Seeking the King

Have you set out your nativity scene (or scenes) yet? Which people from the story are on your mind this Christmas? Every year, God brings one segment of the scene into the spotlight for me, and I find myself thinking about him/her/them throughout the holiday season.

This year for me, it’s the wise men. I know why. I recently started working for a nonprofit that supports internationals and the wise men were the first non-Jews…the first border-crossers…to worship Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  –Matthew 2:1-2

The magi came to worship him.

What’s east of Jerusalem? When I was a kid, I thought these guys were from China and places close to China. After all, the song says, “We three kings of Orient are…” To me, the Orient was where Oriental people lived. (No offense. It was the late 1970s. “Political Correctness” wasn’t a thing yet.) Little did I know that the Orient includes Arabia and that the “near East” was just as exotic as the “far East.”

Also, I thought they were kings. (The song is so wrong!!) They were more like Daniel and the guys who served with him: astrologers, scientists, magicians.

star-watchers
wise men
internationals
foreigners
strangers
seekers

Star-watchers from the near East. That’s Persia, southern Arabia, and Mesopotamia (NIV Study Bible notes for Matthew 2:1). These days, we know these areas as Iran, the Saudi Arabia/Yemen/Oman/U.A.E., and Syria.

They were internationals. And they worshiped Jesus as a king. Before anyone other than the shepherds of Judea realized it, these foreigners knew Jesus was something special.

I’ve written about all the characters in your nativity sets. Find the one the Holy Spirit has put on your mind this Christmas and dig into their story. You might learn something new. You might grow closer to “the one who has been born king of the Jews.”

Remember too, “King of the Jews” is what Pilate wrote on the placard above Jesus’ head when He hung on the cross (John 19:19).

The Cast of Christmas: Zechariah & Elizabeth

The Cast of Christmas: Mary

The Cast of Christmas: Joseph

The Cast of Christmas: Shepherds

The Cast of Christmas: Simeon

The Cast of Christmas: Wise Men

Wise men: the first internationals to worship Jesus, the first to recognize He was a king. My #NativitySet is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Which “character” from the Christmas story is the Holy Spirit using in your life right now? Please tell us who and why in the comments in below. I would love to hear what’s on your mind!

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He Will Be Called: Mighty God

My life feels out of control, especially as Christmas rolls toward us. The things I want to accomplish remain unfinished. I’m interrupted despite my best intentions. Things happen—like my computer losing my blog post last week. Sometimes I wish I could stomp my foot and make it all stop. Sometimes I wish I could conquer my own life.

As the people of Judah packed a few things to carry on their long walk to Babylon, I wonder if they felt the same way. (Except mine are first-world problems and their problems were far more like those of modern-day refugees.) I wonder if they began to question God’s potency. What happened to the Davidic line? And what of Jerusalem, about which God had said, “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it” (Psalm 132:14)? It laid in ruins.

God’s promises remained.

Still, God’s promises remained. Continue reading

He Will Be Called: Wonderful Counselor

Have you made plans for Christmas yet? I haven’t. I like to plan, but often my plans don’t come to fruition. Not so with God. When God plans something, it doesn’t change. God’s plans are so certain that the Old Testament authors speak of them in the past tense, what scholars call “the prophetic perfect.”

When God spoke to His people about His plans, however, He used future tense. We call them promises, and the Old Testament prophets gave us many of them. What a comfort it must have been for the Israelites to carry these promises into captivity in a foreign land! Continue reading

Great! …with child

I opened my calendar and counted the months. Our baby would be born in early January, which meant I would be great with child at Christmas. “Great!” I sighed, wondering if with child was a good thing for Christmas time.

A long time ago, there was another expectant mother, one much younger and more fearful than me. Perhaps she pulled out her calendar when she heard about a census of the entire Roman Empire. Perhaps she counted the months, sighed, and wondered. Continue reading

Joseph: Nine Months before Christmas

It was one of those rock-and-a-hard-place moments. On the one hand, he longed to be faithful to the law. On the other hand, he wanted to be faithful—even gracious—to his future wife.

His wife… Would she still be his wife one day? Could he marry an unfaithful woman? Was the wedding off? It was his decision to make, and he felt like Moses, stuck between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. He couldn’t go forward, but there was no way he could go back. Continue reading

The Best Christmas Verses in the Bible

We watched A Charlie Brown Christmas the other night. I love it when Linus walks to center stage, drops his blanket, and recites the Christmas story from Luke 2. Sometimes, I say it along with him.

But this year, as I stood in a special night of worship, singing mostly Christmas carols, a different set of verses unexpectedly rang through my heart:

Christ Jesus…being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Rather, he made himself nothing
By taking the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
By becoming obedient to death—
Even death on a cross!  -Philippians 2:5b-8

Is this not the essence of Christmas? It’s not Jesus’ coming as a baby that saves us for His glory. It’s His death. It’s not the peacefulness of the manger scene that informs our daily lives. It’s His life-long attitude of humility.

Consider…

Made himself nothing  A stable, some animals, a carpenter, and a teen-aged girl: an out-of-wedlock baby in an out-of-the-way town. On the surface, he’s the opposite of special.

The very nature of a servant  Excluded from the inn, He was equal only to some shepherds.

Made in human likeness  Crying, hungry, wholly dependent on others for every need…yes, He really was a real baby.

Found in appearance as a man  Jesus grew up like any other boy, experiencing all human life has to offer for someone in His station.

He humbled himself  As an adult, He wandered the countryside with no home. He touched the untouchable. He washed His own disciples’ feet.

Obedient to death—even death on a cross  To cap it all off, He willingly underwent the basest and cruelest form of capital punishment when he hung bleeding and naked on a wooden cross.

God’s purpose in Christ’s
presence culminates in
the cross.

Yes, the baby in Bethlehem is already our Savior and Lord, but without “the rest of the story,” we wouldn’t know how to follow Him. These verses encapsulate the events and the purpose of not only His arrival but His life. God’s purpose in Christ’s presence on earth doesn’t culminate in the manger but on the cross.

Don’t stop there, though. We still have a celebration!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
and gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth
And every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.     -Philippians 2:9-11

He began in the lowest of places: out behind the only inn in a little backwater town, admired by no one but some shepherds. But He ends in the highest place, with everyone—those who love Him and those who don’t—bowing in the greatest show of honor ever conceived.

Now that’s Christmas!

The best passage about #Christmas isn’t found in Matthew or Luke. What could it be? (click to tweet)

Have you ever noticed the Christmas-ness of a passage we don’t usually associate with the holiday? I would really love to hear about it! Please bless us all by sharing below.