Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Is There STILL Room For Christmas? (Matthew 2:1-12)

First United Methodist Church

Glen Rose, Texas

January 11, 2015

Series: Room At The Inn

 “Is There STILL Room For Christmas?”

(Matthew 2:1-12)

Rev. Billy D Strayhorn

INTRODUCTION:

     Two little boys were sitting in the front row for a Christmas pageant at their church. The characters of the Christmas nativity scene were entering from the back of the room and walking down the center aisle up to the stage scene on the stage When the wise men began their journey forward, one of the boys nudged the other and said, "Look, here comes the king!"

     The other boy jumped up in his seat, looked the aisle and shouted, "So that's Elvis!"

     I’m sure everybody’s heard the story of the New Yorker who was in Austin one Christmas and stopped at a local café. Prominently displayed next to the cash register was a Nativity. All the characters were there but there was something strange about the whole set up. There were three firemen standing next to the crib. When he asked about it, the hostess said, “You Yankees sure don’t know nothing about the Bible. It’s right there in black and white “And wise men came from afar to see this child.”

     Someone wrote: “You know what would have happened if it had been three wise WOMEN instead of three wise men, don't you? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, fed and watered the animals and brought disposable diapers as one of the gifts.”

     Obviously, this morning we’re going to talk about the Magi, the Wise Men because the Christmas season isn’t truly over until the visit of the Magi or Wise Men. Twelve days after Christmas or the 6th of January is known as Epiphany, And the season leading up to Ash Wednesday and Lent is known as the Epiphany Season.

     However, In our "Cliff Notes" version of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God and our Savior, we sort of merge and smoosh all the the events and miracles of Emmanuel God WITH us into one mystical magical, manger moment. When in actuality it happened over a period of days, weeks and maybe even months. Let’s look at the passage from Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)

[1] In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

[2] asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

[3] When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;

[4] and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

[5] They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

[6] 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"

[7] Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

[8] Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

[9] When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

[10] When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

[11] On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

[12] And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

     I have a Christmas IQ test which I use every now and then and one of the questions is, “Where did the Wise Men visit the infant Jesus?” If you were paying close attention to the audio portion of the Scripture as it was read, you’ll know the answer to this. The Wise Men didn’t come to the stable; they came to visit the infant Jesus in a house. Matt 2:11 clearly states: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

     Some traditions claim this was 12 days after the birth that’s why we celebrate Epiphany as the day of the Wise Men’s visit. Some scholars even speculate that it might have been as much as a year after the birth. The reason for that speculation being that Herod, in his psychotic paranoia, ordered all the children two and under to be murdered in order to put an end to this threat to his throne.

     The timing of the Wise Men’s visit isn’t what I want to focus on today. Instead, I want to look at the implications of the verse that follows, the 12th verse.

[12] And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. The KJV says, “they departed into their own country another way.”

     This band of Wise Men is an example of what we’re called to do. We’re called to live by another way or travel by another road than what the world says we should travel. We’re not called to look for directions through Google Maps or Mapquest. We’re not called to follow the advice we find on Facebook, other social media or talk shows. No, we’re called to use the original GPS, God’s Positioning System; the Grow, Pray, Study System; God’s Power to Serve System of Discipleship.

     We’re called to Travel By Another Road. That’s why there is STILL room for Christmas.

I. CHRISTMAS CHANGES EVERYTHING:

     A. We’re called to Travel By Another Road and to live by another way because Christmas Changes Everything because a baby changes everything. Have you seen the State Farm “Never” commercial?

     A young man says to his friends, “I’m never getting married.” The next scene he’s buying a ring.

On an airplane with crying babies, the young man and his wife say, “We’re never having kids.” The next scene she’s in the delivery room

     Sitting in the downtown apartment Dad says, “We’re never moving to the suburbs.” The next scene he’s trimming the hedges. As a minivan goes by he says, “We’re never getting one of those.” In the next scene he’s washing the minivan.

     As he’s scrubbing crayon off the wall he says, “We’re never having any more kids.” His wife says, “I’m pregnant.” In the last scene, they’re all lying on the couch, and Dad says, “I’m never changing anything.

     A baby changes everything. It changes your perspective about everything. That’s what Christ is supposed to do as well. But one of the most unfortunate things that I see happening today more than at any other time in my ministry is that once Christmas is past and the Christmas decorations are taken down, we forget what this season is all about and what it means.

     We carefully wrap the baby Jesus in bubble wrap and place him in the storage box with all the other characters of the nativity and promptly move on to something else. That’s not what God wants. God wants this child to be born in our lives and make a difference in our lives.

     B. A pastor in Indiana tells about a modest farm in the northern part of that state with a tall silo. For several years a bright star was placed on top of this silo during the Christmas season. The star stimulated a lot of conversation at the local coffee shop. For some, it was a quiet reminder of the star that guided the magi 2,000 years ago. For others it was a ridiculous waste of electricity.

     One year something different and unexpected happened. Shortly after the holidays, this quiet reminder of Christmas was transformed into a cross. Later at the coffee shop, someone was overheard talking to the farmer who put it there. “We can see putting a star on your silo for Christmas, but why would you turn it into a cross?”

     The farmer paused for a moment, then he said, “You see, the Birthday Party is over and now you’re going to find out why Jesus really came.”

     He’s right, the party’s over but the party was only the beginning of the story and the gifts of the Wise Men brought tell his coming story.

     One brought a gift “fit for a king"- gold. Gold is never a bad choice. Gold testified to the true royalty of this newborn child who is the king of the universe. The fact that this child was found in a stable and laid in a manger is a true statement of faith by the Wise Man who gave it.

     The second Wise Man brought frankincense - a gift appropriate for a priest, for one who would serve God's mission in the world. The gift of frankincense would provide a pleasing fragrant offering to an attentive God. Did baby Jesus look like a powerful priest? Probably not, but leaving this expensive gift frankincense was an act of faith that he would become the greatest priest..

     The third Wise Man brought myrrh. Myrrh wasn’t your typical Baby Shower gift. You wouldn't find it on ANY registry today or even back then. It was way too costly and way too weird. It was the weirdest of the three gifts. Myrrh was used as an embalming spice. It was used in burial rituals. In fact, myrrh was a sign of death. Yet as strange as it was, it may have been the most insightful gift of all.

     You see, there is an unbreakable link between Christmas and the cross. From the very beginning Jesus had no place to lay his head. In the end He would give His life as a sin offering in our behalf and then would be laid in a borrowed tomb. That’s the part of the Christmas story that is rarely told.

     A baby changes everything and the season of the baby, Christmas Changes Everything because this infant is Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us.

II. CHRISTMAS CHANGES US:

     A. Christmas Changes Everything but mostly Christmas Changes Us and it helps us to realize that when the presents are all opened and the tree comes down the work of Christmas just begins. I love the poem by Dr. Howard Thurman which the choir sang during the cantata. The Work of Christmas.

     When the song of the angels is stilled,

     When the star in the sky is gone,

     When the kings and princes are home,

     When the shepherds are back with their flock,

     The work of Christmas begins:

          To find the lost,

          To heal the broken,

          To feed the hungry,

          To release the prisoner,

          To rebuild the nations,

          To bring peace among brothers,

          To make music in the heart.

     That’s the work of Christmas. That’s what should change in us. Christmas is not about the warm gushy feelings or the presents or the family gatherings. Those are incidental. Changed hearts and changed live changing lives and hearts is what Christmas is really about. It’s letting the gift of the child live and grow in your heart so that others are touched and can change.

     B. Maybe you heard about the pediatric nurse in a large hospital who had the difficult assignment of giving immunization shots to children. One day, she entered the examining room to give four-year-old Lizzie her injection.

      When lizzie saw the needle she screamed, “No, no, no!”

      “Lizzie,” scolded her mother, “that’s not very polite behavior.”

      With that, Lizzie yelled even louder, “No, thank you! No, thank you! No, thank you!”

     As funny as that is, God wants more change than that. God wants our hearts changed so that through us and through our actions, God can change the world. It only happens one person at a time and it will never happen if we don’t allow God to change us. But when we allow God to change us, the process of changing the world for God begins.

     A three-minute commercial from a Communications Company in Thailand warmed the hearts of thousands since being released and serves as a powerful reminder of the power of being kind without expecting something in return.

     In a Thai market place we see a young Thai boy get caught stealing painkillers. As the storekeeper berates the young boy about stealing her merchandise, a soup seller at a nearby booth comes up to the boy and asks him if his mother is sick. The boy reluctantly nods yes. The poor soup seller then pays the woman the price of the painkillers and then calls to his daughter to bring the boy some veggie soup to take home. The girl rolls her eyes in a manner that lets us know, this was nothing new with her father.  The boy stares defiantly at the soup seller then takes the offered gifts.

     The scene shifts to 30 years later. The soup seller's daughter points out a beggar. Wit the same kind smile he had for the boy, he offers the beggar some food. He turns to announce the next order and collapses. In the next scene, the father is in the hospital and the daughter is reviewing the upcoming medical expenses for his procedure, 792,000 baht or about $25,000.  Obviously the girl can't pay but she tells the doctor to go ahead.

     The scene shifts to a sign on the soup stand on which is printed "Urgent, must sell" along with a phone number. The scene  shifts back to the hospital. The procedure has taken place. Exhausted, the daughter has slept using her arms as a pillow while holding her father's hand. When she wakes, there is a bill and a note next to her elbow.

     She opens it and the bill is zeroed out, she owes nothing. The note with it says, "All expenses paid 30 years ago with 3 packs of painkillers and a bag of veggie soup. Best regards, Dr. Prajak Arunthong."

The short video ends with the words, “Giving is the best communication.” 

     Giving without hope of return was the beginning of this true story of Dr. Prajak Arunthong in Thailand. It proves that a simple act of kindness can leave a soul print that lasts a lifetime.

     Acts of unselfish giving and kindness, acts of grace and mercy can happen anywhere and through anyone. Compassion and good deeds aren't limited to Christians only. While Christ is never mentioned in this video, it illustrates what the work of Christmas, the work of the Kingdom should be like. There is no doubt this is what James had in mind when he wrote:

     "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." James 2:14-17 (NRSV)

CONCLUSION:

     CHRISTMAS CHANGES EVERYTHING AND CHRISTMAS CHANGES US. If it doesn’t then, “What good is it? Why did Jesus come? And Why did He die on the cross?”

     It HAS to make a difference. There HAS to STILL be room for Christmas in our everyday, ordinary, getting up, going to work, sort of lives. Because the question isn’t really “Is there STILL room for Christmas? The real question is: Is there room for Christmas in your life every day? Does it make any difference to you? Does it make any difference IN you? Does it make any difference in how you act and how you live?

     Will you be like the Wise Men and choose another road or another way to live than what the world would choose? Or will you simply pack Christmas away for another year?

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

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