Throwback Thursday Review: Stephen Mansfield’s The Search for God and Guinness

Reviews of three Stephen Mansfield books have been part of this reader/reviewer’s work since 2009:

Ask the Question which I reviewed in 2016 that dealt with the role of faith in politics.

Lincoln’s Battle With God which I reviewed in 2012 which was a narrative about the faith of Abraham Lincoln.

The Search for God and Guinness which I reviewed in 2009.

It is this Mansfield book that has stuck with me and is one of three to five books that I quickly recommend to people to read.

This book, about an Irish family of great faith, who brewed a beer as a alternative to bad water and hard liquor, is an amazing book about what happens when faith is put into practice.

The link to my 2009 review is just below and I hope that you take the time to read it.

 

https://jimkane.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/review-of-stephen-mansfield%e2%80%99s-the-search-for-god-and-guinness/

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My Review of Abbas Amanat’s Iran: A Modern History

For a generation, the word Iran has conjured up a variety of images and thoughts here in the west some filled with hope and others of a more pejorative nature. As a college senior, this reviewer remembers the frustration, futility, and anger, of America and the West, during the events of 1979 and 1980 when the United States embassy in the capital of Tehran was overrun and the staff taken hostage for over a year.

Since then, Iran, as an Islamic Republic, has been much maligned and disregarded by the America and the West in the forty years since the fall of perhaps the last of Pahlavi Shah. It has also brought turmoil to the American political scene since the late 1970’s (the Iran-Contra scandal, aka Irangate, of the mid-1980’s for instance).

But when the opportunity to review Abbas Amanat’s new history of his native country Iran: A Modern History (2017, Yale University Press) was made available to this reviewer, I eagerly began to read it with the hopes of understand the events of 1979 and the history of the nation and people who were behind them.

I was not disappointed. What I found was the history of a proud and resilient people with a dynamic and turbulent past and present.

Amanat’s book begins in 1501 with the Safavid Dynasty and ends with an insightful analysis of why the nation of Iran has been able to exist. But there is more to this book than the historical narrative of the seven dynasties through which Iran has passed to the current Islamic Republic. This is a book in which the cultural history of Iran is also told – architecture, literature, music, and from the mid-20th century to today – film. It is also book in which the depth and tenacity of the Shia branch of Islam is shown and has been a major part, according Amanat, of Iran’s survival, thriving, and identity.

Iran: A Modern History, is a history that has depth and breadth to it. If you are a first time reader of Iranian history, this book will challenge you, as it did this reviewer, with a scholar’s, and a native son’s, understanding and analysis of Iran. But you will discover a perspective, a very long perspective, on a nation who has sat astride history of both the east, and since the 18th and 19th centuries (and before, really) the west. A position that created external tensions with Russia and England and internal tensions between the Muslim clerics, the progressive element seeking democratic forms of government, and the deeply rooted supporters of monarchy.

I really enjoyed this book. I helped me to understand the turbulent nature of contemporary Iran as well as the reasons behind much of what has happened since 1979.

It is a book that would be great for book clubs, as well as probably upper class history classes as well as graduate level history and perhaps in Christian seminaries as part of the study of Islam and the Muslim world.

I gave this book a five-star rating on Goodreads!

Note: I received a kindle copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Throwback Thursday Review: Andrea Hiott’s Thinking Small

Having read and reviewed over 400 books in the past eight to nine years, I thought I would take a break from reading and reviewing for a few months. (I do have one book that I am finishing which will be reviewed as soon as I finish it.)

But good books are good books and I have read several, ten perhaps fifteen, that come to mind when I think of a book that I would like to re-read myself…and recommend that you read perhaps for the first time.

I am going to recommend those books to you again with a link to the original reviews.

I hope that you find something you might like to read.

The first one is one of the three to five which stick with me all the time. It is about the legendary car – the Volkswagen Beetle.

The book is Andrea Hiott’s Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle published by Ballentine Books on January 1, 2012.

If you are a car fan, a Beetle fan, a history fan, or know someone who is, read this book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the link to my review in 2012:

https://jimkane.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/review-of-andrea-hiotts-thinking-small/

Happy Reading!

Jim

My One Word for 2018: Re-engage

In the fall of 2008, I gave a series of sermon to the congregation I still serve today, on creating margin in life. A theme for that series was Learning to say “no” so that I can say “yes” to God, and, as I was to discover, yes to life.

Thus began a journey in which I started letting go of many involvements in my state and national church circles and the community in which I live. It took me nearly three years to let go of all of them but I finally did it!

Since then I have had some minimal involvement in my state and national church work and my community. But in the latter part of 2017, I began to sense that it was time to

re-engage!

 

As I have read posts by others on this one word journey over the years, a common refrain I have heard from those sharing their One Word for the New Year is:

“My word found me. I did not find my word.”

I have found this to be true, especially this year’s word as I began to experience re-engagement in the final months of last year.

But this new word, this new focus, does NOT mean that I am going to sign up for anything and everything!

I am going to keep it simple and focused in the following ways:

In community service…

A single community service focus which I believe has found me is being part of a team of people to help my community effectively deal with mental health. A conference called “Speak-Up,” organized by the Lutheran Foundation of Ft Wayne, Indiana, back in November, revealed to me that the issue of mental health and the church was vital importance. As the speakers shared, I realized that I needed to address this issue with the congregation I serve.

 

In personal relationships…

The opportunity to meet with small groups of people this next year to discuss life and faith and whatever else comes up has presented itself. I am looking forward to getting out of my office and meet in local coffee shops and perhaps elsewhere.

 

Through Social Media…

I have been a user of social media for the past 10 years and, while I have dropped off Twitter and Facebook at times in the past, I am still “on” them. Twitter has been the place where I spent time engaged in a caregiver’s #carechat and now I am planning to join a Mental Health twitter chat this year.

 

As with my other words, it will be an interesting journey this year.

“Practice Leaping” My Year with “Silence” My One Word 2017

Silence is like a river of grace inviting us to leap unafraid into its beckoning depths. It is dark and mysterious in the waters of grace. Yet in the silent darkness we are given new eyes. In the heart of the divine we can see more clearly who we are. We are renewed and cleansed in this river of silence. There are those among you who fear the Great Silence. It is a foreign land to you. Sometimes it is good to leap into the unknown.

Practice leaping.

Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses

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I practiced leaping this year, into silence, into what Wiederkehr calls the dark and mysterious “waters of grace.”

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What I leaped into, what I found, what I experienced, and am still experiencing,

has been grace, change, transformation, life…in a painfully slow way…at times

But, at other times, a “renewed and cleansed” experience that has melted the iceberg of frozen emotions in a frozen and numbed soul.

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My numbed soul

 

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The silence has yielded to a clarity about myself that has  necessitated, required ending my self-imposed isolation and withdrawal and required and entry into a community of people, who hears, has heard, and continues to hear, the thawing emotions, words and world that I have inhabited for several years.

 

Imposed by self-will, self-sufficiency.

 

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This journey continues, and will for a long-time, but it began with silence, a silence that has forced me to get out of myself

 

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and into the arms of Grace, the arms of God

My 2017 Book Recommendations…for 2018

2017 has been a year in which my reading and reviewing has taken a back seat to life. The suddenly diagnosed illness and  death of my father-in-law in the first half of this year slowed my reading and reviewing to a crawl. As a result, I was only able to read and review 20 books this year, one-half of my Goodreads goal for 2017.  However, I did read several excellent books that I list below as recommendations for your reading pleasure for 2018.

And speaking of 2018, I am taking a break from reading and reviewing…I will be focusing on some personal and professional reading for several months. Having read and reviewed over 430 in the past nine years, I need a break. But, having reviewed so many great books, I will be re-posting on one or two Thursdays a month, the review some of my favorite books that I have read and reviewed since 2009.  Look for Jim’s Throwback Thursday Reviews!*

* Note: I will have one current review coming in early January, Abba Amanat’s Iran: A Modern History. 

After all, a good book never goes out of style!

Okay! It’s time for my favorite reads of 2017 that I recommend to you and your reading family and friends as great books to read!

Sana Krasikov’s The Patriots

From my review:

“…a tremendous piece of historical fiction that covers both the breath of mid to late 20th century history from Brooklyn to Moscow to Siberia and back; the depths of human love, betrayal, idealism, despair, and hope, and ties these two threads together in an unforgettable way through the life and choices of Florence Fein, an American who goes to Russia in 1934 and who embraces the socialist vision of Russian society but at a great cost to her and her family.”

Andra Watkins’ Hard to Die

From my review:

“Against the historic backdrop of West Point and the Hudson River valley surrounding it, author Andra Watkins again pens another historic thriller in the vein of her first novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriweather Lewis. 

With Hard to Die (2016, Word Hermit Press) the first in a series she calls the “Nowhere Series,” we enter the lives two historical figures whose disappearances remain shrouded and in mystery and debate, Theodosia Burr Alston the daughter of Aaron Burr, the Vice President of the United States who was presumed dead in a shipwreck and Richard Cox, a West Point cadet, who vanished meeting a man named “George” in January 1950.”

 

Jennifer Grant’s When Did Everybody Else Get So Old?

From my review:

“Jennifer Grant has written a book about aging and middle life that is, at times, gritty, humorous, sad, honest, but very, very much grace-filled. It is one that those who are about to enter mid-life, those who are in mid-life, and those, like me, who have passed through mid-life and are on the verge of senior adulthood should read.

Make that, “everybody should read.”

Shauna Shames’ Out of the Running

From my review:

“This is the story of a multi-year investigation into why elite, well qualified young adults who are already on a path toward a career in policy or law are not more interested in running for office. 

Shauna Shames, a Political Scientist and researcher in American political behavior, has added a meaningful narrative to the discussion of contemporary American political life with an insightful and well-researched study of why a group of well-educated and qualified young adults are choosing to focus their attention on meaningful work into areas other than elected office with Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters (New York University Press, 2017)”

 

Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast

From my review:

“My job is being a father. My profession is drawing comics. I write for fun.”

Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast (TarcherPerigree, 2017) is a delightful and wonderful piece about the joys of fatherhood no matter if you are the father of daughters (as he is) or sons…or both!

Developed, from what this reviewer understands, from his Facebook posts, Bussola takes us on an inside look of fatherhood, and life, as he helps his three young daughters navigate life and the wider world which they live.

 

Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant

From My Review:

“What strikes me about The Flight Attendant are the characters who are neither over the top nor wooden. They are credible, they are everyday. I felt sorry for Cassie at times and then at other times, when her implusiveness gets the best of her, I felt frustration tinged with concern. Then there was the mysterious “Miranda” whose own second guessing (that will become clear as one reads the book) chips away at her refined and deadly image. And the rest of cast? Sorry, no teasers from this reviewer. You will have to read the book!

Additionally, the tense plot line, which left this reader/reviewer on edge, is an edgy one. One that kept me wondering when Cassie would finally be arrested…or die…or live…in spite of herself.”

 

Robert W Merry’s President McKinley: The Art of Stealthy Leadership

 

From my review:

“Merry seeks to at least move Teddy Roosevelt’s shadow aside (if one could move TR’s shadow aside!) for a least several hundred pages and bring to light a President who oversaw (and perhaps was swallowed up by, at times) a United States emerging out of the Civil War/Reconstruction era and into the twentieth-century. This reviewer believes that he accomplishes that task and reveals a President who knew how to use executive power in ways that allowed him to accomplish his goals. And the book’s subtitle, The Art of Stealthy Leadership, reveals how McKinley does that – through a stealthy approach – in which personal influence and relationship account for a great deal.

…it is a wonderful introduction to the 25th President to a new generation of readers and students of history and politics. Merry is able to describe the complex issues and events over which McKinley governed in simple and clean prose. He is sympathetic to McKinley but points out his slow and deliberate way of working often got him in difficulties or forced him to act before he was perhaps ready to act.”

 

Mohana Rajakumar’s Pearls of the Past

From my review:

“Over five years ago, I read my first Mohana Rajakumar novel entitled Love Comes Later  which introduced me to the world of contemporary Arab fiction and the two main characters of Rajakumar’s newest novel Pearls of the Past, Abdulla and his wife Sangita, who met while graduate students in London and fell in love, following the death of Abulla’s first wife and unborn child, much to the chagrin and frustration of his family with whom they now live among back in Abdulla’s home country.

Living in a constant state of tension with both the past and the future hanging over them in a cloud…and with a cloud of another kind about to cover them and their family, Pearls of the Past, is a tense and onrushing work of fiction about dreams and desires of the past still affecting the dreams and desire of the present and future in ways which unfold as the story unfolds…and which threatens to swallow all of them up in a very dark way.”

 

Scott Eyman’s Hank and Jim

 

From my review:

“Scott Eyman has done us a favor with the writing of his book Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart (Simon Schuster, 2017).

Well researched and written from a sympathetic and yet honest point of view, Eyman chronicles the rise and the decline of Fonda and Stewart’s careers and lives in a manner which drew this reader/reviewer in. He goes behind the scenes of stardom and gets into the personal lives of both men, in an alternating narrative as the story develops.”

Ryan Coughlin’s Right Handed Lefty

 

From my review:

“Ryan Coughlin has given us a collection of characters who can, and does, draw on the sympathy of the reader, as they struggle to prove that what they saw and heard was true, though they are not believed, especially by local law enforcement.

Right Hand Lefty is a novel about overcoming the challenges of growing up not just as a teen but as a teen who is considered an outsider whose word is doubted. It is also a novel about claiming one’s heritage and living in that heritage with dignity and pride.”

 

A Walk Around the Manger

Christmas Eve Sermon

December 24, 2017

 

One of my favorite exhibits at EPCOT is the one in the China exhibit called Reflections of China.

You walk into a room, this room, and stand while watching screens that completely encircle you thus giving you a full 360 degree view of China. 360 degree camera set ups have been around for a while, the first one was at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1901.

 

 

Disney used one for an exhibit at Disneyland called  ‘A Tour of the West, when it opened in 1955. Since then, the ability to do a 360 degree shot of just about anything, has been made possible.

 

 

 

For a few moments this morning, I want to do a 360 degree walk, if you will, around the manger. We are going to jump around in the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke this morning so I invite you to follow along in your Bibles, the one in your hands, or in the pew rack in front of you, or on your smart phone or tablet.

 

As we walk through these passages I want us to keep the following thoughts in mind:

There were some threats against Jesus that developed soon after His birth

There were some interested parties, admirers, and bystanders beginning to gather around Jesus

There was one, considered by historians to be the founder of an empire, who probably had no idea that the Messiah would be born during his reign and that his demands for a census would fulfill God’s ancient plan of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

 

We begin our walk around the manger with Joseph and we stop at Matthew 1:18-25 as we do.

 

Two things about Joseph to notice this morning has to first do with his character in verse 19:

 

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Joseph was faithful to the law, the Covenant the Lord made with the people of Israel that was given to Moses. And because he was he was a man of faith. He believed in what the law said and was faithful to it. He practiced living the covenant the Lord had made with his ancestors.

And because he was faithful to the law, it shaped his character as noted in the next phrase of the verse, “and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace” even though “he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph’s faith said that Mary could be divorced because she was carrying another “man’s” child. Jesus was not Joseph’s son!

But Joseph wanted to do a compassionate thing. He did not want, as he could have done, publicly embarrass and shamed her. He wanted to be quiet about it and allow her to keep her dignity.

I think that there is a lesson to be learned here from Joseph about our character and how we treat people who are in difficult situations.

The second thing comes as we consider the whole of Matthew’s genealogical link between Abraham, David, and Joseph. David was the king of Israel at one point, and at points in the Gospel accounts Jesus is referred to as the Son of David, for example in Matthew 20 and verses 30 and 31 we read:

 “…there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Joseph, I think we can argue, came from a line of royalty! Have you ever stopped to consider that?

“But pastor, the Bible says that he was a carpenter!”

You’re right!

But think about this, I have for the past couple of weeks, “was Joseph, as a descendant of David and Solomon, a political threat? Did the Jewish leaders know about him and his lineage? When he and Mary went to Bethlehem, were they and their family, watched for signs of political intrigue?”

Who knows. But what we do know is that when the angel visited Joseph as noted in Matthew 1

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

He did the right thing…

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,

We know little about him, and read little about him after they return from Egypt and the long-held view is that he died at an early age.

But what did Joseph think about this baby as he held Him? And what did Joseph believe about Jesus?

Was Joseph an admirer or an interested party or a by-stander or something else?

And speaking of Joseph, I recently read that a precocious 10 year old who played Mary during a Christmas play reminded her Joseph as he complained of the travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, “Shut up! It’s not your kid, anyway!”

Let’s spend a few minutes with Mary now.

 

 

 

 

A couple of things to note about Mary today…

In Luke 1:38 we read “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” and in Luke 1:46-47 “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

She considered herself a servant of the Lord and she magnified, she held in high esteem, the Lord as she praised Him.

To me, there is great simplicity in Mary. She is focused. She is focused, understandably so, on her child. But she is also focused on allowing God’s will to be done.

She will watch her son, grow up, become a prominent teacher, become a lightening rod for political power and jealousy, watch him die, most likely was one of the women who found the empty tomb and experienced a resurrected Christ.

Was Mary a threat, an admirer or an interested party?

 

Then there is the angel Gabriel who plays the role of messenger to Mary as noted in Luke’s gospel in chapter 1 and verses 26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

I have an author friend named Jane who has written some incredible novels which feature angels as the main characters. And having read several, it has given me a helpful perspective on the role of angels in God’s kingdom.

A couple of things caught my attention about this passage

First,

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

Ponder this segment for a moment. God sends an angel to be His voice to a young woman in a town, probably then of only a few hundred people. (Today a city of about 75,000). Put yourself in Gabriel’s place for a moment – try to take in what you see, hear, smell! And he is sent at a specific moment in Mary’s pregnancy. Why? The sixth month is the beginning of what? The third trimester of pregnancy.

Angels figure prominently throughout the life and ministry of Jesus. For example as we read in Matthew 4 Satan mentions them as he is tempting Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

And their presence when the temptations were done…

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him

Then in Matthew 30, in the midst of a conversation that was about marriage and heaven, Jesus said

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

And in Luke 15:10 we read

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

 So angels are part of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life on earth as well as His birth.

The other thing that we notice is that the angel has a name, Gabriel, Gabriel is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Daniel. So Gabriel has visited with Daniel, and now he visits with Mary.

Was he a threat, an interested bystander or an admirer…or merely the messenger?

And speaking of angels, we cannot forget to stop and revisit the shepherds as noted in Luke 2

 

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The shepherds were minding their own business…and sheep when first one angel and then a host of angels showed up and announced and celebrated Jesus’ birth. Their work got interrupted…Their lives got interrupted!

Did they take the sheep with them into Bethlehem? Or did they leave them with the youngest member of the group? If they took them, how many sheep went with them?

“Pastor Jim, you are going a bit off topic…who cares where the sheep were…and how many and…well…you know…”

Has Jesus ever interrupted you at work? A sudden insight or awareness entered your conscious thought? Or a conversation with someone took a turn that you did not expect and it went toward Jesus?

When we encounter Jesus, He interrupts our lives! Think about the people we read about in the gospel accounts who were interrupted by Jesus’ words and actions? Not all of them made changes that He asked of them. But they were stopped in their tracks and forced to deal with Jesus and His agenda. Think of the rich young ruler.

And these shepherds…were they mere by-standers? Were they a threat? Did they become admirers?

I don’t think there was a shepherd in the 12 disciples that Jesus selected. We know little about a few of them…maybe one or two were…we don’t know.

But how did this encounter affect these nomadic men? In the years that passed, did they remember that night if and when Jesus walked through their pastures or across their paths as they led their flocks?

We don’t know…but the announcement and their encounter with the Christ child left them stunned and amazed…and they were not quiet about it!

But Jesus did not only affect these wander sheep herders, He affected one who sat in a place of great political power and some who were of great learning and travel…we go again to Matthew 2

 

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Lots of debate and discussion over the years about who these three men were.

Were they astrologers? (We have seen his star…)

Were they wise men? Men of wisdom and discernment.

Were they kings of some kind?

The gifts they brought, I have recently read from the pen of Pastor Chad Ashby in an article at christianitytoday.com, had many of the early leaders of the Christian faith seeing the

“…significance in wise men bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh “from the East.” In the estimation of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian these gifts were particularly Arabian in nature. Martin Luther agreed. He writes concerning the wise men, “At first they did not consider this king to be God, but in the usual manner took him [Jesus] for a temporal king, just as the queen of Sheba considered Solomon a king, coming to him with presents from her country.” Luther read Matthew 2 and thought: Foreigners from Arabia bringing gifts and seeking wisdom in Jerusalem?”

We know little about them…but were they merely by-standers or an interested party or a threat?

And then there is King Herod, paranoid about a possible contender to his throne.

 

And when the wise men do not return, Herod embarks on a heinous act of murder… of children, trying to kill the young, very young Jesus.

I think we know what Herod was…a threat…the first of many political and establishment threats to Jesus that would finally “win.”

Which leads me to have us consider another powerful, very powerful leader whose distant order set in motion God’s plan…

Luke 2:1

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…

Historians consider this Caesar the founder of the Roman Empire. And he makes the decision that he needs to know how many people are in his empire and perhaps who they are. And so he orders a census… and that census put into motion – Joseph and Mary – to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem as the wise men of Herod notes in Matthew 2

he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea…

Augustus died in 14 AD before Jesus began His ministry. So probably Augustus never knew who Jesus was…

He was the most powerful man in the world of that day…but was merely a by-stander to history.

And this brings us back to Bethlehem from Rome. From power and wealth and splendor to a small town, a village, and a crowded place where the simple and poor gather to be counted…and a baby is born

 

 

Matthew 1:21 “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Babies cause change don’t they?

Not just diaper change…

But change in life, routines, priorities…

Some of that change is expected…somewhat prepared for…

And some of the change is unexpected…

Joseph is roused in a dream by an angel after Jesus’ birth and told

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.

 I do not think that Joseph expected that.

This child would cause a substantial interruption in the events of that day, when as a man, He would speak of a Kingdom that was not contained in nor would be controlled by a specific area of the world.

This child…

would speak of being born again… of a God who loved the world and would send His one and only son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.

This child…

came so that we might have life and have it to the full.

 

As we have walked around the manger this morning, where do you see yourself in relation to the manger?

In relation to the baby in the manger?

 

 

 

As an interested bystander?

As a threat?

As an admirer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

An historical figure?

A nice guy?

A person who said a great deal of things that were wise and insightful?

Or is He more?

What the baby in the manger came to seek, were fully devoted followers, disciples, of His and His alone. Those who experienced the saving grace and mercy of Christ through His death and Resurrection.

I believe, and the Bible teaches, that Jesus was the one and only begotten Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead three days later.

I believe, not just because the Bible teaches, but because I have experienced it first hand, that Jesus offers us the chance to be forgiven of our sins, be freed from the guilt and shame that has weighed us down, and to live a better life now, on this earth. A life of meaning and purpose.

And so, on this Christmas Eve, I believe because I believe the Bible to be true, that Christmas has been, currently is, and always will be about Christ.

And I invite you this morning to give yourself a wonderful Christmas gift, the gift of forgiveness and grace through Christ. He wants each of us to live a life of peace, of hope, of joy, rooted in His saving grace. And that great gift is available to you right where you sit this morning.

Thanks be to God for the baby in the manger, the savior of our world.

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas… and Amen