(Relight first purple candle.)
On the second Sunday—last week—we lit the Bethlehem Candle or the Candle of Preparation, by questioning Joseph Mohr’s sweet lyrics to the favorite Christmas hymn, “Silent Night.” We concluded that the calmness he described could not be found in the world surrounding that holy scene in Bethlehem; rather, it lies within those of us who recognize and accept Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
(Relight the second purple candle.)
Today we will light the pink candle which is the candle of joy.
(Light the pink candle).
If you or I had planned the first Advent of Christ, it probably would have looked quite different than the scenes described in the Gospels. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen a teenager—a girl so young and inexperienced–to take on the responsibilities as the mother of the Christ-Child, “the Son of God.” I would have sought out a more mature candidate, one who looked the part; one who carried herself with sophistication … like royalty.
And a carpenter? Surely the earthly father of the King of the Universe should be a man of distinction; a physician, perhaps, or even a priest would have been appropriate. But a carpenter? I think not!
If I had been choosing the location for the nativity to take place, I would have selected a palace or a fine dwelling in uptown Jerusalem; certainly not a dank and smelly cattle stall behind an inn in Bethlehem. Who ever heard of a king being born in a cow shed and his first cradle being a manger of straw?
The kings from a distant country apparently had come to the same conclusion, for when they followed the star to Jerusalem, they went straight to Herod’s palace to inquire: “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 2:2, NIV). By the time these travelers reached Jerusalem, the family had moved from the grotto behind the inn into more suitable accommodations, but it was still far less than regal housing. Yet, the gifts they brought – gold, frankincense, and myrrh-- spoke of tribute suitable for a king.
● Gold has always been associated with royalty, and the wise men honored Jesus as the King of kings. In today’s market, gold is worth over $1,162 per ounce. It is definitely the resource of kings.
● Frankincense: In those days, was most commonly distilled into oil that was known for its anointing and healing powers and was used to treat every conceivable ill known to man. Frankincense was valued more highly than gold during ancient times, and only those with great wealth and abundance possessed it.
● Myrrh is a perfume that is often used in embalming. This aromatic oil foretold Jesus’ suffering and death as the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of all mankind.
A few years ago, Mark Harris composed the lyrics to a contemporary Christmas song recorded by the group 4Him. It is written as if Joseph were asking some of the same questions I have raised here. “Why me,” he asks, “I’m just a simple man of trade? Why Him with all the rulers in the world? Why here inside this stable filled with hay? Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl. Now, I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say; But this is such a strange way to save the world.”
The nativity isn’t the end to the bizarre story. This King, born in a cattle stall, entrusted to the upbringing of an ordinary girl and a simple carpenter, worshiped by shepherds and revered by kings, willingly died on a cross as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. Absurd! You or I would have orchestrated something a bit more spectacular and regal. Yet, when you believe, you realize that this too was the fulfillment of God’s words spoken through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier. “He [the Christ] was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV).
Even so, I must say I agree with Mark Harris’s conclusion: “What a strange way to save the world!”