Matthew 2:1 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.” 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6” ‘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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.'” 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On 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 and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
AS YOU PONDER THE WONDER AND THE BEAUTY OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY, you simply cannot escape the beauty of simplicity. God doesn’t try to impress or confuse us. He continues to keep things simple. In case you haven’t noticed, that is the way God works. The way of salvation, for instance, was deliberately made so clear and simple that “a wayfaring man, though he be a fool, need not err therein.” Some of simplest things in the entire world are the most profound. When God attempts to communicate, He doesn’t try to complicate the message. He makes deliberate attempts to simplify it.
There’s hardly ever anything to create brain strain. Not just in the Christmas message, but throughout Scripture. Jesus said things like: “ If you’re tired (spiritually), I will give you rest.” “If you’re hungry, I will give you food.” “If you’re lost, let me show you the way to get home.” “If you’re frightened, I’ll always be with you, so you don’t need to be afraid.”
I’m sure I mentioned this somewhere else. And I hope you pick up on the fact that I view Scripture as alive, fresh, thought-provocative, life changing and many other things. When I read and try to view the incidents prayerfully, but also imaginatively, it continues to enlighten and excite me. The powerful ideas contained in what I consider to be uniquely the living Words of The Living God, continue to bring me hope and joy. Along with a compelling desire to share that hope and joy with folks like you.
Look at those whom He chose “in those days.” Consider those whom He chooses “in these days.” Look at the clear, understandable words in the Message.
It caused me to think about THE EXTRAORDINARINESS OF THE ORDINARY. I’m very sure there’s a better way to say that, but think about it. See if you don’t agree. God has always excelled in taking what men considered useless, worthless, throwaway stuff, and using them in ways they (and you and I) could not have imagined. For that very reason alone, I take heart in the fact that I’m not worthless so long as He views me as valuable. Nor are you! I don’t care how low you go, or how bad an opinion you may have of yourself, God isn’t through with you. Not yet. Christmas, if it is anything, is confirmation of the fact that God can and does come to His people in the worst of times, in the most insignificant places, and brings new glory to their lives!
Christmas is a wonderful time of reflection for me. I’ve been reading and thinking about the visit of the “Wise Men.” We don’t really know how many there were (We only know they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Ergo, there must have been THREE. RIGHT!! Really? There may have been that many or more. But we can only suppose. The Bible doesn’t say that. ). Nor do we know who they were (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasaar are clever names but they came from somewhere outside the Scripture. It isn’t the first time writers have taken “artistic liberty.”). We only know they were “Magi” or “wise men.” Actually, they seem to have been astrologers. They certainly weren’t astronomers. There was no such thing as astronomy. Telescopes hadn’t yet been invented. Galileo hadn’t yet shaken the religious and scientific world with his revolutionary notion that the earth revolved around the Sun. The very idea! The “scientists” and intellectuals at that time KNEW the earth was the center of the Universe! By that time they’d barely begun to get over the fact that the world wasn’t flat at all. Then here comes an audacious arrogant heretic spewing nonsense! Can you imagine??!!
I’m at a loss trying to understand the mystery about the star they saw. What had those guys read to alert them to look for such a sign? Had they in some way obtained a copy of the Hebrew prophets words? Is there any literature in any other language which could have alerted them to the possibility of the “Star” and its significance? If so, I’ve never heard of it. I HAVE heard and read some amazing stories about how ancient wisdom charted the stars and constructed impressive structures displaying their uncanny knowledge of astronomical phenomena. But, they did not have telescopes. How could they have known what they knew?
Another thought that occurred to me is: “When did the Magi” get to Bethlehem? As a child and even as a youth, I’d envisioned a beautiful scene on Christmas night. Bathed, of course in a soft, radiant, heavenly glow. The Baby was born (without the agony of a delivery by a frightened teen-age mother, of course). Mary was holding Him close, sweetly, and Joseph stood behind her, looking proud as possible, knowing he’d had nothing to do with the event . . . but somehow managing to hide his questions. All three of them had the standard halo glowing around their heads. There were some sheep and other barnyard animals hanging around, “lowing” quietly, reverently. Angels were hovering overhead, for sure. And every such scene (in my imagination or memory or on almost every Church lawn since them…no libraries or courthouses now, you know, in the interest of PC) has been a familiar sight to most of us.
With that scene in the foreground, appropriately lighted, I’d then hear the familiar, oriental sounding: “We three kings of Orient are. Bearing gifts, we travel so far. . . Westward leading, still proceeding. . . etc.”
However, we don’t even know for sure the “Magi” got there that night. If they’d started their journey ‘from the East’ on the night they first saw the Star, how long would such a trip have taken. Whether on foot or on camel’s backs? I can imagine days at least. Possibly weeks. If you read Matthew’s * account closely, you’ll be able to determine that Joseph and Mary had moved into a house by the time they arrived. Also, the Greek language which Luke used had specific words to differentiate between “infant” or “newborn baby.” The word used when the Wise Men arrived is the word the Greeks employed when speaking of a “little child.”
Another thing which made me wonder when the Magi arrived is the fact that an enraged Herod took vicious and violent action when he found the Magi had seen right through his effort to scam them. They knew Herod had no intention to “worship the newborn king.” He already had enough problems on his hands with the always proud, oftenly stubbornly rebellious Jews. He wasn’t about to tolerate anyone who could create more problems. He intended to put an end to that threat before it became a real problem. So, outraged, he decided to kill every Jewish male who’d been born within the last two years! We don’t really understand the outrageously cruel control ancient rulers had and the severity of the rage that exploded when they sensed the slightest threat. But every infant male up to two years of age!? That sounds as if Herod was determined there’d be no threat to the throne if he had anything to do with it. He threw a “wide net” and was probably more thorough than he needed to be. But it does allow for more than a day or so for the Magi to have made their journey.
We may never know the answers to those questions. I am certain though, that the mysterious, anonymous Magi represented the best wisdom of their time. . . even though they believed the world was flat. They still represented some of the best intellectual accomplishments of their day. However it may have happened, they certainly displayed wisdom in following the path that led to Jesus.
I admit, too, that I’ve wondered what it might have been like to be an ordinary guy wandering the streets late that night in Bethlehem. Maybe on his way home from work he’d stopped off at the pub and chugged down a few brews. Already a bit fuzzy minded, could you imagine how he must have reacted when he left the neighborhood bar and on his way home he runs into these strange men ambling into town. Maybe on the backs of camels. And there just may have been three of them, with gifts. But the real ‘kicker’ is that, as strange as they looked (and as strange as the haunting background music ‘we three kings’ sounded), these strange looking newcomers to town were asking everyone an even stranger question: “Where is He that is born King of the Jews, for we’ve seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Our imaginary friend, on his way home and perhaps on his way toward getting ‘stewed’ answered their question with some of his own and what I call:
A SKEPTIC’S RESPONSE
A Child born to be King?
What is this foolish thing
You’ve manufactured in your mind?
You can’t be serious!
The sun and sand have
Driven you insane, I say.
Some are curious.
And heads will roll before he’s through!
How I wish the tale you tell were true.
That story, so filled with glory
Could bring new life
To this darkened life of mine!
Peace, Joy, and Hope for you now and always.
God’s servant, your friend, brother and fellow student ~donkimrey