This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
This might seem like a rather dull opening to a book. When you are writing you usually want some kind of bang, or hook to draw people into the story you are telling. Something that will get them to turn the page, invest in the story you are telling.
But here in Matthew’s account of the coming of Jesus we begin with a long and lets be honest a slightly dull list of names - a genealogy.
Ok, time to be honest - who here has got to Matthew, looked at the names and just skipped over them? I know I have from time to time when reading this part of the story. But the truth is these names are important because it ties the birth of Jesus into a bigger story - one that has been working itself out over a very long time, and one which God has been invested in for ages.
This “boring” introduction reminds us that
This is BIG news - this is GOOD news and today I invite you to remember that the birth of Jesus is part of God’s plan to bring you home. This Christmas you are invited home…will you come in?
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”--
I’ve never surfed, but from what I understand, apart from a lot of falling off and practicing - to really enjoy surfing you have to prepare for it. Be ready for the right waves, have your board properly prepared and be in the right place in your mind to focus on feeling the wave beneath you, shutting out all other distractions that might cause you to fall.
Advent is a time of preparation - a time when we get ready for what God is doing, a time when we remember what God has done. A time when we prepare ourselves not just to hear the message of Jesus birth but respond to it.
How prepared are you to hear this good news?
Have you done all you can? Have you prayed? Listen to God’s voice, waiting upon God?
We are almost at Christmas and today I’d like to invite you to set aside some time, 10 minutes, 15 or maybe more to prepare yourself for what God might say to you in these final days before Christmas.
Don’t read any more, just go and find a quiet place and be willing to listen, and as Dave said yesterday who prepared are you to respond?
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God ... ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’
There are four books of the life of Jesus in the Bible. Only two Matthew and Luke take us back to the familiar stories of his birth with Mary and Joseph, Angels, Shepherds and Wise Men and a baby in a manger. John’s telling of Jesus life begins way further back and on a grander stage than a stable - to “the beginning”, describing Jesus as one “through whom all things were made” (John 1v3).
Mark misses out stories of creation and Jesus’ birth. Yet, the first words he wrote - “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah” - reminds us of something important about Christmas. It’s only a beginning!
Christmas can be like one of the rounds on the TV Show a “Question of Sport” where they stop the clip and ask “what happens next?” We get caught up in the lights, and gift giving; the parties and special meals with families. We enjoy watching the children act out the nativity at school and church – often is creative and spontaneous ways! And the words of the traditional carols have a lovely warm familiarity about them.
But it’s just the beginning. There’s a whole lot more of Jesus’ life to explore! And it’s an amazing life to get caught up in – “good news” for our lives, and let’s be honest we could all do with some of that at the moment!
So, this Christmas, as it comes to an end what is it going to be? Freeze frame. Wait till next Christmas and rewind to watch it all over again. Or just the beginning, preparation to begin exploring the life of Jesus – “good news” not just for Christmas but for the whole of the year and life! This Christmas, respond! Come and find out “what happens next” by joining “Christianity Explored” starting February and discover more of Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus beyond the baby in the manger.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel”
What kind of sign gets your attention? Maybe it’s a sign that there are speed cameras on that stretch of road, or perhaps it’s a Sale sign that catches your eye as you walk round the shops looking for presents. Signs are designed to draw our attention to something important.
God, in exasperation with his wayward people tells them to look for a sign- a sign that his rescue package was on the way. And yet it wasn’t the most eye-catching sign. I mean young women get pregnant all the time! What was so different about this one?
Well apart from the fact that she was a virgin- not immediately apparent to the casual on-looker- it was her baby that was important; Immanuel- God with us. This baby, and the nature of his conception were a sign of something so miraculous that two thousand years on we are still struggling to comprehend it. God, the perfect, holy maker of the universe, chose to be with us, not just by standing near us, but, by entering into our existence himself. ‘God with us’ is not a condescending bystander, but a totally loving presence inside of humanity itself. God chooses to be one of us, see us from the inside, feel our hurts, pains, frailties and limitations.
This is God with us- a God who loves us so much that he takes the unbelievable risk of being just like us. Just like us except…that he is the only one who inhabited that human frame as it should always have been. He didn’t just come to be with us- he came to show us how to be ourselves! Immanuel was a sign that God loved us and hadn’t given up on us, but he was also a sign pointing to what we can be!
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”
If someone were to announce your arrival by describing your personality what would they say? Maybe they would announce you with phrases like hard working, honest and kind, lovely to be with? Or maybe there would be some less flattering descriptions; has a short fuse, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, holds a grudge. For most of us a good description of our character on any given day would probably involve a mixture of good and bad traits.
When God passes by Moses on that holy mountain the words he uses to describe himself are astounding. He could have given his credentials as maker of heaven and earth, the only Holy God, immortal, never changing. All these are true, and yet when God describes himself to Moses all his characteristics relate to his utter love for us. A holy God can only be compassionate, gracious and slow to anger if he loves completely his fragile, failing and sinful sons and daughters. The amazing truth is that God chooses to define his character by how he relates to us! Just think about that for a moment- the creator of the universe wants to be known as a God with compassion for his people, a God who is gracious and understanding, a God who is slow to anger even when his people are so easily led into sin, and always faithful.
How would God describe himself when it comes to you this advent?
“The Lord, the Lord, who is compassionate to…., and abounds in love and faithfulness for them, even when they don’t recognize it.
This is the God who reaches out to us this Christmas.
“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.”
That is perhaps what every parents wants for their children – for them to grow well and healthy. And there are lots of other things we wish for – happiness, success, security ... the list could go on. But what about wisdom?
This morning I saw an interview on TV with a father who had lost his wife to cancer 4 years ago. He said, “I just wish she could see them now. How mature that have become”. Maturity of character is part of growing in wisdom. It is the ability to live well, to make healthy decisions and build sound relationships.
Also interviewed this morning was Simon Thomas, former Blue Peter presenter who also lost his wife to cancer, just over a year ago and month before Christmas 2017. He spoke of the difficulty of facing the first anniversary of her death. Their son came to him and said, “Dad, if any time over the weekend you feel sad, just come and find me and I will give you a hug”. That too is wisdom and grace – the capacity in face of our own deep needs to look out for others.
Both these fathers would not have wanted their children to endure the loss of their mother, yet wisdom is found in the most unexpected places. Neither is it something for children alone – we all need to seek to grow in wisdom as we grow through the years, facing the challenges of life that come along. Perhaps happiness and security, while a blessing we hope for, are less important than the wisdom we have for facing the trials and struggles of life – our own and others. And in these, Jesus, the child who grew well, continues to bring God’s wisdom as he shares our vulnerable lives;
“many look for wisdom, but we preach of Christ crucified ... the power of God and the wisdom of God ... wiser than human wisdom ... stronger than human strength”
(1 Cor 1v23-25)
2 Samuel 24v17
When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
We have a problem. We all mess up from time to time. We like David have done wrong. David saw the error of his way and that of the people of Israel and he offered himself up to take their place. The idea of sacrifice wasn’t new, it was part of the culture. Animals have long been used to take the place of our mistakes but it was always meant to be a symbol not a solution.
David here offers himself as the one to make atonement - take the place, a sacrfice. He invites God to lay the guilt of the people on him and his family. He describes himself as “the shepherd”, who should take responsibility for his flock.
But this was never going to be enough. It was going to take a much bigger sacrifice - the sacrifice of God’s very own Son to sort out the mess we are in. A 1000 years later that Son was born, and became the shepherd and the sacrifice David never could.
I finish with the words from Coelius Sedulius, translated by John Ellerton)
From east to west, from shore to shore,
Let ev’ry heart awake and sing:
The holy child whom Mary bore,
The Christ, the everlasting king.
Behold, the world’s Creator wears
The form and fashion of a slave.
Our very flesh our maker shares,
His fallen creatures all to save.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
One of the most enduring British legends is that of King Arthur. We love the stories of the sword from the stone, the quest for the holy grail, and the partnership with Merlin. We love the tales of the knights of the round table; their exploits, their courage, their honour, love, and sense of duty. And then there is the promise that Arthur will return when the nations is under threat. A few good contenders for moments of national peril have come and gone with no sign of Arthur. So perhaps we shouldn’t bank too much on him turning up!
Kings in the bible are quite common and one King, King David, is seen as being pretty special and important and God himself did say that from his line the greatest king will come.
Long after David was dead and buried an angel told Mary she would conceive through the Holy Spirit. This was to be that King. Nine months later shepherds are told that this long awaited King had been born in their town and they were invited to go and see.
History is filled with many kings and queens, some are great some less so, but none compare to Jesus - the King of Kings, the Messiah the Son of the Most High. He would take on death and God would give him victory so His kingdom will never end. I finish with these borrowed words.
"Look ye saints, the sight is glorious,
See the Man of Sorrows now,
From the fight returned victorious,
Every knee to him shall now.
Crown him! Crown him!
Crowns become the Victors brow.”
By Thomas Kelly
And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Some of Jesus life was already written out in Scripture long before His earthly birth. This is an echo of one of those passages - Jesus though born in Bethlehem, was to be known as a Nazarene, because that is where he lived and spent much of his early life.
I wonder what it must have been like for Him, to know that much of his life had already been spoken of in the Old Testament?
Of course Jesus knew all that was to come, he was after all God’s son, and only a handful of people at this early stage understood anything of Jesus’ importance and while they may have had a glimpse of what was to come, did any of them really full understand the full implications of the coming of the Messiah?
There are times when, even now I take time to think about what this word Messiah means - saviour or liberator of a group of people. There are times when I wondered does that include me?
Do I need saving and from what?
What do I need to be freed from?
But do you know what, Jesus came for each and every one of us and whats us all to know that not only are we saved from a life separated from God, we are also set free and called to live life to the full following our loving Creator.
Now that to me sounds awesome!
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord--
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
As I write this reflection our Prime Minister has her premiership hanging in the balance as a vote of no-confidence is taken in the house of commons. It seems that in all her efforts to carry the nation through the Brexit procedure she has lost the confidence of many in her party. From a position of power she could be in for a mighty fall.
The words Isaiah uses about Jesus describe a leader going in the opposite direction. A small and unimpressive shoot grows out of a stump- all that is left of a once mighty family tree. And yet this shoot will grow and bear fruit because the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. Unlike many of our politicians, Jesus, though very lowly and ordinary in appearance, had an unmistakable gravitas about his person, ‘a spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might.’ He didn’t need to grasp power, it was in every word quietly spoken and every action he made.
Oh that we would have world leaders with these sorts of personality traits now! How different our lives would be if we were led by people who were more like the picture of Jesus Isaiah gives us. Imagine the truth and justice, the peace and joy that could break out if that were the case.
One day we will know what that is like. One day this humble but mighty shoot will come back in glory and then we will all delight in his wisdom and might. But in the meantime we can bring Emmanuel to our own small corner- what a difference he can make.