christmas

Find Out How You React to Royalty This Christmas

Do you enjoy a cheap thrill from time to time?

Don’t be embarrassed to admit it!  So do I.

One of my all-time favorites is when I experience the involuntary “knee-jerk” reaction.

You’ve had the experience, haven’t you?

You go to your doctor, sit on the exam table and she whacks you in the knee with an orange, triangle-shaped rubber hammer.

Before you even think about your response, your lower leg jerks forward because of the prior stimulus.

For some reason, this makes your doctor smile and you silently hope this means everything is hunky-dory.

Did you ever stop to think about the three radically different reactions people had to the birth of Jesus?

Matthew, one of Jesus’ closest friends, captures these three reactions to the royalty of Jesus the manger-king in the second chapter of his gospel.

Go ahead and see which reaction you resonate with.

The first reaction to the royalty of Jesus was extreme frustration.

Herod, the puppet “king of the Jews” at that time, became emotionally agitated by Jesus in a bad way. 

And we can all understand why.  

Even though the Romans ruled with an iron fist, he fancied himself a king and lived under the illusion that his plans, goals, and priorities were entitled to stay on the throne of his heart.

Jesus, the true king, arrived with new plans, goals and priorities.  Initially, this causes us to feel emotionally troubled, confused and disturbed.

I’m used to being in charge of my destiny and day to day goals.

But what if we were never meant to be sitting on the thrones of our hearts?

What if our dethroning of God by the constant enthronement of our demands actually dehumanizes us?

What if we were meant to be cared for by a good king?

What if we were graced and given even greater plans, goals and priorities for living a fully human life than we could dream up?

If we enthrone this manger-king and remove our rumps from His royal throne, we can begin playing again as care-free children and dance in His presence with unconscientious joy.

Oh—how I want my heart to jerk forward and react this way to the real royalty of Jesus!

I’m gonna release my bloody grip on my end of the tug-of-war rope of illusionary control.

The second reaction to the royalty of Jesus was ho-hum, thumb-twiddling boredom.

Matthew, the story-teller, goes on to say how Herod tried to calm his troubled reaction to this rival king.

He gathered together all of the religious know-it-alls.

With a tone of hypocritical humility, he demands to know where this “Christ” (a code word for king) would be born so that he could worship him.

With a colorless case of the blah’s, the chief priests and scribes stodgily mention that an ancient prediction mentioned something about a shepherd-ruler who would be born in Bethlehem.

Matthew mentions no excitement, anticipation, or hope-filled eager expectation from these professional, religious experts.

Imagine having a leader described as a shepherd-ruler.

This combination of descriptives awakens and inflames hope.

A shepherd compassionately cares for the concerns of his flock.

To be labeled a “ruler” in that culture was to be understood as a leader who was willing to go first as the guide.  

He was the one willing to sacrifice himself, so that those who followed his “rule” or lead would stay on the safe path to the desired destination.

These institutionalized, religious specialists should have whooped and hollered hallelujahs at the mention of this coming shepherd-ruler.

Instead…they reacted with the sonic sound of silence.

I don’t want the world to hear crickets when I react to the shepherd-ruler.

What moves my heart should also move my lips.

I can’t wait to gather for worship at church on Sunday and join the chorus of those that whoop and holler hallelujahs from our head to our toes in anticipation of the coming shepherd-ruler.

The third reaction to the royalty of Jesus was explosive worship.

The wise guys from the East saw the star signaling the presence of royalty.

Their hearts began to bubble and boil and brim over the edges.

Matthew puts it this way, “they were overwhelmed with joy.”

Ever been there emotionally?

I was there when I saw the birth of my first baby.

Overwhelmed with joy.

Overjoyed.

Unable to contain this bursting joy, these wise guys fall to their knees and tip themselves over like full pitchers of praise.

What they pour out at the feet of royalty has become legendary: 

  • Gold, the king of the metals will shimmer and shine for this king of kings.
     
  • Frankincense, the sweet perfume mingled with temple sacrifices, will waft through the air as Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, takes this treasure with pleasure.
     
  • Lastly the worshippers gave Jesus myrrh, the scented oil stirred into the wine offered to him on the cross.  Hours later it would be used to embalm his lifeless body before it was laid in the tomb.

I want to react and explode with sacrificial worship, showering treasures upon him because he is royalty.

How will you react to Jesus this Christmas?

Pastor Howard
Senior Pastor
Metro North Church

  

Two Ways the Un-named Shepherds Help us to FIND OUR TRUE NAME

Has the Christmas story about the shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night” become boringly time-worn for you?

Yep.  You just began to yawn at the mention of this familiar story, didn’t you?

Common things can lose their emotional carbonation and seem flat.  This makes sense because God created us as curious children with a hunger for fresh surprises.

Join me as we pick this shepherd story back up and shake it a few times like a snow globe.  

The Spirit often surprises us when we meditate on and engage His living Word.

  • In Luke’s famous narrative he doesn’t even mention the names of the shepherds.

This is significant because our specific name is a powerful identity marker.

Think back to the last time someone miss-pronounced your name.  Did it irk you?  Even a little bit?  You probably corrected them so that they identified you correctly in the future.

What exactly is an identity and how do the un-named shepherds help us to find our true name?

Our identity consists of two interlaced strands.

  • The first strand is our persistent personality that remains the same regardless of the circumstances.  It is our durable core.
  • The second strand is our sense of value and worth bestowed on us from others.  You did not and cannot name yourself.  You cannot affirm yourself either. Remember, we are all children of God.  Children cannot name themselves.

Let’s glance back at the shepherd story found in Luke chapter 2.

First notice that the shepherds were identified primarily by what they did, not for who they were.

A shepherd is a person who does something with sheep.  He or she cares for sheep.

That is true as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. 

In the Jewish culture a shepherd occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder.  The rabbis did not allow them to be a witness in court, because all shepherds were seen as suspicious, lying thieves.

Have you ever wondered why the shepherds reacted with terror when the angel spoke and light shone all around them?  Usually we become less scared when the lights come on.  For the shepherds, they knew that their lives were littered with sinful, shameful deeds and the light revealed their blemishes and brokenness.

Does God look at you and identify you primarily with the sin you did in the past?  It can feel that way at first.  We want to hide and turn off the light of God’s holiness.  

When we look back on the lily-pad path of our life, we wince at the memories of all of the wrong things we hopped onto and into to give us a sense of identity and we are ashamed.

But remember that the angel said “Fear Not…God is at peace with all those with whom he favors.”

Don’t miss this.  God first favors you, in Christ, and views you as worthy in His sight even while you retain a rotten record.

This is joyfully great news.  Your identity is not primarily related to your doing but instead to God’s doing.  God finds favor in the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and sees you, in Christ, as pleasing in His sight.

Someone once said “Such as a man’s love is, such is the man.”  The shepherds knew that their constant self-love, manifested by their criminal activity, exposed their identity as sinners.

But in this story of the shepherds we find that such as a man is loved, such is the man.

We see God loving them for who they were in his sight rather than through the lens of their dirty doings.

Secondly, the unnamed shepherds were freed from having to create a false, fleeting identity.

Instead of feeling sorry for these shepherds without names, what if Luke was pointing out how freeing it is to live in God’s favor instead of a false identity; a false name?

Here’s what I mean.

Imagine a deck of cards.  Picture each card as an identity marker.

We often think that our family, friends, fitness, finances or fun ultimately identify our essential, durable core.

But like cards in a deck, any of these false identity markers that make it to the top of the deck may get reshuffled at any time through underperformance or circumstances that we cannot control.

If you think your financial status defines you, what if you lose most of your money and have to lower your standard of living?  Did the real you disappear?

Of course not.  Something you placed at the top the deck was shuffled lower and yet you remain the same person.

The December 2015 issue of The Atlantic has this cover article:  “The Silicon Valley Suicides.  Why are so Many Kids With Bright Prospects Killing Themselves In Palo Alto?”  The reporter explains that performancism (stressing your performance in sports, academics, looks, fashion etc.) was a possible trigger behind these suicides.

There is a lot of pressure to remain at the top as a student, and the anxiety involved in maintaining that perched position can be excruciating.

These teens saw their ultimate identity through the lens of their performance and chose to die instead of remain on the hamster wheel of hopeless exhaustion.

Instead of working to be seen, the unnamed shepherds were seen by God ultimately as favored sons and daughters.

Their essential identity as a favored family member was placed at the top of the deck by God.

When God looks at those that place their trust in Christ, He sees us through the identity of Christ.

And surprise!!  We experience the two strands of identity:  Our unique personality persists despite our doings AND we are named as forgiven, favorable family members.

Thanks for shaking the snow globe of Scripture.

Pastor Howard
Senior Pastor
Metro North Church