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Lost & Found

True story: Violet and Sam were deeply in love, out for a walk in the countryside with Violet’s engagement ring sparkling on her finger—her most prized possession.

Then the conversation took a turn. One said something that offended the other. Tempers flared, the volume pitched up, and Violet became so enraged that she pulled the engagement off and hurled it with all her might.

Although the couple calmed down and asked forgiveness, but never did find the ring. Two months later they wed. They had a child and eventually a grandson. Part of their family’s story was that of the lost engagement ring.

Violet and Sam grew old together, and eventually Sam died. Fifteen years after Sam’s death, Violet’s grandson got an idea. He bought a metal detector, went to the field mentioned in their story, and began to search. He found what he was looking for. And he was able to place that engagement ring back on the hand of his astonished grandmother. What she had so treasured had finally come home.

Craig Brian Larson, editor of PreachingToday.com; source: “It wasn’t all bad,” The Week (2-15-08), p. 4

Violet and Sam’s true story is a great set-up to one of the most treasured Christmas stories among Christians. Turn with me in your Bible or Bible app to Matthew chapter two, as we begin four weeks leading up to and immediately following Christmas.

The series is titled “The Weary World Rejoices,” and is drawn from the Christmas hymn O Holy Night. It captures the reality, the truth, of the world that Jesus came into, which is very much like the world today. As that Christmas hymn sings, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”

That’s our goal for this Advent, for these weeks leading up to Christmas—that coming here you will find honesty about how we often experience the world, and you will find hope, and reason to rejoice. Let’s begin by reading Matthew’s Christmas narrative, chapter two beginning in verse one. We read:

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “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.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

Matthew 2:1-12

It’s a classic Christmas passage—and one that declares good news throughout the year, good news for every day. Here’s the first bit of good news for every day found in this passage:

God reveals himself to those who seek him.
This good news is made clear through the Magi’s experience. We read…

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘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 2:1-2

They came seeking, and their seeking was rewarded. And have you ever considered this? Anyone could have seen the same star that guided the Magi to Jesus. Yet only the Magi did seek, until they found.

These were spiritual seekers, actively looking for truth from God. And God rewarded that. God led them to find Jesus, because that’s who he is and that’s what he does. God reveals himself to those who seek him. That’s not a Christmas-only truth. That’s a 365-day-a-year truth. If your spiritual life has gotten dry or boring, seek the Lord again. Draw near through the gospels like here.

By the way, let the surprise of this passage hit you as it hit the first listeners. Here’s the good news surprise: the Magi were spiritual outsiders. Matthew is a Jew, writing for Jews. Yet he has to include that the first people to find and worship the Messiah…were non-Jews.

Right off the bat, Matthew points to the good news that Jesus is not just the king of Jews, but he is the Savior for all who will seek him. As the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah long before Jesus’ birth…

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:13

 

What God Is Up To Right Now

There are men, women, and children around the world who are seeking and finding Jesus as their king and Savior right now. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston regularly publishes the Status of Global Christianity. There are some good news surprises in the latest report. For example:

Atheism is on the decline. In 1970, 165 million people globally identified as atheists. Last year, they were down from 165 million to 135 million.

The global center of Christianity has shifted from the northern and western world, to the global south. Here’s what I mean:
A hundred years ago, twice as many Christians lived in Europe than in the rest of the world combined.
Today, Latin America and Africa have more Christians than the rest of the world combined.
And just 30 years from now, the number of Christians in Asia will also surpass the number of Christians in Europe.
In the year 1900, Korea was being written off as a lost cause for the Christian faith. Today, many of the world’s largest congregations are found in Korea.
Here’s a screenshot from Africa: On any given Sunday throughout the year, more Anglican Christians gather for worship in Nigeria alone than all other Anglicans worldwide! It’s an amazing global shift as the good news of Jesus reaches farther than it ever has.

The single greatest move of God in our lifetime is that for the past 50 years, more people from Muslim backgrounds have come to faith in Jesus than in the previous 1,500 years combined! The fastest rate of people coming to faith in Jesus anywhere in the world is—ready for this?—in Iran. Disillusioned with forced and policed religion, many Iranians are seeking the truth, and finding Jesus.

It’s an amazing, mighty move of the Holy Spirit, that like the Magi, people are seeking the Lord and they are finding him. God is doing what he has always done—revealing himself to those who seek him.

Let’s Seek Until We Find Again

And let’s not get lost in numbers. Ken Blanchard tells the true story of a girl named Schia who was 4 years old when her baby brother was born. Schia began asking her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that, like most 4-year-olds, she might want to hit or shake him, so they said no. Over time, though, since Schia wasn’t showing signs of jealousy, they changed their minds and decided to let Schia have some private time with the baby.

Schia went into the baby’s room and shut the door, but it opened a crack–enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Schia walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his, and say, “Baby, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.”

Friends, for those of us who have been followers of Jesus for 10, 20, 40 years or more, it’s easy to forget how good it is to find him. We forget, if I can say it this way, what God looks like, the marvel that the Magi felt when they were led to and discovered Jesus. This Christmas season, right now, let a four-year-old girl lead you to seek again, to ask God who has revealed himself in Jesus, to reveal himself anew…to you. He will.

And pray this for your family members and friends and coworkers who are far from God. Ask God to give them a heart to seek him. God reveals himself to those who do. Believe his personal promise: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” That’s good news any day of the year. Here’s the second bit of good news not just at Christmas:

God speaks to those who will listen.

God reveals himself to those who seek him. And he speaks to those who will listen.

Hearing is an amazing thing. I grew up with a hearing-impaired father. A fractured skull as a kid caused some hearing loss. Then working as an airplane mechanic during WWII did more damage. And an infection while still a young father did him in. So for my Dad, hearing took a lot of work. He learned to read lips. He learned the importance of face-to-face eye contact when speaking and listening. He had to tune out any distractions.

Matthew tells us the Magi similarly learned to listen carefully for God’s voice. Verse 12 he recalls…

“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod,
they returned to their country by another route.”

Matthew 2:12

Play this out in your imagination. One night, the Magi all have the same dream. We’re not told if there were three of them or more than three. The three gifts don’t necessitate that there were three men. But the point is that God was speaking, supernaturally, to each of them, through giving them the same dream.

So perhaps over breakfast one of them mentioned what he had dreamt…and the others were able to finish his description to the T. Now they had a choice. They could dismiss it as a fluke, an unusual coincidence. Or they could discern that this was God speaking to them, guiding them in a new way, one different from the star that led them to Jerusalem.

Christians believe that God is always speaking. It’s just that many aren’t listening. We believe that:

God speaks through creation.

In Romans chapter one, Paul makes clear that…

“What may be known about God is plain…because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Romans 1:19-20

Everyone knows there is a God, and they know that we are not God. How do they know this? From creation itself: from the perfectly-tuned design and immensity of the universe, down to the amazingly complex design of every cell in your body, creation bears witness to the Creator. Design points to a Designer. Theologians call this ‘general revelation,’ that which everyone knows. Simply by opening your eyes and engaging your senses with creation, you intuitively know that God exists and that he is vastly more powerful than we are. God speaks through creation. Secondly…

God speaks through the Scriptures.

To those who are listening, the Old and New Testaments are a gold mine for hearing God. Psalm 119 is all about how God speaks through the Scriptures to those who will listen. As verse 105 puts it…

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”

Psalm 119:105

I was on the summit of Cadillac Mountain recently long after dark to take in the stars. It was amazing. It was also a bit unnerving, navigating rocks with no moonlight at all. Had to use the light feature on my phone. So is God’s Word to those who open it up and walk in light of it.

The greatest direction we need is right here in the Bible. But like any other wise counsel, it’s only heard by those who are listening.

God speaks through those who have proven to be humble and wise.

The Bible’s Proverbs have much to say to this. Proverbs 12:15 for example cautions…

“The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.”

To be headstrong and independent is to be a fool. To listen to those who have a track record of humble, godly wisdom is…wise.

Erik Weihenmayer is blind, yet in May of 2001, he summited Mt. Everest. On a mountain where 90 percent of climbers never make it to the top, Erik succeeded, in large measure because he listens well.

He listened to the little bell tied to the back of the climber in front of him, so he would know what direction to go.
He listened to the voice of teammates who would shout back to him, “Death fall two feet to your right!” so he would know what direction not to go.

He listened to the sound of his pick jabbing the ice, so he would know whether the ice was safe to cross.
In life as in mountain climbing, listening well can make all the difference. God speaks to those who listen.

Source: Time (6-18-01)

And finally, the third bit of good news that’s for all year not just Christmas is that…

God leads those who will follow.

Matthew recounts in verses 9 & 10 how…

“After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

Matthew 2:9-10

The Magi sought God—and he revealed himself.
They listened for God—and heard him.
They followed God—as he willingly led them. And the result was overflowing joy.
They experienced, as the Christmas hymn O Holy Night sings, the thrill of hope, the weary world rejoicing. And this still happens, around the world, every time someone seeks God, listens to God, and follows God’s leading. The destination is always Jesus. And the result is always joy.

Do you recognize that we’re meant to follow? We as human beings are hardwired to follow. It’s just that we get all mixed up on who and what to follow. It’s all about who we seek, listen to, and then based on those first two, who we then decide to follow. Jesus said it this way:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd…My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:14-16, 27-28

When Jesus’ followers heard that, they never could have imagined the Church as it is now, with followers of Jesus in every nation on earth. All around the globe and throughout time, Jesus has been revealing himself to those who seek. He is speaking to those who will listen. And he is leading those who will not just hear and walk away unchanged, but he is leading those who follow him. This is the most fundamental thing of what it means to be a Christian. It’s not about coming to church to have what you already believe affirmed. It’s about following Jesus’ leading together in our day, in the places and with the people he has you rubbing shoulders with not just on Christmas, but throughout the year.

This is why Jesus came:

To make God known to all who are seeking;
To speak to all who will listen;
And to lead all who, upon seeing who Jesus truly is, will follow.

You know, even today, this day, in the place where Jesus declared that he is the good shepherd, and that his sheep listen to his voice and follow him, even today, you can see what Jesus meant two thousand years ago. The sheep of Bedouin shepherds graze the hills throughout the day, and they often end up at the same watering hole around dusk, and they get all mixed together—eight or nine small flocks turning into a mix of who’s sheep are who’s.

But you know what? Those shepherds don’t worry about it. When it’s time to head home for the evening, each shepherd calls his flocks, with a special trill or whistle, or a particular tune on a reed pipe. And that shepherd’s sheep hear his voice, and follow their shepherd home. They know who they belong to; they know whose they are. They recognize their shepherd’s voice. And his is the only one they follow.

Barbara Brown Taylor in The Preaching Life (Cowley, 1993), p. 147

Friends, while the world is weary, there’s also reason to rejoice, to experience the thrill of hope that Jesus came to bring—to you, to your loved ones, and to your neighbors and coworkers.

Still today, God is revealing himself to those who seek him.
Every day, all year, God is still speaking to those who will listen.
And still today, 2,000 years since Jesus was born, he is leading those who will hear his voice, and follow.
This is what we were made for—to be loved and led by the One who knows us best, and knows the path to take when we’re not sure.

Whether for the first time or the first time today, I urge you to seek the Lord, listen for his voice, and follow as he leads. Let’s have a word with him right now.

Lord Jesus, we rejoice that you have come! Thank you for not abandoning us to our sin. Tune our hearts to seek you anew this Christmas season, we pray. Give us ears to hear you speaking to us. And we will follow as you lead.

We ask on behalf of people we love, that for them, too, you would give them hearts to seek until they find you personally and powerfully. Give them ears to lean in until they hear you. And give them a willing spirit that when they find you and hear you, they will join us in following you.

Hear our prayer, good shepherd. Amen!