Welcome to our Christmas Day service, the first time our church have gathered using technology to give thanks to God for the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus.
You can watch our Christmas Eve Facebook service here.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’ (Matthew 2:1-2)
Opening Carol O Come all ye faithful
Lord Jesus, We come with hearts full of praise to worship and adore You on Christmas Day as we want to mark this day with thanksgiving for your entrance into our world two thousand years ago. We have never sung as well as the angels but we confess that it is frustrating that we have been unable to sing Your praises when we have gathered in person for services on worship in the last nine months.
However, in our hearts and in our homes or cars many of us have sung the well-known carols or other songs of worship to our Lord and Saviour. The hymn writer whose familiar words we have heard sung expresses so well the desires of our hearts today too: ‘Yes, Lord, we greet You, born that happy morning;Jesus, to You be glory given! Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing! O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord’ Amen.
This song is sung by the Brisbane Chorale in Queensland, Australia, and includes in its ranks Nigel Robb, a regular attender of our church online services.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the One who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
6 ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.’
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.Matthew 2: 1-12
Prayers for others:
Lord, on the day when because You demonstrated Your love for us by entering our world as a baby in Bethlehem, it is very fitting for us to pause to remember in our prayers other people this day.
We remember those living in war zones for whom ‘Peace on earth’ seems a distant dream. We particularly remember those driven from their homes by the long-running conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, as well as in more recent conflicts in Nagorno Karabakh where hundreds of thousands of Armenians were unjustly driven from their historic homelands and most recently in Ethiopia.
We remember particularly today fellow Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in places like Northern Nigeria, Somalia or North Korea. In particular we remember….
We pray for those who are homeless in our own land and other countries at this time and pray too for the magnificent volunteers and other full-time workers who make a special effort to reach out to those sleeping on the streets at this time of year. In particular we remember…
Lord, for many of us we have time off work or other responsibilities today but we acknowledge a debt of gratitude to those who have to work over the Christmas season, especially in the National Health Service caring for those who are particularly unwell. In particular we remember…
Lord, for those living in Care Homes and their Carers we pray Your blessing on them today as well. In particular we remember…
Lord, for those living on their own who because of the virus pandemic restrictions may not have visitors today, grant them the strength to get through the day without feeling too great a sense of loss, trusting that very soon family and friends may once more be able to visit. In particular we remember…
Lord, for ourselves and our families, they are precious to us. This year most of us will spend time with considerably less people than usual, but we want to express our appreciation for the people we will be able to see. However, we want to bring our family members to You. In particular we remember…
In Jesus’ name we bring our prayers, Amen
Pre-recorded version of the message
Message – Matthew 2:1-12 What are you looking for this Christmas?
It was the week before Christmas and Tom had still to buy a present for his wife Sarah. He knew what she really wanted for Christmas but their limited funds simply wouldn’t stretch that far. What was it Sarah had wanted?
It was straightforward. Years earlier she had inherited a grandfather clock from her granddad. It occupied a significant place in their home, but there was one problem it wasn’t working. A few friends had had a go at fixing it but none of them succeeded in their attempts. A professional company had claimed they could fix it and had estimated that the repair would cost several hundred pounds more than they possessed.
What a pity, Tom thought. Anyway they decided that year to get each other an unusual present –something quite unexpected. While up in the attic soon afterwards he found a metal object for which he couldn’t figure out any use. He had a bright idea and polished it so that it shone beautifully. Then he put a ribbon on it and wrapped it up and duly presented his present to Sarah that Christmas.
On Christmas day she opened it declared it ‘beautiful’ and ‘just the thing’ but followed it up –after some slightly awkward silence with- ‘what is it? Tom confessed he hadn’t a clue. It was duly placed on the mantelpiece in the lounge where it stayed that Christmas and then reappeared over the next few Christmases.
The clock meanwhile was still out of action. Several years later Andy, a friend of Tom’s, was doing some work in the house, He noticed this unusual object on the mantelpiece and went to get a closer look. Andy like many friends before him had been told the story of the clock that no-one could get to work because something was missing. Out of the blue he called to Tom: ‘Would you mind if we turned the clock over on its side so that I can have a look inside?’ Tom agreed thinking no harm could be done and Sarah wouldn’t know as she was out at the time.
For approximately an hour Andy fiddled around with the inner parts of the clock. Various bits came out and were put back, and eventually he asked Tom to help him lift the old clock back into its upright position. Soon he had it working just as it used to do – but where was the unusual object from the mantelpiece? No prizes for guessing. It was the missing part without which the clock wouldn’t work. With it the clock was complete and reliable once again [Evangelicals Now, December 2013].
It could have been working years earlier, but no-one connected with the clock knew what they were looking for to fix the problem. In our lives we can be searching for meaning and purpose or a sense of fulfilment –but not know where to go to find it. Is that your situation this morning?
Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-8, in the Sermon on the Mount, these words: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Will you persevere until you find it? Two thousand years ago a group of influential and learned men were willing at significant financial cost to search for the one whose birth they had predicted as a result of seeing an unusual star. Their search took time –as may yours and mine, but their search was ultimately successful as ours can be today and in the years to come.
1. People seeking after truth (Matthew 2:1-2)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’
(a) Who were they? The Magi were a mix of astronomers and astrologers in their approach to the stars. This learned group of people collectively served as government advisers and senior civil servants in the Babylonian and Persian Empires (modern day Iraq and Iran).
Any research on the frontiers of knowledge in their day would have been carried out by them. As a result their arrival in Judah making enquiries about a new-born king would not have been as big a surprise at that time as we might expect as other journeys were undertaken by wise men. One of the best known was a delegation of men from this group who went to Rome in 66AD to consult with the Emperor Nero. It would be extremely doubtful if they learned anything from him as his sanity was seriously under threat by that stage of his life.
For our purposes the fact that a group of learned men travelled as far as Rome nearly two generations after the birth of Jesus is confirmation that the Magi were earnest seekers after the truth. Like many peoples in the ancient world there was a vague awareness that a special king, a Messiah, was to be born in Judah who was to have significance not only for His own people but also for the whole world. They did not know when this baby would be born or where in the land of Judah. But this did not deter them from setting out on their journey. Are you as determined as they were to find the truth? To search for Jesus and to come face–to-face with His transforming power; the birth of Jesus was not only significant for the world of 2,000 years ago it is equally important for us today!
(b) How serious was their search? What did the search for truth mean for them? It was a very long journey with a great deal of expense incurred and a huge time commitment as they were away from home for at least weeks if not months at a time. This journey on camels with provisions likely to have been carried on donkeys would have been very slow.
There was no public transport system or tarmac road. Muddy or sandy paths would have been their lot for much of the trip. Accommodation costs and fear of bandits in unknown territory would have added to their stresses, but nothing would deter them from undertaking this journey. How many were there of the wise men? Some early Christian sources give the total as twelve; much later when pious imagination was in full flow, maybe even for a Christmas presentation the number was reduced to three and names mysteriously appeared to accompany the three named gifts.
We don’t know how many there were, nor how many people they employed to carry their goods along the way. What mattered is that they all made the journey determined not to miss what God was doing in His world. Have you come today with a similar determination to seek God until you find Him? To follow Jesus as He leads you put your faith and trust in Him. If God had gone to such lengths to bring a Saviour into the world, they reasoned, the least they could do was to find Him and worship Him. Will you do the same?
(c) How accurate was their search? Their logic was impeccable. A king must be born in a royal palace. The capital city of Judah was Jerusalem. Therefore, this was the obvious place to visit. However, the outcome of deductions depends on the accuracy of your presuppositions!
It was no surprise that they convinced themselves of the plausibility of their position, but they were wrong- close but still wrong! In addition, the present king must both be aware of the new arrival and be rejoicing at His coming.
Unfortunately they asked the wrong person in the wrong place. What they did was so similar to many people’s spiritual journey today. Sincerity is in no doubt but on its own it is insufficient to find the truth. People today are searching for the truth in all the wrong kind of places. Jesus said: I am the truth (John 14:6).
The Bible is the book to read to find out more about Jesus and how He can become our Lord and Saviour. Have you read it, studied it and begun to grasp more clearly what God wants to say to us. God brought you here today to hear His Word. As you listen to this message the Holy Spirit can apply it to your heart and life and bring you to faith in Jesus.
2. People apathetic about the truth (Matthew 2:4-6)
4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:6 ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
One of the most fascinating parts of the story that we often overlook is the series of meetings that took place in Jerusalem and the impact of those meetings on the participants.
First of all Herod the King while not a believer himself, knew who to ask to find this important piece of biblical knowledge. For a man who guarded his throne as Herod did –with a fanaticism that implied a degree of mental imbalance together with an unbelievable sense of insecurity –why had he never obtained this information before?
Second the information was forthcoming from the priests, Sadducees, yet ironically this sect of the Jewish faith was very liberal in its theology accepting only the first five books of Moses while rejecting the rest of the Old Testament.
They also did not believe in miracles so any miraculous events in Scripture were disregarded. In addition, predictive prophecy was dismissed as impossible. In line with liberal theologians today they would have regarded such a belief as impossible and in written texts that the author wrote the predictions after the events had taken place, but couched it in words that implied some kind of divine foreknowledge. For these men no amount of evidence could break into their worldview.
The extraordinary events unfolding in the village down the road from them did not even register! Is your mind closed to God? If the Lord is speaking to your heart and mind could you listen to Him –could you sense His voice in your conscience?
How many people even in our own community will know in their heads the basic outline of the Christmas story yet have no desire to allow its significance to impact their lives at this time?
Matthew Paris, the well-known journalist, apparently once wrote an article about the basic Christian Gospel and declared: ‘If I really believed this was true (and sadly he didn’t) then it would revolutionise my whole life. My priorities would be completely shaped by this amazing revelation and wouldn’t care that some people thought me mad or crazy for sharing it with them.’ It is interesting isn’t it that sometimes familiarity with this amazing story can cause us to lose something of its extraordinary nature and significance.
3. People alarmed by the truth (Matthew 2:3, 7-8, 12)
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.’… 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
It was not the religious people who took the message seriously, they ignored it completely, but Herod the sceptic was different. The same evidence was put before three groups of people.
The learned seekers of the truth from outside the faith were committed to finding the answer no matter what the cost. The evil dictator Herod was equally determined to find this child, ironically because he took God at His Word and believed the Bible for entirely the wrong reason. Yet the formally religious people were indifferent to the truth.
Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and make a careful search for the child (Matthew 2:7-8) As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.
Herod’s words were a lie, but he had grasped something of the extraordinary significance of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. For him and his appalling evil lifestyle the coming of Jesus was something to fear at all costs. His life is an ideal illustration of the teaching given in John 3:19-21:
This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
We must be careful how we share our faith –with gentleness and respect (I Peter 3:15), but there will be some people whose reaction to even the most gracious presentation will be aggressive and hostile. Why? It is possible that their consciences have been convicted and they want to carry on living in a manner which is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus. The negative response in that context is not to the messenger but the God whose truth has hit home and shone a light into their life. This was Herod to a tee; he knew exactly what he was doing –and that it was morally wrong. But he could do it because he was in power and could exercise it in any way he liked- or so he thought.
To us his threats to the baby Jesus and the slaughter of the babies and young children in Bethlehem that followed are so extreme and barbaric that we cannot even begin to process what went on in his mind at that time. Thankfully people like Herod are a small minority in most countries, but what damage they can do in carrying out their evil desires!
What we need to remember when we give out invitations to special services or events or share something of our faith journey that people hear us in different ways. Some may be very negative and dismissive; others indifferent, yet others still may be sympathetic and although may not come that time may do so on a future occasion- if they see our profession of faith lived out in our daily lives. However, thankfully also there are people seeking the truth who are responding positively to Jesus.
4. People who accepted the truth (Matthew 2:9-11)
Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
(a) A successful search (Matthew 2:9-11a) 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him.
How did they react when they came face to face with Jesus? They were overjoyed (v10); how did you hear about Jesus? Maybe it was through a neighbour or a friend? Possibly, you heard as a result of the witness of a work colleague or family member? However, what is most important is the fact that we come to meet with Jesus.
I hope and pray that each one of us put our faith and trust in Jesus. If you are genuinely seeking Him then there is no doubt that God will put people on your pathway who can point you to Him and He will use all kinds of circumstances to bring you to faith.
The joy that they experienced can also be yours through Jesus. Some people come to faith soon after the first time of hearing the good news. Yet others hear on many occasions and it is years later when they acknowledge Jesus as Lord of their lives. That is between the individual and Jesus, but for those of us who are Christians we need to keep on praying for our friends and family who are yet to come to faith so that they too may in His time come to faith.
(b) Generous gifts (Matthew 2:11b) Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
What should we get for the baby? All of us have asked that question at some time or other? I have no doubt that your possible gifts never included the three things recorded on this occasion and with good reason! Gold was the gift for a king or some other form of ruler (see Isaiah 60:6). It was beyond the purchasing power of ordinary citizens to choose such a gift and only a very select few would have been its recipient.
Frankincense was a gift for a priest and used, for example, in the Temple offerings at the 3pm service each day in Jerusalem. Jesus was being honoured as one who would carry out priestly duties despite coming from the tribe of Judah not from the priestly tribe of Levi. He would have a special position in directing the people of His day in the worship of Almighty God, but in a manner far greater than they could ever have imagined.
Myrrh was used in a variety of contexts in the Old Testament including the being an ingredient in the anointing oil used on the special furniture in the Tent of Meeting and on the bodies of the priests on duty (Exodus 30:22-33). It was used to adorn people for celebrations (Esther 2:12), as well as an ingredient in a form of anaesthetic given to people in great pain (Mark 15:23), and anointing bodies for burial (John 19:39). Usage in all these contexts was applicable to events in the future life of Jesus. Here was confirmation for Mary and Joseph about the future life and significance of the baby in the manger.
(c) Are you looking for Jesus this Christmas? It is a beautiful story yet if that is all it is then the whole point of Jesus’ coming will have been missed. Jesus is not looking for a token gift. He desires that each one of us commits our whole lives to Him. I pray that God will enable you to take that step and as a result bring joy among the angels in heaven because you have become a follower of the Saviour of the World, for His name’s sake, Amen.
We will now close our service with this familiar carol: ‘Joy to the world’
Thank you, Lord, for the determination of the wise men to follow the star. Thank You that they continued on their journey until they reached the place where Jesus was born. Help us in this our time in history to be equally determined to find You, put our faith and trust in You and then live our lives in obedience to You. We ask Your blessing on the rest of our day and this Christmas season, for Jesus’ name’s sake, Amen.