Thursday, December 18, 2008

Traveling to the Crib

Based on Matthew 2:1-18

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Judea and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”…After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.—Matthew 2:1, 2, 9-12

I’m intrigued by two simple sentences in Matthew 2

“We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (v.2)

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (v. 11)

The Magi seem to live with a singular focus in life. They want to worship. They orient their lives around their desire and, as a result, they receive the fulfillment of their desire: they find the one they were seeking and they worship him.

Solomon, widely known for his wisdom, tells us that God “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were created for worship, for the eternal, for something greater than ourselves.

The wise men recognized signs of the eternal, of the divine, in the Jewish prophecies and writings they found. They took the information they had and followed it until it led them to the One to which the prophecies pointed.

The desire for the eternal was so pressing that they went out of their comfort zone to a totally new land. They persevered in their quest—traveling for several years, asking questions when they needed help, following the light that they had until it led them to their destination.

When the star stopped, when it shone its light steadily at their destination, they accepted God’s answer to their quest, as unlikely as it might have seemed. After all, the king of the Jews housed in a common home, unknown to neighbors or political or religious leaders? How likely must that have seemed? Yet they accepted him as the One they had been seeking, the king of the Jews.

The Magi experienced joy as their heart’s desire was fulfilled in discovering God’s chosen One.

They offered the Christ child their gifts and treasure. They weren’t just seeking knowledge; they were intent on worship, on offering their lives to the object of their worship. They weren’t casual sightseers, coming to inspect or gawk at what they saw. They were pilgrims, devoted to seeking God in response to His guidance and leading.

As the Magi left, they received guidance from God that protected them and sent them back along a different route. On the way to Judea, they had a story of being on the quest to discover God’s chosen One, to search out the truth, of seeking the eternal, planting seeds for others to follow.

On the way home, they had a story of finding the fulfillment of the prophecies, of joy, of discovering eternal truth in a child born to a virgin, of God’s intimate guidance and protection, planting new seeds in new lives as they shared their story.

What grabs your attention in the Magi’s story?

What direction are you traveling? Are you seeking spiritual truth?

What are you willing to do to find spiritual truth?

Who do you go to for help when you need spiritual direction?

Have you accepted Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies?

Having found Him, are you satisfied with God’s answer to the longing for the eternal in your heart? Or are you continuing to dabble in other philosophies and religions?

What gifts are you giving Him as an act of worship? What level of devotion do your gifts reflect?

How is worshiping the Christ child changing you?

What stories are you telling others as you journey? How are you pointing them to Jesus?

To view the worship celebration related to this study, go to

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missing the Crib

Based on Matthew 2:1-18

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born….Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared….When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.—Matthew 2:3, 4, 7, 16

Have you ever missed the crib? I’m not using missed as in feeling sentimental, experiencing a sense of longing or loss, about the crib. And not missed as in never meeting the infant God/man who was placed in the manger at birth, either, although that may be something for you to consider.

I’m talking about missed as in ignoring the crib, specifically the Holy One who was laid in the manger, overlooking the implications of the crib in living out a life of faith in Jesus. I think it’s easy to knock Herod when we begin thinking about missing the crib, but I wonder if we understand how easily we miss the crib as Christ-followers.

Consider that Jesus’ birth meant that God was intersecting human history in a new and unique way. No longer could it be claimed that God was far removed from His people. In Jesus, God came to be known as Immanuel, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus shared in our humanity, that we are of the same family, and that Jesus was made like us in every way, to the point of suffering when He was tempted, so that He understands our suffering and is able to help us when we are tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18) In other words, Jesus "gets it" when we struggle to live the life Scripture talks about, and He is able to help us live by the Spirit's power.

So, here are some of the questions that I’ve been wrestling with

What are the circumstances in my life in which I am being tempted to live as if Jesus had never come to that manger crib? Where I don’t really give a rip about the babe in the manger, where I prefer to give in to the temptation to live my life as it the world revolves around me? Succumbing to “feel good” philosophies? To emotions like hopelessness, despair or anger?

Where am I tempted to live like Herod, misusing people to feed my own ego, instead of serving them? Taking out my emotions on them? Using them instead of caring for them?

Where am I misleading others, pretending to seek out spiritual truth, but only so that I can twist it for my own purposes? So that I can boastfully throw around Scriptural truth like the Pharisees without every humbling myself to the God who gave that truth?

Where am I mistreating others, attacking them with abusive or slanderous languageif not outright killing them by the swordin order to protect myself or build my own case, instead of seeing others through His eyes and speaking words that build them up?

For me, these have been hard questions this Christmas season, not just theoretical, abstract questions.

Do I really believe that Jesus came to the manger to usher in God’s kingdom, God’s rulership over all creation?

If so, then I have a responsibility to live my life in a way that reflects His presence within me. Maybe it means actually seeking to live so that it is evident that the Holy Spirit is at work within me, shaping me, transforming me into the image of Christ. Simple things like being characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and oh, let’s not forget, self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23)

Do I really believe the angel’s announcement of “on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests”?

If so, then I have a responsibility to work for reconciliation in the broken relationships in my life. (Matthew 5:9)

Do I really believe that Jesus gives me the power to live differently and that my life will reveal what I really hold dear, what I believe?

If so, then I have to wrestle with my spiritual condition this Christmas as it is revealed not just in the words I say, but in the things I do. (Matthew 12:33-35)

Like us, Herod was surrounded by every opportunity to find out about Jesus. He ruled in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith, surrounded by religious leaders and faithful people. But Herod wasn’t interested in the spiritual things.

Like us, Herod thought he had more important things to think about—he was caught up in the pull of power and position and making a name for himself. As far as he was concerned, other people existed only to serve him.

God’s plan broke through into Herod’s life through the Magi’s arrival. All of a sudden, Herod was aware that his ordered world was not secure.

In what way is God using unexpected circumstances in your life to get your attention? What is your response revealing about your faith?

How do you respond to Jesus’ arrival? Does His presence in the crib reshape your life, your relationships, your future? What difference does He want to make in your life and in the lives of those around you?

Or have you been missing the crib?

To view the worship celebration Bible study related to this article, go to

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale

Based on Luke 2:14

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”

Okay, take a moment and finish humming the theme song from Gilligan’s Island before we get started. Funny, isn’t it, how familiar that song is for those of us who watched the TV series?

Does the Christmas story fall into the same category for you, so familiar that it brings a smile to your face and you walk around humming it, even though you may have forgotten the words? Have you heard it so many times that the words of Luke 2 seem like a good friendfamiliar, expected, welcome, maybe even a little too familiar?

Maybe you even start to zone out when you hear the beginning of the story, just listening for your favorite part and perking up again when you know the end is coming.

Tale. The word itself conjures up thoughts of fairy tales, make believe, fantasy, children’s stories. When stories, even true stories, become overly familiar, we tend to go on auto-pilot in reading or hearing them. This story, this tale, over 2000 years old, is no fairy tale. It is amazing, supernatural, unexpected, yet predicted and documented in history.

Maybe we’ve just heard the story too many times. Could it be that we’ve allowed the familiar words to lull us to sleep so that we miss the power and significance of the tale of Jesus’ birth?

Take a moment to talk to God, asking Him to open your eyes and ears to the story of Jesus’ birth, then read through the following excerpt from Luke 2—

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

What stands out to you as read the story about Jesus’ birth?

The simplicity of the first Christmas belied the wonder of what God was doing at that moment in history. Bethlehem was filled with the hustle and bustle of crowds, of frantic, travel-weary, crowds finding a place to spend the night. In the midst of it all, a baby was born, new life came into the world. In that everyday occurrence, the sacred intersected the ordinary.


Did you catch it? The wonder? The awe? The mystery? The sacred? The divine moment?

At that moment, angels worshiped

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

They proclaimed peace to frantic, harried, stressed, burdened men and women

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

They affirmed God’s love and care for us

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Try reading this simple phrase aloud, slowly, repeating it and each time, emphasizing a different word

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, this day, all year through, don’t miss the sacred, the divine, the wonder, the mystery. Don’t let the frantic nature of life, the everyday stresses, the hustle and bustle of living in the 21st century mar your ability to glimpse the sacred reality that God has become one of us, that His glory is revealed, that He has blessed us with peace, that He loves us, He really loves us.

Not just the generic “us” that is humankind, but the “us” that is you, and me, and the others all around youin your house, at your school, in your workplace, in the stores, and on the streets.

As you walk through your days, allow the angels’ message to permeate your life and soul. Whisperto yourself and to a listening world

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

You’ve memorized it by now, and you’ve prayed it as you’ve meditated on the angels’ words. Let it become your prayer as you move through your days.

Like the angels, take time to respond to God in worship this Christmas. Tell the tale to those around you. Proclaim the good news that, in Jesus, God is for usand live it out!

Let your life tell a tale of worship, peace, and love this Christmas.

Now that’s a tale worth listening to!

Which part of the angels' message do you need to hear this Christmas? Wonder and worship? Peace? Love?

Which part do those around you need to hear, not even necessarily in your words, but in the way you live and celebrate Christmas?

What will you do to make the angels' message part of how you prepare for and celebrate Christmas?

How will your life proclaim the wonder, peace and love of Christmas to those around you?

To view the worship celebration related to this article, click