3 Unpredictable, Unusual things of Christmas

Title: 3 Unpredictable, Unusual Things of Christmas

Text: Micah 5:2

Date: December 9th, 2007

The Christmas nativity scene is very familiar to us all because we see it every year in December during the holiday season, but if we stop and think about it we’ll soon see that the persons, places and things surrounding the birth of Jesus are anything but usual. In fact, almost everything connected with the first Christmas is unusual, strange, odd and mysterious. Last week I talked about how unusual Mary and Joseph were in connection with Christmas; how Joseph as a carpenter is totally unpredictable as being the earthly father of the Messiah; how Mary as a virgin mother is totally out of place with anything we might call usual. Then I spoke of the strange visitors called the Magi; how strange it is that they are included in the Christmas story, especially since they were foreigners and not even Jewish but rather followed some pagan religion associated with astrology. Then finally I talked about the shepherds and how unlikely a group for angels to announce the birth of the Messiah to, considering all the other people we might expect angels to bring such news, like the religious leaders in Jerusalem. So we see that the nativity scene, far from being the typical, usual, predictable story, is actually very remarkable in all of the unlikely people, places and things associated with it. Today, I’d like to talk about the highly unusual and unlikely or unpredictable things, not persons, but things, this time connected with Christmas: the Roman census, the unusual star, and the gifts of the magi. A few weeks back I already mentioned how God used the little town of Bethlehem to produce the Savior of the world, and how unpredictable that was when we consider that Jerusalem was just down the street. Jerusalem would have been everyone’s first choice in choosing a birthplace for the Messiah to be born, simply because it is the most important place in Israel, the one with the richest Jewish history, and the place where the holy temple is where the most important spiritual activity happens. Outside of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 giving a hint where the Messiah would be born, outside of that one clue, Jerusalem would have been the most logical choice. But as we’ve seen already, God doesn’t always use human logic in making his choices, in fact, most of the time God doesn’t use human logic in deciding things. Just look at your life and your faith history with God – does your journey to faith in God make perfect logical sense? Probably not. How about your path as a believing disciple of Jesus, has that followed a perfectly predictable straight path from the faith as small as a mustard seed to a mature adult faith? Again, probably not. Rather, our faith usually advances in a pretty random and unexplainable way. Sometimes we seem to be going through a period of little faith growth, and then suddenly we’ll experience a great breakthrough of faith and knowledge about God. There’s an old poem by William Cowper that describes this process — “God moves in mysterious ways”: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.” Let’s look at some of the mysterious ways God worked through things at the first Christmas.

First, God worked in mysterious ways through the Roman Census. Luke 2:1-7, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” We now know that it was God’s providential plan that Mary, Joseph and Jesus travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to fulfill the ancient prophecy in Micah concerning the whereabouts of the birth of the Messiah, and that a Roman decision to take a census at just the right time brought the fulfillment of the prophecy about. But think about how strange a census it was – it required that people travel back to the place of their ancestral family town. That’s a strange practice. Think about how censuses are conducted today. We’ve had a few censuses during my lifetime here in the United States; I think they have one every 10 years, every decade here in modern times. I didn’t have to travel back to Ann Arbor, Michigan where I was born, or travel to the region my father was from in Virginia, or from where the Short’s are from in Michigan in order to register. I just filled out a form I think and turned it in; that’s how they do it today. But back then, evidently, at least in respect to the Jews, they had to travel to the place of their family’s origination. Now the skeptics have had a field day with this census because according to some historians there was no census recorded during that time, also, they say Quirinius wasn’t governor at that time, etc. Now how do we explain this? Evidently Quirinius was a Roman official in that region at the time and the Romans took a lengthy period of time to take the census, so they started earlier in some locations and over a period of years possibly finally got the entire job completed. There is no contradiction; it all fits perfectly well in with the Bible’s account. But who would have guessed that God would have used the pagan Roman Empire to help fulfill prophecy concerning the Messiah’s birth. How odd. The Jews generally didn’t like the Romans, many Jews hated them in fact, but here we have the Romans actually working, they didn’t know it, but working out God’s will in respect to Jesus. This just reminds us once again that God is in charge, God is sovereign, nothing is out of control. We need to remember that when our lives seem out of control at times.

Second, God worked in mysterious ways with the unusual star. Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’. . . After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.” What a strange way to lead people to the baby Jesus – following a moving star! Now throughout history people have always wondered, what was the star? Was it something that everybody could see or just something these wise men could see? In modern times people have asked, “Was it an alignment of planets? Or was it a comet or meteorite? Was it an exploding star?” There is kind of a mystery as to what exactly the star was. Some people claim that it was a peculiar conjunction of the planet Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces the fish, which was supposedly claimed to be a sign that represented the Jews. When you put Jupiter and Saturn together in the sky, that represents the birth of a big or great king coupled with Pisces representing the Jews, you get that a great king will be born in Israel. Some people think that’s why the Magi traveled from their far away land in order to see this great king that the stars predicted would be born based on the astrological charts. Now that kind of thinking might have motivated the Magi to start out on their journey to the land of Israel, but it doesn’t explain what happened after they had visited King Herod. The Bible says, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Now in astronomy, which is a legitimate study of the sky, stars and planets don’t move and rest exactly over specific places like towns or other locations. This star or light was clearly a miracle, a supernatural light that led them right to the baby Jesus. No star in the sky, way up in the sky, can do that. This wasn’t an ordinary star, it was a special star made specially by God to guide those men. Now they may have thought they were following their astrological charts, but it was really a miracle from God that they were following. Their astrology might have gotten them into the land of Israel, but a supernatural miracle got them to Jesus. Human thinking might get a person to believe in One God, in monotheism, but it takes the Holy Spirit, a miracle, to take the next step and believe in Jesus the Savior. Thank God these Magi had the faith to come to Jesus, something their natural, human thinking couldn’t ever lead them to, as it could only bring them part of the way. God uses the strangest things to bring men and women to Jesus, wouldn’t you agree? I’ve heard some pretty strange testimonies in my lifetime. It never ceases to amaze me how God can bring people to salvation in Jesus. It’s not at all what you would expect.

Third, God worked in mysterious ways with the gifts of the Magi. Matthew 2:11, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and of myrrh.” Again, these are strange gifts. They must have seemed strange at the time for Mary and Joseph. We don’t know if the Magi explained their reasons for choosing these kinds of gifts. Of course, we guess as to what they might symbolize, as people have throughout history. For example, some have thought that the gold is for a king (gold is associated with a metal of a king). The frankincense is for a priest (incense represents the priestly work in the temple before God with prayers and sacrifices). The myrrh is for a prophet (myrrh represents the suffering and death associated with the hard life of a prophet as he speaks God’s word to resistant people). Jesus was the unique combination of Prophet, Priest, and King in his ministry. There are other possible symbols we can associate with these gifts. But how strange these gifts were, not your typical gifts given at the birth of a child. Today, when a woman is going to have a child, the other women throw a baby shower and give practical gifts such as baby shoes and baby clothes and other such things. I’ve never heard of anyone bringing gold, frankincense or myrrh. These things don’t seem very practical. But we know that the gold was used by Mary, Joseph and Jesus to escape into Egypt after Herod decided to kill the baby. They used the gold for traveling expenses and food on the journey to and from Egypt, as well as while they stayed in Egypt. So that particular gift was of great practical value. We don’t know what became of the other gifts, although the myrrh may have been saved by Mary and used by the other women to anoint the body of Jesus after the crucifixion in the tomb. I’m sure that everything has a reason, even these strange gifts from strangers. It goes to show that God can use even the strangest things that happen to us in our lives to work out his will. I think of Romans 8:28, “For God works all things together for good for those who love him and who are called according to his purposes.” Are there things about your life history that you don’t understand? Are there events and experiences in your life that make no sense? Does much of your life seem to have no rhyme or reason? Know that God uses everything and works it all out together for good if you put your whole-hearted trust in Him. If you give God your heart, confess your sins, repent of wrong-doing, commit yourself to Jesus 100%, then you can have peace of mind knowing that God will take all of the events of your life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and work them all out for good. That’s a miracle God only offers those who trust in him. Do you trust in God today? Have you committed yourself totally to Jesus today? Do so and experience what it’s like to have your whole life under the care of God.

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