Paper, Ribbon and Tears
Linda Bailey, who writes a daily devotional guide, went on a minister's leadership trip to the US. As they listened to the stories of how people did ministering they found every congregation went out of their way to meet the needs of this visiting group. She writes,
"There was one church we visited in the late afternoon and our leader had asked if it was possible for them to provide us with tea. The church facilitator questioned this but after it was confirmed that the group would like tea they prepared it for us. When we arrived at the church they had a large table with a huge array of drinks on it. There was brewed coffee, teabags, soft drinks, water, juice... the whole table was filled with drinks."
Did I mention the group was from England? The leader asked for "tea" and meant an evening meal. The host heard the word "tea" and thought of "tea".
Strangers came from the East, arrived at Jerusalem, the capital of what would be Palestine, and sought the one born "king of the Jews". Herod received them and the message enflamed his jealousy, rage and power craving. Those visitors heard the news and wished to worship him. Mary and Joseph received them and were astounded by their news and journey. Thus is the problem whenever we stop to think of what it means for Jesus to be Emmanuel?
We really don't know much about those we call Magi or wisemen. Tradition says they came from Persia, East of Israel, but those living in the Middle East will be quick to point out that "from the East" usually refers to those across the Jordan River. It was from Arabia that gifts such as gold, frankincense and myrrh are mined and harvested. E.F.F. Bishop visited a Bedouin tribe in Jordan whose name was al-Kokabani. The word Kokab mean "planet" and the name means 'those who study/follow the planets'. When asked about such a name the elders told the British scholar it was because their ancestors followed the planets and traveled west to Palestine to show honor to the great prophet Jesus when he was born.
We know little about who these visitors to Herod and the holy family. Priests, astrologers, descended from Jews who remained in Babylon, magicians, those who were into arcane knowledge, magicians, three, twelve, one, named, anonymous, you and I. All of these thoughts and ideas have merit and none of them is known.
The purpose for their coming and Matthew's point in telling of their visit isn't found in the details. Matthew tells us of these men because he wants us to understand Christ was recognized by those who sought Him.
Those seeking him are willing to journey in order to honor whom they see as king. Herod was an Arab by birth, a Jew by religion and a Greek by culture. He was politically cunning, ruthless, paranoid and just crazy. The news of a king was not welcomed by Herod. It was proof that he was right to be paranoid. These visitors would have assumed the palace would be the place for a new heir to be born and were probably more than a little confused by the anxiety that seemed to rise among the people of the town.
In 2009 I want us to discover what these seekers did, that Jesus isn't found where He's most expected but in the unanticipated, unlooked for and the very midst of life itself. We like a the Christmas mystique of soft music, pretty lights, ribbons and bows on Christmas morning. Christmas is no place for tears, no place for wailing, no place for sorrow but that's exactly what happened that first Christmas for it happens in the middle of a bloody slaughter of infants
We want to believe Christmas means peace and goodwill. But that first Christmas paranoia and a ruthless hatred for the things of God erupts from Herod as he gives his orders. Christmas isn't about a universal, generic hope that everything will be nice. Christmas demonstrates the reality of sin which was destroyed by Christ's death on the cross. J. I. Packer writes of this in Knowing God, "The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross."
Seek Christ. We've been talking about a journey and I believe that is going to be a continual theme for our congregation as we move forward. Christ came to us, but He tells us to follow Him. That supposes that we're moving and not staying in the same place.
Worship Christ. But we're here aren't we, but is being here worship? Consider this question, "If I didn't go to church on Sunday what would I miss?" If my first answer is visiting with my friends, not seeing my family or cookies and coffee we have a problem. Consider the serious work of worship as shown us in Revelation 4 and 5 or as expressed in the Psalms. What does it look like for us to worship God, to meet Him where He is rather than try to have God do things for us?
We just handed out Bibles to a group of kids today. Did you hear me tell them why these aren't the cheap little bibles most of us got when we were in second or third grade? We gave them study bibles because to worship God takes study.
Study God's word. We won't study God's word unless we read it. I know that sounds a bit silly to say but how many of us have complained we wanted to know God's will but never picked up a bible to see what it might have to say about it?
Meet Christ where He is. You're going to find Jesus doing some pretty amazing things within us and through those us as we follow Him into this world. We're going to be taken places that aren't always comfortable and put in situations where we will probably get taken. But following Jesus comes with risks and the only guarantee is His presence with us through all times and in all places. Seek, Worship, Study and Meet Christ and we'll have a wonderful year. Let us pray and come to our Lord's Table.
 Reported to Kenneth Bailey orally in the summer of 1957 and recorded in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. (IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Ill.) p. 53
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 6