Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent Reflections: Magi and Shepherds

A couple of years ago, I wrote out a self-published e-book of Advent Devotions. You can still buy it from Amazon.com here: Advent Reflections. However, I’m going to re-use the whole thing for daily blog posts here on the blog this year. This week features double-posts to finish by Christmas.

Hymn numbers are from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal/Worship Hymnal from Lifeway.

Week Four Day Five: Magi and Shepherds

“So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.” Luke 2:16 (NASB95)

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Matthew 2:10 (NASB95)

Two groups of men. Two similar reactions. Two very different backgrounds.

One group spends their nights with their eyes on the ground, watching sheep and guarding against thieves and predators. The other group spends their nights with their eyes on the skies, watching stars and guarding ancient wisdom against the ravages of time. One group is surrounded by smelly sheep and the general disdain of respectable people. The other group is the epitome of respectable people in their land. Shepherds and Magi are two groups of people whose paths would rarely, if ever cross. This is certainly true of the shepherds and Magi in the Christmas story: the shepherds are in Israel. The Magi come from “the east,” which is likely Persia or beyond.

Yet both find their way to Bethlehem. The story shows the shepherds come and find Jesus in the manger and the Magi find Him in a house.[1] There likely was a time delay between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi (or Wise Men, but I like Magi). How much is one of the great debates of Christendom, but I will not try to solve that one here.[2]

The shepherds come charging in from the fields, while the Magi come ponderously from the East. The Magi stop in Jerusalem to see if anyone knows about this “King of the Jews” while the shepherds stop people on their way out of town to tell what they saw. The Magi leave quietly, the shepherds leave loudly, but neither is ever heard from again.

Seriously, neither group shows up in the story of the life of Christ. The Magi go back to their own country, the shepherds return to their sheep. What becomes of them? That’s a question I would love to answer, but I cannot. Let us consider these men. Let us see the lesson in their disappearance.

We know that neither group just went out and dropped dead. The text records the Magi returned, they survived the return trip. The shepherds also went back and glorified God, so they made it back to the field. Where they went next is the question I want to answer, but I cannot.

These groups point us to the danger at Christmas. The danger for Christians is not government censorship or consumerism. Our hearts, if given to Christ, cannot be censored by the courts and will not tolerate the idolatry of consumerism. Our danger is more subtle. It is the danger to make much of Christmas and little of Christ.

It is the danger to make the celebration of a single event greater than the life of worship and service, commitment and love, intimacy and submission, that the event should have sparked. Where is your heart this Christmas? There is no harm in celebrating the day, keeping Christmas well in your heart upon that day.

Yet there is great harm in keeping a day when we are meant to keep a life. Let the shepherds and Magi teach us this: December 26th should be different because of December 25th.[3] If it is not, we have missed the point.

Scripture passage for the day: Luke 2:20 (NASB95)

The shepherds went back,

glorifying and praising God

for all that they had heard and seen

just as had been told them.

Hymn for the day: We Three Kings of Orient Are #215

Prayer: Ever-faithful God, I disappear sometimes. I am not always good with follow-through and follow-up. I ask for You to help me here, that I would persist where I am. That I would have the strength and courage to not vanish after one day but to celebrate You with my life in all my days. Jesus did so much more than come at Christmas, and in His name I ask for help, Amen.

[1] I know, at Epiphany. Thank you my liturgical brethren.

[2] The Great Debates of Christendom are the issues in the Bible that only get argued about by Christians that live in relative ease and safety. There’s bound to be a book in that somewhere.

[3] Another Great Debate of Christendom: Is that date right? Irrelevant: take the point instead. Is today different because of whenever you have considered the birth of Jesus?

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