As most of you know, I collect nativity scenes and while I do have over 80 of them, some of them are very small. One of the things I’ve come to realize about most nativity scenes is that they are not biblically accurate. Very few of them reflect the Biblical story well because they put the wisemen at the manger with the shepherds and angels – like this one. But as I was setting out some of my nativities this year, I noticed that a few of them are much more accurate. For example, this nativity has shepherds and the manger, but no wisemen so it reflects the Biblical story found in Luke and this one has the wisemen and the star over a house, but no angels or shepherds so it reflects the story found in Matthew.
The birth of story of Jesus is only found in Matthew and Luke, but each focuses on different parts of the story. Luke talks about the shepherds and angels and the night Jesus was born and laid in a manger but in Matthew’s gospel there is no manger, there are no shepherds and there are no heavenly angels singing Glory to God. In Matthew there is a star that guides wisemen, or magi, to the town of Bethlehem and when they arrive Mary and Jesus are not in a stable but in a home.
Now if that doesn’t mess with your traditional view of the nativity, this might. A careful reading of Matthew’s gospel tells us that the journey of the Magi could have taken up to 2 years. We can figure this out if we keep reading in Matthew 2:16. So when they finally find Jesus he wouldn’t have been sleeping in a manger or even any kind of crib and it doesn’t say that, it says when the arrive at the home they find the child with his mothers Mary. Now none of these details are really all that important. They are interesting, but not that important to the story, what is important is the response of the Magi when they find Jesus. The Magi do three important things that we need to think about as we prepare to enter into the New Year:
• They worship Jesus.
• They give gifts to Jesus
• They go home a different way – they are changed
So let’s go back to Matthew 2:11. When the Magi finally arrive it says that the very first thing they do is kneel down and pay Jesus homage. Homage means to show reverence and respect. So the Magi are acknowledging the power and holiness of Jesus and they are already beginning to submit themselves to his authority. What they are doing here is worshipping. Worship isn’t just what we do in this place on Sunday morning, this is an expression of our worship, but true worship takes place in our hearts and lives when we pay homage to God, when we submit our lives to God’s authority. True worship is giving control of our lives to God and seeking to live the way God calls us to live. When they wisemen pay homage to Jesus that is what they are doing, they are acknowledging the authority of this child and while they don’t fully understand all that it means for their lives or how it will change they, they are submitting themselves to him.
The truth is that when we give control of our lives to God, when we call Jesus our Lord, we don’t fully understand what it means for us either, making Jesus our Lord is a journey as God slowly reveals to us what we need to do and who we need to become. This process may take a lifetime, but we have to be willing to keep on going, we have to keep paying homage to Jesus. So worshipping God isn’t a commitment of one hour on Sunday, it is living every moment of everyday according to the will and the word of God. Mike Slaughter, the author of Christmas is not your Birthday, has said that the worst kind of fool is the person who believes that God exists but doesn’t take his directives (or his word) seriously. To worship God and to pay him homage means that we take God’s word seriously and it means working to apply that word to our lives. Again, this will be a process that will take a lifetime, but we have to be willing to commit ourselves to the journey.
Now, while this hour on Sunday morning is not all that it means to worship, this hour is important to our worship because it helps keep us focused and intentional. There are so many forces at work pulling us away from God today. We live in an entertainment driven culture where we are constantly bombarded with messages that distract us from all that God wants for us. Do you know what the word entertain means? It means to divert and honestly, most entertainment today tends to subtly and effectively divert us from the things of God, so we need to set aside some intentional and consistent time to return to God and refocus on God’s word which contains God’s will for us. Worship on Sunday helps to do this. When we gather to sing and pray and hear God’s word read it reorients us toward God and it reminds us of who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. So a commitment to this time is important, but we need to remember that worship is much for a lifestyle than an activity. It’s how we live our lives 24/7 not one hour on Sunday. So as we enter into 2013 how can we, like the magi, pay homage to God every day? How can we show more respect and give God more authority in our lives? How can we worship more fully and make Jesus Lord of every part of our lives?
The Magi not only pay homage to Jesus but as part of that submission and worship they give gifts to him. They give Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. Now the gold sounds good and very practical, but the frankincense and myrrh seem a little strange to us, but they were seen as gifts that were fitting to give a king. They were costly and royal and they reflected the attitude of the Magi’s heart. They just wanted to give this child all they had because they understood that anyone whose birth was announced by a star in the sky must be divine and powerful. So from the Magi we need to learn how to give God gifts that are appropriate for who he is.
Giving to God is one of the most ancient acts of worship recorded. It was Cain and Able who first gave to God a portion of what they had and what their hands had helped create. Cain was the one who grew the crops so he gave to God a portion of the harvest and Able gave the first born of his livestock and the choicest parts of the meat. They simply returned to God a portion of what God had enabled them to produce and they did this because they understood that without God, they were nothing. They understood their complete dependence upon God and so they submitted themselves to His authority and power. Their giving was an act of worship just as it was for the Magi and our giving needs to be an act of worship as well.
As we move into a new year, I want to encourage us to reflect on how and what we give to God. Specifically, how much time do we give to God and how much money do we give. These two are specifically important to us because they reflect our most costly and precious commodities and so reflecting on these gifts will help us see if we are giving to God the way we want to and need to. When it comes to our money, the Biblical directive is 10%, called the tithe, and if we aren’t currently tithing we need to take some steps to get there. The Bible is clear that when we are willing to make this commitment to God, God will bless us as we give and about all I can say is that this has been my experience. When I began to tithe about 20 years ago, the blessings of God in my life have been clear.
Now while tithing is a biblical directive, the truth is that God really calls for so much more. In Jesus day the offerings were collected by people walking through the Temple and placing their gifts into a box. It would be like all of us walking forward to place our offering in the plate, which I have done in a few churches, by the way. I fact, they took up the offering at a revival service when I was in Seminary that way and I was so embarrassed because I had no money on me at the time. A professor was sitting behind a number of us students and he saw our situation so he kindly handed us some money to put in the offering. That was great, until they went off, counted the money and then came back and said, we didn’t get so we are going to take another offering. That time I stayed in my seat because I wasn’t going to borrow more money. I shouldn’t say borrow because I don’t know if I ever paid him back.
But that was how they did it in Jesus day and one day Jesus was watching as the people put their offering in and while he saw all the wealthy people giving their tithes, what caught Jesus attention was the poor women who put in 2 pennies and he commended her because she didn’t give 10% she gave 100% of what she had. So the tithe is really just the place to start. What we really need to do is ask God what it is he wants us to give. What % of our money is right of us? (By the way, in that story Jesus was watching people give their offerings to God, and just in case you wondered, God still watches what we give to him.)
But money is just one way to give to God, our time is another way. Time is precious for most of us and so carving out time for God can be difficult – but it’s important. How much time do we spend each week in prayer and the reading of Scripture? How much time do we spend serving God in some capacity? If we were to tithe our time to God, give God 10% of our time, then every week we would need to give God almost 17 hours. If we take out the 8 hours of sleep we should get each night, we would still need to give God 11 hours each week. That would be over an hour and a half every day. While we can’t get legalistic about it, we need to ask ourselves if in the coming year we can simply give God more time? Can we take 5 extra minute every day to pray? Can we give an hour of service each week either through the church or in the community? The gifts the Magi gave were generous and sacrificial and that needs to reflect the kind of gifts we give to God. How can we give more to God in the coming year?
The last thing that the Magi did was go home by a different road. Instead of returning home the way they came, which would have taken them back to Jerusalem where King Herod would have questioned them about finding the baby, they decided to find a different way home. After experiencing the presence of God in Jesus, they honored him and went home a different way to keep Jesus and his family safe. What’s interesting is that we see from the very beginning that everyone who came to Jesus left changed. The shepherds in Luke left glorifying God. The Magi returned home by a different road. Fishermen dropped their nets and jobs and became followers of Jesus. The sick were healed, the dead were raised, the hungry were fed and the rich who didn’t want to give away what they had, left sad. Everyone who ever encountered Jesus was changed in some way, which means that our encounter with Jesus needs to change us too.
We all need to find new ways to live our lives that reflect our understanding of Jesus and our experience with him. It’s not enough for us to just believe in God and confess Jesus as our savior and then never make any changes in our lives, our lives need to reflect God’s presence and purpose and power working within us. As we enter into 2013, how can our faith change us? What can we do to make sure that our faith changes us?
Two things we can do to intentionally change direction in our lives is to go back to the story of the Magi and see what it was that changed them, part of what changed them was that they worshipped Jesus and gave gifts to Jesus. So worship and giving change us. Let me say that again, worship and giving change us, not instantly, but slowly and over time. Worship changes our focus and directs our hearts and lives back to God. Worship helps us seek God’s kingdom first and make God’s word the foundation of our lives. Consistent worship with God’s people shapes our hearts so we begin to desire the things of God. So if we want to live differently we need to take seriously the call to worship God, not just an hour on Sunday but every day.
Giving also changes us. Giving changes our priorities by helping see that we don’t as much as we think we do in life. Most of us think we need more than we do and when we start to give things away, it changes our attitudes. Giving also opens our eyes to the needs of people around us. When we give to organizations like the FaithCentre and Habitat for humanity we begin to see the needs I our community. When we give to things like the Christmas dinner offering we see the needs of orphans in Haiti. Once our eyes are opened to the needs around us, more ways to give become clear. We think about sponsoring children, giving to well drilling projects that help provide clean water. So giving to God changes us, again it happens slowly over time, but it changes and shapes our heart to reflect the heart of Jesus.
As we approach this new year, let’s find a different road home, let’s make some changes. Let’s worship fully and give more.
Experiencing Christmas ~ A Different Road
After experiencing the presence of Jesus, the Magi went home by a different road ~ they were changed.
What changes (New Year Resolutions) can you make as we enter into 2013?
1. Worship Fully
I will deepen my relationship with God through:
• Sunday Worship
• Reading Scripture
• Faith Sharing
2. Give More
I will work toward tithing by increasing my giving to God and the church by ____%
I will give hours a week more to God through
• Sunday School
• Small Groups
• Serving in the church
• Serving in the community