Pastor’s Perspective – December 2015
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. We color our world with bright lights, tinsel, and brilliant decorations. Each year our celebrations grow larger and begin earlier, and yet the magic of our holiday season seems to have diminished over time. It seems that the more we try to recapture the “spirit” of Christmas the more hollowed out the season becomes. Perhaps our problem lies not in a lack of Christmas spirit, but too much of it. The season of lights was intended to illuminate us and direct our path, but our over exaggerated reliance on these lights to create a spirit of wonder has served only to distract and even blind us.
In order for us to truly get a sense of what might be going wrong with our Christmas celebrations, let’s take a moment and fix our gaze on the first international celebration of Christmas. It is the turn of the century (3 BC to be…well…almost exact) and a group of magi from Persia are traveling down an old trade route, heading west toward Jerusalem. They are travelling into the night and following the light of a strange and brilliant star.
The magi have been looking for this sign in the sky their entire lives. As ancient ancestors of the wise men of Persia, they may have venerated the writings of the Jewish progenitor of their order, an ancient prophet named Daniel. Daniel had become the leader of their order through a strange and miraculous reversal of order, by which rival members of their venerated order attempted to destroy Daniel’s career and take his life. After surviving execution, by way of the lion’s den, Daniel’s enemies were eliminated and his God and faith were recognized and given a special place in the Persian kingdom. Since that time the Magi have been looking for signs in the sun, stars, and moon that would direct them toward the foretold arrival of the Jewish Messiah.
After generations of looking, finally, the star appeared. This strange convergence of celestial structures had created a stir within the ancient order and so with the blessing of their leaders, and bearing the treasures of their community, this contingent of wise men set out upon the long and dangerous journey to witness the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophetic vision. This, of course, is the background story to the very famous journey of the magi to the home of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. There they would encounter the “new born king.” There they would meet the foretold Jewish Messiah, Jesus. While the scripture tells us very little about their motivations or identities, we know enough to believe that they believed that their task was worthy and important for they sacrificed greatly and showed incredible intentionality in their journey.
We also know that it was the light of the Bethlehem star that directed them along their path. The star did not just direct them to a region, it took them to a singular place: the house that Jesus lived.
The heralding star is the origin of the Christmas light(s). The star directed the magi on a path toward Jesus, and Jesus alone. This light illuminated the way toward God’s presence and our salvation. The star points us to a single place and with a singular purpose. The star directed the world to Jesus, and the precious few who saw and understood it dropped all that they were doing in order to direct their lives by the vision that God revealed to them.
So why are we so perplexed each Christmas season? Why are we so upset when the world doesn’t acknowledge our faith? It is sadly ironic that our chief Christmas complaint against our cruel and sinful world is that store clerks do not wish us a hearty Merry Christmas when we are buying our tinsel and packages. Why has the act of buying gifts taken on the air of the faithful in the United States? Has our vision become so muddled that shopping has become the sacred activity of the faithful? Why do we expect our present world to acknowledge that which the world in the time of Jesus steadfastly ignored?
Unfortunately our current crisis is one of too much light and not enough vision. Our vision has become blurred by the traditions of the season and the Church has grown distracted by the blinking and glowing lights of our Christmas celebrations. This reality should not surprise us, for we live in a busy and distracted world.
We live in the golden age of distraction, where our multiple screens and constant connectivity has turned water cooler talk into a day long conversation. We live in a world in which every tweet or Facebook post can send us headlong into a new world and new experiences even as they entangle us in the drama of virtual friends and physical strangers. We live in a world in which the dazzling lights of our Christmas pasts are consistently trumped by the phones and tablets clutched in the hands of the young.
Our world has rapidly changed and bears little resemblance to the world of the past. Would we even look for the Bethlehem star in the sky today or would we “follow” the magi as they posted Instagram pictures of their journey along the way?
Our multiplatform world has created devastating distractions in our lives. These distractions are pulling us away from the singular purposes of Christmas and of life. When John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is THE WAY, THE TRUTH & THE LIFE, it directs us toward the singular purpose and direction of the gospel of Jesus. This “one way” vision places Jesus Christ as our North Star, directing our lives and showing us how we are to live, where we are to go and what we are to do.
The magi followed the light and the light of the Bethlehem Star directed them to Jesus. They put away their distractions and directed their lives toward Jesus. Their singular focus allowed them to traverse nations and obstacles in order to find the source of all light and the Savior of the world.
We must ask ourselves an important Christmas question; are we pursuing Jesus with this same singular focus and vison or have we become distracted by the lights, the tinsel, and the presents? Our current Christmas crisis is not that the world will not say Merry Christmas. Our current crisis is that the Church is not directing all of our resources toward illuminating Jesus to the world. We have become distracted along the way and the strobe lights of our multiple interests and directions are blinding the eyes of the world.
Here is my prayer for you and for the Church: I pray that we might rediscover Jesus this Christmas. I pray that we will live and serve Jesus in a manner that shows the world that He is our North Star and our true light. In order to do this you have to respond to God’s call like the magi did on their journey to Jesus. The magi focused all of their attention on following the path that God revealed to them; they devoted all of their efforts in order to achieve the goal of meeting the new born King; and they put all of their resources in Jesus’ hands when they discovered Him. We can and must do the same thing in our world today.
As the magi revealed Jesus to a darkened world, so too can we cut through the distractions of life and reveal the true nature of God’s love and grace. Love and grace that is found only in Jesus Christ, the reason for this (and any other) season.