The story is told about a woman who walked away from a department store window that displayed a nativity scene. This woman, her arms full of packages, was outraged, “Can you believe it? Now they are even trying to bring religion into Christmas. Where will it all stop?
Her words would be funny if they weren’t so true. And there’s more. We used to call it Christmas vacation. Now it is called a winter break. Kids used to sing carols in their Christmas programs, now, in most places, only winter holiday songs are allowed. O Come All Ye Faithful has been replaced by “Frosty the Snowman”.
No longer can we bet that our friends and neighbors know what happened in Bethlehem the first Christmas. We are living in Post-Christian America. Many people are more aware of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” than they are the story of the baby born in Bethlehem.
As a result, there is a great deal of confusion as to who the true star of Christmas really is. Jesus has become one character among many. He is competing for the top spot with Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, the Grinch and Scrooge. Jesus competes with lighting displays, parades, Christmas “sales”, and musical specials on TV.
This morning we are going to look at a group of Persian sages who recognized the true star of Christmas. They traveled from from the east to find the King they were looking for.
Who were these strange travelers? The truth is, that we don’t really know. The most common idea is that these men were astrologers who may or may not have been aware of Biblical prophecy regarding the Messiah. Some feel these may have been Jews whose parents or Grandparents had been deported from Israel and had never returned. There are some suggestions that this was an entourage made up of several nations . . . representing the whole world bowing before the newborn King.
We don’t even know how many men there were. It is assumed that there were three because three gifts are mentioned. But the threefold description of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh could have been categories the gifts fell into. But these details are really unimportant. What matters is that there were a group of men (and they certainly traveled with a large entourage) who sought to honor and worship Jesus.
These men, who lived far away recognized Jesus as the true Star of Christmas. They came to Him and worshipped him. Since this is also our goal . . . we can learn some things from the Magi.
They Were Paying Attention
In the popular movie “Deep Impact”, the story is about the worlds attempt to deal with an asteroid heading straight for the earth bringing catastrophic consequences. The asteroid had been on this course for a while but apparently no one had noticed. The asteroid is discovered by a boy who was with his astronomy class. As he was naming the various stars he noticed that this was something new. He saw what others had missed.
Such is the case with the Magi. There is irony in this story. The Jews who had for many years announced that they were awaiting the Messiah, were oblivious to His coming. The Jews who were considered “God’s chosen People” missed the signs. The religious experts, the theologians, the devout . . . missed it. These “foreigners” however, saw, understood and responded.
The parallel is quite striking. We too can be so wrapped up in the trappings of the season that we miss the Christchild. We can be so familiar with the events and traditions of Christmas that we run on “auto pilot” and never have to think about the events in Bethlehem. In order to combat this tendency, we have to do something to gain perspective.
- Theodore Roosevelt used to do something very significant. After and evening of “Important talk” He would go out in the evening with a friend and stand on the front lawn and look at the constellations. They would find Pegasus, and they would then search beyond the lower left-hand corner for a faint spot of light-mist. Then one of the other of them would recite, “that is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one billion suns, each larger than our sun.” then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we’re small enough! Let’s go to bed.
Sometimes, like Roosevelt, we need to take a fresh look at what we have come to take for granted. Look around you and realize how desperately our world needs the message Jesus brings. Look at your own life and realize how much you need a Savior, companion and friend. If you see this you will realize that the message of Christmas is not a nice story . . . . it is a relevant and pertinent message! It is a message and an event we need to pay attention to.
Let me give you a couple of ideas on how to pay more attention this Christmas
- When you are enjoying Christmas music . . . make the effort to listen, really listen to the words. Refuse to sing mindlessly.
- Look for creative way to express Christmas Greetings. We can say, “Merry Christmas” without ever having to think about what we are saying. Maybe we should work to say, “Enjoy this celebration of Jesus” or “May the freshness of new life in Christ fill your days”, or maybe even, “Enjoy the Birthday Celebration of the King” You see, they all essentially say the same thing, but . . . some can be done mindlessly, others take thought.
- Add Jesus’name to your Christmas list. And rather than worry about some gift that you can buy Jesus this Christ . . . though if you find some way to tangibly express your love for Him do so, remind yourself that the gift that Jesus wants . . . is you. He wants your heart, your attention, your love.
They Were Active Rather than Passive
Notice how these Magi responded to what they observed. They didn’t sit down and write a book about their experience. They didn’t go on the talk show circuit. Instead, they packed up and headed off to find this newborn King so that they might honor and worship Him. When they reached Israel they inquired about where the Messiah was to be born. When they received an answer they continued until they arrived at Bethlehem where they worshipped and presented their gifts. They were not content to have information . . . they insisted on having a personal encounter with this King. They didn’t wait passively . . . they actively sought for the King.
In a similar way, you can’t simply wait for Christmas to come to you . . . . you need to bring yourself to Christmas. We spend too much time waiting for the Christmas Spirit to “strike us”. It is not something that “falls on us” it is something we discover. As children we would look forward to Christmas as Thanksgiving was falling upon us. We were counting days, making lists, finding it hard to sleep because of the anticipation. When we are older things change. We lose that excitement because we aren’t getting the gifts . . . we’re buying them. We see Christmas as another job to do . . . and the excitement is gone.
We feel this way because we are passive about Christmas. But we can’t wait for Christmas to “happen to us” we must seek it out. We need to actively pursue an encounter with the Christ of Christmas rather than waiting for it to come in some package given by another. Again, let me be practical.
- Make sure that your heart is right with Christ. Use this time of the year to ask: “Am I really a follower of Christ or am I only a member of the church?” Use the Christmas season to do a personal and spiritual inventory of your life. Don’t rest until you answer the question of where you stand with Christ.
- Think of a special project for the Season. Find someone who is lonely and spend time with them . . . volunteer to help with a charitable project, read a Christian book you have been meaning to read. Make the effort to do something which bring honor to the Lord.
- Attend the special times of worship and celebration.
- Read through the Biblical stories of the Birth of Christ. Put yourself in the story. Imagine what it would have been like to be a Shepherd, or one of the Magi. Imagine what it would have been like to be Mary, or Joseph. Imagine what it would have been like to be the Father, sending His Son to earth. Then, when you have done all that, ask: “What should it be like for the one who is the recipient of that remarkable love?”
Doing these kinds of things can help you be active in your pursuit of the Christchild. rather than just passive.
They Resisted the Inevitable Distractions
- In April 1988, the evening news reported on a cameraman who was a skydiver. The man had jumped from a plane along with several other skydivers, and he filmed the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. The cameraman seemed to find the jump very exciting, and the viewing of his video work was a pleasure –until it was time for the cameraman to open his chute. Then the picture went berserk. The announcer reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death; he had jumped out of the plane without his parachute. It wasn’t until that point in which he had reached for the absent ripcord and he discovered his mistake that suddenly the jump was more than exciting — it was a nightmare. He had had faith in a parachute that was never buckled on.
In these days before Christmas, sometimes we tend to believe in the ” magic” of the Christmas spirit, in food and fun and gifts and decorations. But we find as Christmas nears that our faith has been misplaced, and as the days snowball in the week before Christmas, suddenly it’s all a nightmare of activity with no meaning. We need to have Jesus “buckled on” as our security. Only when we constantly go back to him as our leader, the one around whom all the activity revolves, can Christmas be exciting and meaningful.
The Magi certainly had many distractions. They had the distraction of a long and arduous journey. I wonder how many times they thought about turning back. I wonder how often they wondered if it was going to be “worth it”. But they kept going.
I wonder how discouraged they were when they weren’t sure where to go next. Maybe they wondered if they had made a mistake. But they kept going. They asked questions. They received answers, and with the answers, they received guidance. They could have been distracted from the main point but they weren’t.
Satan is certainly a common companion of anyone who would see Jesus. The Devil’s goal is to distract you and turn you from your pursuit of Christ. What kind of distractions might the Devil bring our way?
- focusing on the temporal (or earthly) rather than the spiritual
- celebrating the celebration rather than the Savior
- focus on the physical gifts rather than the gift of God that changes hearts and lives.
- a preoccupation with costs and obligations rather than people and expressing the love of Christ
- He’ll encourage you to get angry at the way Christmas is commercialized rather than actually honoring Christ yourself.
- He’ll get you so involved in “doing Christmas” that you take no time to honor Christ.
So how do we keep from being distracted this Christmas?
- Memorize all the verses of a Christmas Carol
- Read the Christmas Cards people send you
- Make star cookies and talk about the true “star” of Christmas
- Read through an Advent devotional booklet
- Carve out some non-negotiable quiet time in the midst of the Christmas rush. Set aside time each day to be alone with the Father.
- Read about the rest of Jesus’life by reading the gospels.
The Magi discovered the King of Kings because they were paying attention, they took action, and they refused to allow distractions to keep them from their course. They had come to worship the Messiah . . . . and nothing was going to stop them.
Why put in all this effort? Because an encounter with Jesus changes you. It changed the Magi. Look at what happened to them when they met Jesus.
1) They rejoiced when they again saw the star leading them to Jesus. (v.10) They knew they were on the right course. Seeing Jesus was all the Magi had hoped it would be and so much more. And when they saw Him . . . when they came into His presence they knew they had found the one they had been looking for all their lives. They discovered joy. When you read the story of the Shepherds you see the same thing . . . they were filled with joy after seeing Christ.
The same can be true for you, my friends. A real encounter with Jesus is not an academic pursuit . . . it is personal. Jesus is the one we have been looking for.
- He is the one brings the forgiveness we thought was not possible.
- He is the one who gives the hope you thought didn’t exist
- He is the one who fills the empty and lonely heart
- He is the one who affirms the value of those who think they are worthless
- He is the one who brings life beyond the grave
His arms are open. He invites you to come to Him. And if you do, you too will find the one you’ve been looking for all your life.
2) They worshipped. (v. 11) Now this doesn’t mean they sang a couple of hymns and took an offering. And it doesn’t mean they sang a chorus over and over again. It means they quietly honored the Christchild. They opened their hearts to Him. They presented Him gifts (see they did take an offering) and they also presented themselves. Worship is acknowledging Him as someone unique, special, powerful.
Worship is different once you meet the Christ of Bethlehem. No longer is worship about form . . . it’s about someone. It’s no longer about learning facts. . . it’s getting better acquainted with Him. When you meet Jesus . . . you will, for the first time in your life have a reason (and a desire) to worship.
3) They went home a different way. (v. 12) The Magi returned to their home by a different route. If you remember the story, they were supposed to return and make a report to Herod. But after meeting Jesus the angel informed them of Herod’s desire to kill this baby. They changed their course.
People who have met Jesus today also change their course. They do so, not because they are required to do so. They do so because for the first time in their lives, the way has become clear. They know who to trust. Many people are afraid of a commitment to Christ. They are afraid they will “have to” change. But that’s not really true. As a result of meeting Jesus, you will be ABLE to change.
- A man was giving his testimony at one of those old Salvation Army open-air street meetings. As he was testifying, a heckler in the crowd yelled, “Why don’t you shut up and sit down? You’re just dreaming.”Immediately that heckler felt a tug on his coat. He looked down to see a little girl, who said, “Sir, may I speak to you? That man who is talking up there is my daddy. Daddy use to be a drunkard. He used to spend all of the money he made on whiskey. My mother was very sad and would cry most of the time.“Sometimes when my daddy would come home, he would hit my mother. I didn’t have shoes or a nice dress to wear to school. But look at my shoes. And see this pretty dress? My daddy bought these for me.” But the little girl wasn’t through with the heckler yet.
“See my mother over there? She the one with the bright smile on her face. She’s happy now. She sings even when she is doing the ironing.” Then the little girl said, “Mister, if my daddy is dreaming, please don’t wake him up.” (Adrian Rogers, BELIEVE IN MIRACLES BUT TRUST IN JESUS p.52)
The change that Jesus makes in a life is not a burdensome change . . . .it is refreshing. It is not “having to do something we don’t want to do.” It’s the ability to make the changes we thought were not possible.
So, what will you do this Christmas? Will you simply go through the motions, immersing yourself in the celebration and come away unaffected? Or will you learn from the mysterious Persian travelers? Will you make stay alert and the effort to discover the real Jesus and come away transformed? The choice you make will determine whether you have a Merry Christmas or whether you celebrate the Birthday of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.