A Reflection of Tomorrow

December 25, 2011

A Reflection of Tomorrow
So here is the question:  When do your put Christmas away?  We usually do it on New Year’s Day. You know; take down the tree and Christmas cards, remove the lights from outside the house, pack up the nativity scene.  And before the first day of the new year is finished so is Christmas, at least for another year.  And I would suspect that in a less tangible way that for most folks they will put Christmas away early tomorrow morning.  I don’t mean the trappings of Christmas, I mean the essence of Christmas.  You know, what Christmas is all about.
For the past month the talk has been about Jesus and his birth, about Angels and Magi, Shepherds and mangers.  But that will be done today when the sun goes down.  For many people, and unfortunately many who identify themselves in some way with Christ and his church the baby Jesus will be packed up with the manger scene and tucked away until Easter. 
Yesterday our total attendance in all of our services was a little over 640 and on Easter Sunday we normally have in excess of 350 in attendance.  And I’m not complaining, I love Christmas Eve and consider it one of our primary outreach events.  And for the non-churched, non-aligned, non-committed I think it’s great that we have the opportunity to present the gospel to them in such a positive way.
But there are people who we saw last night, who we won’t see again until Easter Sunday who if you asked them would tell you that they were Christians, that they follow Jesus.  And yet they seem quite content to leave Jesus either in the cradle or on the cross.
And that certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, 2000 years ago at the first Christmas and then 33 years later when Christ was murdered there were those who were participants in the event and yet it had no impact on their lives whatsoever.  It was merely an incident that happened and they moved on and never looked back.
The Inn Keeper and Soldiers Were There  How could they know that by simply doing their jobs they were assured a place in history.  Granted we don’t know their names but out of all the Inn Keepers since the beginning of time this is the one whose story stands out, simply because he said “We have no room”.  And of the uncountable number of Roman Soldiers who served during the reign of the Roman Empire these men who mocked and tortured Jesus are the one who have been immortalized in books and paintings and movies. 
The inn keeper’s story is recorded in Luke 2:7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
The innkeeper wasn’t being malicious, he didn’t have anything personal against Mary and Joseph he just didn’t care.  The inn had been packed for days with the census going on and his inn was packed.  Maybe.   I don’t know if the inn was actually full or if we need to take a closer look at the phrase, there was no lodging available for them.
You see Luke didn’t say that there was no room in the inn, what he said was there was no room for THEM in the inn.  I wonder if demand had outstripped supply and prices had soared beyond the reach of the ordinary person.  I wonder if there would have been room in the inn if Joseph had of been Herod’s carpenter? 
The soldiers get more than a verse but it’s all part of the same story John 19:2-3 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.   But it wasn’t anything personal.  They would have done the same if it had been Barabbas or any other criminal.  It was just a way to break up their day and their cruelty was an impersonal cruelty. 
The mocked him because they could, they were in power and he wasn’t, they considered themselves to be right and him to be wrong and saw it as their right.  But at the end of the day they had forgotten the one whom some called King of the Jews.
The innkeeper and the soldiers are symbolic of the vast majority of people on that Christmas day.  The innkeeper didn’t know that it was the son of God he had turned away and the soldiers didn’t know it was the son of God they had nailed to a cross, it was just business.   
Isn’t that the way it is today?  People rush about their business, they go here, and they go there.  There are trees to find and trim, Christmas lights to put up, presents to buy and wrap, a turkey to stuff and cook.  The entire season has become a cult in itself.
And there are a lot of people out there who are not antagonistic about the real meaning of Christmas, they just don’t care.  They really don’t care that Christ was born, they don’t care that he lived for 33 years, they don’t care that he died on a cross for them, and they don’t care that after the third day he rose from the dead.  For them there was no Christmas Eve service, no Christmas day service, no Christmas story or Sunday School pageants.  They’ll get a few paid days off work, a turkey dinner and presents, it’s like the old Toyota ad said “Who could ask for anything more?”
There was a more antagonistic presence at both the first Christmas and the first Easter and they were a father and son.  You see Herod and Herod Were There.  You will recall in the Christmas story the wise men from the east first came to Jerusalem to ask directions to the Bethlehem and the new born king.  Herod asked the Magi to come back and let him know where he could go to worship this child but his motives were less than pure. 
You see Herod was evil and extremely suspicious that others were trying to take his power; he murdered his wife and mother in law as well as three of his sons.  We are told that Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had said “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son”  Which was a lot more poetic in the Greek where the word for Pig was Hus and for Son was Huios
Some people wonder why genocide like this wouldn’t be mentioned in history.  Well, remember that at the time Bethlehem probably had a population of no more than 2000, less than half the population of Kingswood.  So we are probably talking the death of 25 or 30 children tops.  In a time when murder and unrighteousness was so wide spread the only people who would have been outraged at this tragedy would have been the parents. 
33 years later Jesus was introduced to another Herod, this one was Herod Antipas, the son of the man who slaughtered the innocents in Bethlehem.  And this Herod had blood on his hands as well.  The account is given in Luke 23:7 When Pilate learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. So you understand the time sequence, Jesus has been arrested by the high priests who don’t actually have any authority to do anything to Jesus, so they off load him onto Pilate demanding Jesus execution.  Pilate can find no legal or moral reason to execute Jesus so he figures that he can get rid of the problem by delegating it to Herod, the Puppet king of the area. 
Luke tells us that Herod had heard about Jesus and was delighted at the opportunity to actually meet this teacher that everyone was talking about, but this wasn’t the Jesus Herod was expecting.  Herod demanded answers, Jesus remained silent, Herod demanded that Jesus perform miracles, and Jesus remained silent.  So Herod had him beaten and sent back to Pilate, even though he knew it was the wrong thing to do. 
You understand that Pilate was looking for a way to spare Jesus’ life, even if he was too cowardly to do it himself.  Herod had the opportunity to shine, to be more of a man than his father was and to do the right thing.  But he didn’t.  The scriptures say that Herod mocked and ridiculed Jesus.   I wonder if Herod knew what his Father had done 33 years before.  If so could he connect the dots?  Probably not something you bragged about.  Unless you were a Herod.
And I would suspect that neither Herod the Great nor his son really gave their actions another thought.  They were not only ambivalent toward what was happening at that first Christmas and Easter they were downright antagonistic.  
Herod was definitely hostile to the true meaning of Christmas. Sociologist Robert Lynd said “There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.”  Herod would fall into the second category of people. 
It’s not Christmas that people like Herod really resent; it is the religious nature of Christmas.  They are kind of like the two ladies who spotted a cross in a store window at Easter, and one commented, “Some people will try to put religion into everything.” 
People like that like Christmas, but they’d prefer to keep Christ out of it.  They would have us trade the manger for a toy store, they would have us swap Jesus for Santa and exchange the cross for a Christmas tree.  And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, unless they replace what Christmas is really about.  My kids used to light up around Santa, but the fat man in the red suit had to take a back seat to Jesus Christ.
There were other’s there as well and I’m a little disappointed in their stories, you see The Shepherds and the Roman Centurion Were There.    Luke 2:8 & 16 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. . . They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 
I hate to malign the shepherds but I tend to think of them as flash in the pan Christians.  Like who wouldn’t be impressed, talk about an engraved invitation.  They had this great choir of angels who told them about the Christ child, and that moved them to action.  Listen to Luke 2:17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
But that’s all she wrote, we don’t hear any more about the shepherds, no aged shepherd making his way to the cross to weep at the feet of Christ, as he saw the fulfilment of the promise.  None of the disciples were shepherds; there were no surprise witnesses at the trial of Jesus. No they stayed in Bethlehem, for them it was too far to travel to get to Calvary.  When the chills and thrills stopped they were assimilated into everyday life.
At the cross there is an Eureka moment on behalf of one of the men who took part in the crucifixion. Luke 23:47 When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” In the NIV it reads Luke 23:47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” But again there is no mention of the centurion again. Doesn’t show up in the upper room with the disciples, don’t read about him being a witness to other Roman soldiers, tradition is silent on his fate, and very seldom is tradition silent if there is even a whisper of a story.
Do you remember the first miracle that’s recorded in John’s Gospel?  It was when Jesus was at the Wedding in Cana and he turned the water into wine.  Listen to what the Bible says right after that, John 2:23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him.
And why not, it’s easy to believe when someone feeds 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, it’s easy when someone turns 180 gallons of water into wine, it’s easy to believe when a multitude of the heavenly host proclaim the truth from a celestial choir loft.
It’s not always as easy to maintain that belief when you’re sick, the kids are crying, the washing machine is overflowing and the car won’t start.  Or when you get laid off work, your spouse leaves you and your parents are dying.  All of a sudden belief isn’t nearly as easy, but hey that’s life.  We can’t live forever in the manger at Bethlehem.  The reason the Christian faith and the Christian Church has survived and flourished over the past 2000 years is that there have been some who after the angels have gone, and the heavens are still, and life is life, they still believe.
There are those who profess to keep Christ in Christmas and they do, the problem is not only do they keep Christ in Christmas they leave him there on Boxing day.  The shepherds were an integral part of Christmas, but I really wish that we saw them again somewhere outside of Bethlehem. 
Mary and the Angels were There  The only common denominators that we see in Jesus birth and death, besides Jesus were the angels who announced his birth and resurrection and his mother.  The angels, that was in their job description and Mary was there because Jesus was her son.  But there was more to it than that, her life was changed forever by the child that she had that day.  Every moment of every day would be changed from that point on.  You see Mary’s was not a half-hearted experience, or a part-time commitment.  She was 100% committed to the child she called Jesus.  She was there at the cross when her son died and when Luke lists the beginning of the church in the book of acts he writes Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
And that is what He is looking for today.  He wants us to come to the manger with the same attitude as Mary when she said “I am the Lord’s servant.”