Oh My Stars – Day 13

star ornament 5There’s nothing harder than letting go of someone you hold dear, whether it be an aged grandparent on their deathbed or the hand of a five year old on their first day of kindergarten.

Mary must have been exhausted after that 80 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. On a donkey. While nine months pregnant. Oy-vey.

She gave birth without a midwife and had to wrap the newborn in strips of cloth herself. No one was there to whisk the baby off to a warm basin of bath water and return the sweet smelling infant to her arms in a sterile blanket.

Mary had to lay that child down in an animal’s feeding trough. She placed baby Jesus in a hay-filled manger. She offered the child to a dirty, stinky, contaminated world. She laid Him down — something she would have to do again 33 years later.

It would have been nice if the star that directed the Wise Men to the Christ Child could have continued shining on Him throughout His lifetime. A light from heaven spotlighting the Son of God might have made believers out of some people. It would have been hard to deny the deity of a man enveloped in starlight.

It also might have been a huge distraction.

When Mary and Joseph took their baby boy to the temple eight days after the birth, the old priest Simeon took the newborn into his arms and praised God, saying – “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)

Jesus didn’t need a radiant beam from heaven following Him around.

He was the light from heaven.

The Old Testament prophets knew it — “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” (Isaiah 9:2)

Jesus knew it — “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)

Now we carry the light of Christ into the darkness.  We are the stars.

“You are the light of the world…let your light shine.” Matthew 5:14-16

Oh My Stars – Day 12

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Several years ago, when we moved to the place we now live, one of the first things we did was open a bank account. The people at the bank were so friendly and made a point of calling me by my first name. During that time of transition, when I didn’t know anyone in town and didn’t have any friends, I used to go to the bank just for the comfort of hearing someone say, “Hi Dinah!”

The Wise Men from the East remained nameless in scripture.  Folklore has given the Magi names – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – but there is no reliable source to verify those names. There isn’t even an indication in the Bible that there were three wise men, only that they brought three gifts.

Many people in the scriptures went unnamed. There was the rich, young ruler, the woman at the well, the blind beggar and the woman with an issue of blood. (How would you like to go down in history with that title?) There was a widow, a centurion, and two thieves crucified with Jesus. No names.

Jesus, on the other hand, has a list of names a mile long. In fact, the prophets began naming Him hundreds of years before He was even born. Isaiah started making a list — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There are over 200 names for Jesus in the Bible. Some reflect Christ’s nature (Son of God, King of Kings), some indicate His position (Chief Cornerstone, Emanuel) and others stem from His work (Great Shepherd, Deliverer). So many names.

My favorite is found in the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22,

where Jesus gives Himself a name —

“I am…the Bright Morning Star.”

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?