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Travelling Toward Christmas – 5. Jesus

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Travelling Towards Christmas

5. Jesus, Downsizing in Love

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We come to the final meditation in the series, ‘Travelling Towards Christmas’. Christmas is Christ’s Mass. It’s about God sending ‘his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.’ Those words are found in 1 John 4:9, and are closely followed in verse 14 by these words, ‘The Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.’ As was hinted in the last talk, about the visit of the Magi, Christmas is about incarnation.

Earlier in Advent I was thinking about the idea of the Creator of the universe becoming part of his own creation. It seemed to me to be the ultimate in ‘downsizing’. That’s a word people use when they sell their house and buy a smaller one to live in, for whatever reason. However strong one’s imagination in envisaging possible examples of downsizing, there is nothing greater than that of God becoming a human being, of leaving heaven to live on earth. And to be born in a stable, what’s more, not in a fine palace with all the trimmings of royalty. And this for the greatest of all reasons; to save humanity from its self-destroying lifestyle and to bring us back into a loving relationship with God, for now and forever. As I dwelt on these thoughts some verses began to form in my mind.

Downsizing! That’s the word we want

to tell what we’ve been through,

giving up our Knightsbridge pad

for a flat in Waterloo,

where the folk in cardboard boxes

are our neighbours in dire need;

we’ve come to show them the love of Christ,

not just in word, but deed!

He showed us how it should be done

when he came from heaven to earth;

downsizing in a massive way

to arrive through human birth.

The Son of God made just like us;

they call it ‘incarnation’,

God’s love at work in a human frame

– the Christmas celebration!

That first verse, by the way, is not a description of what has happened to me. It is an imaginary scenario that reflects what a number of people have done in responding to Christ’s love and the needs of people they encounter in life on Earth. Some have quite literally sold up and moved among the people they feel called to serve. Some have gone to other parts of the world in order to share the love of Christ, sinking their whole lives into the endeavour. No doubt, you can think of some current examples.

Christmas Day can be a lovely experience for most of us, as we come together as families and friends to enjoy good food and fun, and as we share Christmas greeting and presents. For others, it can be a very difficult day and it would be good for us to think of them prayerfully and to pray for those who devote their Christmas Day to cater for the needs of the less privileged members of our communities. They are, as my verses suggested, incarnating the love of God and the Lord Jesus.

Let’s finish by thinking about the stable scene in Bethlehem. Mary looking at Jesus with a mother’s love for her firstborn child, and with deep thoughts about how different their lives would be from here on. Joseph, still with Gabriel’s words ringing in his ears, already slipping into the role of being father to God’s Son. The shepherds, alive with excitement and looking with wonder at the little baby whose future was to be so big. The Magi, kneeling before the one they know is destined to be more than a king, worshipping him in a manner that befitted their religion and understanding. It’s good for us to join them all around the manger, giving thanks and praise to God for the gift of his only Son.

The Lord bless you today, and then as you move into the new year. Whatever it holds for you, if you’ve stood in the stable today, you will know that God will be with you and nothing is impossible with him.

We began our journey with that promise. We’ve seen how it happened for these characters.

The question we now have to face and work through is,

‘Will it be true for me?’

There’s only one way to find out – trust him; he’s as good as his word.

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Travelling Toward Christmas – 4. Magi

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Travelling Towards Christmas

4. Wise Men on a Journey

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Greetings! This is Jim Harris with the 4th meditation on the Christmas story. I’ve called the series ‘Travelling Towards Christmas’ and we’re now going to think about the Magi, or wise men as they are popularly known. You might find it helpful now to read Matthew 2:1-18.

 

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 make a careful search 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.”

Travelling Towards Christmas? Yes, that’s what these men were doing, and probably for quite a long time, for it seems they originated in what we now call Iran but used to call Persia. The Magi were sort of priestly group – not kings, as is usually supposed in traditional Christmas presentations. They were men who studied the night skies for signs of what was going to happen. We would label them astrologers today but they were more than that. They were aware of ancient writings and promises that had been made long before they were born, and looked to see where and when they would be fulfilled. Those who visited Jesus had seen a clear sign that an ancient promise was shortly coming to pass. There is a verse in the Old Testament, Numbers 24:17 which reads, ‘A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel.’ No wonder, then, that they burst into Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, with the question, ‘Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We’ve seen his star. . we’ve come to worship him.’

With a bit of help from the Jewish scholars, the star took them to Bethlehem, where they found the young child with his mother. They brought gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. These three gifts may have suggested that there were just three of them in the party, but Matthew gives us no data on that. Gold; frankincense and myrrh. Gold, a gift fit for a king. Incense, a gift appropriate for a priest; still used today in some churches. Myrrh, a gift suggesting sacrifice and death, for it was an embalming spice. What other insights did they have, we wonder, as they travelled and talked among themselves. Matthew understood that they were significant to the story of Jesus birth, not just because they came, but because they were part of God’s strategy for Jesus. Those gifts were valuable, extremely so, and their value would have provided the means for the Holy Family to escape into Egypt and remain there for as long as it was necessary. This thought is strengthened by the fact that it was the Magi’s visit that provoked Herod’s wrath and his vicious massacre of the young boys of Bethlehem.

There is something unexplained and mysterious about this visit of the Magi but, whatever else may be true, it makes the point for us that Jesus coming into the world was not only to save his people – that is the Jewish people – from their sins. Far from it; he was coming to be the Saviour of the world. His life, death and resurrection would establish salvation for all who would believe and receive it, regardless of race, colour, creed, culture, or social status.

In emphasising the nature of the gifts they brought, we may overlook that, first of all, ‘they bowed down and worshipped him.’ They realised to some extent, that he was more than just another earthly king; that, somehow, he was destined to be of wider and greater significance than that. The apostle John was later to write of him as ‘The Word of God’ and penned the words, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ Perhaps these Magi were Wise Men after all, in that they partly understood what we’ve come to call incarnation – God on earth as a real human being!

It’s been fashionable in recent years to create some clever slogans about Christmas, such as, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’ To my mind one of the more subtle and telling of these says, ‘Wise men still seek Him!’ Living in an age of political correctness, we have to change it a little, but it loses some of its force when we do so. However, so that no-one feels left out, let’s say that, ‘Wise people still seek Him!’

A question for you to think about. ‘What gift could you bring to the Lord Jesus this Christmas that would express your love for him?’

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Travelling Toward Christmas – 3. Shepherds

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3. Shepherds, first on the Scene

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Hi there! This is Jim Harris with the third talk in our series, Travelling Towards Christmas. Having previously discussed Mary and Joseph, this time we’ll have a look at the shepherds, who apparently were the first people to see the new-born Son of God, the one we now describe as ‘Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ,’ This would be a good moment to read Luke 2:1-20, for that’s where we find their story.

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. The Shepherds and the Angels 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Shepherds were not sophisticated middle-class people. They were down-to-earth, rugged, hard working men, who tended and took care of flocks of sheep, mostly belonging to rich people. Some of them had a special role in looking after the flocks that produced lambs for the Temple sacrifices at Jerusalem. It’s known that these were pastured on the fields surrounding Bethlehem, because of it was close to Jerusalem. With that in mind, consider the fact that Jesus was to become ‘The lamb of who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29) Isn’t that remarkable?

But there’s something else, too. Jerusalem was King David’s city but Bethlehem was his home town. That’s why Joseph had to travel to register there, ‘because he belonged to the house and line of David.’ (verse 4) With these ideas in mind it’s good to reread verses 8-11 again. It all comes together into what we can only think of as God’s superb plan for introducing His Son to the world..

These shepherds may have been ordinary people, representing the rank and file of human kind, but they were very privileged people too. That night out in the fields, unexpectedly, the curtain between heaven and earth was drawn back sufficiently for God’s messengers to be seen and heard. ‘An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.’ Then a little later we read, ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel.’ The message they brought was ‘Good news of great joy to all the people’ – the Saviour had been born in Bethlehem. It was made pretty clear to them that they were to bear witness to this tremendous event by visiting the Baby, then passing on the good news to others. What does all this say to us, as we approach Christmas by crossing Shepherds Fields?

First of all, that Jesus is for all people. Good news of his birth was entrusted to what a poet has called ‘a few farm workers!’ News of his resurrection was entrusted to a woman with a dubious history, Mary Magdalene. Jesus is for everyone, whatever their social rank or moral background. He’s the Saviour – he specialises in forgiving the past and creating a new future for all who put their faith in him.

Then, they did what was required of them. They went off immediately to find the Baby and confirm what the angel had said. They were eager to do what God wanted from them, which is a mark of true faith. Mind you, if we’d been among them, I think the excitement of heaven breaking through in the encounter with the angels and in the birth of God’s Son, would have sent us hurrying down to Bethlehem as well.

Then, they told everyone what had happened. They witnessed to others about their experience and the message they’d heard. Another mark of genuine faith is that we become so thrilled with what’s happened to us, that we simply overflow. We tell everyone about it. That’s what happened with Jesus’ disciples about thirty three years after this. They just couldn’t stop telling everyone the good news that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Finally, the shepherds glorified and praised God for all the things they’d seen and heard. They did not draw attention to themselves. They did not entertain a ‘special status’ mentality because God had chosen them for this important role in the nativity. It’s a mark of true spirituality that all glory goes to God for the experiences he grants us.

We sign off with another question for you to consider. Verse 19 reads, ‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ The question is simply, ‘Will I give some time this Christmas to pondering its significance for me?’

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Travelling Toward Christmas – 2 Joseph

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TRAVELLING TOWARD CHRISTMAS

2. Joseph, betrothed to Mary

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Hello again. This is the second talk given by Jim Harris in our series, ‘Travelling Towards Christmas.’ It’s about Joseph, betrothed to Mary.

We meet and learn about Joseph in both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the birth of Jesus. He is the quiet man in the story but also a spiritual person who wished to live his life and make his decisions in accordance with God’s will. Please read Matthew 1:18-25.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the me Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Jewish society at that time had an arrangement for approaching marriage called ‘betrothal’. It was a kind of engagement period, in which the prospective bride and groom lived under the same roof but did not consummate the relationship sexually. That was reserved for their wedding day. Mary was pledged in this way to be married to Joseph. It is likely that he was older than Mary, as there is no mention of him during Jesus’ adult ministry. Perhaps he’d died before Jesus reached the age of thirty, which was when he went public.

(more…)

Travelling Toward Christmas – 1 Mary

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Travelling Toward Christmas

1. Mary, the Mother of Jesus

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Hello. My name is Jim Harris. I’ve been asked by Dave to provide some talks taking us towards Christmas Day. He’s also asked me to introduce myself so you know where I’m coming from. I’m a retired Christian Pastor, Evangelist and Teacher, having spent about 31 years in full time ministry.

In the run up to Christmas it is inevitable that we begin to think about the characters involved in the original events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Where better to start than with Mary, to whom was given the great privilege and awesome responsibility of carrying and giving birth to God’s Son, the Messiah.

Please read Luke chapter 1, verses 26-30.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 3

Mary was probably a teenager when she received the visit from the angel Gabriel to tell her that the Lord had chosen her for this very special purpose. Hearing his greeting she was greatly troubled. Meeting an angel isn’t exactly an everyday experience. But there was something deeper disturbing her peace of mind – the content of his greeting. ‘You who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ That set her on her guard. Whatever was coming next?

Gabriel sensed her fear and told her she need not be afraid. He was bringing good news not bad. The time had come for God to send his Son into the world; to be born as every human being has to be born so that, in due course, he would become the Saviour that the world needed. Hence the name they were to give the child –Jesus – which means ‘God saves’. Just imagine the mounting excitement in Mary as he went on with his message. That was every godly Jewish woman’s dream; to be chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.

It all sounds very cut-and-dried, when we read ‘You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.’ Despite the way it sounds, God wasn’t forcing Mary into this role, but he knew her heart well enough to realise he’d get a good response. We have an insight into how she thought and felt about God in the song recorded by Luke in verses 46-55. She knew the Old Testament Scriptures well and used them as a basis for her outpouring of praise and thanksgiving. Mary was a spiritual woman, however young she might have been. She loved God and wanted the best for his people, which isn’t a bad description of spirituality.

But – life is full of buts – there was just one not-so-little practical problem. She was a virgin and, as Mathew’s account tells us, she was betrothed to be married to Joseph. Virginity up until the time of marriage was essential for the marriage to be recognised as legitmate in that society. That could be a huge problem for Mary; how could it be overcome? Conception would occur through the power of the Holy Spirit, said the angel, then, ‘Look what’s happened to your cousin Elizabeth; that’s a miracle for sure!’ Now for the punch line, ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’ Which takes us right back to the start, ‘The Lord is with you.’ That’s the key; God will take care of every detail, so don’t be afraid, however big the ask might seem to you. God is in control.

I can imagine Mary sinking to her knees, or even prostrating herself on the floor. in an act of worship, as she responded with the simple but whole-hearted words, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.’

Mary was unique, but the message for us is the same, ‘Nothing is impossible with God’. The Christmas story has been wrapped up in romance and fantasy by our commercial world, but we mustn’t let that blind us to the truth inside, that God is looking to us for a response of love and submission to his will, so that He can do great things in and through us. That’s not a cheap advertising slogan like so much that’s about at the moment. No, it’s more like a serious challenge to a costly commitment but, ‘He’s worth it!’

Here’s a question to think about as we travel towards Christmas. What will it mean for me, if I follow Mary’s example and accept God’s will for my life?

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