Sermon, Title: Christmas Recall, Text: Matthew 2:1-23, 12-24-14

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] 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. 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.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,  weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,   because they are no more.”19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” 21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Introduction


When I was a little boy I used to get sick every Christmas because of the excitement of the celebration. C. S. Lewis wrote that little children cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. He tells of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seemed Lewis wrote, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. He continued, But of course the time would soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life. Unfortunately this is how the majority of people celebrate Christmas. They put the gifts and decorations first and Jesus second preferring the ritual to the spiritual and they end up with nothing. This is not Walmart’s fault, although they are advertising you can find your joy there. The fault is ours. To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year. There are lessons for life here. First,

I Direction


God determines the direction of our life. Now there is an abundance of dreams in this narrative. We might assume that the way was easy because the guidance was coming in  a supernatural way. But John Calvin points out that it was not all that easy. He writes, “The mind of Joseph must have been harassed by dangerous temptations, when he came to see that there was no hope but in flight: for in flight there was no appearance of divine protection. Besides, it was very difficult to reconcile the statement, that he who was to be the Savior of all, could not be preserved without the exertion of a mortal man. But, in preserving the life of his Son, God maintained such reserve, as to give some indications of his heavenly power, and yet not to make it so manifest as to prevent it from being concealed under the appearance of weakness: for the full time of glorifying Christ openly was not yet come.” This is how Joseph was part of God’s plan. As we go through Christmas, let us be reminded that our God who ordains whatsoever comes to pass is ordering our steps. Thus we read in Psalm 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delights in his way. This does not mean dreams and visions, for we read in verse 24,Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down for the Lord upholds him with his hand. Make sure that after Christmas you are open to the Lord’s direction, guidance, and  providential leading. Be aware that He is controlling your life.

II Deliverance


And God is controlling your life in order to deliver you from danger. We all know how dangerous the world is becoming. Natural disasters, government failures and falsehoods, totalitarian movements, racial unrest, terrorist threats, and in sum, men calling evil good and good evil. I am not skilled to understand whether it’s worse now than it was in Matthew 2, but it was pretty bad then and there. According to Roman historians Herod was "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis", "the evil genius of the Judean nation", "prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition” He was already married with a son but he married a younger woman for political ambition. He exiled his wife and son. He later executed three other sons to protect his useless throne. We face similar dangers today not only from militant Islamics, but from all those forces which believe the end justifies the means and rejoice in the murder of innocents. One Hollywood actress recently proclaimed the enlightened view that neither pre born children or infants were human because they couldn’t talk. And the press published it. They would have been delighted with Herod. As for us let us remember the climax of Romans 8, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

III Destiny


Finally His destiny is your destiny, and it is under control. The birth of our Savior is surrounded by fulfilled prophecies. Yahweh is the God of history and the ages roll on because he rolls them as he wishes. He works all according to the counsel of His own will and it bears saying that if he doesn’t work all He doesn’t work any. That is so evident in the confluence of fulfilled prophetic events in this passage. Micah’s prophecy of His birth in Bethlehem where Joseph must go because of a heathen ruler’s decree which fulfills   God’s plan. Hosea’s prophecy, which is also an historical reference, out of Egypt I have called my son. Israel is brought out of Egypt, and Jesus is the new Israel brought out of Egypt, and in Him we are Israel. Jeremiah’s prophecy of Rachel’s tears at the time of the captivity is fulfilled again in Herod’s murder of the babies. And then finally Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah shall be called there branch. When Phillip finds Nathaniel at the beginning of Jesus ministry he says we have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and Nathaniel says can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Netzer is the Hebrew for branch. The little shoot that grow out of the stump of David’s house, so small, so insignificant is destined to be Lord of all. How fitting.How is it possible that all these things conspire together? Our God plans, devises implements and controls whatsoever comes to pass. That’s why His word can predict it. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that that effects all events and therefore your life and mine. It’s little wonder that Calvin calls this a remarkable narrative.

Conclusion


This completes, appropriately, the sketch of His reception. Unthought of by His own, till strangers sought Him; a source of trouble to them when they heard of Him; His life threatened by the occupant, for the time, of David’s, throne, He is saved only by exile, and on returning to His people passes out of notice: and the great world moves On, all unconscious and unconcerned, whilst its Saviour-King is preparing, in the obscurity of His village home, for the great work of winning a lost world back to God. Joe  Bayly was the editor of IVCF magazine when i was in college. I knew him because he lived near where I went to school. He left this world a long time ago while still relatively young. He wrote this poem that I love.

Title: Praise God for Christmas
Praise Him for the incarnation,
for the word made flesh.
I will not sing of shepherds
watching flocks on frosty nights,
or angel choristers.
I will not sing of a stable bare in Bethlehem,
or lowing oxen,
wise men trailing star with gold,
frankincense, and myrrh.
Tonight I will sing praise to the Father
who stood on heaven's threshold
and said farewell to his Son
as he stepped across the stars
to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
And I will sing praise to the infinite, eternal Son,
who became most finite, a baby
who would one day be executed for my crime.
Praise him in the heavens,
Praise him in the stable,
Praise him in my heart.