“What would the world look like if Jesus had not come?”

“What would the world look like if Jesus had not come?”

At Christmastime, it is worth asking what a world without Jesus would look like.  This is a pilot episode of a project I’m honoured to be a part of.

 

Advertisements

Advent – there’s resistance

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.         Matthew 2:16-17

"Massacre of the Innocents" Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel, 1305

“Massacre of the Innocents” Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel, 1305

Herod executes all the boys he can find, trying to stamp out the competition for Kings of the Jews. There were probably only a couple dozen, and this sort of thing may not have even made Herod’s top ten, but still…   How do piles of infant bodies fit in the Christmas story?  Does it make for good reading round the tree?

And yet, there it is, this gruesome account along with all the rest. The point? It’s that when God arrived into the world, to establish his kingdom and save his people from their sins, he was resisted.

He was resisted by Herod, a cruel, petty, puppet-king. And if we’re most honest, he can be resisted by us. Jesus was born not to remain cute baby Jesus. He was born to make a way for us to come to God through the plan of salvation he made.  How often is that resisted?

Jesus came to be King of the world. How often is his rule resisted, mocked, or sidelined?

Jesus came to be our Lord, the one who commands and we follow.  Do we ever want his gifts while refusing his demands?

Jesus came to shower us with the grace of God – the forgiveness of all our sins.  How often would we rather hang on to guilt rather than let him cleanse us?

If the Gospels tell us anything, it’s that it does not end well for those who resist Jesus’ arrival.  It doesn’t end well for Herod or his second rate sons (both also named Herod).  But we who believe are invited to always be laying down our resistance to God in Jesus. And when we surrender, we win.

Advent – Born With Purpose (born to die)

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people for their sins.”       Matthew 1:20-21

 

Eric Drooker, crying baby

Eric Drooker, crying baby

Reflect on the birth of Jesus and some things easily emerge.  That while he most certainly had a normal birth, his conception was not normal. Virgins don’t normally become pregnant.  It’s impossible, actually.  To the skeptic who asserts “Virgins can’t give birth to babies!”, the Christian replies “we know, that’s kind of why it’s a big deal”.

But even as the amazing circumstances of his birth are being recorded, the end of his life is not far from view.  Matthew records that at the giving of his name, from the angel to Joseph, the very purpose of his coming is revealed.  Jesus means saviour. In greek and hebrew it reads the same as Joshua, recalling a figure who brought God’s people from where they were to where they needed to be. And in that name is embedded the purpose of his birth – to bring again God’s people out from where they are. Specifically, it is to save them from their sins.

Even prior to his birth, the purpose of that birth is revealed to his adoptive father. Salvation from sins through his death on the cross. The Gospel writers were never just rolling along without the entire story in sight. Even at before the cradle the cross was in sight.

Resistance to the King

"Massacre of the Innocents"  Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel, 1305

“Massacre of the Innocents” Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel, 1305

Last year around Christmas I was enjoying with my then four-year old a beautiful book which retold the life of Jesus.  It featured on every page, paintings by pre-renaissance master Giotto from his Scrovegni Chapel.  We were flipping through and came upon the Massacre of the Innocents.  This disturbing scene (a pile of dead babies) was difficult to explain to my little one.  We quickly moved past it but later it gave me pause and caused me to question:

What Does A Pile Of Dead Babies Have To Do With Christmas?!?!?giotto detail

Why did Matthew record this account?  That is, other than the obvious that it really happened in history.  But what does it tell us about Jesus, the Christmas story, and the Gospel?  Quite simply, it is that when God came into the world to rescue it – He was resisted.  As it was then, it is so today.

He Was Resisted.  King Herod, puppet king of the Roman Empire, is the great villain of the Christmas account.  He was asked by the wise men where the king of the Jews was to be found.  He, being the false king of the Jews, was afraid and enraged.  He resisted this coming king by ordering the slaughter of all potential candidates for the title in the region.  In doing so, Herod knew something that many Christians are not even fully aware of:  that this Baby was a king and His life/rule would have bearing on the entire world.  He was not some mere administrator of a personal and private spirituality.  Herod certainly didn’t know everything about Jesus but he did know that.  And whatever else, Herod knew that he was against it.

He Is Resisted.  But is God coming into the world resisted today?  Again, it is often those resisting Christianity who understand more about it -in one sense- than many of those committed to it.  Many know that Christianity comes as a package, a Gospel arriving alongside a Great Moral Tradition.  It involves views on human dignity, abortion, poverty, justice, marriage, sexual ethics, what to do with your money, and so much more.  Some aspects of this may grate on us.  Other aspects may grate on others.  But what is often sensed is that accepting Jesus means submitting to a worldview which may put us at odds with the surrounding culture or with our own pre-held views.  He comes as a king.  And his rule is demanding and counter-cultural, which is why it is also resisted today.

Stop Resisting.  Even Christians can resist, although they may do it more subtly.  When Christ is made into a candy machine (we get what we want), or a jukebox (he says what we like), or a butler (he serves us with no demands) than we, like Herod, are also resisting the full expanse of what Christ is.  He is King of the world.  When he is diminished in any way, when the public nature of the Gospel is muted, he is resisted.  So no matter what we believe, whether skeptical or committed Christian, we need to understand fully the implications of his lordship.  Understand, wrestle with, and then lay down our resistance.

Full Sermon – Resistance to the King – Matthew 2:13-23 – Week 4 of Advent

The Wise Still Seek Him

"The Magi Journeying"  James Tissot, 19th C

“The Magi Journeying” James Tissot, 19th C

When I drive to my parent’s house my route takes me past a wholesale shingle distributor.  Outside his business each December he places a simple sign that reads:  WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM.  It’s a true enough statement for a traditional Christian like me to believe, but it’s also in danger of becoming a cliche.  But spiritual searching in our culture also runs the danger of becoming cliche.  To be a “seeker” has even become commodified.  If you don’t believe me, just head to your local bookstore.

But what does a true spiritual search look like?  When one searches after God, what is found?  And what does a true search produce in us?  With respect to these questions, those wise men from the East (Magi) still have a lot to teach us.  Matthew records their search and their discovery, and what their search produced.

Great Humility.  It is often assumed that humility means being uncertain of what we believe or whether truth can be found at all.  Isn’t it arrogant to say that we can seek God and truly find him with certainty?  Well, no.  True humility means the willingness to search after what we do not know but also to look with the intention of finding.  These wise men went on a search but also came to a destination.  Endless searches with no goal actually are not humble because one never needs to submit to any found truth.  But when we search for a true destination, it creates true humility because when we find we must kneel.

Great Generosity.  If there is only a few things known about these men, one will certainly be that they brought gifts. Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh.  These were expensive gifts, royal gifts.  They came out of an overflow of honour and affection the wise men had for the baby they found.  Why does a true search for God in Christ produce such rich generosity?  It is a response to the immense  generosity first shown to us by God.  The Christian Gospel is one God’s grace – he came to us, he lived for us, he died in our place.  Even the faith we have for him is a gift to us.  Everything is a gift.  And upon the receiving of the gift we become more like the Giver.  God showered us with his generosity – we spend for others.

Great Worship.  When the wise men searched they were humble enough to know they had found.  When they arrived they poured out generously in response to the gift that had been given the world.  And they also kneeled and worshipped.  When we search after truth (truly search) and then find (truly find) we discover that truth is a person.  That which is ultimate, absolute, divine is not abstract ideas or an ephemeral something.  It is a Someone.  And when we seek him, find him, we will love him.  That worshipful love is the result of a true search.

Wise men sought him.  Wise men still still seek him.  May we be like them.

 

Full Sermon – Still Sought By The Wise – Matthew 2:1-12 – Week 3 of Advent

God’s With Us – He Really Is With Us

 

Empty Manger

What does it mean for God to be with us?  Was he ever not with us?  And does it ever get more personal than God just visiting all of humanity?  Is God ever with us, that is, with you and me?

When Matthew gives his account of Jesus’ birth, he leaves no doubt as to the significance.  This is just like Isaiah has said, reports Matthew, the virgin’s son is “Immanuel”.  For those not versed in Hebrew nomenclature, he spells it out:  (which mean, God with us).  But what does it mean for us?  I’ll suggest three things:

God Really Wasn’t With Us.  This may seem like it goes against the Xmas story but wait, it has to be true.  Think about it.  You can’t announce that someone has just arrived home if they were never out, right?  The same is true of God.  In the various forms of paganism, God/the gods/spirits were always present in the world.  The divine lived in the rocks and trees and rivers.  Or in Eastern type religions, there is no distinction between the world and God.  But Christianity (Judaism and Islam as well) reveals something different about God.  There is a distinction between Creator and Creation.  He really is God and we, his creatures, really are not.  So for the power of “God with us” to hit you, first it must be acknowledged that he was kind of far away before.

God’s Really With Us.  But now God really has come – in the person of His Son, Jesus.  When that newborn baby was placed down in that manger, God was truly in the house.  In the world in a way He’d never been before.  That’s why it is such a big deal.  God has always been involved in His creation, acting in it and sustaining it by his word.  But now his feet had really touched the dusty ground.  God’s perfection isn’t sullied or lessened by entering the world.  There’s no hint of negativity that he shows towards the material, the physical, and the ordinary.  This world was good from the beginning, and even though it’s been broken, God has come into it.  He is really with us in his creation.

God Is Really With You.   Really.  God in the world and with humanity is a great truth but does it get more personal than that?  Is God really with me?  or with you?  To really grasp and enjoy his nearness we must acknowledge that he really has cause to be far away.  As sinners, we are estranged from God and have no right to come before him.  He really was far away.  But now, through the Gospel of his son, he has near to us.  Not counting our sins against us, not withholding his presence from us, he is with us.  If you believe God is at your service, easy to stroll right up to, you’ll never grasp that incredibleness of his grace and his condescension to us.  In Christ, he is really with you!

 

Full Sermon – God With Us – Matthew 1:18-25 – Week 2 of Advent

 

God’s Extraordinary Ordinary

Jesus GenealogyChristmas time (or more specifically Advent) is filled with many other concerns.  But not least should be the remembering of God’s greatest gift – Himself coming into the world and takig on human flesh.

Christianity makes extraordinary claims – miracles, existence of God, uniqueness of Christ.  But we’d be making a mistake if we were to believe that it is all extraordinary.  We’ll be disappointed tif we expect it to be.  This is because God often works through the ordinary.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening passage of Matthew’s Gospel, which is the opening of the entire New Testament.  It is just a long list of names – generations of those who form the family line of Joseph, Jesus’ legal and adoptive father.  If you were going to write the most important story in the world, would you go for an opener like that?  Not very catchy.  But it shows us something profound about God’s work in the world.

God’s work is ordinary.  Nothing is more ordinary than baby-making.  In fact, the most significant thing most of us will ever accomplish is to reproduce and continue the species.  That’s a pretty humbling thought.  But God entered the world, began His greatest work, and took on humanity precisely through the ordinariness of being born.  But that within that ordinariness He was doing something extrordinary.

God’s does something extraordinary.  Matthew shows us that even though this genealogy is about human reproduction there is something far more significant going on.  The entire history of Israel is contained here.  The origin of the nation with Abraham.  The high point and golden age through David.  The greatest humiliation through the Exile to Babylon.  There is a far greater significance going on even though it appears just as a long list of names.

There’s an extraordinary ordinary.  Most of us will never accomplish anything more lasting than carrying on the species.  Most of us will be nothing more than dust under a tombstone one hundred years from now.  But yet, we can find the greatest and most extraordinary significance by embracing God in Christ.  Every other religion/philosophy offers a sort of ladder up to heaven – through spiritual enlightenment, through good deeds, through ritual, etc. But the Christian message is that God has come down to us, into this world, so that He might lift us up.  He entered the ordinary, so that we might be saved into the extraordinary promises of God.  That means that even our lives may seem mundane, they can be filled with God.

 

 

 

Full Sermon – The Extraordinary Ordinary – Matthew 1 :1-17 – Week 1 of Advent