January 2017 Streams of Thought
We return to Matthew 2 for this month's article. Last month we reflected/speculated on the use of the gifts Jesus received from the Wise Men/Magi. There is the possibility they funded the family's flight to Egypt in light of King Herod's murderous rage.
God told the Magi to go home another way without informing Herod where the child was (they had called Jesus "King of the Jews" and this apparently triggered Herod's paranoia). One Roman emperor supposedly said it was better to be Herod's pig than his son (there's a play on the words "pig" and "son" in the language of the time).
But the story of Herod's homicidal rampage against the little boys in Bethlehem is only in Matthew's Gospel and no records outside the Gospel confirm it; the possible explanation is an event like that in a tiny town like Bethlehem wouldn't have gained attention unless it touched off a revolt.
But two big questions loom: Why did God send the Magi another way if He knew what would happen? Why is this story in the Bible?
The short answer to the first one is "I don't know;" on the other hand God allows us to choose good or evil. And this story, like some other disturbing ones (a bunch in the Old Testament; a few in the New Testament) reminds us God is sovereign but He does not to micromanage every aspect of life; this goes back to the first question and the issue of free will.
It's much like us as parents; we set boundaries and encourage our kids to stay within them. Sometimes they choose not to honor or respect those boundaries. We can debate and argue what free will
is, how far it goes, or how much God influences it. And we can argue whether people have a basic sense of right and wrong and
to what extent it is present in any given person.
But back to our text/story; these are the events that kindle doubt over God's goodness, power, or even existence. We scream, among other things, "Why doesn't God do something?" We
think in terms of God's power, of a God, we could rightly argue, who has the kind of power to stop evil dead in its tracks.
But God doesn't usually work that way. And God has done something. He sent His own Son, whose birth we just celebrated, to die for the sin of the world, even for people like Herod. God suffered in Jesus Christ to bring salvation to a world drowning in violence, blood, and conflict. In the cross was judgment and grace, justice and forgiveness.
Those who embrace the cross find God has gone to extreme measures to change human lives and destinies. The cross says no one is beyond the hope of redemption; the cross is the focal point of mercy and grace and the empty tomb of Christ says the power of the cross is ours to receive.
Let us walk in the power of the crucified and risen Christ as we begin a new year of ministry at LWUMC.
Grace and Peace,
December 2016 Streams of Thought
Matthew 2 records the visit of the Wise Men or Magi. Contrary to
tradition, the Wise Men were not at the manger. Luke recorded
Jesus' birth; Matthew recorded an event 18-24 months later. Luke
uses the Greek word for infant; Matthew uses the word for small
child (toddler in our terms). It's very likely this was in Bethlehem
given the terrible atrocity of King Herod trying to kill Jesus by ordering the killing of the boys in Bethlehem 2 years of age or younger (more on that in the January newsletter).
One question Matthew's text raises is "What happened to the gifts?" Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were expensive gifts; it would be like shopping at Neiman-Marcus for a 2-year-old. Jesus was a poor kid from an obscure village in Palestine under Roman occupation. The Magi were drawn by a star (which could have been seen by anyone looking at the night sky). In the ancient world heavenly signs meant a person or event was coming which would affect the lives of countless people; they were right on both counts.
But back to the gifts; do we chalk this up to embellishment by the writer or did God in His wisdom use the Magi to financially take care of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus during their exile in Egypt to
escape Herod's murderous wrath? Considering their social status they might not have had the money to flee that distance to get as far away as possible from Herod. They would need money to travel and
then buy, build, or rent shelter in Egypt. By selling the fragrances they could have gained enough to travel and settle down. The gold might have been hidden away for emergencies
or for the return trip. If this was the case it's likely Joseph worked his trade in Egypt to obscure the fact his family had items of great value.
Or maybe they anonymously gifted everything to the poor and fled to Egypt on faith. Scripture doesn't tell us; all we can do is speculate. But as great and costly as those gifts were they were nothing compared to the gift God gave the world in His Son.
And the best gift we can give Him is our hearts and lives.
Have a blessed and holy Christmas.
Halloween is just around the corner; Thanksgiving not far off and stores are already strongly hinting that Christmas is coming. Usually I lament this turn of events, but this year I'm rethinking it.
The season is never long enough for me to really enjoy its sights and sounds. I can listen to Christmas music anytime and sometimes do. It's good to focus on a particular day of celebration, but the Incarnation--that mind blowing event when God became fully human while staying fully divine--is for all time.
We live in the life-giving power of the Resurrection year round--and don't just limit it to Easter. I think the same should be true for Christmas; hang some lights out in August. Keep an advent candle wreath on a shelf where it can be seen all year. We live, after all, in the prsence of the Incarnated and Resurrected Christ on a daily basis.
So sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" in September or "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" in June to boost your faith and celebrate His deathless and holy presence.
And then, when it comes to Christmas (and Easter) go all out! Use that time, as we rightly do, to focus on the Christ who has come to save and guide, to give us eternal life, to hold us when life is unbearable, to strengthen us when we can't go on. All with the purpose of making us "New creations in Christ" (II Corinthians 5:17).
As C.S. Lewis said, "niceness'--wholesome, integrated personality--is an excellent thing" but "mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will in the end improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons (and daughters); not simply to produce better men (and women)."
Stores may seem prematrue in their Christmas displays, but then again, maybe they aren't. One way to think of it is a reminder of the daily reality of the Incarnated and Risen Christ whose grace is working in us and who calls us to witness to His presence every day of the year.
Grace and Peace,
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