A Christmas Trip
In a few moments I want you to take a trip with me. In the Christmas stories according to Matthew and Luke there were two groups of people that took trips of a lifetime. They were the Shepherds near Bethlehem and the Wise Men from the East. We’re going to talk about them both later, but first . . .
(Illustration) Do you remember those family vacations that took you hundreds of miles from home? Weren’t they exciting? Plans were made, the days were counted before leaving, at the last minute you packed, and everyone piled into the car. Then there were all the personalities that converged into that vehicle! From the moment the trip started, one child was asking dad to estimate how long the trip would take and another was lamenting how hungry he/she was and when they could stop to eat. And there’s always one child that doesn’t want anything to do with traveling. This person is the family’s designator pouter whose idea of happiness is to spend every night at home. And then there’s mom. Mom did all the planning, preparing, and packing so she just wants to take a tranquilizer, crawl in the trunk, and wake up when they arrive. Those trips were fun, weren’t they?
When we take trips, there’s always a risk that things can go wrong; terribly wrong! There’s the chance that our dream vacations could turn into nightmares.
The beachfront condo that the brochure promised turns out to be unfit for a rat.
That mountain-view, get-away chalet you rented turns out to be a leaky, wooden, shack.
Then there are times when you leave on a trip and the car breaks down, or your money is stolen, or the keys are lost.
Has anybody here had to deal with misfortune on a trip?
(Illustration) When it came to traveling my grandfather, who was a Church of God pastor, was the master of misfortune. He was born in 1901, and for years he rarely took an extended trip without having a flat tire. My mother told me that on one trip between Tampa and Atlanta he stopped to repair sixteen flat tires!
(Illustration) My grandfather not only pastored, he raised farm animals. One Christmas he decided to give his brother some pork. His brother lived 500 miles away, so it took some creativity to deliver that pork in the form of a live pig. My granddaddy constructed a wooden crate, inserted the hog, and then fastened the crate to the front of his car. Unfortunately, a severe cold-front moved in during that trip and the pig froze to death on the highway. But there was always next year. The following Christmas my granddad strapped a crate onto the rear of his vehicle. Again, the hog met its fate . . . from exhaust fumes!
(Transition) Let’s get back to our Christmas Story. Thankfully, these travelers of the First Century that sought out the Christ-child had better fortune. First, there were shepherds that visited our Lord.
Luke says as these shepherds watched their flocks during the night, the glory of God shined all around them. Now can you imagine that? It’s pitch black and then, suddenly, everything around them is illuminated! Then an angel appears and announces that the awaited Savior of the world has been born and is lying in swaddling clothes in a manger in Bethlehem. But it’s still not over. Besides this angelic messenger and the glory of God that is all around them, a vast, multitude of angels appears praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (2:13).
The shepherds looked at one another and decided there was but one recourse. “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. And they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (2:15-16).
I want you to note how Luke carefully expressed the shepherds’ response. They “hurried off” to see Christ. They didn’t waste any time! The Chief Shepherd had appeared and they wanted to see Him. So they left their flocks and rushed to Bethlehem where they worshiped the Lord and told their story to Mary and Joseph.
Why Did the Shepherds Leave their Flocks?
Why would the Shepherds rush off and leave their flocks? Who would care for them? Who would protect them from the night predators? Doesn’t it seem irresponsible to leave their flocks? Let’s investigate that question.
Imagine yourself as one of those shepherds. What would you do if you had seen the sky light up with God’s glory and then millions of angels gathered above your head praising God? What would you have done had you heard the angel tell you to go to Bethlehem because the Savior of the world had been born? Would you have obeyed or would you have stayed behind and cared for the sheep?
Had I been in that group of Shepherds, nothing could have prevented me from rushing over to Bethlehem—nothing! When God breaks in upon your life with undeniable certainty and clearly makes His plans known, nothing should stand in your way of obeying the Lord. When it is so apparent that God has revealed an urgent plan, even our mandatory obligations must be altered to comply with God’s work.
Let me say it one more time. When God asks for our attention, it is imperative that we give it to Him. He is Almighty God and worthy of any request He makes. God is jealous. And He is the only person who is justified in His jealousy.
Have you ever wondered how God can be perfect and yet jealous? Why He can forbid us from allowing jealousy to grip our lives, but it’s okay for Him? Let me explain.
(Illustration) Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Jeff Gordon may be the best in their particular professions. But they are never justified for being jealous of other athletes that excel in their arena of sports. Michael Jordan didn’t have a monopoly on playing basketball. Peyton Manning doesn’t have a monopoly on playing football. We have never had a President that had a monopoly on the Presidency—Since 1776 more than 40 men have served as US President. However . . . God is justified for His jealousy about being God. That’s because God has a monopoly on being God! He has always been God. He is almighty, eternal, immutable, and no one is His equal. Thus, God is justified for being jealous of our worship, praise, and total commitment to Him. When God asks us to seek Him or fasten our attention on Him, He is always worthy to receive that attention.
By the way, I believe when those Shepherds left their flocks without their attention, God Himself providentially protected those animals. They were never more safe than the night God Himself cared for them.
(Transition) Well, that describes the trip the Shepherds made, now let’s investigate the trip of the Magi.
The Trip of the Magi
Through the guidance of a star these men had journeyed from the distant East into Jerusalem.
They began asking, “where is the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2)?
Matthew said Herod and all of Jerusalem were disturbed by the news that a king had been born. I want you to note that the Bible says, “all of Jerusalem was disturbed by the news.” The reason these dignitaries were disturbed is because they didn’t want another king to remove them from their positions of authority.
So Herod called in the Wise Men and quizzed them. “Tell me about this star. When did it appear? I need to know so I can worship Him.” Herod’s plan wasn’t to worship Christ, it was to kill Him!
After the Wise Men left Herod, the star led them before Christ, and they presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As they prepared to go home, an angel warned them of Herod’s deception; so they used another route of return. You see, Herod not only tried to kill Christ, he would have most likely murdered the Magi too.
The trip that these Wise Men made didn’t come without risk either. The shepherds had the concern of leaving their flocks and the Magi faced hundreds of miles of traveling the dangerous roads of the ancient world and then facing the terror of Herod! But it was worth it!
But remember their reward. These Shepherds and Wise Men saw the King of kings and Lord of lords! They stood in the presence of the Savior of the world and worshiped Him eye to eye. They were privileged to see the One Isaiah called, “the Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace.” They stood in the presence of Emmanuel!
Let me ask you, Are you ready to take a trip? Are you ready for the trip of a lifetime? Actually, it’s the trip of eternity. I believe most people here have made preparation for your trip to Heaven because you accepted the Father’s invitation to make Jesus Christ your Savior. But if you haven’t accepted Christ as your Savior, why not do so today?
Maybe some of you that have made plans to go to Heaven have been forced to deal with obstacles too. You’ve probably had flat tires, lost keys, or perhaps even made wrong turns. Perhaps you have even had a wreck or two along the way. Maybe you have faced unscrupulous people like Herod, who tried to totally subvert your trip. But you were preserved because God commissioned you for the trip. Let me assure you of something. When you arrive at your destination, you’ll discover, in an instant, the journey was worth it!
We’re not going to Bethlehem, we’re going to Heaven.
We’re not going to see the babe in a manger; we’re going to see the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Unlike the shepherds and Wise Men we’re not going for a quick visit, we’re making plans to spend eternity with our Savior.
Don’t get sidetracked. Stay on course. God is with you and you will arrive if you will “trust and obey.”
(Transition) I want to make several observations about the Wise Men as they sought for Christ.
1. The Magi were listeners. They lived in such a way that nothing prevented them from hearing God speak to them to search for Christ. I can’t quite figure out how they knew to begin their journey. I’ll find out that answer when I get to Heaven. But they were sensitive enough to know God had a mission for them and they obeyed . And they continued to listen to the Lord as He warned them not to report back to Herod after they found Christ.
2. The Wise Men were watchers. They looked to the heavens and saw the star that led them to Christ. And it’s always appropriate to keep an upward look as we live for the Lord.
3. The Magi were seekers. They faithfully searched for the Lord until they found Him. Nothing prevented them from turning from their course until their destination was met.
4. The Wise Men were worshipers. They made great sacrifice in giving Christ gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I want to close with the words of Jesus in Revelation 22, "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (14) "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:12-15).