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Last week we looked at the perfect gift of Jesus. When we help those in need, we’re helping Jesus. That’s the paradigm shift we need to rethink Christmas. This week, we’ll finish our series by examining the road we are all called to travel, but few actually go down it.
Matt. 2:11-12 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.”
My how time flies. It’s only Dec. 16th and most of the stores have put all their Christmas decorations on sale. There are still parties to go to, tests to take, gifts to buy, and food to cook. Some of us have been listening to Christmas music since Nov. 1st. We’re all caught up in the excitement of the season. On Dec. 26th, all the excitement passes, we don’t want to hear another Christmas song, smell gingerbread, of have leftover turkey and ham. After Christmas, we’re left exhausted from the shopping, the parties, the cooking, the cleaning, and the relatives. We start off the New Year with the depressing thoughts of returning to work and school in clothes that are too tight and bills that are stacked too high. Immanuel – God with us has been lost into the frantic pace of Christmas, BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Jan. 6th brings us to an event that few Christians observe, and even fewer know about. This is the day we celebrate the Epiphany. The day we celebrate the arrival of the magi. These wise men were experts in astronomy, astrology, and natural science. According to Western church tradition these wise men were Balthasar – often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.
As in many case, tradition has trumped the truth. The truth is, the wise men were nowhere near the manger looking down at baby Jesus. By the time they arrived, Jesus had been circumcised in the Temple on the 8th day. Joseph and Mary had found a more permanent dwelling because Matt. 2:11 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother.” We’re not certain that Joseph was there in the house with them. When we look at the truth, we see that when they got there, “They fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” That is the only response possible when you are in front of the King of Kings. That is what you do when you go before Immanuel, before the One that created the heavens and the earth. Based on Matthew’s account, it would have been some time before they arrived. It is true they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but that doesn’t mean there were three wise men. They brought these gifts – Matthew calls them treasures – with them; they didn’t fall out of the sky. The magi presented the Christ child with gifts befitting a King. The story of the wise men ends with Matthew saying, “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.” (Matt. 2:12)
There is a new road. I think this is a really neat verse because I think it captures the essence of our walk of faith. The wise men went another way. Herod represents danger. Verse 16 tells us, “Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under.” I can’t help thinking when God warns us of danger, do we turn and go the other way in obedience, or do we want to sneak a peek at the danger; maybe get just close enough to touch it. God’s Word is consistently warning us of danger if we’ll just read and respond to its message. For many people, January and the New Year represent a new beginning. Resolutions are made. We’ll lose weight, exercise, quit smoking. Pray, read the Bible, be more faithful in church, begin serving, begin giving to the work of ministry. We make a commitment to go down a road less traveled and this year will be different.
The wise men brought gifts to Jesus. It’s difficult to place a value on the gifts they brought. To give you an idea of their value, here it is in today’s money. Gold: $1700 per ounce. Frankincense: $31.25 per ounce. Myrrh: $250 per ounce. Some experts put the total value of the gifts well over a million dollars. When you add the value of the gifts to the cost of traveling for two years, you can see the money invested to find the King. There is that dreaded word – money. Do you think it’s any coincidence that there is treasure included in Matthew’s account? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our monthly bank statement may reveal more about our true character than anything else. We’ve become members of the church of the monetarily selfish. Mark 10 tells us of a man that was seeking the road less traveled and asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life. He said he had kept the 10 Commandments ever since he was a boy.
Mark 10:21-23 says,“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus knew that money would challenge His people. He knew the difficulties that money brings. That’s why He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24) Our modern retailers tell you differently. You must have a bigger house, better car, bigger TV, the latest technology. In an article called, “McMansion Economics” the LA Times reported that the average American family shrunk over the last 30 years, but our houses got 42% bigger. If we shifted to the average size of a home 30 years ago, we would save an average of $80,000 per home. We now have days of the year dedicated to fulfill every materialistic desire. Black Friday and Saturday. Cyber Monday. When we’re feeling blue, we participate in retail therapy. We have forgotten that we cannot find true happiness in stuff. When we use God to get what we want instead of God using us to get what He wants, we miss Immanuel. I wonder if Jesus is in heaven singing, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.” Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly would bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12) Let the angel’s words to Mary be applied to you, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30)
Is there a better road to travel? Don’t fear falling off the fiscal cliff. Jesus said it best, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25) The answer is yes, there is more to life than life here. Our lives should be a contradiction to the world’s; should be in harmony with Scripture; should be an example of hope and determination, and perseverance, and trust. Jesus answers the dilemmas of life by offering a contrast in Matt. 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What will be added? Everything you need to live for God. It’s a contrast to the Gentile way of life. First seek God’s Kingdom. This is the place where God reigns. This is the place where He is in charge and we willingly submit to His authority. It’s a place where God’s people provide vibrant demonstration of an authentic relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We’re also to seek His righteousness. We need to be right acting. It is the character or quality of doing right. This righteousness should be prevalent in all that we do: relationships, business, taxes, finances, parenting, and friendships. We are to act morally and ethically. And we’re supposed to share this with others. The only way we can have the quality of righteousness is to be a child of the King. “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (1 Jo. 2:29)
This Christmas, remember it’s not about you or your children. It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday.