Monday, December 21, 2009

What Wise Men Do

Christmas is a fun time of year. You get to dust off old Christmas decorations, buy red candles for your coffee table (first married Christmas), take some time off work, and buy gifts for those you love/like/know/dislike. But my favorite part of Christmas is.....dusting off the Bible characters that get neglected the rest of the year! Obviously, the Christian community (and American society, to some degree) more specifically recognizes the so-called "Christmas Story" during this time of year. It is without further adieu that I bring my voice to the table with the characters that have occupied much of my thinking this year, ah yes, the Magi ("wise men", to the layperson).

I give a hat tip to my professor, Dr. Varner, and you should read his very much more informative posts on the Magi here and here. He notes that the Magi were a special sect of religious men in the Persian society. They were not "kings" as the familiar song states, nor were there necessarily 3 of them (the Biblical text gives no number).  It is also very likely that they did not journey to Judea ignorantly. In Daniel 2:48, Daniel himself, a Jew in captivity in the east, was referred to as the leader of the "wise men." Therefore, it is likely that the wise men of Matthew's gospel had access to his Messianic prophecies and had expected the birth of the Jewish Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27). It is probable that they traveled several hundred miles and arrived up to 2 years after Jesus' birth. (Note that Matthew 2:11 tells us that they entered the "house" and saw the "child"- not "infant".) Lastly, the Bible text notes that they followed "his star," which was very likely God's Shekinah glory leading them to Jesus, the Messiah. If it were a real star (aster in Greek is a general word that could refer to any celestial appearance), it does not make sense why it would disappear, then reappear directly over the house where Jesus resided.

What strikes me most about this story is the two searches for the Messiah. The wise men have been searching for the Messiah, and when they see the toddler Jesus, they worship him. They give him gifts. They sacrificially bow down to Jesus as King. These Gentile worshippers, in some sense, fulfill the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12- "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed." Yet along the way to the King of Kings, they stop and ask King Herod for directions. King Herod thus embarks on his own search for the Messiah. His reaction upon hearing of the Messiah's birth was not the humble, worshipful, and sacrificial reaction of the wise men. Herod, because he saw Jesus as a threat to his reign, his kingdom, his agenda, and his plans, tries to kill Jesus. Here we see the first of several murder attempts on Jesus' life. Jesus came to die. This was his explicit purpose from before the foundations of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20). But it would happen at his timing, not at the timing of the arrogant and selfish Herod the Great.

When I read the juxtapositions of these reactions, I cannot help of thinking of our own individual reactions to Jesus the King. Though most our culture assumes there are several inconsequential reactions to Jesus, there are really only two reactions, both of which are eternally consequential. One reaction stiff arms Jesus, viewing him as a hindrance to our selfish plans and desires for our lives. He claims to be King of all, but we do not allow him to be king of our own kingdoms. If we won't accept him as King, he will not be accepted as forgiving Savior alone. This reaction leads to futile living, and, ultimately, it leads to judgment. But the other reaction is quite different. The wise men sacrifice their time, money, and convenience. The wise men freely give their gifts. The wise men rejoice exceedingly at the presence of their Savior. The wise men worship the King. What will our reaction be?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Those I honor, in the eye of the Tiger

Obviously, the partially shocking news regarding Tiger Woods' hidden life is now world-wide headline news. And millions upon millions have given their opinion, mocked him or defended him regarding his actions, his injuries sustained in his "car accident", and his "apology." And I don't wish to comment much more on his situation, but these events did trigger something in my mind...

As someone who teaches regularly, I am always looking for comparisons, analogies, and examples, both positive and negative. And selfishly, I wish that some examples came out sooner so that I could have used them in a past lesson! A few weeks, I taught my high schoolers Psalm 15. It is a Psalm that describes the character of people who are close with God, those who "dwell on his holy hill."

In verse 4, David states of those who are close with God, "in their eyes a vile person is despised, but the honor those who fear the Lord." When news like Tiger's story breaks, which unfortunately happens all too frequently, it gives me an opportunity to analyze whom I honor, and to whom I grant my admiration. Sure Tiger can hit a golf ball far (and straight!) and Kobe can do things on the basketball court unimaginable to my stiff white self, but my admiration of such athletes and other celebrities must stop there. According to the verse, "a vile person" must in some sense be "despised" by followers of Jesus. We must rather, "honor those who fear the Lord."

So I honor those people. I honor my wife, who spends her days off school & work doing laundry, decorating, and cleaning (her favorite) just because "I want to give you a nice place to live." I honor my parents, who unselfishly raised 4 kids to learn God's word, live for Jesus, and love one another. I honor my pastor and family who, for some insane reason, allowed dozens of high schoolers to take over their home on a regular basis in hopes of building relationships and impacting their lives. It worked. I honor my RD, who sacrificed any notion of a comfortable life (or private dating life!), chose to move back into an all-male college dorm in his late twenties to help guide confused and seldom responsible men to honor Christ even in their young age. I honor Russ & Ann, a married couple at my church who seemingly have dozens if not hundreds of younger couples pass through their doors (and eat their food) in seek of counsel and love each month. These and more are the people I revere in my heart. They maybe can't mash tape-measure home runs, or hit fall-away jumpers in the NBA (though my dad can put the Space Shuttle in space, and that's kinda cool). They probably won't help push a product via endorsement. But they have skills in the arena that counts for eternity.

Obviously, many will critique & bash what Tiger and others like him have done, and deservedly so. My encouragement to us is that we also take time to "honor those who fear the Lord." These are the people whose posters I want hanging up in my garage. (That is, when I have a garage.)