December 13, 2015
Today's message is based mainly on our 1st Gospel reading (Matthew 2:1-11). I didn't make that the last reading before the sermon because I really wanted to be the one to read the 2nd Gospel reading (Luke 2:8-14). I'm certain some of you know why... Yes, it is because that is what Linus quotes to Charlie Brown in 'A Charlie Brown Christmas', which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Linus is my favorite Peanuts character, and 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' is my favorite Christmas cartoon. I have watched it every year since it began; so imitating this famous part of it is something that brought me great joy - and after all, that's what this service is all about!
But let's get back to our 1st Gospel reading¦ Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, as prophesied. The Magi saw the star and were anxious to see the newborn king. They had travelled far and brought along gifts they wanted to give to Jesus. So they went to King Herod in Jerusalem, and said, "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." And how did King Herod react? Was he overjoyed at the birth of Jesus as these Magi were? Or like the shepherds were after the angel had announced the 'good news of great joy' to them, as we heard in our 2nd Gospel reading? On the contrary - the Bible says he was "deeply disturbed" (vs 3). Some versions use the word "troubled", others "alarmed", and one even says "greatly agitated". Learning of Jesus' birth brought Herod the opposite of joy. In fact, he was so disturbed that later in verse 16 we read that "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." The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, had even prophesied this horror over 500 years before it happened (Jeremiah 31:15, quoted in Matthew 2:18). But why would the birth of an innocent baby be so disturbing to someone, as to cause them to order the slaughter of hundreds of very young children?
Most people, especially those who have a great deal of earthly power, do not want to worship someone else. But the Magi however, who were perhaps better known as The Wise Men, even though they were rich and powerful, bowed down and worshipped the baby Jesus. They presented him with expensive gifts. The valuable items they gave to baby Jesus were the standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil. The Magi were indeed wise! For they knew in their hearts, that this was no ordinary baby. This was God incarnate. But King Herod did not want to chance the loss of his throne. The thought that this baby might one day take it away from him filled him with every possible negative emotion - fear, anger, hatred... Definitely not joy, or peace, or love! He did not see Jesus as a Savior who had come to redeem him from sin, death, and the devil; but as a threat - a threat to his supremacy, his dominion. But what did his reaction to Jesus ultimately bring him? Did he achieve joy by slaughtering innocents in an attempt to retain his throne? Did he achieve the respect and admiration of those he governed? Or only did they only serve him out of fear? And what became of him eventually? On the day he left this earth, he no longer had an earthly throne. He only had an eternity in hell, alone, in darkness, tormented by demons, and forever wishing he could go back and journey with the Magi to worship the newborn king, and find the joy that only comes from surrendering everything to Jesus.
So does Christmas bring you joy? And I don't mean the commercial side of Christmas (which can give all of us a major headache!), but the true meaning of Christmas? The fact that Jesus, the almighty Son of the living God, was born of a virgin, so that he could willingly offer Himself on the cross as the ultimate sacrificial lamb out of His great love for you. Does this fill you with joy? Or is Jesus a threat to your own throne? Would you bow down and worship Him - as a baby, as an adult, or as God in heaven? Or would that hurt your pride? Would you present Him with costly gifts as did the wise men, or are you more preoccupied with your own Christmas wish list? Only you know who truly sits on the throne of your heart. Is it Jesus? I pray that it is. For only if it is, can you know real joy.