Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seeking a Sign of Joy

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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-11, NKJV)
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Do a quick search on the word “joy” in any version of the Bible, and you will return dozens of references. Almost every passage or verse will note some object or event that either brings out joy or is intended to be an occasion of joy. Among these passages, is the one noted in this entry about the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. To say that particular source of joy has had a profound impact is an understatement.

In ancient times, when men went out to battle, they set up encampments in tents, often in some way or another encircling the command tent. It was the rallying point for orders and leadership. The general (or other commander) gathered there with his closest officers and advisors to plan what the army would or wouldn’t do during the course of an upcoming skirmish. The soldiers would see the flags and banners of their country and other symbols letting them know what was happening.

They would also be searching for a different sign, often with great anticipation. If, above all other flags, they saw the banner of their king, it was a cause for them to take heart and rejoice. Like the Magi, they recognized the banner of their leader and they would rally to him in a fresh way. Their king had taken up residence among them and would lead them personally into the battle.

When I was in college (oh so very long ago), I had the privilege of singing in one of the vesper choirs. Our accompanist was a talented woman who wrote, among other things, Christmas carols. One of these carols spoke of that special star rising up and bringing joy to all who saw it and recognized its significance. If I can recall correctly, the refrain went like this:

The weary men of war rejoice!
Look up, behold, a star.
Rise up, the King of all takes residence
In mortal halls tonight.

I think this captures the joy those Magi must have felt. They had studied the skies, ancient texts, and who knows what manner of sources for one specific purpose. They were looking for the sign indicating the promised Messiah King had arrived. And, when they saw it at long last, they spent the next couple of years following it to Judea. The fact that they stopped to inquire of Herod may indicate that the start “hid” from them for a time, which leads to the climax Matthew notes in this passage. When they came out from Herod, the start shown once again and guided them to their final destination. And that was a cause for great joy.

As I travel the Crooked Path, I need to look diligently for the signs of what God has in store for me. Some will be plain and some may be a bit obscured at times. But the signs will be there. And just like the Magi, I will find a sense of joy in them, because they point me to the only One who is the source of true joy, rest, and gladness. My King has taken up residence with me and the path I walk doesn’t seem so difficult anymore.

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  1. What sign are you looking for? Is it a sign that, when you see it, will cause you to rejoice with great joy like the Magi?
  2. If you look toward the center of your life, what banner is flying there? Is it a banner that causes you to take heart and rise up with renewed strength?
  3. Have you, like the Magi, been following a sign only to have it disappear for a season? Has that caused to you re-evaluate what that sign represents? Is it something you truly believe God will bring back and use to point you to Him?

NKJV - Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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