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"It's a Boy!" The Birth of Jesus - What It Means and How It Happened - Third Sunday of Advent

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Today was the third Sunday of Advent, and Pastor Ed Allen again preached about the meaning of the Christmas story and how we can trust that it's true.

The message began with a testimony from Kevin Baugh.  We'll post that separately on this blog.

Today we looked at the story of the Magi in Matthew 2.  Lots of mythology has sprung up around the "three kings," but we looked at Matthew's account, and Pastor Ed again listed 5 reasons why we can believe it:

1)  Old Testament prophecy suggested something like this.

2)  The first witnesses believed it.

3)  Their students faithfully carried it to the next century.

4)  It's consistent with the rest of Jesus' life.

5)  Secular details are confirming of it.

Today we looked at the second reason, about the first witnesses.  And asked:  So where do these accounts come from if not from the legitimate recollections of early followers?

We looked at some alternative explanations:

1)  Maybe Mary was crazy or delusional.  But there's no evidence for this.  And to believe it, you'd be replacing one made-up story with another.

2)  Maybe Matthew and Luke were crazy or delusional.  There's also no evidence for this and it doesn't fit with their writing.

3)  Maybe Matthew didn't write the biography that bears his name, or at least the birth narrative part.

Some scholars think that Matthew 2 and the end of Matthew 1 were written much later, because chapter 3 begins with "In those days, John the Baptist came..."  But no ancient documents have been found with the birth narrative missing, and there is also a striking similarity in the language, so there's no textual reason to believe it's a different author.

4)  Maybe the account comes from a huge store of mythology surrounding Jesus' life and ministry.

The trouble with that is that it takes mythology at least a hundred years to solidify into something believed.  But the stories of Jesus' birth were written only 40 to 80 years after his death - when people who actually knew him were still living.

Best explanation:  These birth stories actually happened and Matthew believed it.

*If you miss everything else, don't miss this:

All of this matters because the Christian belief makes truth claims.  It is based on historical events.

Christianity is unlike any other faith in this.

Christianity is belief in a set of historical events that changed everything.

Jesus was physically... biologically... literally the Son of God.

In the writings of Jesus' life, you can see the progression of his followers' beliefs about him.

Almost immediately, they saw him as a prophet and a great teacher.  When he started doing miracles, they asked, "Is this the Messiah?"  They began to think of him as the unique Son of God.

When Jesus calmed the storm, there was a turning point.  They were terrified and asked, "What kind of man is this?  Even the wind and waves obey him!"  Jesus was in a totally different category from anyone else.  Their utter confusion gave way to wonder and awe.

After Jesus' death, when Thomas saw the nail holes in the risen Christ, he declared, "My Lord and my God!"

Then their lives were utterly transformed.  They gave worship to Jesus, as any self-respecting Jew would only give to Yahweh.

An illustration from C. S. Lewis is that the Trinity is like understanding another dimension.  In one dimension, we have a line.  In two dimensions, we have a square.  In three dimensions, we have a cube.  A cube is something utterly different from a square, yet it is also six squares combined in a new way.

On the human level, it's hard to understand, but God is three personalities combined in a new way.  The early followers believed that Jesus was fully man and fully God.

Some encouragements for this Christmas season:

For those who doubt:

Don't just doubt.  Also doubt your doubts.  Test everything, including your doubts.

Don't stop seeking.  It's worth it!

For those who believe:

Do acknowledge that there are things beyond my understanding.

God wrote Himself into our story.

We finished the service sharing Communion together.

Kevin's Testimony

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Kevin Baugh presented his testimony at the start of the service today.  Here are his remarks as he prepared them (not exactly as he delivered them):

I have a confession to make…


The man who brought me to Christ was a used car salesman…


Why am I telling you this?


Well, when Pastor Ed asked me if I would be willing to tell you my story I immediately said yes... but honestly had no idea what I was going to say. 


Indeed, my first reaction was HOLY COW… I’m a total basket case!  What the heck do I have to offer?  How can my story be of value to anyone?  More importantly, what part of my story would actually be useful for my Gateway Family?


To be totally honest, I have been wrestling with this question ever since Pastor Ed implored each of us to invest ourselves more deeply – or, to use his words, “to let Gateway feel the weight of us.” 


I have been praying on that question since it was asked… and this little note is the beginning of my answer.


The man who brought me to Christ, asked one simple question.


Do you know my Jesus?


When he asked it, I thought it might be some kind of joke.   After all, here I was, A graduate of the Naval Academy; a fully trained Navy SEAL; An honors graduate of the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University; and A PhD candidate in Georgetown’s School of Government. 


On top of this I was working full time at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University as the Associate Director for Government and Industry Relations.


At the time, I would have called myself firmly Agnostic.   You know the type – someone who is convinced that there is something more than me in this world – but someone who was also highly skeptical about the true nature of God – and whether we as flawed human beings could possibly have any insight whatsoever into the underlying powers of the universe.


I had come to this belief pattern through a long and circuitous route – touching on Judaism, various Protestant churches, Catholicism, Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism.   I won’t say that I am well versed or that I was particularly well schooled in any of these disciplines – and had anyone asked I probably would have claimed my parents' Presbyterianism as my core faith in part because I loved the amazing scholarship and intellectual precision of the few Presbyterian Ministers that I knew personally. 


I also knew that Atheism was not where I came down – in part because, Atheism opened more questions than in answered – and I was convinced that the Atheism of Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung which killed tens of millions of people was clearly something that, as a student and scholar I could write off as a mere accident of history. 


For me, being Agnostic was nice and safe (as I was sure that God, whoever and wherever and whatever he was) would understand my sincere confusion and forgive me.


But then things changed.


I was in San Diego for work, and my sister asked me whether I might enjoy coming to her church to hear her sing.  (She is an awesome singer) and I of course said sure!


The next day, I went with her to her church which was one of those rock n roll California churches.   I remember thinking how much it looked like a concert stage – and I took a seat on the right hand side of the auditorium.  My sister wanted to introduce me to the Pastor and to some of her friends – but she hadn’t realized that her Pastor would be out on vacation.  Instead, a visiting Pastor named Ken Poure was going to do the service.


After the initial music and greeting, Pastor Poure walked onto the stage with a newspaper in his hand and asked his simple question…   “Do you know my Jesus?”  He said it with a twinkle in his eye – and I could tell immediately, that this was going to be – if nothing else – humorous to watch – and I sat back to enjoy the show (almost wishing for popcorn)!


Ken’s schtick was to pull stories out of the daily paper and relate them to God’s place and purpose – and he went through several stories and then started to talk about the big reasons why people don’t believe in Jesus.   The big three, if I remember them correctly were:  Whether or not Jesus was a real living human being; Whether or not Jesus was truly born of a Virgin; and, Whether or not the resurrection actually happened.


I remember agreeing with Poure that these were difficult questions to answer – and that I would be really impressed if Poure (an admitted used car salesman before he became a minister) could explain all of these puzzles to my satisfaction, in a short amount of time.


Poure began his explanation with the same thought experiment that C.S. Lewis did on his path from Atheism to belief in Jesus.   As a literary scholar and author, Lewis asked himself how Hamlet, could ever come to know Shakespeare.   It’s a great problem to think about.  How can a created thing ever come to know its author?


As I puzzled on this topic, Poure explained how his path to ministry came about through a deal with God… though I don’t remember exactly what his deal was, I do remember that his wife strongly cautioned him against it (he went through it anyway….)


Not wanting to keep us all on the hook, Poure then told us that Lewis realized that the only way Hamlet could ever get to know Shakespeare would be for Shakespeare to write himself into the play.  He left the parallels for us to make in our own mind – but I was blown away having never thought of an idea like this before.


I was also an idiot.


Like Poure, I decided that I would make my own deal with God…   That I would be his, if he could successfully clear up my doubts.  Furthermore, I promised that any truth which he shared with me I would happily share with anyone whom seemed ready to receive it. 


I also asked that if there was anyone who confronted me with something that I didn’t understand – that I would be able to easily disarm that person by saying that I had no clue on that issue – and that God only allowed me to share with others what I fully understood.  (You would be amazed at how often this has worked for me.)


Let me close by telling you that God has kept his side of the bargain.


If you have questions about whether Jesus truly lived; Was born of a Virgin; or was Resurrected, I would be happy to share with you what I know and what I have come to believe.


Let me also tell you that I have personally experienced the miraculous in my own life – even before I fully dedicated my life to Jesus, and there are a few awesome stories there… but this is not the right time for those stories.  If you’re interested in these things just ask me about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, or how my business is doing.


I am deeply grateful to the Gateway community for its willingness to adopt me, as the Lord continues his work in me.  I cannot adequately express my thanks to the Men and Women of this congregation who have helped me to realize and to cherish the importance of community and fellowship.   I thank Jesus that each of you were there when I needed you most, and I pray that I can pass along that blessing to others who can experience the love of Jesus through me. 

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