Sunday, December 31, 2023, the Year of Our Lord

Pastor Carolyn Sissom


As we come to the close of 2023, we are happy to welcome the New Year.  Many have stated that trials in 2023 pushed them to their limit.  For a Christian that only means that we push through that limit into another realm of Glory.


It has become my custom, dare I say, “tradition” to cite my favorite New Year’s quote spoken by King George VI at St. Paul Cathedral during the Blitz, December 29, 1940:


“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.’”


As you have heard me say, I believe there is an angel placed over every year and the “Gate of the Year” is an apt metaphor. 


I had a blessed and joyful Christmas with Shanna and Trey and the beautiful Christmas Eve service with our church family.  Like so many, we had interruptions.  Chris’s mother was taken to the emergency room at the hospital on Christmas morning.  She had gall-bladder surgery and is doing well.  Claire and Chuck were scheduled to come, but she was sick with the flu.  Even though plans changed, we had Jesus at the center of our family Christmas.  We were all greatly blessed by the love, friendship, and good will.


If any one was challenged by family or friends during the Christmas family gatherings, it is probably safe to conclude that pride was behind the offended and the offender.


Perhaps as we the church consider our New Year’s resolutions; we should put humility at the top of the list.  It is our “rights” and “righteous indignation” that rob us and others of  peace.   Pride works variance, emulations, wrath, and strife …  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law (Gal. 5:20, 22-23).


 In section 8, Page 83, “Humility shines” is one of Max Lucado’s stories in the Christmas book, Because of Bethlehem, Love is born.  Hope is Here.


It is the Bible Story of the wise men and Herod, and the children’s game, King of the Mountain.


 I will summarize to sermonize.


“Herod and the magi share the same chapter, but they didn’t share the same heart.  The wise men traveled a great distance to see Jesus.  Herod refused to leave his own city.  The wise men presented their treasures to honor the child.  Herod attempted to kill him.  The wise men saw Jesus.  But Herod? Saw no one but himself.  As a result, his obituary forever contains the sad designation: the first person to reject Jesus Christ.”


The players in the story of Christ’s birth inspire us with their faith.


Mary, who had great courage.

Joseph, who was obedient.

The shepherds, who came quickly and worshipped willingly.

The Wisemen, who traveled far and gave generously.


But there was one who played the role of a villain.


Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” … Then Herold, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time when he had determined from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet saying:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children,

Refusing to be comforted,

Because they are no more.” (Matt. 2: 7-8, 16-28 NKJV)


PRIDE! Herod was hooked on his own importance.  His arrogance blinded his view of Christ.  His ego was threatened the moment he heard the magi’s question:  Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? (Matt. 2:2 NKJV).


Herod was “deeply disturbed by their question(V.3 TLB).  “King of the Jews!  Why, that is my title!  That is my assignment!”  Under the pretense of interest, Herod asked the temple priests and scholars where the Messiah would be born.  When Herod learned the answer, he told the wise men, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also(v. 8 (NKJV).


There is no indication Herod sent anyone with them.


Mat. 3: 9-12: When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  When they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.  And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Then being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.


Herod knew enough to realize the star and scripture were a forecast of the Messiah, but he used that knowledge to carry out a holocaust.  Believing is not obedience, and pride eclipses the right choice from us, even when we know the truth.  They say love is blind, but pride is blinder.


How many apologies has self-importance silenced?  How many compliments has arrogance muted?  How many broken hearts trace their wounds to someone’s stubborn, unyielding, my-way-or-the-highway attitude?


Brother Lucado then gives us a visual example:


“I saw some children at play on a large vacant lot where someone had dumped a mound of dirt.  They were playing the greatest of kid games: King of the Mountain.  The rules are as simple as they are brutal: fight your way to the top, and shove off anyone who threatens to take your spot.  It was a slugfest of crawling, pushing, and falling.


King of the Mountain is not just a kid’s game.  Versions are played in every dormitory, classroom, boardroom, and bedroom or wherever a group of people gather.  Since mountaintop real estate is limited, people get shoved around.  Mark it down: if you want to be king, someone is going to suffer.  Just as pride and lust for power prompted a Bethlehem massacre, It can prompt a broken marriage, an estranged friendship, or a divided office. 


This is the battle being played out over our nation and even the nations of the earth.


“Pride comes at a high price.


Don’t pay it.  Consider the counsel of the apostle Paul, Do not think of yourself more highly that you ought (Rom. 12:3).”  


G. K. Chesterton: “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it. You would break out of this tiney and tawdry theater in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky.”


Max Lucado: “Some time ago I was honored with a nice recognition.  A friend learned about it and said, ‘Max, God gave you that honor because you were humble enough not to let it go to your head.’  What kind words!  The more I thought about what he had said, the better it felt.  The more I thought, the more I agreed.  As the day went on, I felt better and better about being so humble. I was proud of my humility.  That evening I was just about to tell Denalyn when he had said when I felt a conviction.  I was about to brag about being humble!”


“Humility, the moment you think you have it, you don’t.

Pursue it anyway.


A recurring message of Scripture is that God loves the humble heart.  Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart(Mt. 11:29 NASB).


Ps. 138:6 NCV: Though the Lord is supreme, he takes care of those who are humble.


To the humble, God gives great treasures.


1.      He gives wisdom (Prov. 11:2).

2.     He gives direction (Ps. 25:9).

3.     He gives grace (1 Peter 5:5).

4.     He crowns the humble with salvation (Ps. 148:4).

5.     God loves humility and he hates arrogance (Prov. 8:13).

6.     Phil. 2:3: Do nothing out of vain conceit.

7.     God opposes the proud (1 Peter 5:5).


We should ponder ourselves less and ponder Christ more.  Spend less time trying to be King of the mountain and more time at his Cross.  Brag on his work, not ours.  Lift up His name, not magnify ours. 


Like the innkeeper Herod missed an opportunity to see Jesus.  God did everything necessary to get Herod’s attention.  He sent messengers from the East and a message from the Torah.  He sent wonders from the sky and words from Scripture.  He sent the testimony of the heavens and the teaching of the prophets, but Herod refused to listen. 


Herod was known for his colossal building projects.  He rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem to perpetuate his name. He was granted the title of “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate.   His name is now infamous, and he died a painful and lonely death.


His son, Herod Antipas, is responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist and the crucifixion of Jesus.


There is much pride in the church of the 21st century.  There is the pride of those who boast of titles and offices.  There is the pride of gifts of the Holy Spirit.  There is pride of who will sit in places of honor.  There is pride in righteous and moral standards.  There is pride in recognition.  There are territorial spirits.  There is competition for pre-eminence.  All of this is playing the childish game of King of the mountain.


I commend Eastgate Church for your humility as you submit one to another in love.  However, this spirit is so strong in the Christian community in our city and nation, we must pray and ask the Lord to help us to walk before him in love from a pure heart, from a good conscience and from sincere faith from which some having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desire to be teachers of the law understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. (1 Ti. 1:5-7).


1 Ti. 2:8: I desire therefore, that the men pray everywhere, liftin gup holy hands, without wrath and doubting.  


Carolyn Sissom, Pastor

Eastgate Ministries Church, 10115 West Hidden Lakes Lane, Richmond, tx.

I entered into the labors of Max Lucado, Because of Bethlehem, Love is born.  Hope is Here…Comments and conclusions are my own and not meant to reflect the views of Max Lucado.

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