Tag Archives: Matthew 2:1-12

Christ: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

This is the final sermon based on the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, written by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  The original plan was to present the sermon on Sunday, December 30, 2017.  Unfortunately the frigid temperatures prompted the decision to cancel worship that Sunday.  Therefore, this has been edited to be given Sunday, January 7, 2018–Epiphany Sunday.  

As I post this, I can only wonder if the weather will cooperate tomorrow, too.  The forecast is for freezing rain and warming temperatures.  The question will be how accurate the forecast and how the timing of the warming temperatures will be.  I decided to go ahead and post this sermon due to all the uncertainty of the weather.  I pray that this completes the reader’s understanding of this Advent season’s messages.


Scripture connections:


Isaiah 60:1-7, NLT

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
Your eyes will shine,
and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
and will come worshiping the Lord.

7The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,

   and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.

I will accept their offerings,

and I will make my Temple glorious.

Matthew 2:1-12, NLT

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

            King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

            “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

            Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

            After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

            12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.



Christ: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break


            Here it is the day after Epiphany (January 6) and Christmas season is technically over. Yet, when Mother Nature decides to make her presence painfully evident, sometimes we just have to stop and reassess plans. The frigid temperatures that came with Christmas Day provides us a ‘reality check’ as James Moore referenced in his final Advent commentary.

Throughout Advent, the focus has been on the Christmas gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy, and peace. These are gifts that come wrapped up in the final gift—Jesus. Having to confront the reality of the extreme cold and its risks to the congregation brought a sudden end to the five-week Advent study and Moore addresses this:

. . . sometimes we misread things. Sometimes we misunderstand things. Sometimes we misinterpret things. Sometimes, maybe much of the time we do that with Christmas: We misread and misunderstand what it’s really all about. Before we know it, Christmas has passed us by, and we have missed its warm embrace once again.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 108)


In these last two weeks, do you find that you are already missing the true meaning of Christmas? Do you need a reality check now that Christmas is over and life’s routines have resumed?

Certainly the cold makes even daily chores difficult. The sunshine helps, but so many days have had clouds and getting up to start a new day—cold new day—is tough. The calendar is empty of special events and family gatherings. The leftover turkey is gone, and you actually are tired of the holiday cookies and candies.

In an odd way, the entire sense of expectation and excitement that surrounds our Christmas traditions feel broken. Yet, for weeks the focus has been on the gifts that won’t break—hope, joy, love, and peace. The final Christmas gift God gave us is his own presence in the form of a human baby we know as Jesus.

Christ’s birth is a gift from God that keeps all the other gifts from breaking and Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas. The gift of Christ is a gift that fits everybody, everywhere, anytime. And the gift of Christ provides endless hope, love, joy and peace. Christ is the unifying, lasting, and priceless gift that keeps the other gifts from breaking.

In Isaiah, the prophecy of the final chapter of the Christmas story is outlined right down to the possibility of the kings following the stars to find Jesus after his birth. Written about 681 BC (19911416), Isaiah 60:1-7, identifies that the kings and caravans [of people] will come from the east, from Midian, Ephah, Shelba, Kedar and Nebaioth. Isaiah even adds that the gifts they bring will be gold and frankincense (no reference to myrrh though).

The ancient Israelites remained faithful and hopeful. The literature of the Old Testament weaves the prophecy in and out that God would send a savior, a Messiah, a king to ‘save’ them. The Bible stories are filled with examples of how faith in God makes our earthly lives manageable. Moore explains faith:

Realizing that we can’t make it, that we are down and out, that we need help, God sends us a Savior. In Jesus Christ, God comes into our world . . . to pick us up, to hold us up, to see us through, and to bring us home. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 112)


The birth of Christ did not end the trials and tribulations of the faithful Jewish people. In fact, the Bible continues to share the struggles of the people in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament.   The faithful maintained hope that “God cannot be defeated,” as Moore continues:

Even though evil will sometimes make loud noises in our world, as Christians we can be confident. We can be filled with hope because we know that ultimately God and righteousness will win. And just think of it: God wants to share the victory with us. That’s why the Christ Child came into the world . . . to bring the good news of God’s ultimate victory. That is our hope. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 113)


The birth of Jesus Christ gave us the gift of hope and the gift of love. By joining us on this earth, God came to teach us how to love one another. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God’s plan is explained:

     And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus . . .

. . . 10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

     12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.


God’s gift of the baby Jesus Christ was how the plan was completed. The faithful, whether Jew or Gentile, accept that Jesus Christ, as God in human form, came to teach us how to love one another.

Moore uses an anecdote from Bill Hinson about building a doghouse for his daughter’s new puppy, Happy. After completing the project, he could not get Happy to go into the doghouse. Only after he gave up and went into the house, did he witness a transformation. He saw Happy wagging his tail, go joyously into the doghouse, and lie down serenely. How come? Hinson’s daughter had crawled inside and only then did he trot in beside her:

. . . Where all those other things had failed, love prevailed. That’s what Christmas teaches us. Love is the single most powerful thing in the world. And in the gift of Christ, we receive the gift of love in the most powerful and perfect way. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 114)


Happy’s story is much like our own. By accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ, we receive salvation. The Christmas gifts that won’t break make our life journeys one that last through eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We celebrate the unbreakable Christmas gifts

of hope, love, joy, and peace.

And most of all, we celebrate the greatest gift,

Jesus Christ, your Son who came to be with us.

We know that because you are here,

our lives are renewed.

Give us the wisdom and courage

to put these unbreakable gifts to work

in our lives throughout the coming year,

knowing that you are with us always. –Amen. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 117)

Communion notes:

            The cynics might wonder how it is possible to consider that Jesus Christ is a Christmas gift that would not break. The reality of God’s presence in human form is that the body breaks. Our local tradition is to begin each month with the sacrament of Word and Table, aka communion or Eucharist. The very practice recognizes that Jesus, the man, was broken and died on a cross, but God continues.

            Today, we have heard the final chapter of the Christmas story remembering how the wise men came to find Jesus the infant. Their story is found only in Matthew, written to tell how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies. Jesus is God’s gift of love.

            Join us at the table to accept the gift of Jesus Christ who demonstrated how to love one another despite all the trials and tribulations that confront us in our earthly lives.

            Join us by taking the bread and the juice to recommit ourselves to joining in God’s plan to use love as the tool to provide hope, love, joy and peace to one another right here in our own community, our nation, and our world. There is no other gift so unbreakable as God’s love wrapped up in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.



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The Gifts of Christmas: Open and use

given on January 4, 2015


Have you finished putting away all the decorations and gifts, washed the new clothes, played with the toys, and read all the books? Surely not.

The calendar indicates a new year, and just a few days into the year, I bet many New Year Resolutions have already been discarded. In fact, how many of you have really even written down resolutions?

Think about how Christmas today tends to signal the end rather than the beginning. Because we live on a 12 month calendar that begins in January and ends in December, the tendency is to end not begin. Yet consider that gifts that the Wise Men/Magi brought the Baby Jesus. Did that visit demonstrate an ending or a beginning?

A year ago, the Epiphany Sunday’s sermon was also about the gifts the Wise Men brought to the Baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The symbolic meaning linked the gifts to the prophecies and the nature of the baby. Gold represents royalty. Frankincense, culturally, established the connection to God as it was used to lift prayers to God. And, finally, the myrrh signified the humanness of Jesus since it was used in burial.

These three gifts hold symbolic significance in the story of Christmas, but do these gifts get opened? Knowing that the beautiful packages under the tree are filled with all types of wonders is one thing, but when they are opened are they used?

God’s gift of his son was the end of an era. The Law of the Old Testament no longer was working. The Old Stories were known, recited, but unused, as God had intended that they be used. Even the prophecies were not effective. A new era began that first Christmas with God’s gift of his son. The hosts of angels announced it to the shepherds and the Wise Men showed they knew by the gifts they brought to the baby.

Did these gifts sit unopened and unused? Did people believe the news the shepherds shared? What happened after that first weekend, that first week, or even the first year? Did God’s gift get opened and used or not?

Unlike gifts we wrap and put under the trees for our family and friends, the gift of a baby could not provide an immediate change. The very nature of humanity is that the baby has to grow and to learn before joining the adult world and contributing to society. The Baby Jesus needed almost 30 years to be ‘opened and used.’

Have you opened and used God’s gift to you? Have you considered even opening the gifts God gave you personally and use them? Have you kept your gifts secret and not share them with the ones you love? Have you found ways to use God’s gifts daily or have you discovered that they are worn out and need fixing or replacing?

Gift giving is a cultural or social practice. Yet, God’s gifts are born within us. Sometimes it is difficult to see the gifts and know how to open them, but all gifts have value when opened and used. God’s gift of his son was opened and in the three years of his ministry, an era closed and a new era opened. As cruel as society was to Jesus, the gift was opened and used and even destroyed; but the result was phenomenal.

The Christian faith has grown and grown throughout the centuries and into the millenniums. The people who opened God’s gift and used it did not have an easy life. Many were martyred. Many were imprisoned. Many were censured. Yet, God’s gift continues—as long as it is used.

The new era continues, as long as God’s gift continues to live by the gift giving we continue now. God gives each one of us special gifts to use and it is up to us to open and to use them. When we do, with the purpose of continuing to share God’s gift with others, the era continues to move forward.

Remember the lesson on spiritual gifts that Paul shared with the Corinthians? In I Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the gifts each person has and even goes on to explain how it works to share God’s love and how each person working with others continues sharing God’s love.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[b]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[c] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[d] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

These are the gifts, have we opened and used them? Are we so worn out that we quit using them? Are we guiding the next generation in how to use their gifts? Have we kept the gifts carefully wrapped up and unopened over the years?

Our responsibility, as a new year begins, is to make sure all the gifts are opened and used. Maybe we are tired, but we can teach others our skills so they can carry them forward. We can share what we know with others and then let them find new ways to use the gifts, too. During the next few weeks, we will review some of the very basics of Christianity. We are a generation ready to let the next generation open their gifts.

Let the fun begin! We know the generations have opened and used their gifts from God so all the millenniums’ generations can receive the greatest gift of all—God’s love. Paul knew how important it is for all to work together:

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

God sent his gift to us so that we might know God’s love now and forever. He also gave each of us special gifts to use. Have we opened the gifts and used them? Have we worn them out and need to replace them or to fix them? Or, is it time to see the new gifts around us, open them and use them.

As we begin using a new year, let us resolve to use all the gifts we have and we see around us to continue sharing the ultimate gift—God’s love. The time is now! The need is now! Let us have fun opening the gifts and putting them to use. The era continues and God’s love grows.

Please join me in a closing prayer:

Dear Loving and Giving Father,

Thank you for the gift of your love

with the birth of your son.

Thank you for announcing the news of his birth

with the host of angels.

Thank you for guiding the Wise Men to the stall

with gifts telling the secrets of who the baby is.

As we begin a new year, we resolve to open and use

gifts that you give us upon our birth.

Guide us through the year as we learn how to use,

to share, and to give so others receive your love.

Our gift to you is the sharing of your love

as we work to transform our community with your gifts.






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Gifts to God

This is the sermon planned for January 6, 2014.  The scripture reference is Matthew 2:1-12.  Unfortunately the snow, blowing winds, and extreme cold, services had to be canceled for the best of the members.  Therefore, this sermon is available through WordPress only.  Hopefully everybody is safe and comfortable in their homes this January Sunday.

Okay, the tree is down, the gift wrap is gone, returns and exchanges are done, and the last cookie sits untouched.  Christmas is over, right?  Or is it?

Monday, January 6, 2014, is the first Christian holiday in the calendar year. Epiphany represents the journey and the gifts of the Magi, the Wise Men.  The Magi’s story is read as part of the entire Christmas story, but the story is not necessarily chronological.  One major key to the story lies in the gifts:  gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The story of the three kings is filled with mystery.  No one really knows when they arrived in Bethlehem because other pieces of the story can indicate that they traveled thousands of miles, that they could have not arrived until almost two years later, and they may not have originated from the same location.

Tradition says they were men of high position from Parthia, near the site of ancient Babylon.  How did they know that the star represented the Messiah?  (1) They could have been Jews who remained in Babylon after the Exile and knew the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah’s coming.  (2) They may have been eastern astrologers who studied ancient manuscripts from around the world.  Because of the Jewish exile centuries earlier, they would have had copies of the Old Testament in their land.  (3) They may have had a special message from God directing them to the Messiah.  Some scholars say these wise men were each from a different land, representing the entire world bowing before Jesus.  These men from far-away lands recognized Jesus as the Messiah when most of God’s chosen people in Israel did not.  Matthew pictures Jesus as the King over the whole world, not just Judea.  [Chronological Bible:  p1283]

Yet, the story of the wise men culminates in the gifts.

Remember that the gospel of Matthew is the only one that includes the story of the wise men.  The entire story is only 12 verses long, and it references the prophecy of Micah, not Isaiah.

The Lord says,

“Bethlehem, you might not be
an important town in the nation of Judah.
But out of you will come
a ruler over Israel for me.
His family line goes back
to the early years of your nation.
It goes all the way back
to days of long ago.”
Bethlehem was also called Ephrathah.

Add to this reference, keep in mind the book of Matthew was written to convince the Jewish people to accept Jesus as the savior that they had expected.

Sometimes the message of Christmas is lost in the ribbon and the gift wrap that gets wadded up and tossed away.  By the time Advent is over and Christmas decorations are put away for another year, the story of the three wise men is tossed off to the side, too.

Yet, the story includes a list of three gifts that causes one to wonder at the choices:  gold, frankincense and myrrh.  These are three gifts that may not mean a great deal to us today, 2014, but these three choices were clearly chosen with great care.

Gold might still be valued as the most precious mineral on the earth even today.  Gold’s value is a foundation for the global economy and is sought by almost everybody.  Just turn on the TV and you can find shows featuring the search for gold in the Yukon, the Amazon jungles, the freezing waters of the Bearing Sea, and even the historical shows about the gold rushes of the past.  Gold never loses value.

Symbolically, gold is for royalty.  Studying literature, the symbolism of gold usually connects to themes about kings and queens, about hidden royalty, and about lasting qualities or durability.  Gold is a gift for a king, and in the story of the wise men, gold represents the acknowledgement that Jesus is king of the Jews.

Now frankincense is an unknown element to us today.  We do not connect it with a specific quality or a purpose like the ancient citizens of the world did.  Frankincense was typically burned as incense in the temples, a way to lift prayers to God.  For the Jewish people, the expensive incense immediately connected Jesus to God.  The gift was chosen to signify that Jesus was indeed God.

Finally, the gift of myrrh provided a third purpose.  Myrrh was the perfume, the spice, used upon death to prepare bodies for burial.  By contemporary standards, this gift would seem inappropriate for a gift upon the birth of a child; yet, myrrh was so expensive it was valued and protected.  Symbolically, myrrh was the ultimate gift signifying the human quality of Jesus.  Myrrh completed the gift list for Jesus—a king, God, and man.

As Advent approached, the gift giving frenzy overpowered the significance of the Christian season.  Gift giving is a tradition that we humans have adopted to honor those in our lives.  We spend hours and dollars trying to make sure we have just the right gifts for our family and friends.  Do or did we consider the significance of the gift or did we simply take a wish list and check it off.

Surely the Magi did not have a wish list to use; instead they made decisions based on the qualities they knew Jesus was to posses.  He was to fulfill the prophecy of a king of the Jews.  Jesus was born as a human, yet he was God.  The Magi’s gifts were chosen with a purpose so that others may learn who Jesus was.

Matthew is the only gospel with the story of the three kings, and the reason it is included is to convince the Israelites that Jesus was the king of the Jews.  The Israelites were living a difficult life and Herod was someone they feared.  They anticipated a king who would militarily and politically lead them.  The arrival of a baby did not seem to be the answer.  Yet, the story of the wise men arriving with the gifts answered the arguments for some followers.

The Magi’s story may not be included in the other three gospels as it was not necessary for the intended readers.  The Jewish people needed all the proof they could get.  The story is a gift for us too, as we continue searching for answers.

The gifts the wise men gave Jesus give us the answers, too.  Jesus is God, Jesus was a man, and Jesus served as a king in that he was able to change the Old Law to a New Law, one that simplifies life and overrides all other human law providing us the ultimate gift of eternal life.

Have we accepted and unwrapped the gift?

Have we used and shared the gift?

Do we work to provide the gift of Jesus to others?

As we close our service today, our responsibility is to continue giving the gift of faith to others.  The Christmas season is over, but giving is never over.

Whether the wise men showed up 12 days after Jesus’ birth or whether it took them two years to reach Bethlehem, their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are gifts that answered the question of who Jesus was for the Israelites, and for us, the gifts remind us the value of giving our best to God.

In order to continue giving to God, we are committed to giving our best in Christian love.  We give to our families, we give to our friends, and we give to our community.  Sometimes the gift is of service and sometimes it is our gold.

The wise men followed God using a star to guide them.  We have their story and many others to guide us toward God.  God’s gifts to us are priceless and unending.  Now our responsibility is to give ourselves to God.  Consider this:

After finding Jesus and worshiping him, the wise men were warned by God not to return through Jerusalem as they had intended.  Finding Jesus may mean that your life must take a different direction, one that is responsive and obedient to God’s Word.  In what ways has Jesus affected

the direction of your life?  [Chronological Bible: p. 1285]

Your answer is a clue to how well you have given your gifts to God.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

The calendar now reads 2014 and we return to routines

filled with alarm clocks ringing and chore lists to complete.

Quickly the excitement of Christmas gifts and family gatherings

fade into our memories as we pack away the decorations.

Keep our lives centered and our eyes on the Christmas star

as we take giving gifts to others, to giving gifts to God.

As the winter chills our bodies, let our hearts be warmed

with learning new ways to give as God gives to us.

May we experience the joy of giving, a sense of peace in our hearts

as God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit

and the promise of eternal life.            –Amen


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