(sorry this post is longer than normal – it is the sermon I gave on Boxing Day at King of Kings)
According to Wikipedia the exact origins of the term “boxing” in Boxing Day is unclear and there are several competing theories, none of which is definitive.
- The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era; metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen.
- In the United Kingdom, it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth-century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their “Christmas boxes” or gifts on the day after Christmas in return for good and reliable service throughout the year.
- Another possibility is that the name derives from an old English tradition: in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners’ Christmases ran smoothly, their servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (and sometimes leftover food).
- In addition, around the 1800s, churches opened their alms boxes (boxes where people place monetary donations) and distributed the contents to the poor.
When I was a child I thought Boxing Day had to do with clearing up all the left over boxes from the Christmas presents. Perhaps Boxing Day in your house is more about how to fit all the leftovers into Tupperware boxes and fit it all in the fridge. Personally I love boxes – it is how I try to contain all my mess and my stuff, by cramming them into boxes so that the place looks neat and tidy – just be warned if you take a lid off a box in my house the contents my explode all over you and you may struggle to get every thing back in again.
We are fond of setting limits and trying to tidy up our world into manageable boxes – it makes life easier to control and keeps things tidy – but it can be dangerous for our faith. Apparently if you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium. Sharks can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet. The same thing happens with bonsai trees – you can plant an Oak tree and let it grow on its own to over 100 feet tall or bind its roots (kind of box them in) and restricts its growth to 1 foot tall. That also happens to some Christians – if we limit our faith and belief in Jesus our experiences are like that of Bonsai Christians. So this morning I want us to take some time to look again at the Christmas story and see some boxes that Jesus just would not fit into, no matter how people tried.
1. Jesus is not boxed in by nature
- Jesus’ Birth
Luke 1:26-35 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” 29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Right from his birth Jesus was breaking the laws of nature – we all know that it is not possible for a virgin to have a child, but Jesus’ very birth was a miracle – He is a rule breaker and a box breaker. This was a fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel – it was a sign that the Saviour was here, that Jesus was not just a man but the creator of the world come to rescue us from our sins.
- Miracles & healings – Jesus broke the rules of nature
As the creator of all things, including the very rules of nature Jesus was very fond of breaking them.
Mark 4:36-41 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Nature does not limit Jesus because he created it. Now this is one area that I actually struggle to not box Jesus in– I have seen many friends and family pray for healing and not be healed and I have met many others who have been healed. It is sometimes hard to remind ourselves that God is not only in control of nature but he also has a plan that he works out in our lives. Just because God is able to do something doesn’t meant that it is the right time for him to do it.
2. Jesus is not boxed in by society
The place of Jesus’ birth and the visitors he had all went against the rules of society – a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger. I read an email a few days ago that was the Health and Safety official response to Christmas Carols. Along with demanding eye protection for the Shepherds when the angels appear and commenting that myrrh and frankincense are unsuitable gifts for a baby it comments on ‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed’ saying call social services fast. It was such an unlikely place for the Son of God to be born. A palace or a stately house would have been better – but Jesus came for the ordinary people so right from his birth he was amongst them.
- Jesus the Son of God was visited by the ordinary
Even his first visitors were less than glamorous – the first birth announcements were not made to the religious or the royalty but to the plain old shepherds.
Luke 2:15-16 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
- Jesus spent time with ‘inappropriate’ people
Jesus carried on breaking social rules about appropriate behaviour and who the right sort of people were.
Matthew 9:10-11 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and “sinners’?”
3. Jesus is not boxed in by religious rules
Not only did Jesus break the social laws he also had little regard for religious laws. I’m not talking here about God’s laws and God’s standards, but I’m talking about the traditions and rules that religious people developed in order to guide them living out their faith. It is interesting that Jesus’ first religious visitors were not Jewish, but pagan astrologers – hardly suitable guests for the Son of God.
- The first worshippers were pagan astrologers
Matthew 2:1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
- Jesus didn’t follow the rules set by the religious leaders
But throughout Jesus’ life he showed little regard for kind of rules and regulations that make you feel like you were earning God’s approval and making other people’s lives difficult. Often Jesus’ harshest words were not towards the ungodly sinner, but towards the religious leaders who were making people’s lives unbearable and turning people away from God.
Luke 6:1-2 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
4. Jesus is not boxed in by death
From the moment of His birth it seems like it would have been easier for many people if Jesus was dead. His presence threatened to undermine some people’s power and plans.
- From his birth people tried to kill Jesus
Matthew 2:16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
I can’t imagine the cruelty in Herod’s heart that would cause him to do this – but Jesus was such a threat to his power and position that he wanted him dead. He would not be the first person to try this – the religious authorities also plotted to have him killed – they successfully brought him to Pilate for a trail and had him sentence to death on the cross. But death could not box him in.
- The cross & the tomb couldn’t contain him
Matthew 28:5-7 5The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I’m reading a book at the moment on the resurrection – The Jesus Inquest – it is a lawyer putting forward both for and against arguments for the resurrection. For many people today life and faith would be much easier if the resurrection didn’t happen – but the truth is it did. Our minds struggle to grasp the wonder and miracle of it so for some it is easier to believe that death boxed in Jesus – but he rose again and lives – death could not box him in.
Why do people try to limit Jesus?
I think that we often try to limit Jesus and box him in because our minds just struggle to grasp the fullness and power of God. We live in a time when mystery is unwelcome – when we want to believe that we know and understand everything, and that even our lives are under our control. But the Christmas story reminds us that things are not under our control, but under God’s. It reminds us that the rules and order we have drawn up for life, society and religion do not limit Him. As I was preparing this I was asking myself the question, ‘How do I try to box Jesus in?’ In what ways do I try to limit God and make Him more manageable? I said early that the area of God’s power over nature to heal is a struggle for me – I have to remind myself that He is the creator and is powerful to heal when he chooses. What about you? Are you trying to keep Jesus in a box? Perhaps you like to box off your faith so that it keeps separate from your everyday life, your work life, your love life? God cannot be confined and limited. Do you try to make Him obey the laws of nature, to fit your social and religious rules? Do you believe that He holds the keys to life and death? Jesus is all powerful and cannot be boxed up and controlled. My prayer for myself and for you as we end the season of Christmas and start packing away the Christmas stuff is that we wouldn’t try to keep Jesus in a box and that in this new year we would see the power of God in every aspect of our lives. I want to pray for you a prayer that Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus:
Ephesians 3:17-21 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.