancé Joseph that she is pregnant.
And Joseph
knows that it takes two to tango and he knows that he wasn’t Mary’s dance
partner so he decides to break off the engagement.
That night he receives
his own angelic visit.  Matthew
1:20-21
 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 she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save
his people from their sins.”     
The mission of Christ was simple, he summed
it up himself in Luke 19:10  For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
The difference between the lives of the two
kings is that Jesus taught the Golden Rule, “Do unto others”, but Herod lived
by his own version of the golden rule, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”
Both
Kings Left a Legacy 
If you goggle the legacy that Herod left
you will discover that during his reign the king was a prolific builder.  It wasn’t by accident that he was called “The
great.”  But nothing remains of those
buildings but rubble and ruin.
Some of the accomplishment that top the
list are the mountain top fortress of Masada, maybe you saw the movie.  When the Roman army was crushing the Jewish
rebellion in 73 there was a group who made a stand in Masada. 
When the Romans finally took the fortress
they discovered that 960 of its resident had either killed each other or
committed suicide.  Men, women and
children.  There were only 7 survivors, 2
women and 5 children. 
This is what Masada looks like today.  Interesting that this event has taken on
almost heroic status.  In 1978 909 people
died the same way at Jonestown in Guyana and it is considered the work of a mad
man with a deluded following.  Strange
how history works.
Herod was also known for creating the port
city of Caesarea, named of course after Caesar this was the foremost port in
Israel in its day.  This is a picture of
what remains of Caesarea today. 
There is a community that bears the same
name but it was established in 1952.
Herod’s palace was considered the largest
palace of its day.  He named it Herodium
in honour of himself, and here are the remains.
There is nothing left standing of Herod’s
architectural accomplishments and most of them were destroyed by very empire
that Herod aligned himself with. 
If you ask people if they know who Herod is,
they will usual mention the Christmas story or the Easter story.
By the way that the Herod in the Easter
story who mockingly dressed Jesus in a purple robe and sent him back to Pilate
to be crucified was the son of the Herod from the Christmas story.
The legacy of Herod is of a bitter old man
who killed his family, terrorized his subjects and left behind piles of ruins.
Although we have no record of Christ ever
constructing a building his legacy is cathedrals, universities and
hospitals.  His teachings have shaped how
we treat the sick and the poor. 
If you are university educated, then you
probably were educated at an institution founded by His Church.
If you were born in Halifax before 1996
then you were probably born in a hospital that was founded by His Church.
In the 17 and 18 hundreds, His church was
at the forefront of the fight against slavery and child labour. 
If you are a woman and enjoy the rights
that have come your way in the past 200 years you can probably trace many of
those rights back to the first women’s rights conference held in Seneca Falls
NY in 1848.  Which was held in a Wesleyan
Church.
The legacy of Christ is a legacy of better
people, people who have shaped and changed the world for the better because
they have taken to heart the teachings of Christ. 
In 1979 Bob Dylan released an album about
his Christian faith called Slow Train Coming and on that album was the song
“You Gotta Serve Somebody” and in it Dylan wrote this epic truth. 
“But
you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
And so the question today, December 4th
2016 is “Who will you serve?”
And the only person who can answer that is you.