Sunday, December 23, 2012

The True Seekers

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." (Matthew 2:10, ESV)

The Christmas story only starts at the manger.  And I'm not talking about the next 30-some years either.  I'm talking about the core story - the one we celebrate in manger scenes and Advent candles and familiar carols.  If you start with the announcement to Mary and carry through to the visit from the Magi, you cover about 2 years, give or take.  And all through that time, you find men and women who diligently seek out the Messiah either because of something they were told or something they learned from their own search.  It's an amazing tribute to the "true seekers" who longed for that baby so long ago, even if he didn't quite look like they expected when they found him.

For example, right after the birth - within the first two weeks - we get the account of Mary and Joseph presenting their newborn at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Given what we know of them, they certainly didn't stand out in a crowd and there were doubtless many other young couples with babies in line with them that day.  But at least two people, two "true seekers" took notice.

Simeon had been told by God that he would see Messiah.  On seeing the couple and Jesus standing in line, his heart must have skipped a beat or two. The old man hobbled over to them, took the baby in his arms, and began to sing a rather strange song.  His words must have sounded odd as they spoke of his readiness to die now that he had held this baby.  Then again, if you've seen and held the salvation you've longed for, what else would you say?

Anna was also there that day.  She took notice of the baby, came to him, and created an anthem to Messiah.  Her song surely echoed the other as now two people - two of the true seekers - had given testimony to the birth of the promised Savior.

Then there were the Magi.  At the same time all the above was happening in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, these scholars sitting among their readings over 1,000 miles away saw something in the night sky that sent them on an epic journey.  Whether it was a planet, star, or some other "ordinary" celestial object, we have record that two years later in Jerusalem, after they talked to Herod, they saw the start again and it filled their hearts with joy.  They were truly seekers and they would find the King they sought.

Today we also find not what we expected, but rather what we so desperately need.  We find this most humble  unassuming King who has become a peasant so he can bring rescue and redemption just like he always intended.  And we can say, despite the turmoil around us ...

(click the above for the Michael W. Smith song)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bethlehem Thoughts for Advent

They were an odd bunch, that much we can gather.  
The weary  couple had come over 300 miles on foot at the whim of some far off official so they could be counted (and taxed).  The tiny town that was their destination wasn't of much account either.  Perhaps that's why there was a shortage of available lodging that night.  In a last-ditch effort, they agreed to stay in the cave stable behind the small inn.  You would think a pregnant girl would have received a little more sympathy ... but you'd be wrong on that account.  So, in the smell of that stable she went into labor and, with no doctor to attend, her husband delivered the Child.
Meanwhile, in the hills around that little village, a rag-tag group of shepherds were dozing and chatting while their flocks, settled in for the night, either slept or ate in the field around them.  Shepherds weren't known for their rank in society.  They associated with mostly other shepherds as it was pretty much a full-time job (and by that I mean 24x7) to guard and care for your livelihood.  I can only begin to imagine the terror  that struck them as the nigh sky lit up like a thousand blazing campfires.  Frankly, I'm shocked any of them could recover to the degree they would leave their sheep and run over the hill into Bethlehem as the angle suggested they do.
So, in the dead of night, in the dark, dank confines of a stable, the weary couple and the shepherds witnessed God entering the world.  The account in Luke's Gospel says it was a pretty awesome sight to behold.  The shepherds, unable to contain the pure joy ran off waking the town and everyone they could see.  Mary, overwhelmed to have been chosen, just kept silent and thought about all that had transpired over the past nine months.  Joseph finally had at least some of the answers he sought, even if he still didn't completely understand.
But our tradition also adds three more players to the Nativity pageant.  History will note that they weren't actually there that night, but I'm going to err on the side of tradition and include them.  These "magi" were very studious men.  The 300-mile trek of Mary and Joseph paled in comparison with their journey.  They saw signs in heaven, probably even before that first Bethlehem night, and gathered up their entourage to seek out the King.  Their faith and diligence is honored in the story right along with the shepherds.  They somehow knew (above all the rest of their knowledge) that history had changed.
This year, as my Advent candles burn and my simple, traditional tree sits in my house, I want more than ever to connect with that Child in a fresh way.  God chose his entry into humanity as a humble, lower-class baby arriving to an exhausted couple in a dirty little cave.  His first companions were animals and his first visitors the most common of commoners - shepherds.  Yes, wise mean sought him out and risked much to see him - but the common thread among all who made a choice that first Christmas was the helpless baby in that manger.  Wrapped in cloth, still fresh from childbirth, the Messiah began a life that would, in the end, bring Life to all of us.
Like the shepherds and the wise men, I want that Life now more than ever.