Oh My Stars – Day 11

star ornament 2“…and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  Matt. 2:9

On our first Christmas in the house we now live in, we went all-out with the Christmas lights. Icicle lights twinkled from our eaves, the bushes were covered with shimmering strings and a big spotlight glowed over a nativity. The display didn’t quite rival Clark Griswold’s, but we did keep blowing fuses. I wonder if our neighbors were able to get any sleep that year.

In those days before street lights and night lights, a radiant beam shining down like a beacon must have been an amazing sight in Bethlehem. 

When Matthew set out to write an account of Jesus’ life, he wanted to start at the very beginning. His friend, Mark, who had already penned his gospel, began with Jesus coming to John for baptism. But Matthew must have done some extra research, because he opened his narrative with a 42 generation family tree.

Then the story opens.  “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph…”  Matt. 1:18 

His mother Mary.  Of course. Matthew must have interviewed Mary. Where else would he have been able to get such detailed information about the birth of Jesus? Who else would have been able to report how a bright light in the sky came to rest right over their roof? How else would Matthew have known the list of gifts from unexpected guests?

 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

That’s what mothers do. They remember their birth stories.

Maybe it was the way Mary recounted the events, or maybe it was Matthew’s intention, but five times in his narrative, Matthew used the phrase, “the child and his mother”. Never “the mother and her child”.

Above all, this is about Jesus, God’s Son.

The spotlight should always be on Him.

Oh My Stars – Day 10

star ornament 1Back when there were four children under our roof, it wasn’t unusual to get four different interpretations of a single incident. Such as, say, a shattered cookie jar.  One child might point out the guilty one who threw the ball in the house.  Another may make an accusation about who started it. Yet another could be in tears, confessing their sin. And certainly, a fourth would claim complete innocence, having been far, far away from the scene of the crime.

There’s always more than one way to tell a story.

The four gospel writers each had a target audience. Mark was writing to the Roman crowd, Luke to the marginalized Gentiles, and John to the Greeks. Matthew wrote with his fellow Jews in mind, hoping to convince them that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Promised Messiah — the King Israel had been anticipating for 400 years.

Matthew used the word “kingdom” more than any other writer of scripture. He filled his gospel account with references to Old Testament passages, connecting Christ to ancient prophecy. His goal was to present Jesus as King. King of the Jews. King of Kings.

So it makes sense that Matthew was the only one who wrote about the star.

A star that proclaimed a royal birth,

and wise men from foreign lands who came to worship

bringing gifts fit for a king.

 

Starry, Starry Night – Day 9

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…” Matt. 2:3

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Jesus’ birth caused a disturbance.

One thing about Herod the Great — you wouldn’t want to upset him.

He was a cruel, power-hungry ruler who destroyed anyone he considered a threat to his throne.

He had his own wife murdered,

and her three sons,

and his mother-in-law,

and his brother-in-law,

just to name a few.

When King Herod was agitated, you can bet the people of Jerusalem were on edge.

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.” Matt. 2:3

Jesus disturbs me sometimes, too.

Disturb: interrupt the quiet, rest, peace, or order of; unsettle.

I need Him to interrupt my carefully planned and organized life.

I want Him to shake up my settled, complacent idea of discipleship.

I long to hear His voice break through the silent night.

Come, Lord Jesus — cause a disturbance in me.

Starry, Starry Night – Day 8

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“We have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.”             Matt. 2:2

I don’t have to go very far to worship on Sunday mornings.  Our house is one block away from our church. There are some people who drive an hour to come and worship with us on Sundays, but most are within the vicinity.

How far would I go to worship?

It was common for dignitaries to come and pay homage or bring a tribute from their foreign land to newly born royalty. But these wise men didn’t make the trip for the sole purpose of presenting gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Their trek across the desert wasn’t to bring a message of congratulations from the Persian king. These travelers weren’t stopping in while on a sight-seeing tour.

The Magi came to worship.

What did they sacrifice in order to fulfill their desire to bow before Jesus? Time, money, energy?  As soon as they found the child (not baby) at the house (not manger) of Joseph and Mary, “they returned to their country” (Matt. 2:11-12). Mission accomplished.

How long did they bow before the Christ child in worship?

What did they talk about with the carpenter and his young wife?

What did the neighbors think when they saw this entourage stop and enter Joseph’s house?

Were these visitors fully aware that this was God’s own Son, the Savior sent to die for their sins?

Or were they just being obedient to the call to follow that star?

 How far would you go to worship Jesus?

Starry, Starry Night – Day 7

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“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”  Matt. 2:2

No one is ever born a king.

You usually have to start out as a prince and work your way up.

Herod was the second son of a high ranking government official who appointed his twenty-something boy to be governor of Galilee. Herod was promoted to “tetrarch” (leader of 1/4 of a kingdom) by Marc Antony. After three years of conflict and political maneuvering, Herod and his army captured Jerusalem and the Roman Senate gave him the title “King of the Jews”.  He gave himself the title “King Herod the Great”.

Herod was a man who knew the right people,

aligned himself with the powerful party,

and fought for his place of rank.

And now, a tiny little baby

born to a poor carpenter

and his teenage wife

was being called

a king?

Starry, Starry Night – Day 6

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When we had family members living far away, it was always a comfort to know that they were seeing the same sun, moon, and stars as we were. Looking up into the same heavens made us feel closer, somehow.

For 400 years, the chosen people held on to hope that God would send them a Savior.  King Herod was well aware of this predicted Messiah.  When foreign dignitaries rode into Jerusalem with talk about a star and a king, Herod got nervous.  He called on the synagogue leaders to bring him the information he was after.  The priests pulled out Micah’s scroll and found the exact location of the Messiah’s predicted birthplace — Bethlehem.

They had all the information.  Who.  What.  When.  Where.

If the religious folks had just looked up, they might have even noticed the same star.

But they didn’t. 

They didn’t even go over to Bethlehem to see the fulfilled prophecy for themselves.

People can know all the right stuff, but if they don’t show up, they aren’t really a part of the story.

Starry, Starry Night – Day 5

starry

The other day, I was looking for my reading glasses.  I have strategically placed several pair of the Dollar Store variety all around the house. I refuse to wear reading glasses around my neck with a chain. My 5th grade teacher did that, and she was old.

I looked high and low before catching a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror, where I saw the specs perched on my head.  Maybe I am old.

Foreigners traveled hundreds of miles across a desert and made their way to Bethlehem.  But chief priests and teachers of the law six miles down the road didn’t seem all that interested.

Sometimes the closer things are, the harder they are to notice.

Seeing Stars — Day 4

“Where is the one…?”  Matthew 2:2

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It seems the star that compelled the wise men to go on their journey disappeared for a time.  So naturally, they went to Jerusalem because, naturally, that was where the royal palace was, where, naturally, a king would be born.

Except this was a super-natural event.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”  Matthew 2:10

You bet they were overjoyed.  Seeing that star reappear validated their 1,000 mile, four month (or more) journey.  That bright light confirmed that they weren’t crazy.  That radiant beam assured them that they were in the right place.

There is often a “middle” part in our journey, when the light doesn’t shine like it did at first. In those moments, we, too, may ask, “Where is He?” But we have to keep moving along, even in the dark.  Because if we don’t, we’ll miss the light at the end — the part where joy overflows.

Seeing Stars — Day 3

“We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  Matthew 2:2

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How did those Magi know the star was his star?

How did they know the star meant a king had been born in Israel?

Why did they want to worship this infant king?

Why would they travel hundreds of miles to see a child?

Were they pagan astrologers or believing astronomers?

Were they familiar with the writings of Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel —

those prophets of God who had been exiles in Babylon?

Did they recall the days in Persia when Queen Esther saved her people?

Did they read the prophecy of Balaam in the Pentateuch?

“A star will come out of Jacob, a scepter will rise out of Israel”              (Numbers 24:17)

Seeing Stars — Day 2

“We have seen his star…..”  Matthew 2:2

stars

I grew up on a farm, away from city street lights. On a clear night, the sky full of twinkling stars was a wonder to me. I’ve lived my adult life in cities or small towns and haven’t considered the work of His hands in the heavens very often. Recently, I had a chance to look up and take in the splendor of a starry sky and was awe-struck once more.

Of all the ways God could have guided those wise men to the baby in the manger, He chose a star. Not angels. Not a prophecy rolled up in a scroll. Not a voice in a dream. One star.

Only those looking toward the heavens would find their way to the Savior.

I find that to be true for me as well. When I keep my eyes down, focusing on this world and all of its brokenness, I can easily become discouraged. When I look to earthly promises of satisfaction, I am consistently disappointed. When I follow the cultural crowd, I get disoriented and feel lost.

“Look up!” my soul reminds me.