Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Christmas?: The Wisemen and the fool

Earliest known depiction of the Magi, Mid 3rd Century fresco in the Catacomb of Priscilla

Does anyone else other than me judge the value and validity of a nativity set by how many wise-men it contains? We recently purchased a PlayMobile set and it came with one wise man. ONE! Haven't they read the Bible? I mean it says right here......hang on let me find it......I know it's here's right after the little drummer boy, right? Hey, there's no little drummer boy in my set either! I'm calling heresy!

All joking aside (I hope you were following that) the magi (or wise men) contain for us a mysterious element of the Christmas story. Who were they? From what nation did they come? How did they know that this star would lead them to the King born of the Jews? All questions that scripture does not answer. It just says:
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 saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."     Matthew 2:1-2
Most scholars and traditions understand what was said about them to mean that they were astrologers from Persia. Men who's daily responsibility was to "read" the heavens. How a star moved through the sky and in what constellation it appeared was understood as a sign or omen about events in their world. It's interesting to note that this practice was expressly forbidden in the law of Moses. Herod, who was a puppet king of Rome, was a madman. Paranoid and murderous Herod would kill even his own children if he felt they were a threat to his power. No wonder the response of Herod to these magi's declaration is one of suspicion and espionage.
 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him...Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying. "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I to may come and worship him."
Funny how the man who was to lead the Jews was ignorant of the Scriptures yet these pagan astrologers were willing to leave their home, their king, their gods and worship this baby born in the obscurity of Bethlehem. 
And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. They, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
The magi brought kingly gifts that were worthy of a royalty(Gold), worthy of a Divinity(Frankincense - incense for worship), and worthy of a mortal man  (Myrrh - used for embalming the dead). Valuable gifts that speak to what they believed about this newborn baby. They fell down and worshiped. Herod, more concerned about the security of his kingship, missed his King. The Magi, more concerned with worshiping Jesus, turned from idolatry. What can we learn from Herod and the Magi about Christ Worship (Christmas):

1. Worship is about submission: 
- Just as a wicked man sat on the throne at Jesus' birth, so too a wicked man sits on our thrown as well.
- Following Jesus means we give up our thrown to the only one worthy to occupy it.
- Herod thought he could thwart God's plan. That NEVER works.

2. Worship is about giving BECAUSE we've received. 
- Jesus is worthy of our worship because of who he is and what he has done. 
- Our worship is just our responding to who he is.
- The magi brought kingly gifts because God had given them a king.

3. Worship is about repentance:  
- Turning from idolatry to Jesus is about us exchanging what has no value to what holds greatest value.
- Repentance is not us being sorry for what we've done. It's about us turning from rebellion to submission.
- In the Magi's worship of Jesus they were acknowledging that what they had worshiped was not worthy of their worship. Our sin never leads us to great joy. 

It dawned on me that Herod did believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That's why he asked where he was to be born. He just didn't put his faith in him to follow him as the Magi did. Too many today do exactly as Herod did. They believe that Jesus is the Christ, Messiah, Savior of the world, but are unwilling to follow him by faith. Don't be a fool: follow and worship. Then one day maybe others would refer to us as wise men too.

Merry Christmas!

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