Here we are it’s Christmas Eve, which brings us to the end of our A Christmas Carol Series at Cornerstone.
Through the past four weeks we’ve been using Dickens’ most famous story as a frame work for the Christmas story. If you aren’t familiar with A Christmas Carol, it is divided up into five chapters which Dickens calls Staves.
And we’ve looked at how Christmas has impacted our past, our present and our future. If you missed those you can simply go to our website, Cornerstonehfx.ca.
And here we are at Stave Five, the final chapter of the book. It is here that Scrooge makes good on his promise to become a changed man.
He begins Christmas Day by making a large donation to the charity he rejected the day before. He then arranges for a large turkey to be sent to the Cratchit family for Christmas dinner and spends the afternoon with his nephew Fred and his family.
The next day he gives his clerk, Bob Cratchit, an increase in pay and begins to become a father figure to Tiny Tim.
The story ends with Scrooge treating everyone with kindness, generosity and compassion, and embodying the spirit of Christmas.
This evening I would like to suggest that those who are open to the miracle of Christmas always leave different then when they arrived.
One of my favourite parts of the Christmas story is the story of the Magi.
Really, 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 following but a promise of a distant start. I wonder if as they packed their camels in Persia to follow a distant star to an unknown destination if their family friends and neighbors thought of them as wise men?
And yet 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 know very little about the Magi, but we do know that they were from the country of Persia which is now Iran.
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 everyone.
Now we might not have a lot of factual information, but a lack of facts has never stood in the way of anyone and so what facts can’t tell us we learn from tradition. Early tradition told us that there were 12 in this group of wise men, but of course our contemporary belief is that there were only 3. And tradition did what political aspiration couldn’t do and it turned the Magi into kings.
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 but while the Bible says Jesus was born in a stable it doesn’t say that he stayed in the stable.
They talk about how it would have taken the magi two years to make the trip, although the same trip was made on Camels in recent years in only 3 months.
And 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. 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 homicidal maniac.
I want to know why Mary and Joseph and Jesus would have hung around Bethlehem for two years after the census was finished?
That was free.
The entire trip was summed up by Matthew when he wrote in Matthew 2:10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! I hope this Christmas season has been a time of joy for you as you celebrated the birth of Jesus.
Their story finishes with Matthew 2:12 NKJV Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Now we all know what Matthew was saying here, he was telling us that because they had been warned that Herod would kill the Christ child that took an alternate route home, one that would bypass Jerusalem. But that doesn’t answer the question that burns deep within the soul of every preacher, and that is, “Will it Preach?”
I believe, that when the magi got up from the cradle that they were changed men, and that they returned home another way, both literally and metaphorically.
That once they had cast their eyes on the child who would change the world that they became different men. They were not the same men who left their distant home. They would return home, but they would return a different way, with a different outlook on life, on God and on mankind.
It’s true that they took a different route home, but they also went home as men whose lives had been touched by the son of God. And so, we need to ask: if they went home another way, how did they go home?
Because of Christmas their Faith was Fulfilled. When these men struck out from their homes they really left in an act of faith. Guided only by a star leading them to some strange and distant land. The Bible could have been speaking of the Magi when it says in Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
In every sense of the word faith is a New Testament concept, 90% of the times it’s used in the Bible is in the New Testament, and it’s interesting to note that within the New Testament some of the first visitors to the son of God traveled the road of faith.
Billy Sunday said “Faith is the beginning of something of which you can’t see the end, but in which you believe.”
Now I am convinced that we are all born with an equal allotment of faith, and each one of us can either cultivate that faith and watch it grow or neglect it and watch it die. Each one of us cultivates our faith in a dozen different ways every day. When you set the alarm at night you have faith that it will go off in the morning. When you catch the bus, you have the faith it will get you to your stop on the other end.
When I was in college, I took flying lessons, and they were given to me in a piper tomahawk.
Now I believed that ugly little airplane could fly.
I had faith, but I never got over the sheer thrill that I felt as we raced down the runway and at 100 kph I pulled back on the controls and felt the earth drop away beneath us, when my faith was fulfilled.
The wise men came to the stable with faith, but they left the stable with faith fulfilled.
The Magi knew what lay at the end of the trip, that’s why they could tell Herod in Matthew 2:2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him.”
They came with faith, but they left knowing that their faith had been justified. They could have pleased God without the gold and without the frankincense and without the myrrh, but the bible tells us in Hebrews 11:6 And it is impossible to please God without faith.
It was Because of Christmas their Hope was More Surely Founded These men left Persia with a dream, a dream that would carry them through the desolate desert that lay between them and Bethlehem. A dream that would sustain them through the duration of their trip, during the blistering hot days, and the freezing cold nights. Without their dream, their hope they never would have continued on.
My deepest sympathy is for the men and women who live without a dream, people like that don’t live, they simply exist. The farthest they can see is the end of the day, and their goal is to just make it through until tomorrow. But the world is changed by men and women who can see beyond the immediate, who can see beyond the today and over the horizon of the here and now to tomorrow.
It was George Bernard Shaw who said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
The unreasonable man is the man with the dream, the man who has a dream and a hope in tomorrow. I believe that when the magi shared their dreams and their hopes for the journey with their friends and family that they were criticized for being unreasonable.
It has been said that castles in the air are built by psychotics, occupied by neurotics and the rent is collected by psychologists. But I disagree, I believe that castles in the air are built by dreamers and that ultimately the future belongs to the dreamers.
Every man and every woman need a dream, every pastor needs a dream, and every church needs a dream. The hopes and dreams that only God can give add the sparks that set your life afire.
And the dreams that God has given me for Cornerstone is what makes my ministry an adventure, a scary adventure sometimes but an adventure never the less. The Magi had the assurance that God had indeed given them the dreams when they peered into the cradle and into the eyes of God.
And Because of Christmas their Love was Rekindled When the Magi deliberately deceived Herod by bypassing him on their way home they put their lives in danger, but they did it out of the greatest motivation that exists and that is love. Whether it was the actions of the Magi crossing the desert, presenting their gifts to God or protecting the Christ child, the contributing factor on the first Christmas was love.
How fitting that Jesus Christ, the very essence of love, would prompt so much love during his first days on earth. The greatest weapon in the arsenal of God is love, love for Wesleyans, love for Baptists, love for Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, and Moslems and nothintarians. The Love that God gives us can stand all rebuke, it can stand all persecution and all judgement.
Jesus Christ said in John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” And in saying that he could have said your lack of love for one another will prove to the world that you are not my disciples. If Cornerstone is going to exercise the faith that God has given us, and if we are going to see the dreams that God has given us, then we are going to have to practice that love that God has given us.
What gifts will you receive this Christmas? Will you leave Christmas just as you arrived except for 3 pair of new socks, 2 ugly ties, 4 fruit cakes and a soap on a rope? My wish for you is that you will leave Christmas 2018 with your faith fulfilled, your hope more surely founded, and your love rekindled.
Those gifts are still being given out and they will always fit, won’t have to be returned and they’ll never need batteries.