“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” Luke 1:14
During a recent discussion with a friend several states away, our conversation settled on the reasons families setup Christmas trees in their homes. The conversation brought back beautiful memories of our family piling into the Oldsmobile to drive to the Christmas tree farm, ironically in the town where I now call home. Those memories are fresh, like a brisk mid-December breeze touching my face, while touring the farm with my father in search of the perfect evergreen.
Patience always seemed to be such a waste of time. Get it done, and get it done now has always been my philosophy. So, naturally, the thirty-minute drive sitting entirely too close to my brothers, being figuratively and literally tortured, taught me the essence of patience. But, at the same time, this journey always seemed to bring our family closer together.
As a child I understood the reason we celebrated Christmas, and the tree just seemed to bring it all together. The fragrance of the freshly cut evergreen filled our home with a special scent that lasted for weeks. As the designated waterer, I made sure to include a splash of sugar to keep the branches from drying out. Finally, the wooden nativity set was carefully placed under the tree, a constant reminder of the babe born in a barn and laid in a manger.
The baby took centerstage during Christmas, my parents’ way of teaching us that God gave us His Son, a gift, “love coming down”. While the gifts were very nice, I don’t recall this being the focus of the celebration. I knew Christmas time was about the greatest gift of all time, Jesus. As I grew in understanding, the true meaning of Jesus as our Savior, His birth is phase one in that journey. A journey with purpose!
When Mary and Joseph left Nazareth for Bethlehem, they were embarking on a ninety-mile journey. If they averaged 2.5 miles an hour, for eight hours per day, it would take at least four days to reach their destination. Considering Mary’s condition, it probably took a week. They didn’t ask for a deferral or make excuses as to why they shouldn’t have to go, they just strapped their sandals a little tighter and made the journey.
In Matthew 2 we learn about visitors from the east. It is believed the wise men travelled more than 900 miles to meet Jesus. Based upon the distance, they were no longer looking for a baby, they were searching for a child. Their journey would be a long one.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
When we think about the three wise men, we are drawn to the gifts they brought to King Jesus. These gifts had great spiritual meaning. The gold symbolizing kingship, frankincense symbolizing deity, and myrrh, an embalming oil, symbolizing death. These are quite significant, but if we look more closely at the men, we see something greater still. They were connected to God and obedient to His will. Their journey started in obedience and ended with them listening to God and going another way back to their home country!
Today’s culture will not use the words “wise men” and love of Jesus in the same sentence. Yet we know that loving and serving Jesus is the wisest decision we will ever make. Yes, some may say Christmas has been corrupted, but when I see the lights on a Christmas tree, I know Jesus is the only saving light we can shine on a very dark world. Besides, it is an easy bridge to sharing the gospel with someone.
Finally, do you know where you are going? Does your journey have purpose? If not, there’s a map for your life in every Bible. Start in the Book of John and work your way through.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!