Feast of the Epiphany

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On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11

Consider the gifts offered by the magi. What gift will you give to Jesus this Christmas season?

Going Deeper

Read Matthew 2:9-12.

While gifts of diapers, baby clothes, and a donkey-compatible car seat may seem more practical, I’m sure the valuable gifts brought by the magi came in handy as the young family traveled to and settled in Egypt. Far beyond their monetary value, though, the gifts of the magi had great symbolic meaning.

Gold is a symbol of royalty. The gift of gold pointed to Jesus’ kingship.

Frankincense was used in prayer and worship. Frankincense was given in recognition of Jesus’ divinity and his priestly role as mediator between us and the Father.

Myrrh was an oil used in embalming. The gift of myrrh foreshadowed Jesus’ death.

If Jesus were born today in the United States, instead of two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, the gifts may have been a little different. Perhaps the wise men would have brought Jesus a presidential seal made of solid gold, a kneeler, and a headstone.

During the last week of Advent, I invited you to consider which of the titles for Jesus most resonated with you. (Flip back to Dec. 20 to refresh your memory.) What gifts would you choose to symbolize the names for Jesus that mean the most to you?

Here are some of the things I might give Jesus:

 

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Epiphany Reflection: Looking for Jesus

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Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

Matthew 2:1b-2

Is there something in your life right now that is pulling you away from Jesus? What can you do to take a step away from that thing and toward Jesus?

Going Deeper

Read Matthew 2:1-8.

I remember one year during college, when my roommates and I were decorating our apartment for Christmas. I set up my nativity set in the living room. One of my roommates noticed that Baby Jesus was missing. I explained that Advent was a time of waiting and preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In order to stay true to the spirit of Advent, I would wait until Christmas Eve to put Jesus in the manger. I also revealed to my roommate that I had hidden the infant Jesus figurine somewhere in the room. She proceeded to search all over the room, trying to find Jesus. My heart ached, because I wanted so badly to help her find Jesus—not just the figurine, but Jesus, my best friend—but I didn’t think I could. I felt like she needed to find Jesus without my help, so that her faith would truly be hers, and not just a faith borrowed from someone else.

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During Advent 2015 I set up my nativity set in a different place than usual. When Christmas Eve arrived, I couldn’t remember where I had put the baby Jesus figurine. As I was searching for Jesus, my mind went back to that experience in my college apartment. I thought about the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, 2015. The hectic schedule that seems unavoidable during December had pulled me away from my normal routine of prayer. It seemed that my difficulty finding the infant Jesus figurine reflected the distance that had come between Jesus and me, because I wasn’t spending time with him.

The good news is that, in real life, Jesus doesn’t hide from us. He pursues us. If we are distant from him, it is because we have moved away. Because he is always pursuing us, we don’t have to search for Jesus. To find him, all we have to do is turn around.

I challenge you to spend ten minutes with Jesus today. Find a quiet place without distractions. (If your home is not a quiet place, try your car. If your garage is not a quiet place, drive a few blocks away.) Imagine yourself resting in the arms of Jesus. You don’t have to say or do anything. Just rest in his unconditional love.

Christmas Reflection: Jesus, King of the Gentiles

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So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.

Ephesians 2:19

Jesus came to call all people, regardless of culture or background, to become children of God. Make it a point today to reach out, with respect and love, to someone whose background or opinions differ from yours.

Going Deeper

Read Psalms 2:7-8, Acts 13:32-33, and Ephesians 2:17-22.

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When Jesus arrived on earth, the Jewish people were watching for a savior. They were eager for someone to rescue them from the oppressive Roman rule. They never imagined that the messiah would come to save not only the Jewish people, but the people of all nations, including the Romans. Some of the first visitors to the Holy Family after Jesus’ birth were the three magi, Gentiles from a country far from Bethlehem. This was one of the first clues that Jesus’ ministry and reach were going to be much wider than people expected.

There are many divisions in our world, just like there were in the time of Jesus. There are “proud deplorables” and “nasty women” who still stand “with her.” One group of people holds “Black lives matter” signs, while another holds “Blue lives matter” signs. And those who state “All lives matter” are accused of opposing one or the other of the two groups.

No matter how hard we try to be accepting and inclusive, it can be difficult to imagine that the mercy of God is available to everyone.

When you see on the news the story of a man who beat his wife or a woman who shook her baby, do you hope they “get what they deserve,” or do you hope they experience the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?

Picture Jesus, approaching a member of ISIS who had beheaded innocent people, and saying “I’m going to have dinner at your house today.”

Imagine running into Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein while you are walking the golden streets of heaven.

You’ve been working in God’s fields since dawn. How will you feel, at the end of the day, when the Boston Marathon bomber, who joined the work crew just before sunset, gets the same pay as you?

 

None of us can be good enough to earn the mercy of God. God extends his mercy as a free gift to all people. In fact, Jesus himself said “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matt 9:13c).

Who is most difficult for you to love and forgive? Perhaps it’s one of the groups or people mentioned above. Or maybe it’s a family member you just can’t get along with, or a coworker who constantly rubs you the wrong way. Pray for that person.  Pray that they would come to know God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to forgive. Try to imagine you and that person “being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (from Eph 2:22).

The faith of wise men

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Advent Reflection 12/18/14

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ “

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Matthew 2:1-12

I’m so impressed by the faith of the magi. Prompted by a star in the sky, they travelled far from their homes to seek out the new king of the Jews. They weren’t even Jewish, yet they felt compelled to honor and reverence this newborn baby. They didn’t know exactly where they were going–they even had to stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions. But they trusted that they would find what they were looking for. On the way home, they modified their itinerary, following the instructions they were given in a dream.

The magi couldn’t possibly have understood the significance of Jesus’ birth in the story of humanity. I’m sure they didn’t know why they weren’t supposed to go through Jerusalem on their way home. But they had faith. They followed where God was leading them, trusting that God knows best, even when they couldn’t see the big picture.

Check out Paul Overstreet’s “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POD69wkPKIo

How are you seeking Jesus this Advent season? Is God calling you to take a bold step? Will you trust him and take that step, even if you can’t quite see the road ahead?