Of Stars and Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-12

Wise Men from the East

 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’[a]

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.”

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. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And 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.

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Admittedly, and to the peril of our understanding, we’ve narrowed this tale down to three kings because of the three gifts. The truth of the matter is, while it was probably more, the text doesn’t specify, and certainly all of them didn’t fit inside the house.

We also know that it wasn’t the same night the shepherds went evangelizing, otherwise there would be no reason for what follows. Journeys weren’t swift undertakings, but regardless of the logistics, it was certain that the wise men were following a supernatural sign. Granted, it was more subdued than the one given the shepherds, but no less spectacular, for it was visible in the daylight hours as well, and moved more dynamically than any other.

There are some who hold the star was an invention of Satan, since it led these men to Herod to announce the birth, and the resulting slaughter of innocent children, but Matthew ties it back to the prophet Jeremiah.

Truth be told, I don’t know why G-d would cull innocent souls in response to the birth of His Son, who gave His life for the rest of us, but this is where the sovereignty of the Father makes us question, and that’s okay. We can’t know.

We do know that the wise men didn’t return to tell Herod anything. In a dream they were told by the angel not to return, and to a man, they obeyed. None sought to curry favor or riches with the king.

When they got to the house (though all Nativity scenes place them at the manger), they worshiped Him (not Mary), and gave them gifts out of their treasures. While we’re not told if these men were specifically Jewish, they certainly would have heard of the prophet and Magi Daniel, who dwelt in their land, faithful to G-d even in His captivity, and delivered by the hand of G-d Himself.

This Christmas season, romanticized or not, we rejoice with our Persian brothers and sisters of the faith in welcoming  our Lord to the earthly stage. He certainly set it on a different path, and by calling us to Him, set us on one as well.

Let us honor Him with our own gifts, but mostly the gift of time, as we reflect on His mercy and grace, and the peace He imparts to us that passes earthly understanding.

Let us return that which we treasure to Heaven, where thieves can’t break in, and honor Him with the first fruits of our labor and our praise.

He is our divine dream, our Heavenly King, and the Redeemer of our lowly souls, G-d’s gift to us in our poor and wretched stats. Let us worship with exceedingly great joy, as the wise men did, for being extracted out of the world through the truth of His ministry, and remember that He is, indeed, G-d with us.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas.

Devotional 73: The Wisdom of G-d

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”[a]

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks[b] foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The modern world insults the intellect of the believer, but here in Paul’s letter we read they did the same in the ancient one.

Jesus took a learned man in dramatic fashion to preach a foolish message that did not bring him fame and riches, but put him before the kingdom courts of that world to preach the Gospel and get imprisoned, beaten, and eventually killed. Yet His impact on the Gospel has been enduring, and influential beyond question.

I love that with the same zeal Paul went after the church, the Lord used that to His purposes, and with the same zeal Paul preached, and once convinced, never wavered, even calling out Peter when he tried to return to popularity among the Jews! (Galatians 2:11-13)

The problem with all of them, the Pharisees and other religious street gangs of the day, is that they kept looking for the man-made in Heavenly things. Jesus whole birth was simple, with no adornment, indeed, in a place where you’d expect an outcast to be born, not a king.

And Paul reminds us that G-d is not a man. Jesus tells us He is spirit.

Jesus was homeless, He rode on donkeys, not horses, He taught in the deserts and mountains as well as the synagogues, and He died a criminal’s death.

That’s why He tells us the road is narrow, for who would believe this to be the story of a king, much less an eternal ruler?

Paul didn’t, at least not at first, but who would still be an unbeliever after an experience like that on the Damascus road? He suffered, and the impact of his writing still anchors us in the Gospels today. Do we think to be spared if we’re to bear fruit?

All of the Apostles, save John, were martyred. Do we think we couldn’t be?

I’m reminded of the scene in one of those Indiana Jones films when the soldier picks the cup he thinks is the Holy Grail, and it’s gold and studded with precious gems, and it’s the wrong one. It was the simple cup made of clay.

Where are we looking for G-d? Who is it we think makes us worthy of salvation?

Matthew 23: 16-22

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it. 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it. 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells[b] in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. (letters in bold for emphasis).

See, the wood and stones of a building in and of themselves, we don’t consider valuable, and the wood or stone of an altar in and of itself, is not considered valuable. But when it is used to the purposes of G-d, and is sanctified by those He’s called through Christ, then, indeed, are we not standing on holy ground? The sanctuary is therefore a sacred place, and is profaned when churches devolve into performance, and defiled when ungodly messages are preached.

It is Christ who makes us worthy, and His message is simple: You believe in G-d, believe also in Me.

Let our words be few: Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Therefore I pray:

Today, O Lord, I lay my gifts on the altar of Your grace and mercy, seeking forgiveness if I’ve misused and neglected them. Sanctify them, and use them for Your glory. Take what I have and increase it, according to Your will.

Forgive me for letting the clamoring of the world distract me from Your purpose for my life.

Keep me from falling into enemy hands, and enemy work. I would not enter that kingdom, which You have marked for destruction and everlasting separation, where my very soul will wink out of existence, and my life forgotten, even by You, though You take no pleasure in my death.

There are days I bend under the burden, smile grimly at the storm clouds, thinking of them as my portion according to Your will,  and  panic at the emergencies that occur, then question Your love for me.

And yet, I’ve heard You speak to me through those clouds, and in the quiet moments, and I feel Your presence, sense Your touch, and remember that You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies, and restore my soul.

Even Pilate, not knowing what He wrote, proclaimed You as King.

Help me to keep my vows to G-d, whether I take an oath or not, and let me remember that Your family is those who do His will. (Mark 3:31-35)

Let me abide in You, that I may accomplish the work You’ve given me to do, remembering to give thanks in all things, and be content in all circumstances, lifting my eyes to where my help comes from. Let me remember to bless Your Name in the quiet moments, where nothing opulent and grand is happening, and let my praise be pleasing to You, that I may enter into Your joy, and life everlasting, reconciled to my Father, praising Him forevermore.

I ask in Your name, believing I’ve already received.

Amen.