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,
You might have guessed by now one of my favorite writers is C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis, born in 1898, died November 22, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated, and the same day philosopher Aldous Huxley, who penned the dystopian novel Brave New World, also died.
Lewis was not a professional theologian but his books brought basic, thoughtful Christianity to a wide audience. He was steeped in classic Western literature and philosophy and learned to read ancient Greek at the age of 12. In his academic career he was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University then unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University.
He is known for his Christian faith and powerful literary witness. But Lewis was an atheist at a young age after his mother died of cancer. As he entered academia he encountered several Christian students and professors. One of the final straws was an atheist friend who commented in a moment of candor that there might be something to "all that nonsense" about a "dying God."
Not long afterward Lewis had an undeniable conversion experience: "In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most reluctant and dejected convert in all England."
Lewis married late in life, an American intellectual named Joy Gresham who sadly within a few years succumbed to cancer. His book A Grief Observed was the result of that personal loss.
Lewis is one of my favorite authors because he cuts through arguments or explains concepts with laser precision and his writings crackle with good humor and humility. There's a lot to learn from Lewis and other writers who thoughtfully and simply articulate the Christian faith.
But we don't have to write books or lecture on Christianity to share Jesus with others. We can share the faith like a "beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." Writers like Lewis help us but in the end we are called individually and as a congregation to invite others to follow Jesus. It might be an invitation to a church event or telling our faith story over coffee at Starbucks. But wherever, whenever, and however it happens the best way to grow God's Kingdom is personally introducing friends, family, or co-workers to Jesus.
Grace and Peace,
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