Many of us remember Christmas Sunday School pageants with little boys dressed in bath robes and gold spray-painted crowns as they presented gifts to Jesus. But who were these Magi anyhow? In this last of my Christmas posts from December 2011 their gift-giving inspires me to be more thoughtful.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the eastand have come to worship him…
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the eastwent ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On 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.”[i]
As I was finishing my gift wrapping, I was thinking a lot about this passage of Scripture. And as many of us exchange and open gifts this Christmas Day, I hope we all pause and give thanks for the greatest gift we have ever been given – the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift[ii].
A great deal of mystery surrounds these men from the “East” and many suppositions have been made about them. It has often been assumed there were three men, but Scripture only makes clear there were three gifts. The Magi who are mentioned in Matthew’s account are often traditionally referred to as “wise men” or “kings”. However, they were most likely well-educated “astrologers” who studied the stars. This would explain their keen interest in this new star that suddenly appeared in the night sky. They obviously had some knowledge as well that a new king was to be born to the Jews and they were eager to worship Him. Many have speculated where these men originated from – the Orient, Iran, and Iraq – we really don’t know except they came from east of Judea. Also, many people presume the magi visited Jesus at the manger, but Scripture clearly states they found Him in “the house”[iii]. Since we read later that Herod ordered all Hebrew boys two years of age and under to be killed, it is very possible that Jesus was not an infant when the magi worshiped Him.
The gifts the magi presented to Jesus are significant. Gold…a treasure truly fit for a king. Did they realize that this young child would one day be more than King of the Jews…that God would exalt Him to the highest place and give Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father[iv]? Frankincense…a bitter vegetable resin used primarily as a perfume or for fumigating at sacrifices[v]. Did these visitors from afar have any idea that such a gift might be used to embalm the body of Christ after His death? Myrrh…a bitter gum resin often used as an antiseptic, stimulant, perfume, or to dull pain[vi]. Did these learned men know that this little child would someday refuse this very gift as He hung dying on the cross?[vii]
The star the magi followed must have been very spectacular. They were “overjoyed” to see it. The Amplified Version says they were “thrilled with ecstatic joy” and the King James Version says, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy”. Don’t you wish, like me, that we could have been there to see that exceptional star?
I love the verse in Luke 2:19 that describes Mary’s response to all that happened surrounding Jesus’ birth, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I trust that will be my sentiment today and throughout the rest of this Christmas season.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my dear readers!
[i] Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12 (NIV)
[iv] Philippians 2:9-11(NIV)
[v] Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine; Merrill F. Unger; William White, Jr., 1985 by Thomas Nelson, Inc., page255
[vi] Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine; Merrill F. Unger; William White, Jr., 1985 by Thomas Nelson, Inc., page 423-424
Angels are a mystery to most of us. In the fourth of my Christmas posts from December 2011 we see how they brought much comfort and joy to many people.
While the shepherds were tending their flocks that night so long ago, “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified.” [i]
In the story of Christ’s birth, angels played a pivotal role. Not only did an angel appear to the shepherds near Bethlehem, one also came to Mary, and Joseph was visited three times by an angel. They brought messages of reassurance, proclamations from God, warnings and instructions, greetings, good news of joy and peace, and words of praise and worship to God.
Throughout the ages, mankind has had keen interest in, and often a preoccupation with, “spirit beings”. Indeed, angels are spiritual beings which have no human form, although they sometimes are manifested in human likeness. We only have to explore literature, art, and film to see people’s fascination with these supernatural creations of God. Television series have profiled angelic beings who come to the aid of humans. Artists have illustrated their interpretations of angels and musicians have featured angels in masterful compositions. But what about the angels who appeared around the time of Christ’s birth? Who were they? What was their purpose?
We know from the Bible that angels are created by God, sent to minister to believers, are able to change their appearance, are mentioned almost 300 times, number in the tens of thousands (likely millions), express emotions, speak and sing praises to God, are superior to humans but inferior to God, appear in a brilliance and beauty beyond human comprehension, and are called holy.[ii] They are “God’s messengers whose chief business is to carry out His orders in the world.”[iii]
It is no wonder, then, that when the angels appeared to Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds they were quick to reassure them with the words, “Do not be afraid.”
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”[iv] What comfort the angel brought to a young groom-to-be distraught over what he no doubt believed was the infidelity of his fiancée.
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”[v] The angel, Gabriel, gave assurance to this young girl that what was about to happen to was from the Holy Spirit of God and she had been chosen to be the mother of the promised Messiah. What confidence the angel inspired within her soul!
“Do not be afraid,” the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”[vi] Once again, one angel, and later a host of angels, calmed the shepherds enabling them to hear the amazing message of Christ’s birth and search with great enthusiasm for the baby in the manger.
The angels in the Christmas story also proclaimed a message that would change the course of human history. Until then, those who believed God had only the prophecies which foretold of a Messiah who would bring salvation and deliverance. Their faith looked forward to that day.
To Joseph, the angel declared, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”[vii]
To Mary, Gabriel announced, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give Him the throne of His father, David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”[viii]
To the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”[ix]
Another great truth about God’s angels is their desire to bring praise and glory to their Creator instead of drawing attention to themselves. In all angelic appearances in Scripture, angels focus our attention on Almighty God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let us rejoice with the angels this Christmas season and worship Him saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”[x]
Until next time,
[ii] Mark 8:38; Luke 2:14;15:10; 24:4; Acts 10:3, 30; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:14; 2:7; Revelation 5:11
[iii] Billy Graham, Angels: God’s Secret Agents, 1975, 1986, page 26
I found this recipe in my latest Saltscapes magazine that came in the mail last week and knew with a busy Christmas season approaching a quick, easy recipe that looked this good was worth checking out. It was! Sooo yummy! Their recipe called for 1 1/2 sleeves of crackers, however one sleeve of crackers fits a 10 x 15 baking sheet perfectly and I prefer the look of them without the crumbs on top. Feel free to use additional crushed crackers to sprinkle on top after the chocolate melts if you wish.
1 sleeve of saltine/soda crackers
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
Line a 10 x 15 baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. On the baking sheet, arrange crackers in a single layer leaving no empty spaces. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, place butter and brown sugar. Stir while butter melts; bring mixture to a rolling boil. Once boiling, carefully pour the sugar-butter mixture over crackers on the baking sheet in an even layer, trying to cover most of the crackers. Bake toffee crackers at 350ºF for 5 minutes, until the toffee is bubbling all over. Carefully remove pan from oven and cool for 1 minute. On top of hot toffee, sprinkle chocolate chips; let sit for 1 minute. Once softened, use an offset spatula or knife to spread the melted chocolate in an even layer over entire surface of the toffee. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until chocolate is set. Once set, break into small pieces by hand.
In a society that focuses on external appearance, with the media setting unrealistic standards of “beauty”, teens struggle with “body image”: weight, shape, skin, hair . . . [Maybe you do too.]
What in the world does the Incarnation, God’s coming to earth in human form in the person of Jesus, have to do with a teen’s body image? Everything! Because in coming to earth as a human being God told us that the body is something to be valued.
We should already know this from the tender, loving, personal way in which God created humans: forming the body of the first man “of dust from the ground and breathing into his nostrils the breath of life”, then making a woman from a piece of bone and flesh taken from the side of the man (Genesis 2:7, 22). We know it also from Psalms: He “knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). But the fact that God himself came to earth and took on a body like our bodies – mine, yours, your teen’s – gives our bodies even more value.
Jesus’ body, like ours, was formed in his mother’s womb. How amazing, that God would come to earth that way! Jesus was conceived differently, without a human father, but otherwise his first nine months were the same as ours! He was born as each of us was born, although his first hours of life were in a manger, not a crib (Luke 2:12). He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). He experienced every stage of human development from childhood through puberty and adolescence to adulthood. At Christmas we should think not only about the spiritual significance of the Incarnation (Immanuel – God with us) but also about the significance for our bodies of the fact that God took on human form. What difference does this make in how teens think about their bodies? What we think influences what we do.
Some Christmas questions for your teen:
- Do I accept my body, warts and all? I am like Jesus.
- Do I respect my body? I will not allow my body to be used as an object for someone else’s curiosity or sexual pleasure.
- Do I respect the bodies of others? I will not embarrass or harass or abuse another.
- Do I take care of my body? It is a gift from God.
- Do I think about what it means that my body is the “temple” of the Holy Spirit? Do I glorify God in my body? (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
- Do I think about my body as a vehicle of blessing for others, rather than as “eye candy” for someone I like? Or as a source of competition for my peers?
“We are earthen vessels that are given the extraordinary privilege and honor of bearing the love of God himself in our eyes, our toes, and all the other members that make us up.” (Matthew Lee Anderson, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith, p. 229).
I would like to share with you the third of my Christmas posts from December, 2011. It has been updated slightly. This December 12-14 is the final production of our church’s “This Very Night” – ten wonderful years!
Luke 2:8 says, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” (NIV)
In the narrative of the birth of Christ, the shepherds played a significant role. But what do we really know about them? Why did God choose shepherds to be among the first individuals to witness the birth of the Messiah?
For the past ten years our church has presented “This Very Night”, a pageant of drama and music portraying the events surrounding this historical event. While the entire presentation is captivating and moving, people are especially struck by the realism as peasant people of the day walk in with live animals – chickens, goats, a rabbit, a duck, and sheep. As the narrator recounts some of the Biblical account, sheep are “Baaaa…ing” in the background and while it is comical, it makes the story spring to life. Another highlight is seeing our precious little children dressed up in shepherd and angel costumes and singing with great enthusiasm. Most of them know every word!
Shepherds are referred to many times in Scripture. One of the first professions recorded in human history is that of the shepherd, Abel (Genesis 4:2). Other well-known shepherds were Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, David, and Amos. In the Old Testament times, shepherding was a respectable, though humble, calling and sometimes a source of great wealth (Genesis 13:2-6). It was often a lonely and solitary life as they would spend many days, nights, and weeks in distant fields and hillsides tending to their flocks. Since sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd, unable to care for themselves, the welfare of a flock was subject to the attentiveness and caring nature of this person. A dedicated shepherd was willing to risk his own life for his flock by fighting off predators and rescuing lost or wounded sheep.
Shepherd in Scotland 2007
In the time of Jesus’ birth, however, shepherds were a despised class of people, had a bad reputation as being dishonest and thieves, and were considered “unclean” by Jewish religious leaders. As such, they were unable to observe certain ceremonial rites and could not testify in court. We don’t know if the shepherds in Luke’s account were of such reputation, but they would, at the very most, be looked down upon and treated with suspicion.[i]
This makes me wonder why God would choose for them to be the first to hear of the birth of Christ, the Messiah. Did they know anything of the Old Testament prophecies that caused them to be more open to the good news the angels told? Or were they just curious? Shocked that the angels would appear and speak to them?
What we do know is the shepherds recognized this message came from the Lord, they hurried to find and visit the baby, and then spread the word about Jesus to anyone who would listen. The result…all those who heard the message were amazed at what the shepherds said. (Luke 2:8-18)
I find it very significant that when Jesus grew up and began to minister, He often used sheep and the shepherd to teach people valuable lessons about their relationship between God and themselves. He even referred to Himself as “The Door”, “The Gate”, and “The Good Shepherd” who would give His life for the sheep. Those who choose to believe in Him will have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. (John 10:1-30)
These lowly shepherds who were the first to visit the infant Jesus would later be restored to a place of honour by the Good Shepherd as He repeatedly used this powerful analogy to lead His own flock of believers and disciples. Before He returned to Heaven, Jesus passed along this ministry to Peter saying, “Feed my lambs and take care of them.” (John 21:15-16) As a follower of Christ, I also have this responsibility and it is one I take very seriously and have dedicated my life this calling. It is an honour to be given the opportunity to shepherd some of God’s flock here on earth!
Here is another of my favourite Christmas carols:
While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around
Until next time,