Advent – Peace
We find ourselves in this season of advent. I love this time of year, it’s really exciting and fun. I have youngish kids and they love it. There are some scary things too. The average westerner has 7000 calories on Christmas day, that’s quite something when you should only really have 2500. Do you know who the hardest person to buy presents for at Christmas is? It’s Dad! When I was growing up every year I would buy my Dad a roll of Sellotape, to this day I don’t know quite why.
You know I love Christmas, but I don’t really love the cards, they make nativity look cute. You’ve got fluorescent figures; you’ve got Mary dressed like some kind of blue nun. What an impractical outfit for giving birth. You’ve got grinning cows and the ox and the ass look so happy. The hay smells like Chanel no. 5. And the 3 wise men in the same place at the same time, what a miracle. You’ve got this whole scene where it’s like the animals are happy, the straw is perfect, the manger looks wonderful but it just wouldn’t have been like that. This is no Disney princess film where it’s all wonderful and finishes so beautifully. This would have been difficult, it would’ve been hard, it would’ve looked quite different. You see, because of our brokenness and the way that we’ve messed up, the King of the world Jesus comes from the highest heaven to lowest earth. He’s born as a baby. Do you ever think what does that actually look like? The God who threw the stars into space becomes a baby for you and me. You know when babies are first born they can’t get proper eye contact at first, they can’t move their arms properly at first, there are lots of things that they can’t do. The saviour of the world became a baby boy for you and me. Isn’t that remarkable.
Today I want to talk to you about the magi, you might know them more colloquially as the wise men. If you have a Bible would you turn it on or open it up to Matthew 2:1-12
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.Matthew 2:1-12 NIV
I love this passage, the wise men – more correctly the magi, it was originally the name of a Persian clan but later used widely for magicians and astrologers, a numerous class in most countries in Western Asia. I love it when Matthew Henry, the commentator, says “the stars that have been misused came to be put to the right use in leading people to Christ”. With the magi I have three things I want to talk to you about really quickly today that I think are important from this passage for us.
The first is this, focus. There was once a 100m sprinter called Leroy Burrell, he was faster than anyone else, he was ready to be world champion, he had broken the world record. He was performing in the world championships in the early 90’s. He’s on the start line and he’s looking around, he knows he’s the best. When it comes to the 100m sprint, you have to get out of the blocks quick, keep focused and keep going. Burrell bursts out of the blocks and he was leading coming up to the finish line and as he comes towards the finish line he panics and he wonders where everyone else is. So he looks sideways and as he looks sideways, three runners run past him and he finishes 4th. If he had kept looking, kept focused forwards, he would have won the race and become world champion. But because he lost his focus and looked sideways, three people beat him, he finished 4th and he never competed at that level again.
When it comes to the Magi they didn’t keep focused on what lay ahead of them. They didn’t keep focused on what was in front of them, they ceased to follow the star. Because when looking for a baby king, the natural place to go was a palace. For the magi they had the star in front of them. If they had focused on it they would have ended up in the right place but when looking for a king you end up in a palace. I wonder for some of us, how’s our focus? Are we keeping our focus on Jesus or are we looking elsewhere? In the middle of this Coronavirus pandemic that we’re all facing in different ways, where’s our focus? Let’s not pretend it’s not hard, this is such a hard season for us all. We’re all finding this difficult, we all want it to end but in the middle of it those of us that know Jesus have a chance to show what’s different when you face this pandemic with Jesus. Where’s our focus? Are we keeping our eyes in the right place? If you keep your eyes on the star, you make it to Jesus.
There is an issue on location. Why wouldn’t you go to a palace to look for a baby king? And the problem here is that God sees things differently to us. We see things down here, He sees things from up there. It’s a little bit like my favourite story in scripture, Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. When Phillip is ministering in Samaria and they’re seeing exorcisms and healings and there are loads of people coming to faith, everything is going really well. And then an angel of the Lord says “go, leave that and go to the middle of the desert”. It makes no sense, what a crazy thing to do. But Phillip’s obedient and he goes. He goes to the middle of the desert and he meets a eunuch. And this eunuch needs explaining from the scriptures. This isn’t just any eunuch, he serves Candace the Queen of Ethiopia, he serves her. And what happens is that Phillip leads this eunuch to Jesus. Then this eunuch takes the gospel to Africa for the first time. Africa now the most on fire continent for Jesus. So what happens is that God sees it up there, Phillip sees it down here. But Phillip trusts enough to go God’s way and ends up meeting a eunuch who takes the gospel to Africa.
Much the same in this passage, God sees things differently, our humanity takes us to a palace but Jesus wanted to meet the magi in the stable so God chose to lead them there. But when man’s wisdom took over from God’s guidance the whole thing got messed up. You know many of us are looking for God in the wrong place. Jerusalem is only 9 miles north of Bethlehem, I’ve been to both, they’re close together, you could run between the two. The wise men had a long intellectual history but they missed their goal by 9 miles. They had miscalculated by just 9 miles. I wonder for some of us, particularly in this season where we are finding it so difficult, that life is so hard, that we’re not always sure where to turn, are we finding God in the wrong place? Are we looking for God in the wrong place? Are we missing him because we’re looking in the wrong space? Are we depending on other stuff? Are we depending on science or the political leaders when actually we should be focusing on God at this time? Where is our focus? Are we in the wrong location?
What obstacles are getting in our way?
When they followed the star again they found their way to Jesus. The obstacle in their way was their common sense. Their common sense took them to the palace, but then in the end they followed the star again and that led them to Jesus. If we persevere even when it’s hard we can make it to Jesus. God’s with us in the middle of the storms we are facing.
I love an old story I was a few years ago of two Iranian pastors. You know Iran has the fastest growing church in the world, isn’t that amazing. There were two Iranian pastors that were effectively Bible smugglers. They would smuggle Bibles to different places in the night in the hope to not get caught. You get caught with one Bible you can lose your life. If you get caught smuggling them, you’re stuffed. These two pastors left at 4am to take 200 Bibles to a remote village. As they are driving along the road, the steering wheel of the car locks and they end up pulling over to the side of the road because the car won’t drive anymore. They pull over in the middle of nowhere and then suddenly they notice outside the passenger window that there’s a guy stood there. He whacks on the window, so one of the pastors winds the window down. The guy outside says “you’ve got Bibles inside”. The pastors are trying not to lie but they don’t want to lose their lives so they say “why would you think we’ve got Bibles?” The guy outside says “you’ve got Bibles in this car, you’ve got 200 Bibles in this car”. The pastors say “what would make you think that?”. The guy outside says “me and my friends have been praying every day for two years that the Lord would bring us 200 Bibles. The Lord told me that if I stood here out on the road here in the middle of nowhere that He would bring us 200 Bibles”. Isn’t that incredible. The pastors give him the 200 Bibles. The community there then have the opportunity to access the word of God. The ultimate obstacles of fear and secret police and other things are overcome because our God is more powerful than the other things that we face.
For some of us it is so easy to miss the star and miss the way to Jesus because our focus is in the wrong place, we are looking in the wrong location or the obstacles are too much for us. With the magi, they find their way to no ordinary king, they find their way to Jesus. This baby boy born in a manger grows into a man giving food to the hungry, health to the sick, life to the dead. He eventually dies upon a cross taking every wrong thing upon himself that you ever could do, ever might do, that you needn’t be punished for it. That you would be set apart from your brokenness. Life in all of its fullness now and life in all of its fullness for eternity. This Jesus gives us the opportunity for a personal relationship with the living God. That’s what Christmas is about.
They come to the baby with three gifts. They come with gold, frankincense and myrrh. We all get those Christmas cards with gold, Frankenstein and myrrh but actually it was frankincense. Why gold? Gold is a symbol of kingship. Christ is the king of kings. Here in the manger is the king of kings. Secondly frankincense, frankincense is a symbol of prayer and communication. The king has not left his people to get on with it. The king has come to communicate with his people. Myrrh is about death and burial. The king came in order to give his life for every one of us.
The invisible god becomes visible in Jesus. Sometimes we leave him as a baby. To understand the significance of the birth of Jesus, to understand the significance of Christmas, you have to move from the cradle to the cross. And it’s on that cross that Jesus gave his life so that we could live. You see the real gift of Christmas is Christ. As my friend says “if you take Christ out of Christmas you’re just left with M&S”. My challenge to you this Christmas is don’t miss the Christ in Christmas. The Sadducees and the Pharisees missed it, they needed only to walk 5 miles to get to Jesus.The invisible god becomes visible in Jesus. Sometimes we leave him as a baby. To understand the significance of the birth of Jesus, to understand the significance of Christmas, you have to move from the cradle to the cross. Click To Tweet
You can be religious and not know the truth. The Bible means library, there are 322 old testament messianic prophecies – how, where, what, how he would die, even the number of coins for betraying him. Jesus fulfils all of these prophecies the messiah, the saviour of the world, his very name means saviour redeemer. Christmas is about the birth of the saviour who changes everything for every one of us.
King Herod missed it too. Herod was a king, but Christ was THE king. For some of us at Christmas we start chasing the things of the world, what’s that really about? In the coming years, if COVID has been a wave, what’s coming after is going to be a tidal wave. The coming years we’re going to struggle economically in this nation, but I tell you something, God is still good. Jesus still reigns and he still gave his life for you and me.
When I received this gift of Jesus, when I received this gift of Christmas, it changed my world. People started saying that you’ve been brainwashed, I needed brainwashing, I needed changing, I needed to know that something was greater than me, I needed to know that hope has a name, and it’s name is Jesus. On his promises and on what he has done for me, I will build my life and put my faith. The gift of Christmas is really Christ. We receive stuff that we really don’t need whilst God offers us the gift we can’t live without.
They call him Immanuel. It means God is with us. It’s not a prayer but a statement. So ultimate, so inclusive, God has got to us in this way. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. The greatest promise in the bible is that He is with us. Right now, with all that we are facing, with all that is going on in the middle of the pandemic, we can pin this advent season to the absolute truth that hope has a name and that name is Jesus. Hope has got to us by giving his life on that cross but before that by coming from the highest heaven to the lowest earth as a baby who was born at Christmas time. That the baby chose to be man changes everything.We can pin this advent season to the absolute truth that hope has a name and that name is Jesus. Click To Tweet
My question to you is, this Christmas do you know Jesus? This Christmas do you know life in all its fullness? Maybe you have been a follower of Jesus for many years but are you focused on him or are you distracted by that around? The magi could so easily have got to Jesus by following the star, by keeping focused, by keeping going. Instead they took their focus off the star and ended up in a palace. Because you go to a palace when you’re looking for a king. Common sense kicks in. The reality is that their intellect was their obstacle, they let their common sense take over from actually following the ways of God. Which sometimes can feel like foolishness to the world, but they’re the right ways to go. This Christmas time are you focusing on Jesus? Are you following him? In the middle of this pandemic are you standing on the rock of ages or are you standing on shifting sands of culture changing around us. Are you clinging to hope, because hope is Jesus. There is an old hymn that says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”. This Christmas season, those words seem more relevant than ever. Let’s pray.
“I wonder if you are watching this and you have never chosen to surrender your life to Jesus. Today would be a great time to do this. There will be different ways to do it, but I would love to just pray for you now. If you have never chosen to follow Jesus, you have never known what it is to surrender your life to Jesus, perhaps this Christmas season is the time for you to do so. Maybe you have strayed, maybe you have known Jesus but have walked away, this is a great time to recommit, dust yourself down, say Lord I am going to go for it with you and I’m sorry that I have walked away from you. Whether it’s the first time or a recommitment, perhaps you would pray with me now. We say:
Lord Jesus I surrender my life to you.
Lord I ask you to come into my heart.
Please forgive me for my brokenness.
Set me free from all the stuff that I have done wrong.
Might I know you today as my best friend but also as my King.
Might you journey with me this Christmas season and for the years and months beyond.
Might I today know life in all of its fullness.
Might I know that forever too.
If you prayed that prayer, do be in touch with someone in the Church. But secondly, maybe for some of us who have just taken our eyes off of Jesus, we’ve just been messing around a bit in this season, we have been so overwhelmed by how hard this year has been, we have forgotten that our primary focus needs to be on the Lord just like those magi we have let other things kick in and distract us when our primary focus needs to be on the Lord. This Christmas time let’s just take a moment to remind the Lord he is our primary focus.
Lord, I pray for each of my friends.
I pray that they would turn their eyes to you.
I pray that they would focus on you this Christmas time.
Lord we’ll have nice food, good family time, great presents but our focus this Christmas time is on you.
I pray Lord, that unlike the wise men that we would not be taken of course by the distractions around us but we would stay focused on you, that we know you better, love you more and go deeper in our relationship with you.
Finally I pray for Festival Church, that it would grow, I pray that it would bring hope to its communities and I pray Lord Jesus that it would do all that it could to share your hope with all those around it. Lord, would their ministering words work some wonders making You known in an incredible way. As we step towards a new year, would 2021 be an amazing year for this wonderful family of churches, we pray. Amen
God bless you friends and go for it. Happy Christmas.