Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent: Day 22

Today is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Last Sunday we started looking directly at the Christmas story itself, and we read from Mt. 1:18-25 and Lk. 2:1-7. Today we are going to continue to look at the Christmas story itself:
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Mt. 2:1-12)
Before we move on to the second reading for today, I would like to talk about this one a little. R. C. Sproul once said, "In the tiny land of Palestine, two kings were alive at the same time and at the same place. One of the kings was about seventy years old; the other king was an infant. The big king was evil; the little king was pure. The big king was rich and powerful; the little king was stricken by poverty. The big king lived in an opulent palace; the little king lived in a stable. The little king's mother was a peasant girl; His adopted father was a carpenter." (Christ in Christmas Family) Of course, the "big king" to whom Sproul refers is Herod. He was the king of Judea at Christ's birth, yet he was only that because Rome made him so. He did not deserve to sit on that throne, the "little king" did. That is why Herod was troubled by the Magis' revelation that the prophesied King of the Jews had been born—he knew in his heart that he did not deserve the throne. As the story above goes on to say, when the Magi never returned to Herod, he went on a rampage killing all the infant boys in Bethlehem. We know, however, that the "big king" did not succeed in defeating the "little king." In fact, if it were not for the story of the "little king," the "big king" would have disappeared from history altogether. This story reminds us that even the most powerful cannot stop the plan of God. Herod had the power to slaughter many, yet he could not stop the plan of God. Nothing can.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Lk. 2:8-20)
How should we celebrate Advent and Christmas? Well, from the story of the shepherds we can learn a few things. First, the angels proclaimed the good news to the shepherds. This is remarkable considering the reputation of shepherds during this time. They were a despised cast of people in society and so mistrusted that their testimony was not admissible in legal proceedings. Yet, the angels went to them to declare the birth of the Messiah. They did not come to the rich of Bethlehem or even King Herod. They went to the shepherds. A modern equivalent might be the angels going to the homeless of Midtown Atlanta and using them as witnesses to the affluent. As we saw last Sunday, God breaks the molds of this world in many ways with the advent of Jesus. Second, the shepherds became bold witnesses for Jesus. They knew their reputation in society but they did not care. They knew the people needed to hear the good news and they were going to tell them, even if no one listened or believed them. I doubt you and I are as mistrusted in society as shepherds were at the time of Christ, so why are we not as bold in sharing the good news as they? Third and finally, the shepherds glorified and praised God for what they had seen. They not only shared the news with others, they praised God for it. We should praise God for sending Jesus every day, but Christmas should especially remind us that He is worthy of our praise for He sent Jesus to become poor so we, by His poverty, might become rich (2. Co. 8:9).

By His Grace,

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