Christmas Eve 2014
Matthew 1:18 – 27
A Map for Christmas
Is our map missing something?
Ernst Schumacher was one of the most influential economists of the 20th Century. In his book A Guide for the Perplexed, Schumacher recounts a visit to Leningrad in 1968, at the peak of communist influence, in fact the very week that the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia.
During his time in Leningrad Schumacher noticed a number of church buildings around the city, but he observed that these churches were all absent from the maps he’d been given by communist guides.
There he stood, right in front of these huge buildings, but as far as the communists were concerned, the churches didn’t exist at all.
And as Schumacher reflected on that experience, he realised that this wasn’t the first time he’d been given a map, that didn’t show the things that were right in front of his eyes. He wrote, “All through school and university, I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace, of many of the things, that seemed to me, to be of the greatest possible importance,”
I wonder if you’ve ever had moments when you’ve felt that’s your experience,
When you’ve felt that our culture,
The dominant worldview of our day, says “This is the way things are,
This is what matters,
This is what we know to be true”,
And yet, your own experience says, “this can’t be right,
There must be more,
There are things that I know to be true, that aren’t being explained to me,
They’ve been left off the map.
Maybe it just grates, every time you hear someone say that people are “basically good”,
If we leave people to their own devices, humanity will flourish and prosper!
Perhaps you’ve seen too much of humanity left to its own devices, to believe that.
The map we’re given doesn’t reflect reality!
Perhaps it’s the events of this last week or so in Martin Place,
A Pakistan school,
A remote Nigerian town,
A suburban Cairns house.
Maybe those headlines make it all too clear that humanity has a problem, that people aren’t inherently good.
The map, the worldview says humans will naturally treat each other with love and dignity, but our eyes and experience tell us something else.
You see all too clearly, that the world is broken, that can’t just be white-washed over,
Or maybe it’s Richard Dawkins and the celebrity atheists saying you’re just “a very lucky accident”,
The map says, you’re just a random collections of atoms and chemicals, therefore there is no purpose to your life, you have no significance, other than what you make up.
You’re just an accidental co-location of atoms,
You’re an insignificant blip, in endless aeons of time.
That’s the map someone’s trying to give us, but maybe you know there’s more to life than that,
There are things left off the map, that you know to be true.
Maybe your own experience shouts to you, that you’re more than just a random collection of chemicals.
Maybe the map you’ve been handed says “God is dead”, it’s the Friedrich Nietzche version. Maybe we’re being told, “Even if there was a God,
Even if there was some God, who created something, well he’s long gone now.”
Maybe we’ve replaced him,
Maybe we’ve rendered him obsolete,
Perhaps we just haven’t heard from him in a while.
Perhaps it says God is far away, and far-removed,
Far from being active,
Far from being interested
But maybe you’re just like Ernst Schumacher, and you’ve realised there are gaping holes, in the worldview our society offers us, the maps of life and knowledge we’re being asked to follow.
And, of course, that’s the very test of a worldview isn’t it? Does it explain the world we live in?
And if the map we’ve chosen for life, doesn’t explain life, well, our map needs updating.
The account of Jesus’ birth we read a moment ago was recorded for us by a man named Matthew, an historian, one of the eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry.
And in this story, we’re offered a different map,
The beginnings of a worldview, an explanation for life, as we know it.
So let’s see how well Matthew’s map make sense of our world.
This map says God is in control of his world
Notice firstly, Matthew wants us to see that God is in control.
Even the opening line of this episode, shows us that God is involved in his world, look with me from verse 18, where the little number 18 is on the top of page 966.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:
That word Messiah is a Hebrew word. It’s exactly the same as the Greek word, Christ, which is perhaps more familiar to us, but Christ is neither a swear word,
Nor Jesus’ last name, which perhaps we sometimes think!
The Messiah, or the Christ, just means God’s king.
For years and years, God had been promising that a king would come, the Messiah.
What’s the first thing we notice on Matthew’s map?
God’s king has come!
God is at work.
God makes promises,
God keeps his promises.
But actually, God’s involvement in the world is even even more obvious as the story goes on, isn’t it?
Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Now I studied a reasonable amount of human biology, at university, and I can tell you, this is not the normal way that women get pregnant.
she was found to be pregnant, through the Holy Spirit
Now, don’t get too caught up wondering about things like, “Did Jesus’ DNA have 2 strands like our DNA!
Matthew the historian isn’t interested in answering those questions, though they might be our questions.
Matthew’s point is, God is at work.
There is no explanation for this, other than to call it a miracle.
But Matthew’s map has even more evidence of God controlling events in his world.
Because of the scandal of Mary becoming pregnant, Joseph plans to divorce her quietly, not subject her to public shame, or even potentially the stoning that was allowed, culturally, in this situation,
But after he had considered this, verse 20 an angel of the Lord appeared to him
The story opens with the headline that God has fulfilled his promise to send a king, the Messiah,
Mary is found to be pregnant miraculously,
And now an angel, a messenger from God, appears to Joseph, and speaks to him, Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
When I was born, my parents announced it with a notice in the “Births” section of the newspaper.
When my kids were born we sent a text message to our friends,
These days I think you announce a birth with an Instagram photo, nicely filtered so mum doesn’t look like she’s been through hours of discomfort and agony!
But an angel from God announcing the birth?!
Can you see how desperately Matthew the eye-witness historian wants us to see that God is in control of his world?
Christmas is about a God who acts in the world that he’s made.
I met a lady once who told me that she didn’t celebrate “Hallmark occasions”;,
Father’s Day, anything for which you’d buy a card
She was absolutely convinced, that the Hallmark Greeting Card Company, had invented Christmas, as a means of making money.
Matthew the historian tells us that Christmas exists because God wanted to do something.
God had something to say.
God is in control of his world.
If you’ve been following the news this past week or so, or really doing anything other than living under a rock,
You’ll know that lots of people, have felt that in these days, God has lost control,
Our Prime Minister called this last week “trying days for our country”, but Matthew wants us to be assured, that God is in control of his world.
This map shows us a problem: Sin
See the problem we face,
The reason we see a world filled with hurt and brokenness, is not because God isn’t in control, but because each and every one of us, wants to be in control.
Look with me there at verse 21, where the angel from God tells us what our problem is.
She Mary, will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
I realise that speaking about sin can really put a bit of a dampener on Christmas!
And I don’t know what comes to mind when you hear that word “sin”, maybe something you’ve done in your life, maybe something someone else has done to you,
But it’s actually much more basic than that,
The Bible’s says sin is considering ourselves independent from God,
Living in the world that God made, without any reference to God,
Sin is saying to God, “I will be in control, and you will keep your distance.”
Some of you know that I love the story of Leonard Casley, a wheat farmer from a place called Hutt River in Western Australia.
On April 21st 1970 Leonard had had enough of Australia telling him what to do, and so he declared independence from Australia,
And he turned his wheat farm into a country all of its own, which is now called “the Principality of Hutt River”, controlled by Their Royal Highnesses, Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley!
You see back in 1969, the Commonwealth government introduced some laws that Leonard didn’t like.
He wanted to be in control, and so he declared independence. He says, “Prince Leonard is in control, who cares what the Australian government says!”
And all us Aussies say, “Good on him!” Because sometimes we’d also like to tell the government to go jump!
But can you hear what Matthew says?
That desire to be in control,
When we say to God, “I’m in charge, not you.”
“I’ll decide what’s right and wrong, not you”
That sin as the Bible calls it, is something that we need saving from.
The desire to be in control, to push God to the edge of our lives and beyond, we need to be saved from that!
See Matthew offers us a worldview, a map for life, that says, “our world is broken”,
We aren’t all basically good,
Humanity isn’t getting inherently better with each subsequent generation,
We have a problem!
We need a saviour!
See what Matthew’s map has on it, that the prevailing worldview of our day doesn’t, is sin.
We declare independence from God,
We throw off God’s pattern for life,
We say, “My way’s much better than your way, God”, and then we wonder, why we hurt,
Why there’s so much pain and suffering.
Matthew’s map says there’s a problem, and we need someone who can save us.
you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
As you look towards 2015, I mean, we had some surprises in 2014, didn’t we?,
2 Malaysia Airline disasters,
Boko Harem in Nigeria,
The tragedies of the last 10 days,
As we look towards next year, don’t you want this on your map?
Don’t you want your map to accurately reflect, the things you see with your own eyes, and experience, in your very being?
You know how frustrating it is, to type something into your GPS, into Google Maps, and it can’t find it, it has no record of what you want!
We feel ripped off!
How much more frustrating, perilous even, if your map for life can’t explain what you need it to.
Matthew’s map shows us the problem that we see around us, but fortunately he also tells us the solution!
The solution to our problem has arrived
you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
I’m not sure if you know what your name means.
Darren who was up here before, his name means “great”!
My name, Clayton, means “someone who comes from a town built on clay”!
But let me say, I live here in Littlehampton, and Littlehampton clay bricks are famous all around Australia, so how appropriate!
I am living up to my name!
See Jesus also, is a name that needs to be lived up to.
You’ll notice, that there in verse 21, alongside the name Jesus, there’s a little footnote that tells us, Jesus means “the Lord saves.”
Christmas is about the arrival of a saviour.
As Matthew’s gospel, his biography of Jesus, goes on, we learn that sin has a penalty, a cost. We can’t reject God, and hurt other people, and expect to get off scott-free.
The penalty for sin is death; spiritual death, and separation from God and his blessings forever,
But as Matthew goes on to show us, Jesus steps into our place, and takes the penalty that we deserve, dying in our place, so we don’t have to be separated from God forever.
The internet was almost brought to its knees this week, by a video of a monkey. 2 monkeys actually, at a train station in India. You know how these things go, someone takes a video on their mobile phone, a hundred million people watch it while sitting at their desks, costing the world’s economy half a billion dollars in lost productivity!
But one monkey got zapped walking along power lines, and he falls onto the railway tracks, unconscious!
His monkey friend, no thought for his own safety, leaps onto the tracks, putting his own life at risk, drags the unconscious one out the way, and starts whacking him until he regains consciousness!, All the while, in great danger himself.
Friends, listen carefully, because I imagine this is the only time I am ever going to say this in my life, Jesus is like the monkey!
A saviour, with no thought for his own-well being,
Puts his own life on the line.
Except, of course, we know for Jesus it did cost him his life.
Let’s make no mistake, how serious sin is.
Your polite rebellion against God,
My desire to be in control, cost this baby, his life.
you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
This map shows us our purpose: Relationship with God
But Matthew gives us another critical piece of the map, that makes sense of what we see, and experience, and know to be true, and that is, each one of us is given purpose and significance, because God wants a relationship with us.
Look with me from verse 22 if you will, All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Matthew’s map for life, says God created you for relationship with himself, and he so longs for that relationship, that he broke into the world that first Christmas, and came to be with his people.
This other name that Jesus is given; Immanuel, it means God is with us!
It means, God himself has turned up.
It means that as well as dealing with the problem of sin which keeps us out of relationship with God, he turns up, to really make relationship possible.
30 years ago, a young Australian Air Force fighter pilot, named Ian Davidson, who was part of my church in Darwin, went out on a routine night training mission, and never returned. No trace of him or his Mirage 3 fighter was ever found.
At Ian’s funeral, someone read the poem High Flight by John Magee junior, himself a World War 2 fighter pilot.
You probably know the first and last lines,
"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth –,
Put out my hand, and touched the Face of God."
Maybe you’ve wanted to do that!
Maybe you wish that God would come near,
Maybe that if God were to make himself known to you, that would answer any question of purpose of significance you could ever have.
Maybe the thought of being able to, touch the face of God, would make all the difference in the world.
Of course, we can’t touch God, but some people did!
God turned up.
God came to be, with us.
The wriggling bundle in the manger, is God come to be with us.
There’s a pastor in Washington DC, who every Christmas, just rides around for hours on the subway, singing Christmas carols
Some of the commuters love it!
Some hate it!
Some push their earphones even more deeply into their ears so they don’t have to listen to songs about “goodwill to men.”
But as I read the media coverage, People were saying things like, “How can that pastor possibly claim to know what God wants,
What pleases God,
What God is like?”,
Well, here’s the answer, isn’t it?
We can have absolute confidence that we know what God wants,
What pleases God,
What God is like,
Because God himself turned up that first Christmas, and offered himself in relationship.
they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Noel Coward was an English playwright and director. He was once asked what he thought of God. And Coward replied, “God?, We’ve never been properly introduced.”
Well, Matthew says, “Actually, yes, we have.”
Look at the lengths God goes to, in order for us to know him, and fulfil our purpose being in relationship with him.
Do we need to scratch out some significance in our few years, only to be forgotten forever, as the celebrity atheists tell us?
Is the longing for some purpose greater than simply passing on my DNA to the next generation, is that just an illusion?
No, Matthew says, we were made for relationship,
And so God himself turns up.
The test of a worldview, a map for life, is how well it explains what we see and experience,
It can’t just leave bits off, that we know to be true.
The story of Christmas offers us a map, that says there is a problem, the world is broken,
We need a saviour.
Matthew’s map also gives us the solution; Jesus came to save his people from their sins
My mobile phone died last week. Of course the first thing I do when something I’ve got is broken, I turn it off and on again!
Everyone knows that!
That’s “Fixing stuff 101”!
But of course, God couldn’t do that, with the world, broken by sin and rebellion, he can’t just turn it off and on again.
He gets much more involved,
When God’s world is broken, he steps into it himself.
I don’t know if you tune in diligently every year, to watch the Queen’s Christmas message, but back in 2011, she said this:
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves - from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
God with us,
The God who created us, longing to be with the ones he made, infusing an unmistakable and undeniable value and purpose, into every life.
A God who gets involved.
A God who offers himself,
The question is, what do we do in response?
I heard once of a primary school teacher in the US, who was teaching her class about the Declaration of Independence . and she passed a copy of it around, saying “this is a document that talks about what it means to be American”
And most of the class knew a bit about it,
They knew the signatures of the founding fathers at the bottom.
But one boy, Antonio, had only recently arrived in the US, from Italy, this was the first time he’d seen the Declaration of Independence, and so when it was passed to him, he studied it carefully, and read every word, and then took out his pen, and very seriously added his name to the list of signatures on the bottom.
I’m part of this.
I want what this brings.
Well friends that’s the offer of Christmas.
If you don’t know what it means for Jesus to be your saviour, to take the penalty for sin that you deserve,
If can’t say for sure that you know the God who turned up at Christmas, I’d love to give you one of these, it’s the whole of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life.
Come and see me, I’d love you to have this as our gift to you, and to help you talk about any questions you might have.
We’d love you to have this.