Happy New Year! Has anyone already messed up a check writing 2019 instead of 2020? I haven’t yet, but there is something I hope we do carry over into 2020. Carrying ChristMass into the entire new year has huge potential for us. I’m going to be right “out-front” with my goal today. This is my last chance to impress on you the peace, power, and fulfillment available for you in this new year of 2020 if you will live ChristMass all year through. In today’s gospel, we heard the story of the Wise Men and their visit to Jesus. This episode in the lives of the Holy Family provides a perfect summary of ChristMass principles for us. As you recall, here’s what happened. There were some (remember, the Bible doesn’t tell how many) astrologers from the East (probably Persia, actually probably Baghdad- the present capital of Iraq) who saw an unusual star (or comet) that signified to them the birth of a new king. They dropped everything they were doing, left home and homeland, endured the rigors of travel for more-or-less two years, and because of that star- went to Jerusalem, where they had a conference with King Herod. The king had his Bible scholars study the scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament- the New Testament hadn’t been written yet) to see where this new king would be born. When the scholars said “Bethlehem,” Heod told the Wise Men to go search for the new-child-king, and come back so he could worship this new king also. As the Wise Men approached Bethlehem, the star stopped over the house where the child was. They saw Mary and Jesus in the house. They knelt down and worshipped Jesus, then gave him three gifts- gold (Jesus is King), frankincense (Jesus is Lord), and myrrh (Jesus is Savior). Then they were warned in a dream to avoid King Herod, but go home another way. When Herod figured out he had been tricked by the Wise Men, he was furious. At that point, it became obvious Herod considered King Jesus a threat to his throne and had intended, not to worship him, but to do away with him. To be sure Jesus did not survive, Herod ordered his soldiers to kill all Jewish boys two years and younger- which, he assumed would automatically get rid of the “Jesus threat.” Herod should have known there’s no point in fighting against God, because his plan didn’t work. Joseph was warned in a dream to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt. Now that’s what really happened. Now my question to you is- how is this story a wonderful summary of the ChristMass principles?
FIRST, LET’S LOOK AT TIME. Remember the innkeeper who had no room for the Holy Family in their time of crisis? He is the person NOT to imitate. Instead, be like the Wise Men in today’s episode. What’s the basic difference between the two? The innkeeper made no room for Jesus in his life. The Wise Men did. It took a long time to follow that star and travel by foot or camel or some other animal from Baghdad to Bethlehem. (They are 547 miles apart.) Yet, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves admiring the Wise Men, but living like the Innkeeper. We get so busy, busy, busy- that we squeeze God out of our lives. We don’t intend to- we just do. How is it possible to read Forward Day by Day and maybe the accompanying Bible passages, pray each morning and evening and before meals, and reach out to others? I’ll tell you how- discipline yourself to give God his time first. A father was trying to convince his high school son that he had time for his homework. The father got a gallon jar and filled it with large rocks, then asked his son if it was full. “Sure is!” said the son- that’s how my life is before I have my homework done. So the father took some medium sized rocks and added them. “ Full now?” asked the father? “Now it’s full,” answered his son. You know what happened next, the father added small rocks, then gravel, and finally water. “That’s how you organize your life, son,” said the father. You put the big important things in first. Good advice! Take care of your responsibilities to God first: church, Bible reading, prayer, and let the other things fit as they may. Your life will have power like you wouldn’t believe possible. It was Martin Luther who said that the busier his day, the more important it was that he start it with prayer- true. So don’t be like the Innkeeper, be like the Wise Men who made time in their busy lives for Jesus.
SECOND, DON’T BE STINGY. Again be like the Wise Men who traveled all that way to worship Jesus and give him gifts. Be like them- give quality gifts- like yourself, your time, your talent, your treasure- i.e. you. Stop and think- when’s the last time you helped someone you don’t even know- a stranger, a neighbor, even an enemy? If you can’t think of the last time- what’s wrong here? Remember, the only way we can really give a gift to Jesus anyway is to help someone in need. Do you recall his words from Matthew 25: “Whatever you do for the least of these, my sisters or brothers, you do for me”. And when you give, don’t just give the leftovers. That poem I told you about ages ago that I learned as a little girl applies here. As you remember, it goes: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give him a lamb. If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part. What can I give him? I’ll give him my heart” (Christina Rosetti). Have you given Jesus your heart, your whole self? Now’s a good time to start the year giving your whole self to Jesus.
THIRD, NOTHING CAN STOP GOD’S PLAN! Do you believe this? Today’s Bible episode provides one more example of this truth. Notice how nothing could kill Jesus or turn him around until he had finished his mission of dying and rising for us? Not the power of King Herod nor the strength of his soldiers; not even Herod’s lying mouth and scheming plans - because no one can defeat God’s purposes. Justice will prevail. Remember Dr. Tony Evan’s statement, “It’s worth waiting on God, because when He moves, He moves well!” Here’s a story by an anonymous author that illustrates this principle. One day a farmer's donkey fell into an abandoned well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway; so it just wasn't worth it to him to try to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They each grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. Realizing what was happening, the donkey at first cried and wailed horribly. Then, a few shovels full later, he quieted down completely. The farmer peered down into the well, and was astounded by what he saw. With every shovelful of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up on the new layer of dirt. This continued until the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off, to the shock and astonishment of all the neighbors! Look friends, life is going to throw dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The smarter you are, the higher your goals, the more committed you are to the Lord- just be ready- the more dirt you can expect. The trick is- don’t let the devil’s dirt bury you in depression or frustration or just giving up. God is in charge and you can do it! Just shake off that dirt every time it hits and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a potential stepping-stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up. As with the Holy Family, so it is with us- nothing can stop God’s plan but ourselves. Justice wins every time- you can outsmart evil just like the wise old donkey did; just like the Wise Men did.
FINALLY, GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU. Did you notice how God provided for the Holy Family? Maybe toddler Jesus would have preferred toys or clothes, but how do you think Joseph provided for his family in the unknown land of Egypt? Probably with the fabulously expensive gold and frankincense and myrrh from the Wise Men.
So, don’t be like the Innkeeper, be like the Wise Men. Put the large stones, the important things- i.e. God in your jar of life first. The Bible promises you, everything else will fall into place perfectly. Again- be like the Wise Men- don’t be stingy. Share the highest quality of gift possible- yourself. Next, remember the donkey and never give up. Do right and trust God. Justice will prevail. Finally, remember God’s care of the Holy Family. If you are on God’s side, nothing can defeat you. You do your part and God will provide. Happy New Year! Let’s live 2020 for Jesus, justice, and compassion.