The joy of he Gospel

ChristmasMidnight and the star of Bethlehem – Bidborough 2014

Matthew 2:1-12 and John 1:1-14

Hilary’s and my daughter Katy, is a doctor at a short-staffed mission hospital in northern Madagascar.  She has just emailed:  “There have been several heart-aching cases in the hospital recently but also some encouragements.  Maha-vonjy (which means ‘to make saved’) came to the hospital with a horrible infection in his leg.  Sadly, the only thing to do in his case was to amputate in order to save his life.  But during his time recovering in hospital, hospital staff spent time talking to Maha-vonjy about how he can be saved through Jesus Christ.  Maha-vonjy who is now on crutches has been coming to church for several weeks now.  After the service this morning (that’s this last Sunday), Dr Adrien drove him home as the dirt road was slippery after the heavy rain.  As he got out the land-rover, Maha-vonjy was beaming with delight at the prospect of returning to church for the afternoon gathering.

Maha-vonjy means ‘to make saved.’  Says Katy: ‘may we all experience afresh this Christmas, the wonder of Jesus (whose name means ‘the Lord saves’).

How can we care about, not only Maha-vonjy, but all the other needy people in the world – especially the millions of children who cannot enjoy Christmas as we would wish?

We can’t, but the body of Jesus Christ, his disciples in the church in the world today, could.

2000 years ago, Jesus in his humanity was uniquely able to give each person that came in touch with him his full attention.

While Matthew (15:21ff) and Mark (7:24ff) record Jesus as giving a Canaanite woman an apparent brush off, it turns out that he was simply deepening her faith and that of those around them.

He somehow gave to everyone who came to him, his focused attention.  So the question, which I hope to begin to answer:

How does God in Heaven cope, how does He know even each thought that comes into the minds of each one of us, as King David claimed in his great Psalm 139??

Centuries after King David, St John, begins his Gospel, instead of focusing on the events of Jesus’ birth, he teaches us simply, that Jesus is God.

“The eternal God the Word, became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

From a greater perspective, a fourth dimension I like to call it, from the greater dimension of God’s world, He enters our world.

The human brain and personality can only really know a few dozen people, some school teachers remember the names of several hundred, but that’s their limit.

And eventually memory fades.  But the human Jesus was confident that God knows the number of hairs on each of our heads.

Just as a picture painter in our 3-dimensional world can give an indefinite amount of time perfecting a 2-dimensional picture, so as ‘the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us’ in our 3-dimensional world of space and time, coming from the greater time and space of heaven, God in Christ knows each one of us, intimately.

He planned and created galaxy upon galaxy (or as Graham Kendrick puts it in a hymn:  ‘he flung stars into space’).

And it was, in such a way and at a certain time, planets and stars lined up eons after the big bang, to a time when with our little human understanding of the stars and planets, we gave them names, which then announced to us, His coming into our world as a human baby.

For me, by far the most likely explanation for the star of Bethlehem, is, that there was in 6 BC, an astronomical line-up of planets and stars which astrologers immediately interpreted as a great King to be born in the land of Judah, ruled then by King Herod.

The December date for Christmas was chosen several centuries after Jesus was born.

In different parts of the world  Christians were celebrating it on different dates, any time between the northern hemisphere’s mid-winter and the end of March April date of the Passover in Jerusalem.

The Anno Domini – the year of our Lord – was not chosen until the 6th Century, by a monk in Romania called Dionysius Exiguus, or Dennis the small, and over ensuing centuries his dating of 0 AD came to be universally accepted.

The fact that he only got it wrong by six years is pretty amazing.

Then, a few years ago, astronomer Professor Michael Molner at the State university of New Jersey, USA, used a computer programme to prove that in 6 BC, on April 17th, there was a conjunction in the eastern sky of the planets Jupiter and Saturn.  It was in the constellation of Aries the Ram (believed to symbolise the Kingdom of Judah), and the sun and the moon all came together in the same alignment.

Jeremy Bowen, veteran Middle East journalist, produced a few years ago a series Son of God, which graphically illustrates this alignment of planets and stars.

If you would like to check out for yourself Professor Molner’s work, which also discovered a second conjunction of the planets and stars that year which could have been the ‘standing over’ of the Bethlehem star as the wise men arrived some time after the birth of Jesus, together with the clip from Jeremy Bowen’s ‘Son of God’ series, ask me afterwards for the links.

Time to get back to the Gospel narratives, and verses that I Iike very much that explain them further.

From Luke ch. 2  v19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Again at the end of the chapter:  “And his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

I believe that we have here a twice-stated clue, that Luke the Greek doctor, talked with Mary as an old woman living with John in Jerusalem many years later, and drew out of her the account of the announcing of the angels to the shepherds about the birth of Jesus.  And perhaps it was the same doctor Luke who then passed on to the Jewish Matthew, Mary’s other story, about the coming of the wise men.

I’ve nearly done.  Two more dates – Christmas here in this church, 100 years ago when at least two families were mourning sons killed in one of the early battles of World War One – see the monuments?  [Carol singing at Bidborough Court 50 years ago]?  At the Carol Service, Stephen took us back to the same moment in thre world’s history.

And then 200 years ago today on the other side of the world:  On Christmas Day 1814, in New Zealand, Luke 2:10 was the text Samuel Marsden used when preaching the first sermon to Maoris – the message that the shepherds told Mary that the angels had told them: “He will bring peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased.”

Peace on earth – the Hebrew word Shalom.

Which can only begin when we make peace with God.

Then, like the shepherds, we are called to go – and to glorify God.

Faith in Jesus led to sharing the Gospel, and to Glorifying God – Christian discipleship in a nutshell.  That is an unstoppable force, that will fill God’s world. .

I finish as I began, with one-legged young Maha-vonjy in Madagasgar.

“…Tidings of great joy….’  Mahavonjy knows great joy, despite his circumstances.

May you too, enjoy this Christmas as never before, as you “receive  the Grace upon Grace” of John 1:16.

Penguins in Madagascar? Penguin Flying?? Bethlehem stable? and star??


Why should the World Wildlife Fund and the John Lewis Department store have all the publicity about penguins? I refer to the current pre-Christmas advertising of both organisations.

The penguin in the picture is being flown by the Mission Aviation Fellowship to his new home in Madagascar.  Inside the southern tropics, he will have a hotter Christmas than most other penguins.

This post gives me the opportunity to provide a link to a video clip that I have recently digitalised,  It is from Jeremy Bowen’s BBC television series ‘Son of God’ some years ago.  It will put right one or two misconceptions about Christmas, such as the date – much nearer my birthday than December 25th!  Note, it will take a minute to load, be patient….

If this is my only blog this month, have a great Christmas celebrating the birth of God in Christ, who came to reconcile the world to Himself.