Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Line in Time Yes and No

It was almost as if someone had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said this was then and this is now.  There has never been an event in the history of man that has so defined human history as the birth of Jesus. 
That single solitary event has shaped the world like no other event.  It has shaped how the world is viewed and how people are viewed.    This month, in most countries in the world, literally billions of people will gather to celebrate, to various degrees, the symbolic birth date of a child who was born to an unknown couple in an obscure village over 2000 years ago. 
His birth shaped and molded the culture of countries that were unknown to the people of Bethlehem 2000 years ago.   Canada and the US are what they are today because a baby was born in a stable two millennium ago.   Even most of those who deny the existence of the Jesus will in some way take the time to commemorate his birth on December 25th, even if it’s only by taking a day off work and eating turkey.  You don’t see Atheists jumping up and down demanding to not have Christmas day off.  And if they offer to work because they don’t “Believe” in Christmas they gladly accept the time and a half they will be paid for working on the Christmas they don’t believe in. 
When we use phrases like “the prodigal son” “turn the other cheek” and “The blind leading the blind” we are quoting the one who was born that day two thousand years ago.  When we espouse values like “Do unto others” and speak of the “Golden Rule” we are sharing the teaching of the Christ Child.  And as I have said before every time we write the date, even without adding the AD, Anno Domini, we are saying this happened this number of years since Jesus was born. 
And that line in time wasn’t just drawn at any time, it was drawn at just the right time, Paul writes in Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  The right time?  There are all kinds of reasons why the time that Jesus was born was the right time. 
God could have chosen any time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to be birth, and he chose a specific spot on the time line of history.
According to historians there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two hundred year juncture of history known as The Pax Romana, the Roman Peach.  New Testament Scholar and Historian E. J. Goodspeed notes: “This was the pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome.”
The Roman Peace had spread across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions. For the first time roadways connected points across the known world. 
But it went beyond simple transportation and incorporated communication as well.  Instead of having to learn a multitude of languages and dialects it was only necessary to know one.  Greek was the common language, a reminder of Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.   
It was not a coincidence that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history it was no accident that Christianity came when it did. The birth of Christ didn’t happen on a whim.
Last week we looked at the line that was created for Mary and Joseph, how when they accepted the challenge that was given them regarding the birth of Jesus that their lives changed radically.  And it was a choice, God wouldn’t have forced them to say yes to what was being proposed, last Sunday after the service someone pondered if perhaps there was another “Mary” in the wings in case the first one said “no”.  But Mary didn’t say no, instead in complete trust and in spite of all the obstacles she would face we read the words of Mary in Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
And it was almost as if someone had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said this was then and this is now. 
At the heart of this story we discover humanity divided into two groups, and those two groups exist today and each one of us belongs to one of those two groups.  Don’t you love it when something can be reduced to the very basics?  There are not a hundred choices from which we have to choose, not fifty or even twenty or ten.  Just two.
And so the first group we become acquainted with Those who said “No” To Jesus.  I suppose there is an honour of sorts to be the first person to reject Christ.
The innkeeper is really the first villain in the story.  I mean what type of person would turn away a pregnant lady who was as the King James Version puts it was “Great with Child”? That’s the polite way of saying that Mary was a big as a house.
We often think of the Inn with a big no vacancy sign flashing in the window, but it wasn’t that there wasn’t room in the inn, that isn’t what the scripture says.  Listen again to Luke’s account, Luke 2:6-7 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 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.
Did you catch that?  The bible doesn’t tell us that there was no lodging available, what it does tell us is that there wasn’t any lodging available in the inn for them, and there is a difference
If we take that to its logical conclusion the assumption is that while there wasn’t lodging for them there was lodging for others.
Perhaps the innkeeper was keeping the room in case he received a better offer, maybe he knew that as more and more people arrived in Bethlehem for the census that any vacant rooms would become a commodity.  You think how pricey even the most modest of rooms become when there is a special event in town, in just a couple of months the price of a room in Sochi Russia will skyrocket when the Olympics arrive.  And so perhaps the Innkeeper was just hedging his bets, it wasn’t a personal decision, just an economic one.
And it wasn’t that they were asking for the room for nothing.  Again we often mix up tradition with actual facts.  We have been conditioned from years of Christmas specials and Christmas cards to perceive the home that Christ was born into was one of poverty, and that probably wasn’t the case.
Joseph wasn’t poor, he was a carpenter, a tradesman, he wouldn’t have been wealthy but I’m sure that he wouldn’t have been considered destitute in that day and age.  I’m sure that when Joseph gathered up Mary and headed for Bethlehem he probably came prepared they weren’t looking for charity.  But perhaps greed on the innkeeper’s part meant that the room was priced well out of their reach.
And as unfortunate as they may have been at least it would have simply been a business decision in contrast to the other option.
Maybe he just didn’t want their type there, maybe he has something again people from Nazareth.  “Sorry we don’t have room for you people.”
 Were they “You peoples”?  Apparently for some folks they were. Do you remember the story found in the first chapter of John’s gospel when the apostles were first gathering around Jesus?  The story is found in John 1:45 – 46.  We actually referenced it last week as well,  John 1:45-46 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
So perhaps the innkeeper just didn’t like folks from Nazareth.  You might be wondering how he knew where they were from.  There is a hint found a life time later when Jesus has been arrested, you might recall that Peter is warming himself outside of where Jesus was being questioned and he finds himself being accused of being one of Christ’s followers.  A charge he denies, and then we read this Matthew 26:73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
Peter was from the same area as Joseph and Mary and ultimately Jesus.  Never actually think of Jesus having an accent do we?  From the movies we assume that if Jesus had an accent it was either British or American.  That was what we technically refer to in preaching as a tangent.
Or maybe they just didn’t want a lady who was obviously about to go into labour in one of their rooms, there was the entire “plenty of hot water and clean sheets” thing, the potential for a mess and not to mention all the screaming that might disturb other guests, transitional labour is nothing to laugh at.  And Mary couldn’t even yell at Joseph, “You will never touch me again”.
We don’t know why there was no room for them in the inn but we do know is that the innkeeper would not be the last person to reject Christ.  And today when Jesus is rejected it’s just like at the inn it’s not because there is no room in the person’s life instead there is no room for Christ in their life.
There’s room for all kinds of things, career, family, habits, ambition and maybe even religion but not for Jesus.
And sometimes it’s because a person really doesn’t want to pay the cost, and sometimes they are hoping a better offer will come along and sometimes they are just playing a long shot that they can live like hell and still make it into heaven.
And there are others who don’t simply say no and turn their back on Christ but are vehemently opposed to all he teaches and all he stands for. 

The first Christmas that person was represented by King Herod, who wasn’t really a King but was kind of a puppet Governor whom the Romans let rule over a small portion of Palestine.  But it was his portion of Palestine and he was insanely suspicious, with the emphasis on the insane part of that statement, suspicious of those he thought were a threat to his rule.  History tells us that he had his wife, mother in law and two sons murdered because he thought they were trying to oust him, and maybe they were but it was Caesar himself who commented “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.”  Which was a lot more poetic in the Greek where the word for Pig was Hus and for Son was Huios.  And so when he heard of the birth of the one who would be the Messiah he asked the Magi to let him know where he could find the child. 

Instead after being warned in a dream they skipped Jerusalem on the way home, and the horror of the Christmas story is revealed in where we read Matthew 2:16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him.

Herod sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.  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 families. 
And so there are those who aren’t content to say “no” to Jesus but they are evangelistic in their desire that nobody else will say “yes” either.
But along with those who said no to Jesus there were also Those who said “Yes” To Jesus
When we read the Christmas story we often focus on the fact that there was no room in the inn, however there was room in the stable.  And the stable did belong to somebody, and that somebody allowed Mary and Joseph to move in, perhaps just for the night, maybe longer.  We don’t know how long they stayed in the stable.  Long enough for Jesus to be born, long enough for the shepherds to visit, but apparently they moved out before the Magi got there because Matthew tells us in his account that the Magi visited the child in a house.   
You gotta figure that at some point a woman became involved.  “You put her where?”  “Well you march yourself right out there and invite them in while I get the spare room ready.”
A couple of things, the offer of the stable would have been commendable if that was all they had. Seriously, if whoever owned it said “I don’t have room anywhere else but there is the stable.” And they went out and prepared it and cleaned it up and made Mary and Joseph comfortable. 
But it would have been a different kettle of fish if they had something better and all they offered was the stable.  That would have been a completely different story and it would have had to do with motives. 
Christ explains the same principle in a very familiar story found in the gospel of Mark, perhaps you are familiar with the story, Jesus is standing at the back of the temple next to the offering box and a widow drops in two small coins and we pick up the story in Mark 12:43-44 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
It’s the same in our lives the same gift can be given and for one person it is a sacrifice and for another it is just a bauble.  When we were preparing to build this building the theme of our capital campaign was “Not equal giving but equal sacrifice” and that is still what we are called to do today.
Regardless of why Jesus and his family ended up in the stable it did serve a couple of purposes.  And again it is wise to remember Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
If you remember the story, the first people invited to come to Jesus were the shepherds and we have to assume that they would have felt a lot more comfortable and felt a lot more welcome coming to a stable than coming into an inn or a private home.
“Mort, there are a bunch of shepherds at the door; they say they’re here to see the baby.”  And I’m sure that whoever said that would have sounded like Howard’s Mother.  And not only that but how inconsiderate would it have been for God to have brought a bunch of shepherds into someone’s house with all of the mess and inconvenience that would have involved.
The shepherds were apparently an important part of the Christmas story, and God made it easy for them to take part.
I think the story of the first Christmas is all about the fact that Jesus is accessible to all people.  There is something about his humble birth that says, He is there for all of us. 
Often, not always but often, those born to a privileged life never understand those who are less fortunate than they are, even if their fortune was an accident of birth.  We all remember Marie Antoinette’s comment when she was told that the peasants were upset because they had no bread, “If they have no bread than let them eat cake.” 
Actually if you go a little deeper you discover that when that comment was first reported Marie Antoinette was 10 years old and living in Austria, and while we don’t know for sure who said it historians feel that is was probably Maria Therese of Spain the wife of King Louise XIV of France.  That was free, just another one of those educational services that Cornerstone provides.
And so Christ began his life not at the top of the economic and social ladder but at the bottom.
But it wasn’t only the shepherds who came to worship Jesus that first Christmas, The Magi Showed up as well.  Matthew 2:1-11 Records the story of the wise men, and we really don’t know much about them at all, but we do know that their belief cost them something.  We don’t know where they came from, how long they had been travelling, how many there were or where they went afterwards.  They glide into the story, present their gifts and then just as quietly they disappear.

If we listen to tradition we can learn all about them, their numbers were three, they were kings, and tradition even knows their names, their ages and what they looked like.  And if we were to choose to pay the fee we could even see their bones in the shrine behind the high altar in the Cathedral in Cologne Germany.  But of course those are just traditions.

However little that we know of the wise men we do know that they came from a great distance bearing their gifts of love.  They brought Gold, frankincense and myrrh, but greater than any of those gifts was the fact that they brought themselves.
It is interesting to note and perhaps to ponder on that Christ began his life born in a stable that belonged to someone else and ended his life buried in a tomb that belonged to someone else. 
Let’s end this morning with a quote from William Barclay who wrote “That there was no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the over-crowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search--and his rejection--go on.” 
And so this Christmas the question is the same as it was on that first Christmas morning over 2000 years ago:  Will you make room for Jesus?  Will your answer be “Yes” or “No”?  Where will you stand in relation to that line that was drawn 2000 year ago?

No comments: