The quest for the perfect gift. Some of you know what I mean and others, you haven’t got a clue. There are some folks who every gift is a challenge, to get not just a gift but to get the right gift. The gift that says just the right thing at just the right price. Those folks are buying gifts all year round and you will hear them say “that would be the perfect gift for Aunt Mabel, that would be my mother’s sister’s husband’s great aunt.” They put a lot of thought and love into their gifts, for the rest of us there are always gift cards.
And others are looking for the right gift but for the wrong reason. Do you remember where we left with Big Bang two weeks ago, Penny was going to buy Sheldon and Leonard gifts and Sheldon lectures her on the fact that the foundation of Gift Giving was reciprocity and that she wasn’t giving him a gift she was giving him an obligation. Let’s pick up the story with that thought. (clip two from Big Bang Christmas Special).
What a clever idea. Hmmmm, I wonder? Nope better not go there and it’s probably too late for this year anyway.
Christmas is a celebration of the greatest gift ever given. The gift of God! And it wasn’t a gift that was given without thought and planning. As a matter of fact John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel John 1:1-2 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.
Here is a gift that has existed before time itself existed. And it was prepared and delivered in a perfect manner, at the perfect time. You ever wonder about the timing of Christmas? Not whether it happened in December or September in AD 5 or 3 BC but why it happened at that particular point in history. We have approximately 5,000 years of recorded history, so why right then. Was it just a good time? Or was it the best time?
Listen to what Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4-5 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.
Did you catch that? But when the right time came. Not just any time the right time. I am a big believer in context, the power that is of the right thing happening at the right time. If you are a reader check out Malcolm Gladwell’s two books “The Tipping Point” and “The Outliers.”
That was free.
God could have chosen any time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to be born, and yet he chose a specific spot on the time line of history. Why? Why at that particular point in time?
According to historians there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two hundred year juncture of history known as The Pax Romana. E. J. Goodspeed notes: “This was the pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome.”
The Roman Peace had spread across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions. For the first time roadways connected points across the known world. But it went beyond simple transportation and incorporated communication as well. Instead of having to learn a multitude of languages and dialects it was only necessary to know one. Greek was the common language, a reminder of Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.
It was not a coincidence that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history William Barclay writes in the Daily Study Bible: “It was no accident that Christianity came when it did. It came in God’s own time; all history had been a preparation for it; and the circumstances were such that the way was open for the tide to spread.”
But there were certain things that had to be prepared and made ready.
The Preparation of the Gift We touched on this a couple of weeks ago. God didn’t choose just anyone to parent his son, he chose Mary and Joseph. We are reminded over and over again of the baggage that people carry with them from their childhood as a result of parents who were abusive, either physically or verbally, parents who were neglectful or just didn’t care.
God chose not to simply come as a man but to experience humanity from conception to death. He would grow up as a child, experiencing all there was of childhood, from runny noses to scraped knees from the wonder of a rainbow to the first blush of puppy love. And God needed to have an exceptional pair to guide his son through those times. And so he chose a young girl from a small village called Nazareth and her fiancé.
But the only requirement wasn’t simply that they would be good parents. The expectancy of the people of Israel was that the Messiah who had been promised would be a descendant of David the greatest king that Israel ever had. You remember David? He was the shepherd kid who killed the giant Goliath, he was the poet who wrote the psalms and he was the King who led Israel to some of her greatest victories. And he was the ancestor of both Mary and Joseph.
That one wasn’t all that tough, the Jews kept genealogical records that would put the Mormons to shame and people were very aware of their lineage, especially when it included David. Kind of like folks to the south who know their kin came over on the Mayflower or Australians who brag about their ancestors arriving with the first fleet.
The second requirement was a little more difficult. Remember the prophecy we looked at two weeks ago from the book of Isaiah? Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
Mary was a special young lady with a special past and what would become a very special future. The Catholics refer to Mary as “Mary the Mother of God.” And I think Protestants get a little uncomfortable with that statement but it is what it is. Mary was a virgin and she was being asked to be the mother of God’s son, Jesus, who we believe to be God incarnate. A very special birth that would begin with a very special conception, as God stepped outside of the very boundaries he put in place.
As you can well imagine there had to be some advance planning on that one. And that came in the form of a heavenly messenger who appeared to Mary to outline the entire plan. We all know the story; if you don’t you can find it in the book of Luke. But it all comes down to three verses at the end of Luke 1.
The Angel has told Mary that she is going to have a son and that she will name him Jesus. Mary responds by saying in Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel says “No worries” actually if the Angel had of been an Australian he would have said “no worries” instead what he said was 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. For nothing is impossible with God.”
And you gotta love Mary’s response. Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
But that was only half the story. Remember that Mary was engaged and there was a pretty good possibility that her fiancé would notice that she was pregnant. I’m sure he would be able to put two and two together. Even back then people knew that it took two to tango and he hadn’t even been invited to the dance. So he was a little upset, even today in a culture that prides itself on having very few morals nobody would blame someone in Joseph situation if he decided to not go through with the wedding.
It tells us a little bit about Joseph’s character that he didn’t want to make a big scene and so we are told 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. So, again with the angel. The story continues with Matthew 1:20-21 As he (Joseph) 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 angel continues to fill in some details but the bottom line comes in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
If you are part of a family that is spread all over you know that getting the gift is usually only the first part of the mission. Now you have to get the gift to those who it is for. When we lived overseas the cheapest way to get parcels from there to here was surface mail and officially, if you asked at the post office it would take 6 to 8 weeks for your package to arrive, in theory. So we had to mail them around the middle of October. Even now we are always trying to figure out how to get my parent’s and sister’s gifts to Saint John.
The Gift of the Messiah was to arrive in a certain place as well. Earlier I had told you that Mary was from Nazareth, but that isn’t where Jesus was born.
So that lead us to The Preparation of the Place Remember there were no accidents that first Christmas. We are told in Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. Which if you just want the basics of the story is kind of cool. Kind of Like “Denn was born in Chatham when Diefenbaker was King.” But really that doesn’t tell you the whole story does it? Why Chatham? Mom and Dad weren’t from the Miramachi, they didn’t stay there very long and I didn’t go back for almost forty years.
Matthew answers the “where” and when rather nicely Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. But there are a lot of questions that he leaves unanswered. And some of those questions are answered in Luke’s account and other’s we have to dig for. The most obvious question is “Why Bethlehem?” If we pull down one of our trusty maps we discover that Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived is up here, twenty four kms from the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and thirty kms inland from the Mediterranean Sea, a small village that was obviously the family home to both Mary and Joseph. And Bethlehem is way down here, about 120 kms away. For us that isn’t an insurmountable distance depending on how you drive and what the roads are like it would take you between an hour and two hours to make the trip. When I was in Sierra Leone I made a trip of eighty kms going from Makeni to Kamakwie hospital in four and a half hours but this trip was worse than that.
Mary was not just pregnant Luke tells us about the trip in Luke 2:4-5 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. Obviously pregnant. Hmm, love what it says in the KJV it says she was great with Child. And you know what I mean; there are some women who are obviously pregnant and others who are great with Child.
But why? Why did they have to go to Bethlehem. Well the short answer is that the Roman Government commanded it, a census was going on and People were required to register in the ancestral homes, which for Joseph and his family happened to be Bethlehem. But more than that if we go back into the Old Testament we find that God has spoken through his prophet Micah and said Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
Bethlehem was the Birthplace of King David and it was decreed that it would be the birth place of the Messiah. Again He wasn’t just to be born any place but in a special place, even if it would require the might of the Roman Empire to see it happen.
And you have to assume that the census didn’t just happen on a whim. Long before the angel appeared to Mary and Joseph plans were being put in place to make sure the baby would be born in Bethlehem.
But while Mary and Joseph and their newborn son were far from home and their immediate family, they weren’t alone. It wouldn’t have been right for the Son of God, Prince of Peace not to be welcomed to this world.
The Preparation of the Welcome When we stop and think about that first Christmas we envision a stable under a starlit sky with the holy family surrounded by small barnyard animals standing in harmonious awe along with a group of shepherds and Three Wise Men while the little drummer boy played a solo in the back ground.
You know the story; the shepherds were tending their flocks around the town of Bethlehem when suddenly their lives are interrupted by a whole flock of angels. I guess flock isn’t the proper word, a whole host of angels. And the angels’ message is recorded in
Luke 2:9-12 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And the shepherds followed the angels’ direction and we are told they went to Bethlehem and found the Christ child in the stable and worshipped him.
But the shepherds weren’t the only ones who came to visit the new born 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.”
It doesn’t seem like anyone has any problems with the Shepherds, you mention shepherds and everyone nods and smiles. But boy, you mention the wise men and someone inevitably jumps up and informs you “You know the wise men weren’t at the stable and probably didn’t arrive for two years.”
Boy I don’t know who started that but they should be slapped. Their rational? They refer to where the Bible says that they went to the house where the baby was, so obviously they couldn’t have been at the stable. But does that mean it happened two years later? Maybe a room opened in the inn the day after Jesus was born, maybe the innkeepers wife found out that he made them sleep in the stable and on night two maybe he was in the stable and they were in his room.
Then the revisionists talk about how it would have taken the magi two years to make the trip, although the same trip was made on Camels a few years back in 3 months, check out this website. But regardless of how long it might have taken them to get there, 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 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.
Not to mention that if we read the account it says 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.” About that time? About what time? About the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
And so those who greeted the Christ child at his birth not only included shepherds from the hills surrounding Bethlehem but also an undeterminable number of magi who had travelled hundreds of miles across the desert to bring gifts that would define who this child would grow up to be.
But through all the preparations there was a common thread that wove them together, a thread that has stretched down 2000 years to continue and link those who are prepared to accept the Christ child. Did you catch it?
Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
Luke 2:4-5 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
Luke 2:15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
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.”
Did you catch it? They were listening to God but more than that they were obedient to God. And that is still critical today Jesus told his disciples in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. And that Jesus reiterates that thought in John 15:10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
So where you at today? A gift has been prepared for you, but the question is “Have you are prepared for the gift?”