December 29 - Sermon Transcript
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Matthew 2:13-23 ~ December 29, 2019
Another year is nearly gone. The Christmas holiday behind us for another year. The rush of preparation has culminated in a few hours of quality time spent with friends and family, but now that’s done. The gifts have been opened, the food has been devoured, the parties have commenced. Now what?
The hectic pace of the holiday season can leave us worn down. But it can also leave us feeling worn out. Sometimes the Christmas blues come because Christmas is over. The tinsel and glitter, the lights and the decorations, the smells and sounds of Christmas, the celebration of a new year – everything that excites about this season, gets replaced by the mundane sameness of life. Many people struggle with the post-holiday-blahs, finding themselves hopelessly wondering: now what?
I wonder if Mary and Joseph felt some of those same things? The excitement of the Son of God born that night, the visit of the shepherds, some time after that – the visit from the Magi from the east, bringing gifts. But now what? Those things are done – in the past, distant memories for Mary and Joseph. Now they set about the task of raising a family, making a living – the excitement of the moment is gone. Did they struggle with post holy-day blahs?
God didn’t let them, did he? He didn’t allow this family to live a peaceful and quiet life in Bethlehem for very long. There was nothing routine about their lives, because the baby they were raising was the very Son of God, the Savior of the world. Satan would try to assassinate the Savior. Mary and Joseph would be placed into God’s Savior protection program for a little while. There was no time for Mary and Joseph to get comfortable in Bethlehem.
It was the middle of the night, and Joseph was sleeping, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” The wise men from the east had just visited Jesus. On the way to find Jesus they had stopped by King Herod’s palace to announce that they had come to visit the one who has Born King of the Jews, and this bothered Herod. He was supposed to be the King of the Jews. He worried that this newborn child would be a threat to his throne. When the wise men didn’t return to tell him where he could find Jesus he was very upset. Any threat to his position of power must be eliminated. And so very soon, maybe even the next day, Herod sent his soldiers into “Bethlehem to massacre all boys under the age of two.” “Get up, Joseph,” the angel said. “Get out of here as fast as you possibly can.” Satan was behind this whole thing – this was his first attempt to assassinate the Messiah. But Joseph escaped in the middle of the night with his family, and he and Jesus and Mary made their way to Egypt.
Two things are happening here and it’s important that we see both of them clearly: Satan loses and a prophecy is fulfilled. What the Lord had said through the prophet: “out of Egypt I called my son” was coming true. When the prophet Hosea originally wrote those words, he was referring to the nation of Israel, poetically calling them God’s son, being called out of the slavery of Egypt into the promised land. But here, the Holy Spirit teaches us in Matthew that this also applies to Jesus – just as God called the nation of Israel out of Egypt, so also God called his eternal Son, Jesus, out of Egypt.
Now what? Joseph, Jesus, and Mary were living with a group of Jews in Egypt, but not for very long. Herod dies, and an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph again and tells him that it’s safe for him to go back to the land of Israel. So Joseph and Jesus and Mary return to Israel, but another challenge arises – Herod’s son, Archelaus was in charge now, and he was just as bad as his father. Now what? Once again, Joseph was warned in a dream to leave the area. He moves north, to the town of Nazareth in Galilee, and that’s where he stayed.
Do you see the two things that happen here? Once again, Satan loses – the Messiah is safe, and a prophecy is fulfilled. What was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene” comes true. The prophets of the Old Testament never wrote this prophecy down but was understood that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene, a person from the tiny town of Nazareth, a town out in the sticks in Galilee.
The devil didn’t give God any downtime after Jesus was born. He kept up his plotting and powerplays, doing his level best to ruin God’s good and gracious plans. As you think about the holy family’s flight to and from Egypt do you wonder, “Why?” Why did God let things happen that way? Why didn’t he just direct the Magi to come straight to Bethlehem? Why did he allow wicked King Herod to go through with his murderous desire in Bethlehem? Why did God allow his Son to be endangered? Why? Could it be that by allowing wicked Herod to ascend to the throne and providing us with this account of how God worked things out to foil Herod’s evil purpose, God is also teaching us about how carefully and thoroughly he works things out for us, even under the most difficult of circumstances, fulfilling his good and gracious promises to us?
That’s an incredibly useful perspective for us as we face the devil and his power at work in our world today. Though Satan didn’t stop Jesus from accomplishing his saving purposes, he is still working hard, trying to keep us from enjoying the benefits and blessings of what Jesus accomplished for us. One mother of a 3-year-old preschool student heard this from the pastor at the church where her child receives early childhood education. Here’s what she shares:
My son, along with his 3-year-old classmates, lined up at the back of the church, nervously awaiting their procession down the center aisle to take their place on the stage [for their Christmas concert at his Christian preschool].
But first, the head pastor of the church that hosts the preschool took the stage to welcome the families and offer a few thoughts on why we celebrate Christmas. “Welcome! It’s wonderful to be together today to celebrate the birth of Christ. But before the children perform, I’d like to offer a brief word of encouragement, which is this: Parents, please don’t keep Christ in Christmas.”
I’ll admit the preacher didn’t have my complete attention until that moment. I turned to my husband and asked, “Did the pastor really just say “Don’t keep Christ in Christmas?” Before he could respond, the pastor answered the question for me.
“When parents pack up the Christmas decorations, they tend to put away Christ as well,” he said. “We tend to keep Christ in Christmas day alone. The invitation is to take Christ beyond your Christmas celebration and into your everyday lives.”
That pastor’s encouragement reveals one of the subtle yet powerful ways that Satan robs us of the joy of Christmas, isn’t it? As you put your decorations away Satan wants you to put your joy and your faith away. “No need to keep being religious,” the devil proposes. “Christmas is over. Pack your holiday happiness away. It’s time to get back to the daily grind of life.” The devil attacks us with these thoughts, and unfortunately, we sometimes listen. We start feeling down in the dumps – the birth of Jesus Christ fades into the past. Our desire to worship goes down with the lights. Our joy gets crumpled up and thrown away just like the wrapping paper.
But there is hope. The joy of Christmas isn’t just for the days between Thanksgiving and December 25. As we sit here, at the end of another festival season, and a new year, a new decade is about to begin, we naturally ask ourselves, now what? While there is much we don’t know, this much we do: God will continue to faithfully fulfill his prophecies and Satan will lose. That pattern was repeated again and again through Jesus’ own life. Satan lost, and prophecies were fulfilled.
Think about what happened about 30 years after these events – though the details sound quite different the result is exactly the same. Instead of Jesus fleeing from harm, Jesus would walk right into harm’s way. Instead of fleeing from Herod and the Roman government, Jesus would allow himself to be executed by the Roman government. Instead of God the Father protecting Jesus from death, God the Father would allow Jesus to be crucified. But even then, Satan loses, and prophecies are fulfilled. The prophecies that foretold that the Messiah would someday suffer and die to take away the sins of the world, including all of the times that we’ve packed away the joy of Christ and our Christian faith together with our Christmas decorations, until the next Christmas season.
God’s prophecy is for you too. When God says: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” He’s calling you as well! Egypt symbolized for God’s Old Testament people the land of slavery. Today the Lord calls you to leave Egypt, to leave behind sin and unbelief. He’s calling you to turn away from the doubts you have about Christ and Christianity. He’s calling you to leave the behind your old life of sin and experience real life as His child as you draw on the life his Son died to give to you! The kind of life where you are free from believing you have to earn God’s affection. The kind of love that doesn’t waver based on our behavior. The kind of life that where you have real hope in hardship. Peace that surpasses human understanding. The kind of life where your joy isn’t dependent on your earthly circumstances! Those are the blessings of Christmas, but they are blessings Christ gives to us for each day that God gives us life and breath!
So now what? How do you respond to such grace from God? How do you say thank you? How do you glorify the God who has done all this for you? You can live your life like Joseph lived. Christ wasn’t just a seasonal part of his life. He was the center of Joseph’s life. Joseph built his life around Christ, not only because he was Jesus’ stepfather, but especially because Jesus was born to be Joseph’s Savior too!
You and I can do the same thing. We too can build our lives around Christ, not only by keeping Christ in Christmas, but by keeping Christ in our Christian faith each day, every day, throughout the year, year after year. Like Joseph, we too can listen as God speaks to us. Though he doesn’t typically do that in dreams anymore, God has given us his Word. We show our gratitude to God for his amazing love by gladly hearing and learning what He teaches us and willingly following what He has to say throughout our lives. In doing so, we too will see how Satan continues to lose because God will always keep the promises he has made to us! That’s how God blesses you with a joy and love for him that lasts even after the Christmas holiday season is over. That’s why we look to the days ahead with joy and excitement! Amen