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The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a]Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Well we have finally reached that day which we have been anticipating for just over month now – Advent is over and Christmas has arrived. The past months planning and preparation has finally come to fruition. And I’m curious how many families here this morning have already celebrated their Christmas. (Raise your hands if you have already exchanged your gifts and so forth.)
Now, beside hand raising, there are a couple of ways from up here that I might be able to guess – there are some families where the kids are all joy and other which are all full of anxiety. There are some people here in new outfits, maybe opened today, and other are still in your usual heretical Seahawks gear. And of course some here this morning have bright clear eyes, and others are squinting with bloodshot eyes due to the many camera flashes you had to endure posing with every gift opened – and a couple action photos actually tearing the paper to get a sense movement.
…It is kind of a frustrating thing about Christmas that the preparations for Christmas is measured in months while the excitement and joy of the holiday is measured in hours. The preparation and the celebration are completely unbalanced – and so what do we do to justify this – to restore equity – well we treasure the time. We create ways to capture and remember today. (sure the preparation is months, and the celebration is hours, but memory is measured in years)
And it is amazing how much technology has furthered our ability to capture moments. You can go through albums – 30 years ago – a couple pictures in dull color. 20 years ago, picture and maybe a silent video. 10 years lots of pictures a few videos with sound and color. And today – half the people probably have their phone in the air recording or taking photos – and immediately publish it online. (what an amazing change in a single lifetime)
- But I wonder if we actually spend so much time and effort today creating media to remember Christmas – that we actually miss the celebration. Our day might be so full of staring at screens and looking through lens – that we forget to focus on what’s going on – on the other side of technology. (More interested in capturing a smile than basking in it – more interested in capturing a memory instead of entering one)
- And I honestly do fear that for some people the many pictures and videos became necessary cause they are the only memories they have. And the very thing they sought to capture (with this camera) doesn’t exist here (in the mind) and it never made it down here (to the heart)
- In trying to capture our treasure; we lose it.
And so this morning I desire to focus on how do we keep treasures. How do we not only capture memories, but shape them into our minds and refine them into our hearts? How does the Christmas story become more than just another picture in the photo album of our life – and rather be transformed into a story which dwells in our mind and heart. Well these are the questions I wish to pursue in Mary’s response to the first Christmas story – “But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Moments or Messages:
I desire to start this message by asking the question: What did Mary treasure? The verse reads “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart: what are the things Matthew is referencing? Now the Christmas story is quite a common story, whether you spend every Sunday in a church or if you spend the majority of your Sundays at home or at work – in this culture – you likely know the Christmas story quite well. We’ve heard it told many times, we’ve seen it displayed all over, we’ve watched on screen, and it even possible we have acted it out in some drama or cantata. We do not lack information concerning the story – so knowing that – what should Mary have treasured? If you were Mary (or Joseph) and you wanted to remember the Christmas story how would you have captured? What would your Facebook page look like?
- There would likely be a 100 pictures of the baby Jesus – and 7 good ones on display
- There would likely be picture of us holding baby Jesus – with big smiles (new family)
- Maybe you put a picture of the baby in an animal feeding trough – and post LOL with a shock face (explaining couldn’t make it to hospital)
- Or maybe you capture the couple of homeless men who came to see the baby – and post “crazy right?”
- And just like our nativity sets – we would make sure our makeup and clothes are ideal before the photo – we do not want to actually capture people and place post birth
This is what we are usually capturing. We are capturing moments to remember. And let me say that our technology is fantastic at this. Our cameras and recorders are so good that they can capture a moment better than our eye. We have limited attention, limited color spectrum, limited range of vision – and if this is what we are afraid of missing than living life through technology makes all the sense in the world.
- But why then does a picture never quite capture reality? What is missing?
- Well the answer is in what Mary is treasuring and pondering in her heart.
But before turning to the answer – I want to share my own struggle with the deficiency of depiction. One of my lifelong hobbies is drawing. I love to draw – drawing is a wonderful way for me too express things when words fail. For that reason, I have gifted some drawings. Only once though have I attempted to draw people – to draw a real-life event I was within. I drew a picture of myself and Jacque on our wedding day – and I probably spent more time working and re-working our faces (2 square inches on the page) that I did on the rest of the drawing combined. (Everything else was completed months prior to our faces) Now I have showed the drawing to countless people and I get 2 different reactions:
- Many are impressed with the drawing and witness nothing specifically wrong with the drawing
- Others are impressed with the drawing and immediately observe – the faces are wrong
Now I can tell you mathematically the faces are correct (while much else is off). The lines and the shading, the shadows, are exactly where they belong on our face. And it yet something is still wrong (those who were there quickly notice it, Jacque observes it, and to my great frustration I know it).
- What is missing in this drawing – not the moment; it is the message
The human faces possess 43 muscles which constantly work in conjunction to communicate the most complex messages imaginable. More information exists in the subtle movements of the face than in the dramatic flailing of limbs, and often even the words which are spoken from it. It is in the faces of people that their profound mystery and the wonderful identity is held in tension. Faces are the spring from which messages are constantly being transmitted.
And my drawing perfectly captures the “smile” in that moment – yet misses the profound mixed messages of love, joy, affection, celebration, commitment, sorrow, excitement – and so forth which existed in those moments.
What we truly treasure are the messages which are being communicated in Christmas. We don’t spend months of planning to create the perfect “moment” – we are trying to send the perfect “message.” Christmas is all about messages, not moments.
- There is a message in the gift which is given that cameras cannot capture
- There is a message in the grateful smile which a recorder cannot contain
- There is a message in the hugs, kisses, and fist pumps – beyond the moment
- Messages are far greater than moments, and technology can only handle the later
Mary is not treasuring the moment – as great as it is. Difficult to think of a moment better than the birth of child. (As a father a great sorrow is fading memories of those moments) Not the moment, instead Mary is treasuring the message which is being expressed in the story. The all-important “but” which starts verse 19 confirms this. The previous verse talks about the towns reaction to the shepherds’ message – “and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds’ said to them.” But, a comparison with the others. “But Mary – treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
It was the message which the shepherds shared with the town that Mary treasured – the message which the shepherds received from the angel,
“Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You shall find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
This is the message which transcends the moment. And it is the message of Christmas which we are called to treasure. It is the message of Christmas which we must ponder in our hearts. We need to spend extended time allowing those words develop in our hearts – that in this Child named Jesus born over 2,000 years, along with the world, we receive a Savior, who is the King, and Lord of all.
These are the words that have to become the extended focus of our minds, these are the words which must make residence in our hearts – Jesus is our “Savior, Christ, Lord.” And if these words are hollow, if the message is empty – than I propose we are still settling for the moment (for a quick picture) and missing the message (the real story told.)
For as we escape the moment, we come to realize that every gift is a message. Every gift is the product of time, energy, and thought – we sacrifice these things in our gifts. And of course, every gift is given at a cost. Christmas is the product of God’s time, energy, and thought – and if we follow the Old Testament we learn just how much time, energy, and thought God had to put into this gift. Christmas comes at a cost – and the cost is the highest imaginable – it is God giving of his very self.
God takes that which is most precious to him, that which has loved and treasured throughout eternity – and he parts with himself in the Eternal Son. God gives the most precious gift imaginable knowing that it is going to be reject, that it will be ruined and ultimately destroyed. God’s very heart is displayed in the Christmas gift and it shall be trampled. Yet it is still offered.
- Now what would we do in such circumstances. I was asked once to sell a drawing at a decent price – and I laughed saying “you might as well ask me to sell my soul, or my children, not for sale.” What would I do if I knew Jacque would reject my drawing, would store it never to look at it, would destroy it and place her own picture in the frame.
- I would have to draw my response – because words could not contain my anger and sorrow – there would be many angry scribbles in red (and defiantly a sword)
- I would never part with it, and likely never draw it
And yet here at Christmas God stands over Bethlehem in the same circumstances – he is going to offer his most precious gift, he is going to give of himself in a more profound way than any god or man has ever given. He is going to give his son Jesus knowing the rejection, shame, and death that is to come.
And as we zoom out from the Christmas moment – as we move beyond the manger, beyond the home, beyond, Bethlehem, beyond Judea, beyond the world – there we see the face of the Father as he reaches down offering the Son – and what do we witness – but all 46 muscles displaying the most profound message ever spoken – “you are love. You are so loved – I offer this for you.”
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins ( 1 John 4:9-10)
How can we not treasure this message? How can we hear it – and not think about it often? How can it not be forever pondered in our hearts? How can we take such a message and settle for a moment – for picture? How do we do that to this story? How do we choose it so often these Christmases?
Let us not do it this Christmas – let us. Let us remember this Christmas not with the latest technology (videos and phones) but with the oldest resources – our minds and our hearts. This Christmas commit to treasuring the messages which are being spoken in the many memorable moments.
- Focus less on gifts which are signs of love, and look more into the faces which displays the message of love (this Christmas)
- Focus less on the manger this Christmas – the sign of God’s love, and spend time praying and meditating on face of God which displays the most profound message of love imaginable.
Let treasure all these things (this message) and ponder them in our hearts – today, tomorrow, every day, for eternity.