|Christmas - It can also be your story|
(Luke 2:8-12 NKJV) Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
Every Christmas, we again hear the story of nativity. The central character was Jesus but each of the other support characters had great stories to tell of their journey to become part of the family photo at the nativity scene. Some missed Jesus altogether, some paid a great price to see Him, some tried to kill Jesus so that they can control their earthly kingdom. Today, we present Christmas from the perspective of the Sheperd Boy, the Wise man, Joseph, and from Herod.
We are the Shepherd Boys. Today’s date is 11 Sept, 3 BC. We are poor Jewish shepherds out in the cold winters night. More than 700 years ago, our nation Judah had fallen to the Syrians who had killed many people. We prayed for a saviour, a messiah, but He never came. 100 years later, in 582 BC, the Iraqis’ came, killed most of our nation and those remaining were transported to Bagdad. Our Prophet Isaiah gave us hope when he saw into the future in Isa 9:6, that God would sent us a messiah. But it has been more than 600 years. We paid dearly for worshipping other gods and learnt the hard way that all religions does not lead to the same God. There is now just utter emptiness, not a whisper from heaven.
Our ancestors came back to Jerusalem with Ezra and Nehemiah. But life has not changed much or been easy now under the Romans. However tonight we saw Angels appearing to us declaring that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Could this be true! We had almost lost hope! We have to see for ourselves? Surely there must be redemption. We have suffered long enough, from the Syrians, to the Iraqis, and now the Romans? It can only get better!
We managed to find the Jewish religious texts. There was indeed a mentioned of the birth of a very great King (the King of Kings) in the ancient religious text – the book of Prophet Micah Chapter 5 verse 2. What, in Bethlehem of Judah? It will cost us much of our savings and the traveling time of 3 months. It would be very dangerous with all the bandits. We would be bringing Gold worthy of a King, Frankincense worthy of a prophet of God, and Myrrh worthy of a High Priest to God.
I am Herod the Great – King of Palestine. I am 70 years old and almost the end of my life. I was given authority by the Romans to rule over Palestine. I did favors with the Roman Senate and got them to declare me as King in 40 BC. Today, grave news has reached me. We have a group of Wise Men who had traveled thousands of miles to Jerusalem and now asking for direction to see the birth of a great Jewish King. I have fought hard to gain control of Palestine and today all my work will be in ruins if my descendents do not succeed me. Who is this new King of the Jews? I must get rid of him? The religious authorities told me from the literal interpretation of the scriptures that He will be born in Bethlehem. They are also not quite sure. Personally, they say that maybe its just figurative and there are no simple answers. Anyway, what good can anyhow come out of Bethlehem. So they advised me not to bother too much. Personally, they believed it more likely for some great general with a large army to get rid of the Romans. But I think they are afraid after all they are all crooks like me.
Christmas was their story. Christmas is also your story. Tonight, who do you identify with? 1) Are you the wealthy Religious leaders, who knows the scriptures with head knowledge but desire earthly wealth and authority rather than a heart to seek understanding 2) Are you the majority citizens of Jerusalem, followers of the religious leaders and tradition who consider it too difficult to read and study the bible yourself, and more practically minded to follow the laws given as a good Jew. 3) Are you Herod, concerned about the immediate demands of life and holding on desperately to an earthly kingdom, but failed to see the much bigger picture of meeting the King of a heavenly kingdom. 4) Are you the poor shepherd boys who had nothing to loose and simple faith to believe what the angels said and not cluttered by preconceived notions of religion, simple faith to hope again when there was no hope 5) Are you Joseph, clinging on to faith in God despite not understanding why life has been cruel and unjust and ill fated!. 6) Are you the Wise Men, not only satisfied with knowledge but a seeker of truth and understanding, and willing to pay the price.
I was once like the majority of the Christians – having head knowledge and with a practical desire to live a good Christian life as best I could – to love others as myself and the love God with all my heart. I had a relationship with God, but I did not really understand His Word despite attending great churches. Then something changed in Christmas1998 and I seemingly lost everything and I became dissapointed with religion, the love commandments seemingly impossible to fulfill and broken without remorse by those who preached on it. Fundamentalist and Conservative Christians I felt can be the most evil and cruel people witin their white robes! Has Christianity made them so?. Is all that I have believed and lived for, it is true or have I wasted my time to be so involved in the church. Was it the Bible that made them so? or was it religion , man made traditions, and man's carnal / self centered interpretations. I don't believe it was the fault of God, nor of the bible. Perhaps, it is how we read the bible, with our self righteousness totally out of context and historical reference.
On Christmas eve, 1998, I was playing guitar alone outside the closed roller shutter doors at City Harvest Church then located at Payar Lebar. It was just after the cell group Christmas celebration, just like this. Worshiping God, I was in tears. I was waiting for Cell group friends to celebrate the Christmas countdown. But on this festive occasion, there were just tears as I sat worshipping God outside the closed church doors. Many years earlier, I knew that I was gay and was attracted to guys. But sincerely seeking a normal life, I went for relationships with girl friends. Many were good friends but there was never the biological urge. It became good friendships only. Sitting outside, the church doors, it finally dawned onto me that I was getting old and perhaps may never have a family which he so strongly desired.
As I stood playing ‘I love you Lord?’, more tears came streaming down my cheeks. It was difficult to love God. It cost a lot – to have faith. For in a stroke of injustice, I was 5% of the population who is Gay despite not wanting it. There was a slim chance of only 1 in 20. But what ill fate? To be alone, to live in a closet that no one knows. To cry every night for God to take away this torn yet He did not. The sense of loneliness grips my heart. There was no one to turn to. It was Christmas for others for not for me. I knew that with the strong condemnation of homosexuality at City Harvest church, I must soon leave for the roller shutter doors of the church have shut forever for me. I would leave behind friends, loved ones…. to find himself. … to be alone with God. That night, as I played and sang ‘What a friend we have in Jesus?’, it was a hope that Jesus was with me for He seems so far away. My friends could rejoice for they are straight, but for me, it marked a life lost, a death of dreams of hopes. There have been many previous dreams. But tonight, my whole life, my dreams to be a blessing for the work of God is no more. I would live and die a quiet life, a wasted life just because I am gay. But tonight, as I worshipped God, there was seemingly a very strong presence of God comforting me and accepting me as a Gay person.
Friends, if you leave here with only one truth, leave with the understanding that Jesus Christ, is for you and not against you. He bids you come and dine with Him to celebrate His birthday. You need not bring gifts for nothing you can bring that He does not already have. Only bring yourself. We have made Christianity complicated and dogmatic when all that is to it is Jesus. The Jewish Leaders, just like our modern day religious conservatives could not see the simplicity of Christ added to it traditions and pre-conceived notions not found in the bible. But God is here today, the same Spirit that is in Christ is here today. Christmas can become your story of coming back to God. Just as the stories of the sheperd boy, Joseph, the Wise Men, and Herod are repeated every year, you too have a great story to tell. Let us closed our eyes for a moment, and picture the manger with the Wise Men, the Shepherds, Mary, Joseph and Jesus with you in it. Come before Him, come just as you are nothing more, nothing less, no pretension, no religion, just you. Bow down before Him, speak to Him, and let His love and healing embrace you in your entire spirit, soul, and body, and enter into a journey with Jesus.