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A Christmas That Matters part 3
Making Christmas Matter In Your Heart
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 12, 2010

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, don’t you think? The lights, the songs, the decorations… they all seem to add so much. And there are a lot of traditions and a lot of other things that have become a part of the whole Christmas experience. And there’s always such a build-up toward the big day, with every year seeming to get bigger and bigger.

The first Christmas… the birth of Jesus… certainly received much less fanfare. It was actually a pretty exclusive party, just the immediate family, some shepherds and some foreigners from a land to the east. This birth would have seemed like an insignificant event at the time, but here we are over 2000 years later still celebrating it.

And the reality is that those foreigners—those wise men—probably didn’t arrive until quite some time later… even up to a couple years later. Just being fashionable late for the party, I guess. But the Biblical account talks about they arriving at a home, not a barn or a stable, and there’s no mention of a manger. Plus, And when King Herod heard about this Child that was supposed to be the King of the Jews, he felt his own authority threatened. So he had all the infants two years of age or younger put to death. So that’s why we say Jesus may have been as old as two years before the Wise Men arrived.

But it’s interesting how we lump them together with the shepherds on the night of His birth. We picture the shepherds there gathered around the manger when these three wise guys show up. And the truth is that we don’t even know that it was three. All we really know is that they brought three kinds of gifts, but that doesn’t mean there were only three people. I expect there was actually a large number of people traveling in a caravan.

PICTURE (PowerPoint - van)
Not that kind of Caravan…

PICTURE (PowerPoint - camels)
More like this.

I suppose there could have been three. For all we know, there could have been twenty of them with a lot of duplicate gifts (like a wedding). Or there could have been as few as two people that brought three gifts. We really don’t know. But tradition likes to tell us that there were three of them. Tradition even gives these three Wise Men names: Melchior, Balthasar, and Casper. We’re told that they came from the East. We’re not sure exactly where. It could have been Persia or Iran, Syria, or even India. The popular carol says, “We three kings of Orient are,” but there’s nothing Biblical to back that up. It just doesn’t say. Maybe they didn’t even set out together. Maybe one person started out and met up with others along the way. There’s a lot we simply don’t know.

There. Aren’t you glad you came today? You always suspected I didn’t know what I was talking about, right? Well, let’s keep going.

They’ve been called kings, they’ve been called Magi, they’ve been called astrologers or astronomers, but what seems to be the most common and perhaps the most accurate is “wise men.” And you know, that’s quite a reputation for them to have had for 2000 years. Wouldn’t you like to be known as a wise person?

C.H. Spurgeon, a famous preacher from the 1800s drew a distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Because they’re not the same thing. You can have a lot of knowledge and not be very wise. This is what Spurgeon said:

“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it. To know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”
~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Apparently these travelers from the East were wise. They had some kind of knowledge about astronomy and about prophecy, and they put that knowledge to wise use.

Over the past couple weeks we’ve been taking about making this Christmas matter. Today we’re going to examine these Wise Men and learn from their example three ways to make this Christmas matter in our spirits. Here’s their story from Matthew 2…

Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
   ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
      are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
   for a ruler will come from you
      who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Okay, so what do these Wise Men teach you about making Christmas matter in your spirit?

The Wise Men Teach Me To…

1.    Learn whatever I can about Jesus.

The Wise Men are thought to have been people who studied different fields of science and nature and superstition and religion. They were among the most educated people of the day and were highly regarded in society. And their study probably included a look at the Jewish faith.

If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you may remember that almost 600 years earlier thousands of Jews were taken into captivity by the Babylonian army into the area which is now Iraq. When the Jews were freed, some chose to stay behind and carried on their beliefs there. Were the Wise Men from that area, or at least from that general vicinity? Maybe. If so, then perhaps the Wise Men had learned about the Jewish Scriptures, and perhaps they were familiar with Numbers 24:17 which says:

Numbers 24:17 (CEV)
“What I saw in my vision hasn’t happened yet. But someday, a king of Israel will appear like a star.”

However they found out about it, the Wise Men obviously knew something about the prophecies that foretold the birth of Jesus. It appears that they had read the Jewish Scriptures and they had learned about the coming of Jesus… they must have. And it would serve us well to learn about this same Jesus today through the same method of reading the Bible. Take that as a lesson from the wise men.

2.    Be open and ready for God to speak to me.

How did God speak to the wise men? He used a star. Now, many different attempts have been made over the years to explain exactly what this “star” was. Some scholars suggest that perhaps it was a meteor or a comet or a supernova that these wise men saw. Here’s one explanation I read:

“...It was the first Jupiter/Venus conjunction of August 12, 3 BC in the constellation Cancer that alerted the Magi to look for further signs. They found them - in the triple conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus in the constellation Leo [Regulus is the chief star in Leo]. But it was the second conjunction, on June 17, 2 BC, in the evening, of Jupiter and Venus, in the constellation Leo, that started the Magi on their way west. Although the Magi probably had predicted these celestial events in advance, they wanted confirmation that their predictions would come to pass. The "star" they followed was the planet Jupiter, the King Planet, which, having gone through its retrograde motion, appeared to stand still on precisely December 25, 2 BC in the southern sky - and from Jerusalem it would appear that Jupiter had come to rest directly over Bethlehem. It remained stationary for 6 days, and to add to the symbolic significance, it was stationary in the centre, or perhaps ‘womb’, of the constellation Virgo.”
~ Susan S. Carroll
The Star of Bethlehem: an Astronomical and Historical Perspective, 1997

That’s an interesting theory. Mine’s a little different. I think God created a star that led the wise men to Jesus. The point is that God spoke to the wise men in a way that they could understand.

Now, astrology is not something that the Bible encourages us to participate in. In fact, the Bible warns us against it. But God knew that these wise men studied the stars and would notice a new object in the night sky, and that they were ready and open for God to speak to them. So God spoke to them in a way that they could understand.

You know what? God wants to speak to you in a way that you can understand, too. So pay attention. Be ready and willing to hear from Him. And listen for His still small voice.

3.    Follow the direction God gives me.

Back when I was a student at the University of New Brunswick I was a science major. And I remember in my second year taking a Chemistry lab where I got to make Acetylsalicylic Acid, otherwise known as ASA or Aspirin. Aspirin, of course can be used to relieve mild inflammations and headaches and pains. And every once in a while I get a headache. But you know what? It didn’t matter that at least at one point of time I knew how to make Aspirin. That knowledge won’t relieve my headache.

You see, it doesn’t matter how much we know about a particular medication unless we’re willing to follow the instructions and take it. And trust me… being married to a pharmacist I receive plenty of instructions when it comes to medication.

It goes back to what we talked about earlier. You can have a lot of knowledge, but you’re not wise unless you use that knowledge in appropriate ways.

The priests and teachers in Herod’s court knew as much as the Wise Men about the Jewish Scriptures and the prophecies about the birth of Jesus. In fact, they knew more because they knew that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. They were even able to quote the verse in Micah in the Old Testament where the Bible foretold that.

Micah 5:2 (NLT)
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.

The priests and teachers had a knowledge about this Old Testament prophecy, but none of them did anything with that knowledge. They didn’t go to Bethlehem, they didn’t follow the star, they did nothing. All of their knowledge was useless because they weren’t willing to follow the direction God gave them. It was right there for them, but they chose not to follow it.

The wise men, on the other hand, did follow God’s direction. They chose to be seekers, not sitters. They put feet to their faith. Listen to this:

Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT)
If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.

Deuteronomy 4:29 (NLT)
And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.

So you’ve got to not just learn about Jesus; you’ve got to put that knowledge into practice. Follow His direction in your life.

But there’s a problem with that: Following the direction of God may take you where you don’t expect. Look at the wise men. They were following the star but they stopped off at Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. Why? Well, why wouldn’t they? If you expected that a new king had been born, isn’t that where you would check? So they stopped to ask where the newborn king was. (Actually, that is why some people claim the wise men have remained so famous for so long… they were the first men to stop and ask directions.)

But when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, what did they find? A small town, not a national capital. A house, not a palace. A humble, hard-working, needy family, not a royal, majestic family. Yet they had arrived! This was the place! This was the family! This was the King of the Jews that they had traveled perhaps for months or even years to find.

Listen, God may take you on a journey through life that you don’t expect or understand, but I’m here this morning to tell you that you can trust Him every step of the way. He sees the big picture, He wants the best for you, and you can trust Him. Read this with me:

Psalm 119:105 (NLT)
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

You can trust Him. Follow the direction God gives you.



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010