Tuesday, February 5, 2019

It's Still Christmas - 2019

Why still Christmas? Why do we have our Christmas stuff still set up? It wasn't just that we didn't get around to taking it down. But really, I mean the gingerbread has grown stale, the leftovers have all been consumed, New Year's has come and gone, the tree is dry and school has begun and most people have their decorations down and packed away for another year, so why still Christmas?

Well a couple of reasons:

1st of all there are people who just love to linger. You know they love to stay in their new pajamas and stew in the afterglow of Christmas - I mean why pack it away when you want Christmas to not be over even though they realize it's a whole year away and,

2nd there's other people who show up consistently late. Maybe you're someone like that. I actually know someone like that quite well and despite the best of intentions you know they always seem to show up just a little bit behind schedule. The good news is even though they show up late, when they do eventually get there they bring a lot more fresh energy. I mean the party is just about wrapping up, dinner just about done and they come into the room and there's energy and there's laughter and we don't want them to miss out on the great time that’s been had so we stick around a little longer. Maybe you had to work retail or were busy right up through and you think I just got here and I just want to enjoy this for a little while but the main reason we are still in Christmas is because Christmas is for everyone, anytime, it really is.

So, I'm telling you, if you have your nativity set still set up at home, today's the day you can get out the wise men because they also arrived a little bit late but we're glad they got there nevertheless. They showed up there as an epiphany which comes from the Greek word that really means to show or to reveal - you can call it a revelation or define it as when the light goes on. That time when you finally figure something out that you’ve been pondering - it's the AHA that comes with the TA DA, and the day it appears and when Jesus is revealed to the world is when the light comes on for those who are seeking Christmas. It was more likely well over a year after Jesus was born that the wise men showed up and they don't come to the stable, the Bible tells us they come to a house and we don't even know exactly where they came from, we don't get a lot of information, we're simply told they came from the east but what's important to know is that these are outsiders, these are gentile stargazers and they don't have the history, they didn't grow up going to synagogue, they didn't grow up hearing the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and they don't know God's plan of salvation but they saw a star and they knew that something great had happened. Then, based on that knowledge (the little knowledge that they had) they set out. Their heart on pilgrimage, they took action on what they did know and they came and found Jesus and they worshiped him and their inclusion in the Christmas story is good news for all of us because it's a reminder that even though every one of us are also outsiders, we get invited in. We are welcome to Christmas – it’s for all of us at any time, even those of us who don't have it all figured out.

When you look at something through someone else's perspective, it often gives you an insight that you wouldn't have seen before. But in this case, we're so familiar with the story that sometimes we lose the meaning and so what I would like to do is just slow down and review the story again from Matthew Chapter 2. Read it and ask God to speak and challenge you:

Matthew Chapter 2 begins this way… “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 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.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘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.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 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.”

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. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

Now, although the story is familiar I think there are some incredible revelations here about how that applies to our own life not just at Christmas but all year round. Matthews story shows the Magi were interpreters of omens - they were Stargazers and astrologers who came from the east and their inclusion is a very important link not only were they outsiders but the Bible tells us that these were likely scholarly people who came from Persia and Babylon. Why that matters is because Persia and Babylon were the very places of exile where hundreds of years before God had allowed his own people to be carried into captivity, into exile because of their sin, selfishness, and apathy. God allowed them to be taken captive to reduce them, in order that he might bring them back, that he might save them from sin, in spiritual exile and it happened in Babylon, and in Persia. What's amazing here is that from the exact same region God brings the descendants of the old oppressors on a spiritual pilgrimage back down the same route in order to rescue them too from spiritual exile. This idea of forming Kings and bringing treasure from Babylon takes us all the way back to the story of Moses and Joseph and it links the Old Testament in the New Testament and it shows us that this has always been God's plan of redemption. It's His story consistently told out. It's been His goal all along and it's a compelling way for Matthew to begin his gospel and the New Testament and the geography matters.

Matthew tells us the 4 specific locations related to the birth of Jesus and the inclusion of these fulfills 4 of the 330 Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ. Prophecy descriptions of who Jesus is, what he would do, where he would be born, all these things are given to us in the Old Testament hundreds of years before he comes and yet Jesus comes and fulfills them all - it's unbelievable! He's undoubtedly the Messiah, the one they had long waited for, he's the one who comes and in doing so he shows us the sovereignty of God, the reliability of God's Word, the fulfillment of God's plan, and it expresses the Deity of Jesus as God Himself.

The Magi were skilled in philosophy and science and they had a special interest in astrology and they studied the stars to see what the stars might tell them about the world, about the Creator, about God Himself, about history. Creation spoke to them and they were interpreters of creation. These were great, powerful, educated, politically connected men wealthy as far as we know but we also will see in their story that they were humble, obedient men. One of the reasons we don't know more about the Magi is that the Bible doesn't tell us much more. Matthew is more focused on the guest of honor rather than on the guest list. He's not focused on the visitors, he's focused on Jesus and he is interested in the fact that these known Jewish people came to worship the Jewish messiah. For the 1st time Christmas breaks out of the Jewish setting. It welcomes in the outsiders and they get the good news. The good news that would be great joy for all the people is Christmas and it’s for everyone.

They receive the announcement of Jesus through a star and then do something about it. What I love about this announcement is how well suited it was for the wise-man. They studied the stars and now have it revealed in scripture and in history and amongst the prophets in creation itself. These guys who had studied the universe for years get sent a special announcement from God in a way that they can understand. If we're going to encounter Jesus personally, we need to receive the announcement and we need to share it with those around us.

The 2nd thing we need to do is that we need to count the cost - the Maji had to go on a journey and it would have been some distance it probably took more than 40 days to make that trek through the wilderness and I am sure they had to calculate the cost of the journey. What would it take, what resources would they have to bring to travel to Palestine and back again. They chose to bring costly gifts, significant gifts, they took a risk by announcing their desire to come and worship Jesus. It could have cost them their very lives. We too have to count the cost of faith in Jesus himself. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower, will you not 1st sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it. Jesus went on to say in the same way any one of you who does not give up everything cannot become one of my disciples. The cost of following Jesus is great and what we receive is amazing but there is a cost. It will cost you time, material possessions, reputation, and freedom to do whatever you want but it also allows you to give up your guilt, insecurities, fear and you will receive back so much more of eternal value but we have to count the cost.

There's a 3rd thing that the Maji do that we see here which is that they seek Jesus wholeheartedly. When they arrive in Jerusalem they don't just sit back and try to figure out where they should go. We're told that they go looking for Jesus - they're on a quest for Jesus all the verbs here are in the present active tense meaning they kept on asking and seeking. They probably went to the temple, they asked people, they told people why they were there it was active, it was on-going, it was wholehearted. They had an all consuming drive to find this new king and to worship and honor Him.

Do you have the same determination as we start a new year. Is 2019 going to be a year of you seeking Jesus wholeheartedly, and passionately or have your goals, dreams and resolutions for 2019 already been forgotten. God gives an incredible promise that you will find Him when you seek Him with all of your heart. It takes a wholehearted commitment to say Jesus I want to find you and I want to worship you and I want to walk with you but to do that you might need to remove some obstacles that get in the way. The main hindrances that we see here in the passage are the ones we get tripped up by today. The issues are self-interest, apathy and fear. King Herod let self-interest get in the way since he doesn't want anyone else to be worshiped as king but him. He alone wants to be in control and in charge and he will do anything to maintain that control. Funny that's still what trips people up today. When it comes to finding Jesus we want to be in control, even though we know that ultimately none of us are in control. While we exercise some autonomy in our daily lives we ultimately have no control, but we want control and we want our freedom to be able to choose. The irony is that it's in finding Jesus and encountering him and giving control over to him wherein we find our ultimate freedom.

I'm not surprised that Herod is worried about keeping control and interfering but what does surprise me in the story is that the spiritual Jewish leaders in Jerusalem also miss out on Jesus because they just seem so apathetic. You would think they might be mildly interested. But Maybe they're worried, maybe they were apathetic, maybe they were fearful, maybe they wondered how Herod would react if they if they followed the Scriptures and went to seek the Savior. Perhaps they were simply so familiar with the truth that it no longer moved them to action. While we don't know all the reasons we simply know that they missed out. They missed the party for over a year. Jesus was right there and they never sought him out, they never found him, they never encountered him, but the shepherd and the wiseman did. And they have the exact same response that we can have. When they encountered Jesus, when they saw the star over the house, they respond with joy - it says they were overwhelmed with joy overflowing with joy unimaginable. What a true encounter with Jesus looks like is pure joy.

If only our 1st response would not be about ourselves and our own advantage and it would simply be about joy and worship we would be fulfilled. But over time we lose the joy and the thrill of following Jesus. The old hymn stating that all that thrills my soul is Jesus is not always true - we can lose that Joy. The good news becomes old hat and so we need to pray the prayer of David who was a person that allowed sin and selfishness to get in the way and to become an obstacle and then say “Oh God restore to me the joy of my salvation”. He didn't say reaffirm the truth, he didn't say give it to me again (because it had never been taken away), he says restore to me the joy of following you that's what I want. I believe we can pray along the exact same lines that God would restore our joy, our joy as a family, our joy as individuals, our joy as a church, and in our community a joy that comes from knowing we have encountered the living Christ.

We finally see that the Magi came prepared to give, they came to Jesus with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. I actually read a quote this week that said you know if it had been 3 wise women instead of 3 wise men the story would have been quite different. If it had been 3 wise women they would have asked for directions, they would have arrived on time, they would have helped deliver the baby, they would have cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts and there would have been peace on earth undoubtedly. But we are stuck with the story about these guys who show up late, confused and they bring really awkward gifts. I mean you know when you get a gift and you're wondering even before unwrapping the paper - who else could I give this to. Yet there's some real wisdom in what they gave and maybe it’s way more appropriate than they even understood. I wonder why they were motivated to give what they did. But they show up with these gifts and they are amazing because they are appropriate to who Jesus is - gold was appropriate to Jesus Kingship. Frankincense was appropriate for Jesus because he is deity. Frankincense was used in worship at the temple and it was used to worship God. The gift of myrrh was a little more strange, because myrrh is a spice that is used for the embalming of dead bodies but is an incredibly appropriate gift here given to the one who would die in our place and reconcile us to God and give us the opportunity for salvation. Here at his birth, his death is announced. The Savior had come and in their gifts they not only honor Him and worship him but they declare who he is through gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I think Lord what can I give that's worthy of you? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part yet what can I give him, I'll give him my heart.

Don't you love when you give someone a gift that you know they wanted or that they need. It's way better than kind of doing that last minute scramble and just trying to find anything. You're like, I know they want this and I found it and I can't wait to give it to them; can't wait for them to see it and can’t wait for them to open it. Jesus tells us what he wants from us in one of the most clear places at the end of Matthew's Gospel - he says “whenever we feed the hungry or give the thirsty something to drink or welcome the stranger or clothe the naked or care for the sick or visit those who are imprisoned, whenever we serve the least of these we do it on to him”.

He says that when you serve people in practical ways, when you come alongside, when you show by love, when you show my truth lived out in prodigal ways you're not just doing it for me you're doing it on to me you are worshiping me. Will 2019 be a year that we follow Him completely. A year that we encounter him and that we walk with him and worship Him. I know it'll be a year filled with opportunity and challenges and there will be times of worship and times of service and times of giving. It will be a faith stretching journey and we will need God's grace to guide us.

Is 2019 going to be a year of joy and passion or have your goals, dreams and resolutions for 2019 already been forgotten.

Call TeleCounsel Group today at 1.855.257.9444 to understand how we can help partner with you on that journey to attain a life full of happiness, freedom and joy.

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