David’s sermon 6 January 2019

The wise men have been absorbed into the Christmas story as vital elements of the nativity.   Shepherds, donkeys, sheep, Mary and Joseph, Jesus in a manger – and the wise men.

Can’t have a Nativity without them – although they only appear in Matthew’s account of Jesus life – they don’t get a mention anywhere else.    

Ok but where is the epiphany?   Where is the light bulb moment?

Lets look at this:

Wise men from the east – not from the so called civilised worlds of greek and roman west – but from the mysterious east – home of a thousand strange gods and beliefs – remember this is the middle east before Islam.    The beliefs of the east – of Assyria and Persia, Babylon, and further on –  paid a great deal of attention to the stars – to astrology – and the study of the sky’s movements to predict events.    And something strange had been seen by some – a new star, or a moving star or a new comet – or whatever had appeared and their studies and beliefs indicated powerful forces at work – a new king being brought forth in Judea.

Now, remember the Shepherds  – they experienced the outpouring of joy in heaven as they saw and heard the angels praising God at Jesus birth rejoicing in heaven, – 

but I suggest that the wise men were guided by darker forces equally aware of the significance of Jesus birth and equally in awe of this event – and very anxious to know what the God of Israel was up to.   I think that the wise men were actually at the centre of a power struggle between good and evil.  Between our God, father of Jesus Christ, and what Paul calls the “principalities and powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”     The birth of Jesus did not only raise praise and worship from the angels, this also raised concerns and uncertainties amongst the darker forces of our world.

Where did the wise men led to for assistance  – to the centre of power and the root of all wickedness in those days in Judea – the court of Herod – a corrupt and thoroughly evil ruler – and what did he do  – he tried to trick them.   

Think for a moment  – they had a star to follow why need to ask the way?    Why involve one of the cruellest and most corrupt leaders in the region.   This was principalities and powers at work trying to find out what is going on do you think?

But these were wise men, who knew their business, had studied the stars, knew their purpose and held on to their goal  – to take gifts and to honour the new king, wherever they found him.  So they did. 

And they had an epiphany – they recognised in a dream, that Herod was not to be trusted, that they should not help him –  and so returned home another way – they had a light bulb moment – and rejected pull of the dark power of evil and struck for home having achieved their ambition.   

The wise men were at the interface between the God of love sending Jesus to save his world, and the forces of evil intent on destroying his world.   While the angels were singing Glory to God – and Jesus is born as Immanuel, the forces of evil were seeing in the night skies a portent that something amazing was happening – they needed to know what and how and they wanted to stop it – how – get Herod to kill this child.   What would have happened if the wise men had not had their epiphany and they had returned to Herod  – we hear how he later killed hundreds of children – he would certainly have killed Jesus.

But the wise men were not distracted,  – they followed their learning, their own understanding of the star, and they went and worshipped the Christ Child – and gave the gifts they had prepared. 

Matthew introduces the wise men to demonstrate that the birth of Jesus was an event of enormous importance across the whole spectrum of the supernatural world.   It was hailed by the God of Abraham and the angels but also stirred up levels of interest and opposition amongst the forces of evil.    This child in Bethlehem was causing great upsets in the heavenly realms of both God and the devil.   

Now it is not fashionable at the moment to talk about the devil – the personification of evil, but there is an undercurrent throughout the bible demonstrating the forces of evil, and Jesus himself is tempted in the desert by an individual identified as the devil.   Paul, writes to the Ephesians – 

“..put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.   For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”.

The great thing is that – Jesus sent the devil away with a flea in his ear, and Paul tells to be strong and put on the armour of God.

The devil is not to be feared, but to be cast aside as a defeated force.

CS Lewis, the writer of many books on the Christian faith, including  the Narnia stories tells us – 

The devil has two main ways of distracting Christians from their journey of faith:

He either persuades them that he does not exist – and so they don’t realise they are being led astray – 

Or he persuades them that he is behind everything that goes wrong – that he has much more influence than he actually has.

Either way the Christian is diverted away from his or her proper life – either dismissing the devil as fiction, or by attributing every little set back to him.  Neither is a healthy response.   We need to be aware of the devil as an entity, but not let him have influence in our lives.

The Lord’s prayer sums this up – “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the Glory” – He is in charge.

To the Ephesians, Paul says –  :

“Take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand…..

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…”

This is where prayer becomes so much a part of our Christian journey – our faith, our lives.   Prayer is where we break beyond our material surroundings and are asked to influence that conflict between good and evil, between our Father in Heaven, and the frantic attempts by satan to upset His Kingdom.   When we pray we are speaking into that conflict and asking that God’s will be done – here and now, here on earth, as in heaven.  

We have drifted a bit away from the wise men’s visit, but I spoke earlier about – how do we want our church to look by the end of 2019?     Well, we are part of God’s Kingdom – North Knapdale is important to Him, and we, His people are important to him – 

So as we pray for the year ahead, as we ask for guidance for our church, as we ask for ideas and vision for our lives together to serve this area – then let us be aware that our prayers are part are not a fuzzy wish list – but our prayers speak our desires for the advancement of God’s kingdom here, and are our contribution to undermining all the attempts of the evil one to hamper the building up of the church.  

Prayer is our super weapon to confuse and defeat those principalities and powers. 

Jesus said – “….I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” .

So – the visit of the wise men shows that we are part of a much bigger conflict than we can easily understand – the conflict between good and evil, between our God of love and the destructive attempts of the devil, the evil one.   But we are not pawns in this conflict – we are active participants – we are church within God’s kingdom – and our prayers to see this church built up by Jesus Christ are effective instruments for good.

So how do we see our church in 2019.   What should we be doing – what is our mission and purpose.   Let’s think on these things – and pray that God’s will be done here in 2019 – as it is in heaven.

Amen

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