A Sermon for:
A Service of Nine Readings & Carols
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7; Isaiah 40:1-2, 9; Micah 5:2-4; Matthew 1:18-22;
Luke 1:26-33, 38; Luke 2:1-7; Luke 2:8-14; Matthew 2:1-12; John 1:1-14
There are some people in life who appear to have it all together. They know exactly what they want out of life, and they appear to be progressing very nicely towards their goal. In contrast, there are others who appear to live life without purpose. People who don’t know what they want to do, or where they are going. And in the middle – perhaps the majority – are people who seem to travel along the journey of life in stops and starts. Sometimes being enthused and inspired, whilst other times grinding to a complete halt.
Now wherever you are in life, I’m sure that at times a bit of guidance wouldn’t come amiss. And not just any guidance, but divine guidance that is clear and unmistakeable. Like a voice calling out from above, or a large hand appearing from the clouds pointing the way.
And if that’s you – wanting some kind of inspiration and guidance – then I would suggest that the clues on how to get it are in the all too familiar story of the first Christmas.
B. DIVINE GUIDANCE
1. Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
After all, doesn’t the nativity story start with a girl of about 12 years of age, who suddenly, without any warning, becomes faced with an angel? And what the angel did was to map out exactly what was going to happen to her next.
She was to have a baby – a baby conceived through the Holy Spirit. The baby was going to be God’s son, and king of his people. But her child was not just going to be any king. No, her son was to rule in eternity.
2. Joseph (1) (Matthew 1:18-25)
Next in the story, of course, is Joseph, Mary’s fiancé. A man probably somewhere between 19 and 30 years of age.
And Joseph, realising that Mary was unmarried and pregnant, was wrestling with the knowledge of the public shame and disgrace that that would bring. Now he too was visited by an angel. And the angel told him the place that God had for him in his plans as well.
He was told to marry Mary, regardless of her condition, and he was to name the baby Jesus. And it was very important that he did this, because Jesus’ role in life would be to save his people from their sins.
3. The Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)
Now talk about divine direction! But it doesn’t end there. Because next we find ourselves in the fields with the shepherds, who were guarding their flocks, at night, from thieves and wild animals.
And for them divine guidance was received twice over. Because, firstly they were visited by an angel, who told them to go to Bethlehem, to see the Messiah that had been born. And then secondly, by way of confirmation of what they had been told was true, they were suddenly surrounded by a heavenly host singing praises to God.
4. The Wise Men (Matthew 2: 1-2)
And meanwhile, some distance away to the east, there were some wise men – students of the stars – who had been studying a strange phenomenon in the sky. A phenomenon they believed meant a great leader had been born. So they followed the star to Judea.
Now at some stage they probably got side-tracked into going to Jerusalem (because isn’t that where an important person should be born?). But after being directed on by Herod to Bethlehem, they found the star again, and followed it until it stopped over the place where the baby lay.
5. Joseph (2) (Matthew 2:13-15)
Then once the wise men had left, Joseph received a second visit from an angel. However this time it was not good news.
Herod was out to get Jesus – to kill him. Herod was fearful that the baby Jesus was a threat to his own throne. So, as a consequence, Joseph accepted the instruction of the angel, and headed off with Mary and the baby to Egypt where they would be safe.
So, looking for a bit of inspiration, a bit of divine guidance in life? A voice calling out of the clouds? A large hand pointing the way? Oh wouldn’t it be lovely if things were as simple as that? As simple as the divine guidance that was given to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men.
C. WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE?
So the question we should probably ask is, “What sort of people were Mary and the rest? What was so special about them that they received such clear and precise direction from God? Were they rich? Were they powerful? Were they influential people? Or were they ordinary people like you and me?”
1. Ordinary People
Well, for the main part, they were just ordinary people. Mary and Joseph may have had important people in their family trees, but they were not rich or important themselves. Indeed Joseph was a lowly carpenter, and Mary and Joseph had to contend with all the normal struggles of life – the same as anyone else.
The shepherds too, would not have been rich or powerful either. Indeed around that time being a shepherd was considered one of the lowliest types of jobs that you could do. So there was nothing very special about them either.
Only the wise men would have been people of wealth and influence. And their wealth and power is indicated by the presents they brought – of gold, incense and myrrh.
2. People of Faith
What made them all special though – was that that they were all people of faith, or were people who were looking for God.
a). Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Mary was a girl who had found favour with God, presumably because of her strong faith in God. She was God’s willing servant. And that is indicated by her willingness to be used by God – to become pregnant – with all the social ramifications that that would bring. She was only too willing to be God’s instrument in history.
b). Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25 & 2:13-18)
Joseph showed his faith – by sticking with Mary – regardless of the public consequences. He was obedient to the request of the angel, despite the public disgrace of Mary’s pregnancy.
Furthermore, when told of the danger to the baby’s life by Herod, he again showed his faith, by not hesitating, but setting out immediately with wife and child, and escaping to safety in Egypt.
c). Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)
The shepherds meanwhile – would have had a strong religious background. They would have been waiting for the Messiah. So when they heard the message of the angel that the Messiah had come, they did as they were told, and went looking for the baby.
d). The Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-2)
And the wise men? Well, we really don’t know much about them at all. But what we do know is that they were open to divine guidance. They were looking for a king, but not just any earthly king. They were looking for a divine king. A king they intended to worship – who they recognised was somehow “king of the Jews”
Envious eyes!!! Yes, we can all look on Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men with envious eyes. They were all given clear and precise direction by God to the direction he wanted each of them to take. And wouldn’t life be so much easier if things were like that for us too?
So what can we learn about divine guidance from the Christmas story? What sort of things should we be looking at, when we are seeking divine guidance?
Well, it seems to me that there are three things about the story of the nativity that we should consider.
1. People of Faith
And the first is, as I’ve just said, that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men, were all people of faith to some degree. All were either devout believers, or were earnestly seeking God,
As a consequence, when we are looking to God for guidance, perhaps we should ask ourselves: “Do we approach him from the perspective of faith? Or do we do so without first having made any real commitment to him at all?”
That doesn’t mean to say that God cannot and will not help people who don’t believe or give him his due – there are plenty of examples in the Bible to say that he can and does. However, asking from the perspective of faith is surely a much surer way of receiving divine guidance.
2. Pointing to the Messiah
Secondly, all the revelations – the several appearances of angels, the heavenly host, and the star – all pointed to one thing: God’s salvation work: the reconciliation of people with their creator, through God’s son who was to be born into the world.
Consequently, when we look for divine guidance, perhaps we should ask ourselves: “Do we approach God from the perspective of what he wants us to do, in pointing our lives and others towards Jesus? Or do we seek God’s guidance based on our own wants and desires?”
3. Willingness to Serve
And, thirdly all those in the story who received divine guidance had one thing in common. That is, they had an openness to accept the guidance given – and to be led by God, no matter where that would take them.
And that is in complete contrast to some of the other characters in the bible. Including two people whose stories with God begin with very rocky starts. Because Moses came up with every excuse why he shouldn’t do what God asked of him, and Jonah just ran away.
No! Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Wise men responded immediately to God. There were no ifs, buts, or maybes. No delaying committee meetings. They set out on their journeys, and they did what they were asked, even though none of them really knew where their journey with God would take them. They stepped out anyway. And they trusted that God would continue to encourage and guide them every step of the way.
So when we are looking for divine guidance, perhaps we should ask ourselves: “Are we approaching God from the perspective of being a person of faith, or are we someone who has made no real commitment to him at all? Does the guidance we seek focus on God, and the salvation wrought by Jesus, or is centred on our wants and desires? And are we willing to carry out our part in God’s plan – whatever that might be, or do we want to be able to pick and choose, dependent upon how comfortable we are with what he wants us to do?”
Now without doubt the first Christmas was a very special occasion. And it should be expected that the people involved would need to have been given special direction. Consequently, it may be unrealistic for us to expect visits from angels, or heavenly hosts, or stars to follow, as we seek God’s guidance.
Nevertheless, if we want to receive guidance from God, then perhaps it shouldn’t be unreasonable to request guidance from the perspective of faith, from the perspective of how we are to be part of the continuing story of salvation, and with an attitude of willingness to carry out our part in God’s plan – whatever that might be.
So, for those whose lives seem perfect, or for those who find life a struggle, or even for those whose life’s journeys are a series of stops and starts, the story of the first Christmas should be an inspiration for us all.
Indeed, the way God intervened in history with the birth of the Messiah, with the guidance and direction for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men is something we should all consider. And it certainly should give us something to think about for our own inspiration and guidance, well and truly after the Christmas season is over. And well after all the tinsel and trees are put away.
Posted: 19th December 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis