Have you purchased your presents for Christmas yet?
Fortunately for me, Brenda, my wife, handles most of the shopping in our house! I can't tell you how grateful I am for that! I only have to find something special for Brenda. So the weeks, ah ... err ... days before Christmas, I become a seeker. In those hours before Christmas, I am earnestly on a quest for the perfect gift.
Way back when, strangers arrived in Jerusalem asking questions like, "Where is the famous one who has been born?" and "Where can we find the new king?"
Questions. We all ask them. Answers are sought after to help us. Answers give us a better understanding of a situation and guide what steps we will take. These strangers were Magi who came asking questions because they were pursuing answers about the star they had seen that was linked to the birth of a king.
The Magi (or wise men) were scholars who studied the stars from the east, more than likely from the Parthian empire. Somehow it had been revealed to them that God was doing this great thing in sending his promised one and they decided to join in.
The Magi were not the only ones asking questions, as King Herod asked some of his own. The Magi's presence in his land and their inquiries about a king disturbed him and the whole Jerusalem community. First of all, he was the "King" of this jurisdiction, and therefore, there should not be another king.
King Herod was not a Jew but was elected king of the Jews, by the Roman Senate in 37 BC. His legacy, still highly regarded in this day, was the colossal building projects that he led including the renovation of the Second Temple, otherwise know as Herod's Temple. Herod was very savvy in his political dealings, living by a "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" philosophy. History tells us he was also ruthless, killing his own family members whom he distrusted as insurrectionists, including his wives and sons. Herod's personal agenda was infamous.
So Herod went to the chief priests and the teachers of the law and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. These religious leaders were the intellectuals of the day. Through their study of the Tanakh (what some today call the Old Testament), these intellects understood that he would be born in Bethlehem.
Motives. We all have them, and they fuel the decisions we make. The Magi were earnestly trying to find out information about this new king so that they might go and worship him. They were honest seekers and their motives were transparent. Herod became a seeker of the new king as well, but his motives were deceptive. Calling the Magi into a secret meeting, he sought a time line and other valuable information so that he could discern the birth of the king. In addition, he told the Magi to do a careful search, and when they found him, to drop him a line so that he too might go and worship this king. His words were a thin veneer over his corrupted heart.
The culmination of the story takes place when the Magi discover what they were honestly seeking. They came to the house and found the baby Jesus with his mother Mary. Their response was to bow down and worship him. Then the Magi opened up their treasure boxes that they had brought with them on the trip. They presented gifts of gold, incense and myrrh to the King.
The Magi's interest in traveling all the way to Bethlehem was not just to see an event, but to worship the Lord Jesus, and by doing so, put him in the highest place. In worshiping Jesus, the Magi reprioritized their lives making the Lord their center, placing Jesus in his rightful place. They were now on a new life path and it had an effect on every part of their lives, including their generosity toward the Lord.
Later, when the Magi did not report their findings to Herod because they were warned in a dream to avoid him, Herod became furious and made a horrifying decree. The order was given of infanticide of all the male babies in Bethlehem under the age of two years old. Ironically, Herod would die only months after these heinous events. It is easy to see how favorable the Magi are in this account and how unsavory Herod was. The Magi were honest seekers looking for the truth that God was revealing, while Herod was a dishonest seeker looking to derail these plans.
What about you? Are you actively, honestly seeking the Lord and his ways in the Christmas season? Or are you like Herod, self-absorbed so much that you cannot see what the Lord wants to do?
Honest seeking of the Lord brings about a new set of priorities, a new life and a new direction.
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, which meets 9:30 a.m. Sundays at the Petoskey Cinema and 11 a.m. Sundays at Boyne City elementary. For more information, visit www.genesiswired.com.