As I write this, Christmas commercials are beginning to air and seasonal movies are filling the cable broadcasts. Soon, we’ll be exhorted to create a perfect Christmas experience by giving gifts, taking holidays or cashing in on year-end sales. The pull of busyness, commercialism and holiday anxiety is ramping up.
But it doesn’t have to be another year of surviving Christmas. The familiar story of the magi can provide insight into experiencing a counter-cultural Christmas.
Lessons from the magi
In Matthew 2:1–12, we find the familiar story of the wise men who come from the east to worship Jesus, the newborn king. The magi were astrologers from the royal court of the king of Persia – a man who called himself the “king of kings,” explains Craig S. Keener in the IVP commentary on Matthew.
It was common practice for kings to send their congratulations to rulers in other realms. But it was unusual that the magi who represented the “king of kings” came not as emissaries of their king but rather as worshippers of a newborn king.
All Jerusalem notices the magi’s arrival, stirring up Herod’s paranoia. We know new kings are considered a threat to reigning kings. So Herod’s desire to find and eliminate any potential future threat to his throne isn’t surprising.
History is filled with accounts of kings eliminating all competition for their seat of power – whether extended family members, parents or heirs. Human rulers and politicians who feel threatened often work to eliminate those perceived threats. In Jesus’ day, it was done by sword. Today, it’s done through social media. But the goal is always to protect the “throne.”
It’s interesting to note that Herod turns to the religious leaders of his day to find out where the Messiah was prophesied to be born. But we have no record of any religious leaders joining the magi in their search; they fail to act on their knowledge of the Scriptures. Why? Too fantastic a story? Too simple a beginning? Too upside down a story?
It was the “pagan” astrologers who followed God’s supernatural revelation. There were no preconceived ideas, simply obedience.
A different kind of king
Jesus’ upside-down kingdom began with his birth and continued throughout his life, death and resurrection. King Jesus turned power upside down. He didn’t protect his throne; rather, he revealed his throne, the kingdom of God. He invited people to that new kingdom through faith in him.
King Herod was coercive and abusive, while Jesus was gracious and inviting. Herod looked for people to add to his power base, while Jesus invited people to freedom in his kingdom. Herod feigned interest in worship (v. 8), while Jesus invites us to worship.
Earthly kings understand that allegiance to king and country cannot be divided. In fact, that’s why Christ followers make kings nervous. We serve a king whose authority is greater than any human ruler. A king who is not subject to the whims of the political machine or to voters. A king who cannot be coerced, purchased, manipulated or intimidated. A king who gave his life for all, even if they reject his rulership. A king who is worthy of more than allegiance – he is worthy of worship.
A change in focus
As we move through Advent, we often speak of redeeming Christmas from the commercialism of the season. We complain about the busyness, the expense and the political correctness of Christmas. What if we focus on what is right about Christmas rather than what is wrong?
The magi kept their focus on finding and worshipping the newborn baby. They were men on a mission who would not be deterred from their goal. They followed God’s supernatural leading until they found what they were looking for: Jesus.
In order to accomplish their goal, they needed to follow in faith and walk in obedience to the Spirit’s leading. When they arrived at their destination, they were not dissuaded by the lack of royal surroundings. They remained focused on the newborn king.
The invitation of Christmas is to focus on the true King of Kings – Jesus. Let his Spirit guide you through the season. Make him the centre of your Christmas celebrations, and he will be your filter to deal with all the voices that cry out for your attention, time, money and heart. Make Jesus the focus of your worship this Christmas.