Friday 27 December 2019

      Matthew 2 v 1/12    Luke 2 v.21/40
Last week we looked at the story of the birth of Jesus, the greatest story ever told, and this week there are three other stories closely related to the birth, which follow in later days.

Whenever the story of Jesus birth is portrayed in Nativity plays, the story of three wise men who went to give presents to Jesus is also included.

The wise men came from the East in that part of the world which is now called Iran, previously and for many years Persia.  They were teachers and men of holiness skilled in astronomy, philosophy and medicine. In their country no act of worship could be carried out without one of their tribe being present.  They believed a person’s destiny was determined by a star under which one was born.  This may be a nice legend, but there was an expectation they knew something great was going to happen and they looked for a star to guide them. God provided that star.

Herod who had been appointed by Rome to rule over occupied Israel became aware that a visit of wise men was taking place to look for a baby being born who would be king of the Jews.  He became very worried about his own position, as did all the people for they knew if Herod became upset, they would feel the effects.  He had already killed his wife and three sons, so there was justified   fear.  Herod sent for the wise men and told them if they found the baby to return and tell him so he too could visit him.

The wise men identified the star and followed it until it finally came to a rest. The story of Jesus being born in a stable is thought to be an exaggeration, and rather his parents lived in a house which was more like a part of a cave in a hillside, and animals were kept in a stable and brought into the house at night.

The wise men found the baby and on doing so ‘bowed down and worshipped him.’ They took gold to represent him being a King, for gold was associated with royalty. They took frankincense which was associated with God, whenever service was offered to God this was used, so in this case Jesus was being used in the service of God.   He would be a bridge builder between man and God, and enable men and women to enter into the very presence of God. Myrrh, the third gift was used in burial, so Jesus would one day face death in the service of God. 

How poignant is it that here were three men from a pagan country recognizing Jesus as a King, yet children in a so-called Christian nation in the Diocese of Essex were not allowed to call Jesus, king or Lord, but referred to as a baby Jesus. What an appalling, disgraceful, and shameful occurrence.  

The wise men were warned by God not to inform Herod but to return to their native land by a different way, which they did.

Another story which follows on is that of Jesus being presented in the Temple.
Luke 2 v 21-40

Like every Jewish boy Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after birth, something that had been done for 2000 years and was very significant to a Jew as part of their history, which had been passed down the male line. This act was part of a promise made to Abraham by God,

God made the promise that Abraham would be the father of many descendants, and through him all nations would be blessed, and this would be accompanied by the sign, and Jesus was in that male line. If Jesus had not gone through this ceremony He could not have been accepted in the line of David.

The name of Jesus was given by special command of God meaning Saviour, so we know Him as one to deliver us from sin and evil.  He had submitted to this ancient ceremony although it was not strictly necessary as the Son of God, which should encourage us to make sacrifices and perform tasks readily in the service of God.
Jesus being the first-born son, made Him sacred to God, and every first born who was a boy was treated as such. According to Jewish custom the parents could buy back their son for the price of five shekels, which had to be paid to the priests within 31 days after birth.   This ritual was to remind the Jews that one night when the Israelites were in Egypt and all the little boys were slain, the Jewish children were spared.

God has the right to the first things in our life, so when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple, they did not buy him back, they said, ‘Lord this is your boy’, which meant from the age of twelve the Lord would have Him completely.
We move on now to meet two older people. The first a man named Simeon who is described as a devout man, but otherwise we know nothing about him.  We are only told that the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple when the child Jesus was taken there.  Simeon took the child in his arms and said the words which have been said in every Church of England since its inception, the words of the Nunc Dimmittus.
Simeon believed things had to be left in God’s hands, and God had through the Holy Spirit given him assurance that before he died, he would see God’s own appointed one. There was therefore excitement in Simeon's soul when he heard that promise that he would actually witness this great coming. He was the only Jew who knew when the Messiah would come.  Others had been anxiously waiting for hundreds of years and were guessing just as some are doing now, but one day as he was worshipping the Holy Spirit spoke to him. After all those years of silence, at last the promise was going to come true.   When he saw Jesus, he knew that time had come, and he was ready to depart in peace. 
But, Simeon finishes with some disturbing words. This marvellous salvation through Jesus had a dark side. There will be many who will not accept and follow Jesus; there will be a falling as well as a rising of many in Israel. Jesus will be a sign of division and will be spoken against. He will cause division and conflict; decisions will have to be made for him or against him. And for Mary a sword would pierce her heart he warned, referring to the crucifixion.
Anna too had been waiting.  She was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very -old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. When she saw the holy family, at that very moment she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke shows us there is a place for everyone in God’s Kingdom.  Older people able to wait on the Lord; a young woman having a baby to dedicate to God; a husband going to Church with his wife (Not a very common sight now); every person having a role to play.
In this story we have read that Jesus was born into this world as a baby, offered to God as a child, grew into manhood and faced all the emotions of human life and able to empathise with us in every aspect of life.  And tells us He was the true Messiah who would one day give His life in a cruel death that we may be made righteous in God’s sight.
True Christians should be comforted by the fact that God never leaves the world without a witness. We have to remain hopeful and faithful that grace can flourish even when men and women who have been given the extreme privilege of serving God in His Church are in themselves traitors to the One they vowed to serve by instituting, endorsing and accepting false doctrine and forcing it on those in their charge.
The words of Simeon in which he saw the light of Jesus will one day shine bright if those who love the Lord work and pray.

Christ has been spoken against and had many darts cast at Him. He has been despised and rejected, but has proved to be the Saviour of many who at one time did reject Him.

Simeon and Anna were aged saints. They had kept the faith. They had run the course. They were pious and prayerful, devout and faithful. How much does that correspond with our experience?  Can we say, 'Lord, dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation'?

What sort of response best describes our attitude to the birth of Jesus? After all, we've heard it many times before. Are we sceptical? Unbelieving?  Dismissive? Or, like the godly remnant, faithful, believing and trusting?

The gospel He came to bring has saved many souls and lightened many hearts and bring to light the characters of many people.

The story is essentially a Jewish one with a Jewish father and mother; a Jewish baby, worshipping the |God Israel, taken from a bible written by Jews.  This should remind those rather indiscreet and foolish clergymen who pen criticisms of Israel that we are part of a great and long Judeo-Christian heritage which has served the world so well. We do not need anti-Semitism in the Church, there is enough of that in the political scene.

So, as we come to the end of the Christmas story, may its message leave on our hearts and minds an inspiration to commit our lives in the service of the Lord, King and Saviour, and not be afraid or ashamed to declare the same. 

May God bless all you who read this glorious story. Be at Church on Sundays

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