Sermon 12/27/20: My Christmas Present (Be Wise) (Christmastide I)

At this time, due to surging Coronavirus rates, the United Methodists Churches of our Illinois Great Rivers Conference are not holding face-to-face services. Please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video:

On Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/494864595

Screencast-o-matic; https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cYltcK8sAD

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Centering Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help. I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life. Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not. Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature. Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted. Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood. I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

HYMN 254 We Three Kings
Anne Murray – We Three Kings [with lyrics]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaheOgdGKJQ

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 249 There’s A Song In The Air
There’s A Song In the Air
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvrrMRZE5aA

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: My Christmas Present (Be Wise)
Matthew 2:1-16
Series: Those Methodist Rules


Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.

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SERMON NOTES

Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; 8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. 

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HYMN 256 We Would See Jesus
We Would See Jesus
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfdiPcuGy8A

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

Last week we talked about what a shepherd could give. You cannot give something that you don’t have to give.

This week we ask about being a wise man. The same beautiful hymn In the Bleak Midwinter says if I were a wise man I would do my part. Well, friends, that’s the question. What is my part in this Christmas season? What is your part? What is it that God is asking each of us to do?

Well, here’s the reality. If I were a wise man, it would be wisdom that would tell us what we are to do. And if you want to know what wisdom tells us what you need to do is listen carefully.

Let me reflect for just a moment about what wisdom is. Mark Twain said, “Good decisions come from experience.” Mark Twain went on to say, “Experience comes from making bad decisions.” The more experience you have the more likely you are able to make a wise decision but that’s because of you paying attention to the lesson that is taught to us by making bad decisions because wisdom comes from learning from our mistakes.

And in fact, as I’ll tell you, I’m 65 sliding toward 66 at the end of the month of January. The major benefit to being older is to know from personal experience what not to do again. In fact, here’s a solid truth based on wisdom. If you never make the same mistake twice it won’t be long before you are living a perfect life. So we need to learn from our bad decisions and also, save yourself some trouble, we need to learn from the bad decisions of other people. This is one of the beautiful things of you reading books to your children and grandchildren because if you can learn from a bad decision in a book it will save you a great deal of grief and sorrow in this life.

Wisdom comes from learning from our mistakes and many times, seriously, we choose to learn the hard way and the hard way is this. To make the same mistake over and over and over and over again because the strange thing about the world that God has created it teaches us the same lesson again and again and again until we learn to do something different.

I’m reminded of this every Christmas Eve because one thing that is said is that the most frightening words that anyone hears on Christmas Eve is to suddenly read these three words. Some assembly required. It doesn’t seem to matter what we’re assembling. It doesn’t go into place easily. Many times we choose to learn the hard way And that is unnecessary.

There is a joke. What would have happened if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men? First, they would have asked directions. Second, they would have arrived on time. Third, they would have helped to deliver the baby. Fourth, they would have cleaned up the stable. They would have made or brought a casserole. And in addition to that, brought practical gifts like fresh diapers, casseroles to last a week, and the little picture on the screen says lots of wine, which I’m quite sure is for medicinal purposes. There are different kinds of wisdom and sometimes the wisdom of women really shines a light for us men to learn wisdom.

Three Wise Men, however, they came toward Jesus and they made a huge mistake. Matthew Chapter 2, Verse 1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen a star in the east and have come to worship him.” They’ve come all this way. And they come to the capital city and they are shown into the presence of King Herod and so they ask this question. “Where is the newborn king?”

Here’s why that’s a problem. King Herod was a politician. He was a king who was very jealous of hanging onto his power. He was so jealous of hanging on to his power he literally executed his own children and many members of his family so that they could not be a threat to his political power. And so now all of a sudden the wise men appear and say, “Hey, where’s the new king?” And King Herod, who has killed his own children, goes, “There is no new king here.”

Why did the wise men come to King Herod? Well, because it’s not something men particularly do. I don’t think they came to King Herod to ask for directions. I think they came to King Herod because they made an assumption and frankly, friends, assumptions get us into big trouble. They made the assumption that the place you look for a king is in a king’s palace. Where is he who has been born the king of the Jews? Now I’m not quite sure why this happened, but here’s the first mistake that they made.

The first mistake that they made is they lost sight of the star. The star high in the sky guided them through mountain valleys, guided them over high mountains, guided them forward. But somehow between where they were in Jerusalem, they lost sight of the star. They took their eyes off it and then they couldn’t find it again. And so they made the assumption that the thing to do was to go to the King’s palace because that’s where kings are supposed to be found, including newborn kings. So that’s their first mistake.

Here’s the next one. When Herod the King heard this he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. Rumors were flying everywhere and King Herod, assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked of them where the Christ was to be born. Now, think about this for just a moment. Here is a Jewish man, who is completely unaware of where the Messiah is to be born. He doesn’t even know the details of his own religion. That just kind of lets you know what sort of spiritual person King Herod was. Verse 5. They told him in Bethlehem of Judea, “For so it is written by the prophet, and you, oh Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people, Israel.” So Herod immediately understands that a rival to his throne has been born in Bethlehem.

So here is the second mistake of the wise men. They made assumptions and one of their assumptions was that they could get good help from the king. Now what we would say today, that’s going to a politician for help. We certainly have had a lot of things involving politicians happened this past year, haven’t we? Ronald Reagan’s words so many years ago just meant a lot to me as I was thinking them about this week. Ronald Reagan said, “The most frightening words in the English language are this, ‘I am from the government and I am here to help you.'”

King Herod is the government. And to assume that he is willing to help you is a very big mistake. Some kings are good kings. Herod was not a good king. Some politicians are good people but some are not, and Herod was not a good person. That’s their second mistake.

Verse 7. Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared and he sent them to Bethlehem saying, “Go and search diligently for the child. And when you have found him, bring me word so that I too may come and worship him.” What a smooth and oily sentence that is. “So when was this newborn king born? When did it happen? Now you go find me the address because I want to come and worship Him too.” Sure, sure.

So the wise men leave. When they had heard the king, they went their way and what a surprise. Now all of a sudden they are looking and guess what they see? A lone star which they had seen in the east reappeared. It went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. They now again had God’s guidance and they were paying attention, and it led them directly to where Jesus was. Verse 10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house— now that’s something we need to keep in mind. Christmas pageants show everything happening on the same night. But it could be as long as a year, maybe even two years later, and now Mary and Joseph are not in the stable. They are living in a house. Verse 11. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and they fell down and worshipped him. And then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts. Gifts that would be easy to transport. Wealth that would be easy to hide upon your person because of course everyone was afraid of robbers in those days. They offered him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. The wise men corrected their mistake. They were now paying attention to God’s guidance.

So look at verse twelve. Here’s what God’s guidance says to that. Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. They had learned from their mistake. Now when they had departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The assumption is that very night. And said, “Rise and take the child and his mother and flee. Flee to Egypt and remain there till I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” And Joseph arose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem. It’s on the main highway to Egypt. Very quickly, they were on the road. Joseph shows that he is a wise man because he listened to God and did not procrastinate. He listened to God and did not delay. But he went into action. Sadly, so many of us, this is one of those problems where we learn the hard way. We hear the voice of God and we procrastinate. We do not get into action, but that’s not Joseph.

And so the baby Jesus is saved — verse 16 then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men who did not return, was in a furious rage and he sent and he killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in that region who were two years old or under according to the time which he had a certain from the wise men. The time from the wise men; I don’t think if it was exactly two years later … Herod would not risk that … so maybe the time was a year later … but we’re going to kill all these babies up to two years old in order to make sure that there is no rival for Herod’s throne.

There are many questions about how many babies were actually murdered. Even one is too many. But archaeologist, W. F. Albright, studying the ruins, the ancient ruins of Bethlehem estimated the population of Bethlehem at this time is around 300 people and consequently, it would be six to seven babies within Bethlehem. Now you go out into the region maybe it’s more … even one is too many, but this is the way an evil king acts in our world today.

Wisdom makes a huge difference. Course correction number one, the wise men turned to God for guidance. They left the presence of Herod, they had no idea where to go, maybe they said a prayer. And all of a sudden they see the star return. Friends, if you turn your attention to God for guidance, you will be guided. If you’re listening, you will be guided.

Course correction number two. When you hear wisdom, then don’t procrastinate. Do what God wants. Follow the guidance. It will lead you to where Christ is. And you brought gifts for this purpose. Present your gifts to the Christ child. And don’t turn back to an evil king, but continue to do what God wants because you will be guided if you’re listening. And if you act according to the guidance, you will be able to do the will of Jesus Christ in this moment.

We need wisdom today. We’re living in a bizarre and horrifying time that has happened far in the past but not in the conscious memory of people living today. This Coronavirus requires us to act wisely. And to ask ourselves the question, “What does God want?”

There’s an old saying about Napoleon, the great French general. The order he gave was that if you’re out in the field, and you don’t know what to do, he told his officers to march toward the sound of cannon fire because that’s where you’re going to be needed. That’s where I’m going to want you to be.

I wonder if there’s not the same sort of thing that is Christmas wisdom, which is that we need to march toward the sound of a crying baby. There’s a poem that I came across this week. It’s quite lovely. Let me read it for you. It’s written by Philip Brits and it’s entitled Why We Come.

We have not come like Eastern kings
With gifts upon the pommel lying.
Our hands are empty, and we came
Because we heard a baby crying.

We have not come like questing knights
With fiery swords and banners flying.
We heard a call and hurried here –
The call was like a baby crying.

But we have come with open hearts
From places where the torch is dying.
We seek a manger and a cross
Because we heard a baby crying.

Source: Philip Brits, Water at the Roots: Poems and Insights of a Visionary Farmer

I don’t know where God will lead you in this Christmas season. But if you hear a baby crying that child might need your help the way the Christ child needed the wise men, the way the Christ child needed the shepherds. And so you may have the great and wonderful privilege if you listen to God and let God guide you to be a part of the ongoing Christmas story today because there is a baby in this world that needs your help, and you will be guided if you are listening.

What a wise thing it is to be listening.

Now you have to pay attention to the world in the same way that you need to pay attention to oncoming traffic. But you don’t have to pay attention to the world such that the things that the world values, such that what the world wants you to do should become your agenda, should become the purpose of your life, because certainly, the purpose of our lives would be to live wisely. And what could be more wise than to do in this world today what God wants us to do today, and to do in this world tomorrow what God wants us to do to tomorrow, and so go through our lives day by day seeking to do God’s will?

Because you will receive guidance if you’re listening.

But don’t let the world dictate your values. Don’t let the world dictate your purpose. You need to look up and be aware of a star that guides you to where you will find the Christ child in this day and this time. And the star will guide you over the mountains. It will guide you through difficult places. It will guide you in the middle of the night. The star will guide you around the obstacles of this world that seek to distract you from doing God’s will, And that star could be the guidance that comes to you from the voice of Jesus Christ because you will be guided if you’re listening.

We’re approaching– honestly, when you think about it in this final week before Christmas and New Year– one of the saddest times of the year, not because of a reason that may have occurred to you, but most of us are people that make lists of what we hope will be better in the New Year.

We make lists of New Year’s resolutions. I am going to do this. I am going to do that. I’m going to learn about this. I’m going to act on the basis of what I’ve learned. I’m going to live a better life. I’m going to believe and learn and act wisely and do the best that I can and in the new year be a better person. If you give your list of resolutions to me, I’ll give you a gift: I’ll pray that they all come true. I’ll pray that everything you hope for in the new year comes to pass.

But after many, many years of listening to people’s New Year’s resolutions, I want to tell you there’s something that is almost heartbreaking about every one of them. You almost never hear a resolution where a person says that their New Year’s resolution is to be a better Christian. You will rarely ever find a New Year’s resolution where a person says, “I’m going to pray more. I’m going to read the Bible. And not only am I going to read it, not only am I going to study it, I’m actually going to do what Jesus Christ asks me to do.”

You almost never see that kind of New Year’s resolution because people are distracted by the things of this world. “I want more money. I want a bigger house. I want a fancier car,” or perhaps even a little sadder, “I want to lose weight. I want to look prettier. I want to be healthy,” when it is Jesus Christ that can bring all those things to pass in our life. If you seek Him in this Christmas season, if you seek Him in your New Year’s resolutions, what an amazing difference you will discover becomes true in the new year because it’s actually quite rare for a person to make a New Year’s resolution to become a better Christian. But that’s a very, very wise thing to do.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, every year we put our faith into New Year’s resolutions. We construct an image in our minds of what we want. We construct a visual symbol of hope in those sentences. Lord, this is what we want most in the new year. Lord, help each of us to include You in our hopes, to include You in our dreams, to include You in our plans so that as we move forward with all these plans, Lord, we will have Your guidance because we will receive guidance if we’re listening. Lord, help us to listen and turn to you in every time of need. And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.
 

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1 Response to Sermon 12/27/20: My Christmas Present (Be Wise) (Christmastide I)

  1. Gerri says:

    Wonderful sermon glad I could hear and see!

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