Big Idea: Jesus is Worshipped & Adored, by Outsiders – not Insiders
Intro: Well Merry Christmas and welcome to South Sydney Anglican Churches Community Christmas. It is great to have you with us today and truly hosting a Christmas Community lunch (for those who have less, not more) has become one of the highlights for my family and our church. So let’s pray as we begin…
Prayer: Well Christmas (in the western world) has taken on many TRADITIONS that have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth. For instance we now have Christmas trees everywhere. But this is NOT Christian. Christmas trees can be traced back to a European pagan festival associated with the winter solstice. It was called Yule-Fest where pagans used to hold a special 12 day festival in honour of the sun. I know we now sing “the 12 days of Christmas my true love said to me”; but that song was only written in the late 1700’s. Before then it was the 12 days of Yule fest to celebrate the return of the sun (after winter solstice).
And each year these European nature worshippers used to dress up their houses with evergreen branches – as a sign spring was coming. The evergreen trees and branches were seen as a symbol of continual life. It was only in the 1500’s that churches kind of Christianised the tree and rightly or wrongly brought into religious circles.
Then we also have SANTA CLAUSE – largely thanks to Coca Cola. Prior to the 1930’s the main focus near Christmas was Saint Nicholas who was born around 300AD. Saint Nicholas came from a wealthy family and after his conversion to Christianity he became renowned for great gifts of generosity, especially towards the poor and needy. So in the middle ages the Roman Catholic church started to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on the 6th of December and the eastern Orthodox church on the 19th December. But given St Nicholas day’s close proximity to Christmas – the two religious celebrations began to get blurred. So St Nicholas became linked with Christmas.
Then Saint Nicholas was abbreviated to Saint Klause – which became Santa Clause. But it was not the modern image of Santa Clause. In all the church’s celebrations of Saint Klaus – he always wore green, blue or brown robes.
But in the 1930’s Coca Cola in a bit of marketing genius – put Saint Klause in a red and white outfit which were Coca Cola’s main colours. And they bombarded the world with this image (Slide 2 & slide 3). Then in 1951 Coca Cola – did a further marketing stunt called OPERATION SANTA DROP. That’s right “OPERATION SANTA DROP.” Coca Cola took 50,000 bottles of Coke and dropped them from airplanes to all the US soldiers stationed in remote air bases around the North Pole for Christmas. And voila – Santa Clause, the North Pole and presents falling from the sky became an image – that now fascinates boys and girls. But it is nothing more than a wonderful piece of marketing brilliance that increased the commercialization of Christmas.
So we now have images of !) middle-class western families gathered around 2) Christmas trees, 3) exchanging gifts and 4) eating way too much food (and we think that’s Christmas). But behind the many layers of paganism and Coca Cola advertising there is a real story about the birth of Jesus Christ – who still remains the most influential person in the history of the world. BUT BELIEVE IT OR NOT – Jesus never came to A) promote paganism or B) crass marketing that makes the rich, richer. JESUS’ was actually a child born in poverty, humility and disgrace – like many of us.
Point 1: Jesus was Born as a Nobody for Nobodies
Show: Matt.1:18-21 (READ)
Explain: Well despite all the pagan trimmings and commercialization of Christmas – most people in Australia have still heard about Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth. Now whether people believe it to be true or not – is another story altogether. But most people know that Jesus was supposedly born of a virgin named Mary. Most people have also heard of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem in a stable. We’ve all sung the carol – Away in a Manger – where supposedly the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
Again, this is a totally sanitised, nice version of Jesus’ birth. But I’m sure there was still 1) the normal labour pains, 2) the crying of a new born baby and the normal poo all over the floor that comes with being housed with the animals. Jesus’ birth took place with all the mess of ordinary human life.
The truth is Jesus came from the WRONG SIDE-OF-THE-TRACKS. Mary and Joseph came from Galilee. (The only reason they were in middle class Bethlehem was because a Roman Emperor was holding a census and he didn’t care about the inconveniences that caused). But Jesus’ home town was Galilee of the Gentiles and that was a long, long way from upper class Israel. Jesus came from the equivalent of Mt Druitt or Redfern housing commission. Truly, no respectable Jew lived in Galilee of the Gentiles. It was too long a commute to Jerusalem and it was renowned as a poor area with far too many immigrants. Dirty, dirty Gentiles. It was known as Galilee of the Gentiles for a reason.
And while we know Joseph was a carpenter – its equally clear – that he was very, very poor. We know this because when Jesus gets circumcised – Mary only offers two pigeons as a sacrifice. The normal sacrifice after child-birth was a year old lamb and a pigeon. But the Jewish law said that if the family was really poor – the priest would accept two doves or two pigeons.
This is what Mary offers at Jesus’ circumcision. So Jesus had the povo version of a Jewish christening or dedication. I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of you. Povo birthdays and Christmases aren’t quite the same as what we see on TV.
But Jesus is also born in SCANDAL. We are told Joseph thought about calling off his engagement with Mary – QUIETLY – because he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace. Notice – PUBLIC DISGRACE. Now I’m sure none of you have ever experienced public disgrace or scorn But if you thought being 1) a single mother or 2) being born out of wedlock or 3) living in poverty is bad now, you should try being an impoverished single mum or a bastard child in first century Judaism. Both were a huge SCANDAL. Of course, WE ARE TOLD Jesus was born miraculously by the Holy Spirit. But no one else knew this in Jesus’ day. Everyone simply saw Mary as a hussy and Jesus as another bastard child. And when Joseph married her – it was just another shotgun wedding. (Any of this sound familiar?).
And if you think Jewish people didn’t talk and gossip in the synagogue – you’re kidding yourself. (Try keeping any scandal secret in a church today and you’ll discover its impossible. And we know this scandal hung over Jesus all his life. Later on when Jesus became a popular, well-regarded teacher – we read in Matthew 13 – that people were saying – isn’t this Josephs the carpenters son? Isn’t this Marys child? And it says they took offense at him. The word offense is scandal. It seems the scandal and circumstances of Jesus’ birth stayed with him for life. For the worlds perspective he was a bastard child in the literal sense of the world…
Apply: Now how much of Jesus’ story resonates with you? How many of you come from the wrong side of the tracks or were born in poverty? How many of you came into this world scandalised by sin and sexual indiscretion? But this is Jesus’ story. This is Jesus’ birth.
And what if this ordinary man, familiar with poverty, suffering and scorn really came to save people like us? I mean I too am a bastard in the true sense of the word. I carried that shame from birth. But what if Jesus (the greatest, most influential man ever born) has a special affinity with the underdog? And what if Jesus really is IMMANUEL – God with us as it says in verse 23? And if there really is a Creator God – why did God choose to live among the least, the last and the lost of society? Why didn’t God choose to be born in a palace, with down pillows and silver spoon in mouth?
Psalm 34:18 says the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. PERHAPS God is nearer the wrong side of the tracks than we think. PERHAPS God is more concerned with your crushed and grieving spirit than you realise. (And right there is the true joy, peace and hope of Christmas). God is not against the nobodies of the world. God is with and for the nobodies of the world.
Point 2: Jesus is Adored and Worshipped by Nobodies
Show: Matt.2:1-2 (READ)
Explain: Well in THE SECOND PART of this story – we see the nice, religious, Jewish people of Jerusalem are NOT ready for Jesus birth, but Magi (Gentiles) are ready to worship and adore Jesus. Now one of the few things scorned in Israel more than sex outside of marriage, bastard children and poverty – were immigrants, Gentiles. And the Magi were some of the worst types of Gentiles imaginable. The Magi were magicians or sorcerer. They were not wise men, they were like witches. So the last people in the world – you would expect to find coming to worship Jesus – are Magi.
The people you would expect to be ready for Gods Son – are the educated, learned, religious Jews in Jerusalem. Throughout Jewish history – God had given COUNTLESS PROPHECIES about the birth of the Messiah who would save the world. God told the Jews in 2 Samuel 7 – the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. God told the Jews in Micah 5 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And God told the Jews in Daniel 2 that the Messiah would be born in the fourth major kingdom after the Babylonian Empire. The maths wasn’t hard. The Babylonians were followed by the Persians, who were followed by the Greeks who were followed by the Romans. So anyone who could count to FOUR should have been ready at Jesus’ birth. But like many affluent anglo Australians today, the Jews were a little bit too familiar with the stories of a Messiah and a bit too comfortable to really take the Jesus stories seriously.
So very few of the good, religious people are actually ready. But the bad, sinful, magic practicing Gentiles turn up at exactly the right time. You see, there was another prophecy in the Bible in Numbers 24 written by a sorcerer. A sorcerer named BALAAM (who was kind of the great grand-daddy) of the Magi – said that when Gods chosen king arrived – a new star would rise over Israel.
In Numbers 24 – Balaam said an astrolonomical sign would accompany the birth of God’s King. (Now we don’t know if this sign was a shooting star or a supernova or some other astrolonomical event). But the Jews paid little attention to the prophecies that came from their own prophets, let alone a prophecy that came from BALAAM.
But Balaam prophesied that God’s King would one day CRUSH THE HEADS of those who relied on curses and black magic. And the words “CRUSH THE HEADS”in Numbers 24 is the exact same words God spoke to Satan in Genesis 3. Straight after Satan deceived Adam and Eve – God told Satan that one day a child would be born of woman that would crush his head. Balaam then kind of adds that the promised King – will also crush the heads of those who call on Satan in black magic. So incredibly – WHEN JESUS IS BORN – A) the self-righteous Jews don’t turn up, but B) the magic practicing Gentiles do. In light of the Messiahs birth its time to get out of the Satanic dark arts before their heads are crushed with Satan’s.
Apply: But again – please notice who is coming and worshipping Jesus. It’s not the so-called good, religious Jewish people with their nice lives. Its actually the bad guys – the Gentile, sorcerors, the prostitutes, the adulterers, tax-collectors, gentile immigrants and thieves who come in the gospels. As Jesus will later explain – he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. But one of the problems of growing up in a religious environment, with a silver spoon in your mouth is that its easy to think you don’t need Jesus. In this way wealth and religiosity can be a curse. But when you have MESS IN YOUR LIFE and you know you’ve done SOME BAD, SINFUL STUFF – you kind of know you need a Saviour.
Point 3: Jesus is Rejected by the Somebodies who try to Kill Him
Show: Matt.2:16 (READ)
Explain: The story of Jesus’ birth is not just a story of joy, peace, wise men, shepherds and a romanticised picture of an animal stable. Jesus’ birth is actually shrouded in evil. There is such a thing as EVIL in this world and many of us have seen it. Immediately upon Jesus’ birth – an evil man named King Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus. As the true and rightful King of Jerusalem – King Herod saw Jesus as A THREAT. Herod himself perceived that there was something true about Jesus.
If Jesus was A NOBODY, he is a threat to no one. But even Herod saw something rang true about Jesus. But instead of coming to worship Jesus, he conspired to kill Jesus. There are no EXTERNAL HISTORICAL RECORDS of this event. But we know Herods evil conduct is in keeping with his character. Herod had already killed several family members – to preserve his title King of the Jews. So instead of A) worshiping Jesus, B) he uses his authority to order the killing of all the babies under two years of age in and around Bethlehem.
You can imagine the great SADNESS that must have accompanied many families at this first Christmas. King Herod’s order to kill all the babies was Satan’s final roll of the dice to prevent Jesus actually saving the world. (As we saw in yesterdays sermon – Satan had been working for 2000 years to prevent the birth of Jesus – because God told Satan in the garden of Eden – that a promised child would one day crush his head). But Satan failed to prevent Jesus’ birth. So in a great, grotesque act of INJUSTICE the order was given – kill all the babies. Sadly, Jesus came into the world facing A GREAT ACT OF INJUSTICE and he left the world because of A GREAT ACT OF INJUSTICE.
As people born on the wrong side of the tracks; in poverty and simply trying to survive – many of us have also experienced injustice and thr blatant abuse of power by many people in authority.
PERHAPS someone tried to abort you before you were born. PERHAPS you were hurt in childhood or you have been accused of doing things you never did. The cry of many people – is where is the justice. The rich, the educated and powerful seem to get away with so much evil, while the poor, the vulnerable and hurting keep getting abused. Where is the justice for all those innocent babies? Where is the justice for the wrongs committed to you in your life? Where is the justice for Jesus – who was unfairly put to death?
(GOSPEL) Well this question takes us to the cross and the final judgment. God sends Jesus into the world (both the first time and the second time) to bring both mercy and justice to a broken world. But how does God show mercy without perverting justice or bring justice without denying mercy. THE PROBLEM IS everyone in this world has done some things wrong and what we really need is mercy. We want mercy and forgiveness for our wrongdoing, but justice and retribution against those who have wronged us. So God sent Jesus to die on the cross. As Jesus died on the cross – he was our justice and he was our mercy. Jesus took the punishment for all your sins as he died on the cross – because he loves you. In Jesus, God said to a hurting world; “See, I’m not letting sin go unpunished. Sin committed against you is wrong and I am punishing it in Jesus. There is your justice.” But right there at the cross is also mercy. GOD SAYS; “See the sins committed against you and the sins you have committed are paid for by Jesus. So if you believe in Jesus and begin to repent of your wrongdoing – I will show you mercy. I will forgive you of all your wrongdoing and welcome you into heaven when you die.”
None of us deserve mercy – because we have all done wrong. What we all deserve is Gods justice in the form of punishment. But what do you ultimately want for yourself – mercy or justice? THE BIBLE SAYS; that whoever believes in Jesus will receive eternal life, but whoever rejects Jesus will not see life because Gods wrath remains on them. (Jn.3:36). So what will you choose – mercy or justice?
Apply: When Jesus came the first time – there were many respectable, middle-class religious Jewish people who did not take Jesus seriously. They were a little too comfortable to recognize they needed a Saviour. But the Magi knew they needed mercy and forgiveness. And throughout Jesus’ life (and even the early church) it was largely the people from the wrong side of the tracks, the poor, the outcast, the rejected and the sinners (who knew they really were sinners) who found in Jesus a beautiful Saviour. But what about you? 1) Are you too affluent, comfortable and familiar with the Christmas story to recognize you need a Saviour? 2) Or are you simply too pig-headed and stubborn to admit you are your own worst enemy and you need Jesus to save you, from you? Simply cry out to Jesus and he will help you.
I know we live in a world – where the concept of God is now mocked. We live in a world – where biblical morality is being rejected. And we live in a world where the wonderful story of Jesus is now hidden behind pagan Christmas trees and corporate Coca Cola marketing. But if you think Jesus and the God of the Bible will allow this behaviour to go on indefinitely you are kidding yourself. Jesus came once to save the world and he is coming again to judge the world. The second coming of Jesus also prophesied in the Bible suggests the second coming may be drawing near. And again, many people you would expect to be ready will not be ready AND many of the people you would least expect to be ready will welcome Jesus’ coming with open arms.
I have known many of you now – for a long time and it SADDENS ME that some of you remain unmoved by the story of Jesus. What must I do to convince you God is real or that Jesus died for you? (PAUSE) In the last few years – I have been asked to be pastor in far more rich, comfortable and affluent churches than Redfern. Twice I have been asked to run for bishop positions in various parts of Australia. But I have come to love ministry in Redfern-Waterloo among the poor, the alcoholics, the drug addicts, ex-cons and new immigrants.
I stay here trying to share God with you because I think this is where Jesus would choose to do ministry. And each year – we keep running COMMUNITY CHRISTMASES – for people who know they are a bit broken, who know they need mercy and among those who long justice. But if that is you (and you know it is you) – what will you do with this Christmas story this year? Will anything change? I plead with you this Christmas – to make a decision for Jesus and receive the mercy that you need more than food or air – for I am increasingly concerned that in our greedy, evil and amoral world Jesus’ second coming may be drawing near. The question is will you be among those who are ready or unready?