December 26, 2019 No Peace, but a Sword- the Holy Innocents – Matthew 10:34, Matthew 2:1-18

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“Do not think that I (Jesus) have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

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, 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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘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.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 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.” 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 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. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

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 that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:1-18 (ESV)

As much as we are enraptured by the Christmas story, the very next chapter is tragic. Herod sends the wise men (or more accurately “magi” or astronomers) to find this king of the Jews, not because Herod had any plans of worshiping the infant Jesus, but because Herod wanted to take out the threat.

What Herod didn’t realize is that God has ways around the sinister designs of man.

What the people of Israel didn’t realize was that Messiah wasn’t coming as a bread king or as a military conqueror. He was coming to heal the sick and raise the dead, but also to turn over the moneylenders’ and temple vendors’ tables. He was coming to tear the temple curtain in two, to judge the living and the dead, and to defeat sin, death, Satan and the hordes of hell.

The fallout from the Incarnation of the Holy One of God- destruction by the sword -would begin with the male children of Bethlehem, and it continues to this day.

The Child in the manger would be the cause of the deaths of countless other children- slaughtered simply because of Herod’s desire to keep himself in power.

The Child in the manger- Christ, the Lord, calls us to die as well. Life in Christ is death to everything the world holds dear. We willingly forfeit power, influence, and comfort and in certain circumstances, our own lives, to follow Him. In some places in the world today to proclaim Christ is literally asking to lose one’s head. Martyrdom is still happening in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Do we really understand the purpose behind what appears to be the senseless destruction and waste and death and sorrow in this world?

Rachel weeping for her children, because they are no more.

The church has historically called the little boys killed by Herod’s mobs, “the Holy Innocents,” yet there are no humans on this earth untouched by the corruption of original sin. Those little boys were innocent of temporal crimes, but were still under the curse of the Fall. The truly Innocent One was also put to death, thirty years or so later, but His death was the end of death.

Jesus brought- and still brings- a sword. The sword that split the temple curtain so that we could be in the presence of God is the same sword that divides families and nations.

Today’s rude awakening right on the heels of the amazing blessing and wonder of Christmas seems a bit harsh, but in the middle of the valley of the shadow, He is with us.

Emmanuel, God with us does not abandon us, even in those times and places when our pain and mourning is beyond words.

Emmanuel, God Who took on human flesh, knows the agony of sorrow and of physical torment.

Emmanuel, God does bring a peace beyond all understanding- peace that can override the chaos, peace that knows that God is in control even when we cannot see how.

Jesus isn’t done yet. He is returning- returning for those who believe and trust in Him. He is coming back to remake the heavens and the earth. He will wipe away every tear and sorrow will be no more.

December 15, 2016 And the Angel Said… Luke 1:30-33, Luke 1:19, Hebrews 13:2

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The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33 (NRSV)

When angels are mentioned in the Bible, the reference is usually to the angel of the Lord, or to a “heavenly host.”  Angels can take on the form of a man (such as the angels who gave Lot the warning about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – Genesis 19:1-16) or they can manifest as a voice from a burning bush, (Exodus 3:2) a pillar of cloud (Exodus 14:19), or as mighty warriors (Psalm 78:49.)

Angels as portrayed in the Bible show very little resemblance to greeting card cherubs or sweet little collectible figurines.

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The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. Luke 1:19 (NRSV)

The angel Gabriel, who approached Mary, would have been a formidable and terrifying presence, rather than a sweet little cartoon character. The fact that we are given Gabriel’s name implies that he had an even more important mission than other times that angels of the Lord appeared in the Bible but were not named.  Gabriel would have been a rather majestic and imposing figure.  He probably looked more like this than a Precious Moments figurine:

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I think I would have been afraid, very afraid, if an angel of God- especially Gabriel- appeared in front of me.

So what’s the big deal about angels?

When angels speak to people, the voice of God is speaking through them, which is a very big deal indeed.  God spoke through His angels to the prophets.

Angels brought incredible, supernatural news-news that required an awe-inspiring messenger- to the people in the Bible.

Do angels still speak to us today?

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)

If we were to encounter an angel, would our minds and hearts be open not only to give and show hospitality, but also to receive the blessings they come to announce?

December 14, 2016- That Thing About Shepherds-Ezekiel 34:12, Ezekiel 34:23, Luke 2:8-20

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As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. Ezekiel 34:12 (NRSV)

I don’t say this from experience, as I have never lived on a farm, and have spent most of my life living and working in the city, but I have been told that sheep are stupid.  They wander off.  They get confused easily.  If left to their own devices they will follow anyone or go anywhere without regard for their own safety.

It seems ironic that God refers to us as His sheep then, and to Jesus as the good Shepherd. The sad part of that is that apart from God we can behave just like sheep- wandering off, getting confused, and following anything and everything. If we are following the wrong shepherd, or none at all, we are asking for trouble.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.   But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”   So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.   But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.   The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.  –Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)

In Biblical times shepherds were considered low level manual laborers.  Being a shepherd was not a job that commanded respect.  It’s easy to see why.  Sheep are dirty and stupid, and it takes a lot of work to keep them healthy and staying together. A shepherd would end up smelling like sheep.   Shepherding is a thankless and dirty job that commands long hours of staying up and watching.

But God considered the shepherds- before the kings and rulers and “important” people.  God sent His angel to the shepherds early on to announce the coming of the Good Shepherd to encourage them, to lift them up, to let them know that His Kingdom was at hand.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. Ezekiel 34:23 (NRSV)

That thing about shepherds. God doesn’t have a problem with getting into the not so nice and the dirty, mundane parts of life on this earth. How does God look at who and what are important to Him?  Are our priorities the same as His?