A devotion a day through Christmas! Recorded for WCNP FM 89.5 Classically Christian Radio.
I couldn’t resist closing out the Advent series on stars with this song.
JJ Heller is one of my favorite artists, singing about one of my favorite topics, the Star of Wonder.
This week, this is my story, this is my song.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” Philippians 2:14-16
I’m so grateful to Matthew for writing his account of the Wise Men following a star to the Christ Child. I’m thankful that this story is re-told every year at Christmastime to remind us of their arduous journey, their exceedingly great joy and their profound worship.
Of course, this is not just a story. The star was real, the Magi were real and the baby was real.
Today, we find ourselves somewhere between the first stars of Genesis 1 and the Bright Morning Star of Revelation 22.
For the time being, it’s our job to shine like stars in the universe.
How do we do that, exactly?
Stop complaining and arguing.
Hold out the Word of Life.
Our little rays of light are exactly what this crooked and depraved generation needs.
Your spark may be just the thing to lead someone to the Savior.
Thanks for going on this star-studded journey with me through Advent.
“God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.
He also made the stars.” Genesis 1:16
The stars were not made to govern.
The stars were not great lights, or even lesser lights.
Were the stars after-thoughts of the Creator?
Did they get thrown in as a bonus by the Designer?
In an outburst of Holy laughter, did the stars come tumbling forth?
Did these insignificant twinkling pinpoints have a purpose?
The Bible says the starry hosts were made
“by the breath of His mouth.” Psalm 33:6
Far from being insignificant,
“He determines the number of stars
and calls them each by name.” Psalm 147:4
Job 38:7 tells us that while the foundations for the world were being laid
“the morning stars sang together.”
Perhaps God needed a soundtrack for the Creation event.
It seems the Father has a soft spot in His heart for heavenly night lights.
Stars are sprinkled throughout the Holy Scriptures.
So, how fitting for God to point us to His newborn Son with a star –
a celestial singer,
energized by the exhale of the Father,
and known by name.
When we feel small and unimportant,
wondering if our little bits of light blinking out into a dark world
make any difference at all,
we must remember that we have our Creator’s breath of life within,
that He knows each one of our names,
and that we have been made to sing His praise.
The Wise Men came to worship. It’s as if God said, “My Son will be worshiped. If Israel won’t respond to the birth of their Deliverer, then I will drag a bunch of people from Persia to acknowledge Him.”
God has a way of getting things done.
If we don’t cooperate, He will find someone who will.
The Magi traveled hundreds of miles over several months. You’d think the trip alone would have been offering enough. But they didn’t come empty handed. They came prepared to give magnificent gifts.
Toward the end of our church service, the ushers come forward with gold offering plates. They make their way down the aisle, passing the plates through the rows of people. For many, that’s the cue that our worship service is about over. There is some chit-chat as people whisper about dinner plans or what time the game starts. We forget that opening our treasures (our checkbooks) and presenting Him with gifts is a high form of worship. The offering is not something tagged on at the end of a service in order to pay the light bill. Instead, it is an opportunity to express our love for, dependence on, and trust in our God.
The Magi didn’t sing praise songs or hymns.
They didn’t share joys or concerns.
The Wise Men bowed down,
opened their treasures,
and presented gifts.
The star may have directed them to the Christ Child,
but once they found Him, the Wise Men knew exactly what to do.
God is still looking for worshipers.
“…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” John 4:23
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
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.”
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.
Back 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.