The Gift

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“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Jim and Della’s gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift. In the Gospel story, the sacrifice is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

The Heavens told the Christmas Story

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“The heavens declare the glory of God . . .” Psalm 19:1.

When my son was very young, we would pull an old blanket out into the yard and lay down to watch the stars.  I tried to identify some of the constellations, but he was much too young to understand, and I was too far removed from high-school science to remember.  But it is a memory I cherish—stargazing with my boy. There were stargazers in the Bible too. Matthew said of the Magi: “When they saw the star they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:10.

Scholars believe that these were Persian astronomers who studied the stars for prophecies, premonitions, and promises.  How did they know about a Jewish prophecy so far removed from Palestine?  Remember Daniel – you know, the guy from the lion’s den?   When the Jewish exiles left Babylon after seventy years of captivity, Daniel opted to stay as did many other Jews who had put down roots in the area.  Daniel knew the Hebrew Scriptures well and likely shared the ancient prophecies of a coming King who would rescue His people.  These were handed down through the generations to the time of Jesus’ birth.  When the star appeared and the astronomers put all the pieces together, they realized something very special had happed in Judea.

For the past fifteen years, I have been a student of the descriptive names of God in Scripture. One of my most names of the Lord is El Emunah—the Faithful God—because it reveals Him as the God who keeps His promises.  The Magi were overjoyed when they saw the star because they understood that the ancient prophecy of a new King of the Jews had been fulfilled.  God had kept His promise to send His people a Messiah.

The same God who was faithful to the Jews has promised His faithfulness to you.  He has promised to redeem you and restore your life.  He has promised to walk with you and guide you every day.  He has promised His presence, His peace, and His unfailing love.  He has promised to prepare a place for you in heaven, and He has promised to come again to take you home.

The Magi rejoiced when they saw the star because God had kept His promise to the Hebrew people.  He continues to be the Promise Keeper today for all who trust in His Son Jesus.  Beloved, every promise God makes is a promise you can take to the divine bank. He is forever faithful.

Pigs and Kings at the Manger

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Like all little kids, my granddaughter loves to talk and she has a pretty extensive vocabulary for a 2 ½-year-old. With a few malapropisms which I love. She will say “Will you pick my up?” “I want your cup (meaning her cup).” And she calls Sunday School “Honey” School which it will forevermore be. She will get them right eventually, but for now, I think they are adorable and I have no intention of correcting her.  Sometimes it’s okay to not get things right. But the Bible is something we always want to get right.

Take the Christmas story for instance. Every nativity scene comes with a stable with Mary and Joseph and the Baby in the manger. There are shepherds and angels and some animals. My best friend, a Bible nerd like me, once saw a Fisher-Price Little People nativity set and noticed a pig among the animals. She wrote to the company and explained that a Jewish family would not have a pig among their animals because pigs, according to the Jewish Law, are unclean. Want to hear a Christmas miracle? They took the pig out. The scenes also have three kings bearing gifts. This comes straight from Matthew 2 which reports the visit of the Magi. Only Matthew never said how many wise men there were, only that they presented three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.” John Henry Hopkins said there were three kings[1] and we just took his word for it. And they didn’t come to see Jesus at his birth. Jesus was about 2 years old when they made their way from the east after seeing the star (see Matthew 2:16).

Now pigs in a kid’s nativity set and three wise men at the manger don’t seem like such a big deal. But they are the small, seemingly insignificant ways that the culture has altered the truth and the church has accepted it as fact. Which makes it easier to accept other changes, more important changes like Jesus was a great teacher and humanitarian but He really wasn’t God. Mary wasn’t really a virgin. Jesus fell into a coma-like trance but He wasn’t really dead when they buried Him in the tomb. Which leads to God really doesn’t forbid certain sins because He wants us all to be happy. Even Madonna (the singer) said that Jesus would approve of abortion. Do you see what a slippery slope that becomes?

So should you move your Magi away from the stable, maybe put them on a table on the far side of the room? I’ll leave the decorating to you, but I will say that you and I need to be certain we are hearing and believing the truth from the Word of God. There is more at stake than pigs and kings.


[1] “We Three Kings” written by John Henry Hopkins Ó 1857.

The Real Jesus

Matthew is one of only two gospel writers to mention the birth narrative.  He wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of old.  He included details that were pregnant with Jewish prophecy. Luke wrote his gospel account via careful investigation and eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). Church tradition maintains that the story of the nativity in Luke came directly from Mary’s remembrances, which is why his gospel is rich with the details of the event. Mothers remember everything about their children’s birth. It’s interesting to me that Luke, writing from Mary’s perspective wrote about lowly shepherds who visited the holy family in the mean stable, while Matthew wrote about wise men – probably wealthy Persian kings – who followed the star to worship the then-toddler.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew reaches back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and identified David, the chosen king of Israel. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37). Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews.  Luke wanted to show Him as the God-Man, who lived and died in humility among humanity. So was Jesus a King or a common man? Yes and yes. To have a full understanding of Him, we must see Him as both. And as more.

He is the Baby in the manger. He is the itinerant preacher. He is the dead man on the cross. He is the risen Lord. He is the Son of God, seated at the Father’s right hand. He is the Redeemer of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who is, was, and is to come. He is part of the Triune Godhead. He is the soon-coming King. He is the Victor who crushed Satan’s head. And He is my Savior. Is He yours?

Why O. Henry Got Christmas Wrong

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“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”[1]

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the watch chain Della bought for Jim costs $21; the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Their gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In fact, in O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift; in the Gospel story, the sacrifice God made is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

[1] http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1014/

Worship the King!

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What kind of faith must you have to chase a star for two years and hundreds of miles based on an ancient prophecy? The wise men – Matthew calls them “Magi” – traveled what scholars suppose to be about 1,000 miles “from the east” (Matt. 2:1), most likely ancient Persia, or our modern Iran. They were probably devout scholars who studied ancient holy texts of many religions. The writings of the Jewish faith – which would include prophecies of a special King – would have likely come to them via Daniel’s time in Babylon. Through their studies, they came to recognize that the star that rose at a specific time signaled the birth of this very King. So they set out on a long, difficult journey with gifts fit for royalty.

Here’s what amazes me about the Magi – it wasn’t curiosity that caused them to leave their homes and families for such an arduous journey. It was worship. Matthew records their words to King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him” (v. 2). Here’s the other thing that is surprising to me – He wasn’t their king. Remember – they identified Him as the “King of the Jews.” The Magi didn’t owe him homage. Why would they worship a king not their own? They realized from all they had studied that this king was worthy of worship – not just the worship of the Jews, but the worship of all men everywhere.

These Magi took ancient prophecies, looked forward, and recognized that Jesus was a unique king. In faith and awe, they set out on a long journey to worship Him. You and I have not just ancient prophecies, but we have the New Testament Scriptures that testify that Jesus is this King. We have the eye-witness of the Apostles and we have the heart-witness of the martyrs that testify that Jesus is not just King of the Jews, but King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The faith of all these should inspire faith in us. Jesus – the baby in the manger, the child in Bethlehem, the man healing lepers and raising the dead and dying on a cross and bursting alive out of the grave – this Jesus is worthy of our faith and worthy of our worship. Let’s give Him all He deserves this Christmas – and every day.

Advent 2015 – Day 17 – Star of Joy!

adventcandlesweek3“When they saw the star they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:10.

When my son was very young, we would pull an old blanket out into the yard, lay back and watch the stars.  I tried to identify some of the constellations, but he was much too young to understand, and I was too far removed from high-school science to remember.  But it is a memory I cherish—stargazing with my boy.

Scholars believe that the wise men were “stargazers” as well—actually Persian astronomers.  How did they know about a Jewish prophecy?  Remember Daniel, from the lion’s den?   When the Jewish exiles left Babylon after seventy years of captivity, Daniel opted to stay as did many other Jews who had put down roots in the area.  Daniel knew the Hebrew Scriptures well and likely shared the ancient prophecies of a coming King who would rescue His people.  These were handed down through the generations to the time of Jesus’ birth.  When the star appeared and the astronomers put all the pieces together, they realized something very special had happed in Judea.

One of my favorite descriptive names of the Lord is El Emunah—the Faithful God—because it reveals Him as the God who keeps His promises.  The Magi were overjoyed when they saw the star because they understood that the ancient prophesy of a new King of the Jews had been fulfilled.  God had kept His promise to send His people a Messiah.

The same God who was faithful to the Jews has promised His faithfulness to you.  He has promised to redeem you and restore your life.  He has promised to walk with you and guide you every day.  He has promised His presence, His peace and His unfailing love.  He has promised to prepare a place for you in heaven, and He has promised to come again to take you home.

The Magi rejoiced when they saw the star because God had kept His promise to the Hebrew people.  He continues to be the Promise Keeper today for all who trust in His Son Jesus.  That’s something to rejoice about!