Part 2 of 4
The Gift of the Magi
O’Henry has written a beautiful little short story featuring Jim and Della Dillingham, a young husband and wife who are very poor, but very happy together. One Christmas Eve, Della looks into her savings that she has spent eons working to build and realizes she only has $1.87 to buy a gift for her husband. She weeps as she knows that nothing of special significance and importance can be bought for such a pittance.
Then she catches her reflection in the glass of the door. O’Henry mentions, in an author’s aside, that the Dillinghams had two prized possessions, two items of unequaled pricelessness: Della’s long beautiful hair and Jim’s pocket watch. As Della lets down her hair, she grieves deeply, but she is determined to sell her beautiful hair in order to buy a decent gift for her husband. She runs to a barber who promptly buys her hair for $20, giving Della enough money to buy a gorgeous chain for her husband’s pocket watch.
When Jim gets home that evening, he stares at Della’s cropped curls dumbly. Della believes his response is due to her ugliness without her long hair, but there is quite another reason behind his stupefaction: he sold his pocket watch to buy her a set of beautiful combs for which she has been long hankering. What grief! What love! They are chagrined and blessed and after a bittersweet, wry laugh, they decide to put away their gifts until her hair grows back in and he is able to buy a pocket watch for the priceless chain.
O’Henry ends this little parable-like story with these fitting words, “The magi, as you know, were wise men…who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts…and receive them…these two were the wisest…They are the magi.”
A Brief Review
The Advent season is underway. For some of you that means Christmas baking or unveiling Christmas trees and ornaments. For others, caroling and Advent calendars are a norm. But whatever you do to herald the Christmas season, I beg of you to invite Jesus to be the center of it all; He is the One to which we run to behold, run to engage, run to understand. Jesus is the perfect Gift unwrapped for you and me.
Last week, we began to peel back the paper and bows from this familiar Christmas story with a look at how this gift of Jesus was preordained for us. Instead of placing all of our attention on the Babe in the manger, I proposed to you that the Holy Spirit might be the true revealer in the Christmas story, the other main Protagonist of the Pageant. We noticed together that Grinchy attitudes of Christmas ‘ho-hum-ness’ can be replaced by expectation when we are intentional in our attitudes of anticipation, turning our complacency to Who-filled joy.
This week we are going to further unwrap this Gift by focusing on how priceless this Gift is, both to God and to us. Through the many characters that played out God’s good plan, we will see how we are to respond to this priceless Gift God has given to us. Could we, like Della, cut off and exchange our most priceless possession to show our love? Would we, like Jim her husband, sell our most expensive treasure to demonstrate our honor? Dear one, like the self-sacrificing characters of old, we need to appreciate how priceless this Gift really is and bow in abject adoration before Christ.
The Gift Given Away
Maybe you have indulged in this mental exercise – if you have forgive me for dragging you through tedium – but have you ever considered this scenario? Suppose you are sound asleep in your bed when the fire detectors begin to go off. After the attempt to settle your pounding heart, you smell smoke and realize that this is not a drill. You literally have only minutes to remove yourself and all the members of your household safely from the vicinity of the fire. With just brief moments to spare, what item(s) of significance would you grab and save in your mad dash through your house?
Would it be your wallet or extra clothing? (I sleep in enough clothing that I would not need to consider this, but there are some in my household who do not). Perhaps you would take a picture or other special momento. Maybe a computer or other media device like a phone? I believe Robert would raid the refrigerator before he went out the door. He is at an age where he is always hungry and would need extra sustenance in case the house took too long to burn down.
Even as I think about this scenario, I really struggle, because some of my most priceless possessions are my study Bible, my journals and my books. This NIV study Bible has been my constant companion through the last two decades of decisions, intimacy issues, identity-crises, and traumatic events. My journals are the transliteration of my soul eruptions soothed by the balm of Gilead; the unplumbed words of my soul coupled with the eclipsing Words of my God. And my books; well, they are my mentors. From them I am learning to parent, be a good wife, mentor others, study the Bible, and think deeply about eternal things. These three priceless possessions have fueled my walk with God like nothing else and I would rather cut off a leg than watch them burn. And yet I know…the end of them would not be the end of my spiritual journey; in fact, it might actually be the beginning.
For that is what happens when the priceless is given away. It multiplies. Expands horizons. Sows seeds. And blossoms in unlikely places. You need look no further than Luke 1:37 to see the effect of the priceless One-come-down as a result of the angel’s triumphant declaration, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
It is true! A priest was silenced for unbelief…in the Holy of Holies, next to the altar of incense, by an angel, and for at least nine months. A barren, past-her-prime-wife gave birth to the forerunner of Christ, a baby filled with the Holy Spirit (In a completely random aside, what must holy drool look like)? Certainly, this is impossible! A man saw angels not once, but four times, in his dreams. A virgin conceived a baby without means of a man. Inconceivable! Hundreds, if not thousands, of children were murdered to try and eliminate one. Shepherds watched the sky being rent by glory. Unfathomable! An old man held the consolation of Israel in his arms. A prophetess gave her greatest prophecy or was it just more worship? And Magi followed the best Google map ever, a star-map, to the toddler Messiah. All of these vignettes are impossible, yet they are all true! And all of this came to be because God gave away His priceless Son.
In the giving away of that priceless Gift, Love multiplied, expanded, sowed some seeds, and now still continues to blossom in the most unlikely of places. In the darkened earth of this world, hope still grows. In the hardened hearts of mankind, knowledge still penetrates. In the warfare between flesh and spirit, power still brings victory. In the most impossible of scenarios, God crowns you and me with glory and honor (Hebrews 2:7). He still puts everything under the Gift’s feet (Hebrews 2:8). He still brings many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10) and He still frees those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). It is impossible and yet, with God, it is not.
That, my friend, is the priceless value of this explosive, never-ending, swelling, boundary-pushing, penetrating, transforming Gift. And all because of sacrificial love which could not help but give Him away.
The Apples of His Eye
My typical Saturday morning finds me at Starbucks from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM – Bible, journals, and “mentors” all present. These three hours are my alone-time with God: time where I study, meditate, write, and catch up on my devotions. It is, by far, the most powerful and meaningful segment of time in my entire week.
This last week as I sipped my Earl Grey tea and mentally bebopped to the jazzy Christmas music playing loudly above my head, I reread the Christmas story once again, praying that God would give me His words for you. I spent almost two hours studying with one thought in mind, but could not flesh out which direction God wanted me to go with it. I felt like I had rammed my car under a cement block. I kept revving my mental engines, but nothing was really firing. I could not move forward with the Lord and I could not back out from under my mental obstruction.
Finally in complete frustration, I said, “Lord, what are you trying to tell me?” I felt Him whisper “priceless” to me and so I started all over again, reading the story with that word ringing in my head. In that last hour I studied these familiar passages with different eyes, asking questions from the text like what was so priceless about the Gift? Whom or what does God want us to see as priceless? What is priceless to God and how did the characters respond to the priceless Gift? As I picked through these stories with that new goal in mind, I saw a truth that really blew my mind.
It is a truth that involves apples.
Three times in the Old Testament our relationship with God is described in an especially tender way. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8). “Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye” (Proverbs 7:2). And my personal favorite, “for whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
That phrase “apple of my eye” refers to something or someone that a person cherishes above all others. It is what is meant by priceless and in the passages I stated, we see what God considers to be priceless: you and me and the commands of His Word.
David knew this truth, for he asked God to keep him there in His Mind’s eye, meaning that he experienced feeling priceless. Solomon knew this truth, for before he walked away from God, he was the wisest man in all the earth and he knew that his kingdom hinged upon him keeping the covenant laws. And Zechariah knew this truth because God showed him in vision after vision how important restoring the Temple was, even after an exile caused by God needing to discipline His prize apples: the people of Israel.
I was reminded again of this apple concept as I was reading through the Christmas story. One of the questions I asked myself was this: What does God consider to be priceless? In answering that question, I was reminded afresh of the inscrutable thoughts and ways of our God (Isaiah. 55:8).
He could have orchestrated a huge fireworks display. He might have ‘podcasted’ or ‘tweeted’ a huge general announcement to the whole world. He could have sent a stork bearing His Son to Buckingham Palace to arrive in pomp and grandeur or even a grown King in royal robes stepping from Air Force One onto a red carpet. He could have had Belteshazzar, the godly prayer warrior and Hadassah, the woman of her times, be the parents of this human form, but He did not.
What He chose to do, where He singled His focus, why He moved in certain circles, is incredibly important to you and to me. For it shows us what God considers priceless and it instructs us tenderly that in all the barrels of fruit in this world, only a few chosen ones should be the apples of our eye as well. Let us look at these godly treasures – these apples of God’s eye – to see if any of them are bearing fruit in our lives:
Last week I spent the entire devotional detailing the emphasis of the Holy Spirit in the Christmas story, so I will not dwell on this point. But I do believe it bears telling again that the Holy Spirit overshadowed and orchestrated the events from first to last. The amount of ink given to this third Person of the Trinity is both a blessing and a warning to us. The warning is that we do not overlook Him…ever, and the blessing is that the Holy Spirit that conceived the Christ child in Mary, that filled so many of the pageant’s characters, and that guided and directed each event, is the same priceless Holy Spirit that dwells in each of our lives. God gave us this incredible gift to help us discern truth, to be in us, to counsel us, to teach us everything Jesus meant, and to give us peace (see John 14:16, 17, 26, 27). The Holy Spirit and all of His “impossible” activities are priceless to God – and should be to us too.
We will look more intently later at all the names of Jesus that are mentioned in these few chapters alone, but for now, let me assure you that Jesus is the apple of God’s eye. God prophesied about His birth years before it actually happened; He preordained it. He heralded it. He starred it, highlighting His birth in constellations, for goodness’ sake. He made sure that Mary – and us by extension – knew this Jesus would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:31-33) He made sure that Joseph knew this child would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Jesus and His “impossible” incarnation are absolutely priceless to God – and should be to us too.
You knew I was coming to this point, didn’t you? The Christmas story and actually, the whole biblical story, have one main theme: God interacting with people. He created them to walk with Him. He provided for them when they didn’t. All through the Old Testament and the New, He moved toward them over and over and His biggest sorrow is their rejection. Just read all the books of prophecy and you will see God’s tears dripping all over His sometimes-rebuking, sometimes-wooing, but always heartfelt words.
We know that people are priceless to God; at least we do in our heads. Look at the reason why, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God believes people are priceless because they bear His own image. I cannot completely comprehend the sentence I just wrote, but buried in my “people theology” I do know that because of this truth, everyone was created to mirror an aspect of God. This makes all people priceless.
Their worth does not come from how accomplished they are or how much money they have accrued. Power is meaningless is God’s value economy except when it is wielded by Him. The apple of God’s eye does not become more worthy because it is beautiful or shiny or sweet. No, it is full of worth because it is His.
Max Lucado’s clever children’s allegory, You Are Special, tells the story of a wooden people called the Wemmicks. They were all carved by a woodworker name Eli and he made them all different. This group of people had one occupation, “All day, every day, the Wemmicks did the same thing: They gave each other stickers.” Pretty Wemmicks received stars. Chipped and rough Wemmicks were given dots.
Punchinello was a Wemmick covered in dots. He could never do anything right and some people even put dots on him because he had so many already; they felt that he must deserve more dots because others had already judged him less than worthy.
One day he met a Wemmick named Lucia, who had not dots or stars on her. People tried to give them to her but they just dropped off. When Punchinello asked her how she did it, she replied, “It’s easy. Every day I go see Eli.” She urged Punchinello to do the same.
Punchinello agonized over whether Eli would even want him around, but eventually he could take his inner angst no longer. He went to see Eli. When he walked into the workshop, he was overwhelmed by the huge room and intimidating workbench until Eli spoke, “Punchinello?” Punchinello could not believe Eli knew his name, but was assured it was because Eli had made him.
Eli commented on all the dots Punchinello had received, but shared that he really didn’t care about them. “What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special.” In great disbelief, Punchinello laughed and said, “Why do I matter to you?” Eli answered back after touching him gently on his small wooden shoulders, “Because you’re mine. That’s why you matter to me.”
Punchinello asked why stickers did not stay on Lucia and Eli told him, “Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them…if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.”
Punchinello did not understand but Eli told him, “You will, but it will take time. You’ve got a lot of marks. For now, just come to see me every day and let me remind you how much I care…You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”
The Christmas story highlights this focus of God on the value of man; He does not make mistakes. An young virgin gave birth to His precious Son. A devout Jew, but first-time-ever father, raised His beloved Son. A strange man who ate locusts was this priceless Son’s forerunner. And earthly, normal, people responded to, waited for, and searched after His treasure of a Son.
So, how do we know that God values people? He took the time to alleviate the worries of a soon-to-be father (Matthew 1:19-21). He protected the godly reputation of a pregnant mother (Matthew 1:19-21). He warned the Magi that they were in danger (Matthew 2:12). He protected the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph by guiding them to safety (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-22). He blessed an old and barren couple with a child (Luke 1:13). He spoke words of great favor and blessing over Mary (Luke 1:28, 30). He addressed four different groups of prophecy-receivers with comfort for their fears (Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:13, Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10). He engaged the quizzical questioning of some learned Gentiles (Matthew 2:1-2). He shared a future vision with an old man and then fulfilled it (Luke 2:26) and He put on the greatest light display since creation over a darkened field, some sheep and a few watching shepherds (Luke 13-14).
Two other random thoughts that have come to me deal with receivers and griefs. First, to whom did God display these miraculous events? To the very young. To the very old. To the weak. To the poor and the outcasts, the inexperienced and the Gentiles. Does this strum a poignant string in your heart like it does for me?
Notice also what God saw in each of these weak and poor people. He saw their hurts and understood their sorrows. Grief ran all over the night of Jesus’ safety and God saw fit to mourn with all of those mothers who lost their children. He even mourned with them years prior when He placed His grief deep in the heart of Jeremiah who wrote it down with incredibly divine pathos (Matthew 1:17-18). He saw the disgrace of barrenness that Elizabeth bore for so many years. She recognized God’s El Roi, seeing eyes, for she acknowledged that God had taken away her disgrace among her people (Luke 1:25). God saw the pain of Anna’s widowhood and blessed her faithfulness to Him with a bow on the gift of her worship: a vision of the Messiah (Luke 2:38).
God interacted with those who seemed impossibly unworthy in the world’s eyes. And fellow-sojourner, He still does. From the first teaching moment Jesus was given, He announced who the apples of His eye were, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:1-19).
Later in the Matthew 5, Jesus outlines whom He blesses: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and the thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:3-10). People – broken, dirty, poor and shabby people – however impossible it is to believe, are absolutely priceless to God – and should be to us too.
After almost 400 years of silence between Malachi and Matthew, God revealed Himself once again. The words, “it took place to fulfill,” or a variant of this phrase are used quite a number of times in the Christmas story. When Joseph was approached by the angel and given words of prophecy over his future, Matthew is quick to mention that “all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (Matthew 1:22). That specific revelation was that the Son would be named Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” (v 23)
After the Magi had caused quite a stir in Bethlehem, Herod approached his teachers of the law and asked about the king mentioned. They quickly told him that the the ruler and shepherd would be born in Bethlehem according to the words of Micah the prophet (Matthew 2:6). Later, when Herod realized he had been tricked by the Magi, he began to slaughter boys two years and under, again fulfilling a prophecy made by Jeremiah (Matthew 2:18).
That trauma precipitated two more fulfillments of Scripture. An angel warned Joseph to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt again bringing to fruition a prophecy from Hosea 11:1. After Herod died, Joseph again received instructions to go to Nazareth, which he did, fulfilling yet another prophecy (Matthew 1:23).
When the angel appeared to Zechariah and shared the good news about his coming child, he was indignant that Zechariah disbelieved him. “I am Gabriel,” he said. I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19). Zechariah received incredible revelation from God, which was fulfilled within about ten months.
The shepherds received incredible revelation as well. An angel appeared and told them that the Messiah had been born that very night and even went so far as to give them a sign. More light. More glory. More revelation. And the shepherds quickly believed and obeyed. Revelation – however impossible it is to believe – and its fulfillment are absolutely priceless to God – and should be to us too.
A lot of script is given to describing each of the characters, a theme that should make us sit up and take notice. Joseph was highlighted as a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). Zechariah and Elizabeth came from a very godly heritage and “both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). Mary was chosen because she was a virgin, one who was highly favored by God (Luke 1:27-18). The shepherds were living out in the field and keeping watch over their flocks (Luke 2:8). Both of these verbs have spiritual connotations. Simeon was called a “righteous and devout man” upon whom the Holy Spirit rested (Luke 2:25-26). Anna was called a prophetess and she came from a very godly lineage too (Luke 2:36). She is described so beautifully that it almost brings tears to my eyes, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37).
Many would look at these descriptions and say, “Boy, now I know how to get God to look at me. I need to remain a virgin. I need to follow all the Bible’s rules. I need to come from good stock. I need to stay up late watching some sheep. I need to become a nun and live in a monastery so I can worship God all day.” And if you think any thoughts related to these tongue-in-cheek ramblings, you will have missed one of the most important messages of the Christmas story: the heart of a godly person is priceless to God.
Rewind with me to the ordination of David. Samuel was told to go to the sons of Jesse in Bethlehem. Jesse parades all of his older seven sons before the prophet. Eliab, the oldest, must have been quite a looker or was at the least, impressive in his bearing, for Samuel saw him and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:6).
God’s answer to Samuel was this, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:17).
Jesse finally brings out David who was tending the sheep. He was handsome, Scripture says, but that is not why God chose him. Acts 13:22 gives us the real reason God hand-picked this priceless man who revolutionized worship in the Old Testament, “ I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” The Message says, “He’s a man whose heart beats to my heart.”
About what things does God’s heart beat more strongly? A noble and good heart that hears His words, retains them, and produces a crop as a result (Luke 8:15). A heart that obeys not only when people’s eyes are on it, but because it longs to do the will of God from its heart (Ephesians 6:6). A sincere heart full of reverence for the Lord that leads to obedience in everything (Colossians 3:22). A pure heart that flees evil desires and pursues righteousness, faith, love and peace and a heart that calls on the Lord (2 Timothy 2:22). Noble. Good. Obedient. Sincere. Reverent. Pure. Dependent. All of these words, and many more, describe the heart of a person that God finds priceless.
If you want to experience your own Christmas story, changing your behavior will not necessarily precipitate revelation from God. But responding to God’s revelation through humility, prayer, seeking, and repentance almost assuredly will (2 Chronicles 7:14). When idolatry is dealt with, God promises to give an undivided heart and a new spirit. He will remove the heart of stone and give a heart of flesh in its stead (Ezekiel 11:18-19). Dear one, a godly heart – however impossible it is to believe that you can receive- is absolutely priceless to God – and should be to us too.
The Priceless Gift
What made Jesus, this perfect gift, so valuable? At the risk of repeating myself over and over again, I thought I would just list about forty reasons why. There are probably more in these familiar verses, but I do not want to completely overwhelm you. Please, I beg of you, read these with open eyes, savoring their truths as if your joy and life depend on it. Because they most assuredly do.
- He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
- He was conceived in a woman by the priceless Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, 20).
- He is Immanuel, God With Us (Matthew 1:23). Did you hear me? GOD WITH US!
- He is a king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).
- He is the Christ, which means the Messiah (Matthew 2:4; Luke 2:11).
- He is a ruler and a shepherd (Matthew 2:6).
- In the coming of John, who precluded Jesus, the Lord showed great favor and took away disgrace (Luke 1:25).
- His name ‘Jesus’ means Jehovah is salvation (Luke 1:31; 2:30).
- He is the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32)
- He will be great (Luke 1:32).
- He will reign over the house of David (Luke 1:32)
- His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33).
- He is the holy one (Luke 1:35).
- He is the Son of God (Luke 1:35).
- He is the answer to the question, “What is impossible for God?” Of course, nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37).
- He is our Savior (Luke 1:47; 2:11).
- In Him, God is mindful of our humble state (Luke 1:48).
- He is the mighty one (Luke 1:48).
- Through Him, God has done great things for us (Luke 1:49).
- Through His birth, God’s mercy extends from one generation to the next (Luke 1:50).
- He has performed mighty deeds (Luke 1:51).
- He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts (Luke 1:52).
- He has brought down rulers (Luke 1:52).
- He has lifted up the humble (Luke 1:52).
- He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:53).
- He has helped Israel and been merciful (Luke 1:54, 72, 78).
- He has and will redeem His people (Luke 1:68; 2:38).
- He is the horn of salvation (Luke 1:69, 71).
- He was spoken about through the holy prophets (Luke 1:70).
- He remembers His covenant (Luke 1:72).
- He will rescue us from our enemies (Luke 1:74).
- He will enable us to serve without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days (Luke 1:74-5).
- He is the rising sun come to us from heaven (Luke 1:78).
- He will shine on those living in darkness (Luke 1:79).
- He will guide our feet into the path of peace (Luke 1:79).
- He brings glory to God in the highest (Luke 2:14).
- He brings peace to men on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14).
- He is a light for revelation to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32).
- He is for the glory of Israel (Luke 2:32).
- He will cause the falling and rising of many in Israel (Luke 2:34).
- He will be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed (Luke 2:34).
- He was filled with wisdom (Luke 2:40).
- The grace of God was upon him (Luke 2:40).
If I was a person looking to fill a position in my company, a resume like this would blow every other applicant out of the water and I say this in the most understated, facetious way possible. Folks, this is your Jesus! This is your God-come-down. Revel in this list. Read a couple to your family each day and meditate on the truths listed here about your priceless Gift in Jesus. “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3) or else a few billion stones will cry out, mountains and hills will burst into song and the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). Don’t let creation eclipse your adoration!
O Come Let Us Adore Him!
Imagine with me if you won the lottery (A lottery you don’t play, I hope). One day you receive a life-changing call from the lottery service informing you that you are their million-dollar lottery recipient. They ask if you would come to their studio to be interviewed. After your silent screaming and careful dance around your living room, you acquiesce with as much dignity as you can muster. You break every speed limit getting to their studio, where the owners of the lottery company present you with a massive check for tons of money; money, mind you that will then be taxed in a massive way by the government.
How would you feel? How would that phone call change your life? Probably in every way.
Well, whether you truly know this truth in the depths of your heart or not, you have won, by way of the Christmas story, the biggest lottery of your life. The spiritual truths that come to fruition in Jesus Christ on your behalf should send you screaming madly around your house. The list I typed above for you is just a tiny portion of what Jesus, the priceless Gift, generously gives to you. The Bible is full of bigger-than-life promises for you and for me; just read it and see for yourself.
The Christmas characters knew these truths in the marrow of their bones, for they all, save one, responded to God’s revelation with the proper attitude. And even the unbelieving one came to the same conclusion as all of his fellow-receivers, a conclusion that eventually bowed his head and bent his knees. By the end of the Christmas story, every single recipient of this priceless Gift responded with adoration.
If you and I are going to fully appreciate the worth of Jesus coming to earth, we must steep ourselves in the truths of Christmas. We must remember the Incarnation of Christ. We must talk about it, sing about it, pray about it until we truly connect our head and our hearts with our actions. My prayer is that by Christmas Day, after spending all of these four weeks at the manger of Immanuel, you and I will truly adore Him.
How did these varied receivers adore Christ? Yes, there are the normal means of adoration demonstrated by their examples, but you may be surprised at the unusual ways many of these worshipers adored. Would you look one more time with me into the Scriptures in order to glean how to adore Christ in a way that finds His favor?
I do not want to forget the types of worship that we deem to be normal, disciplines of adoration that bring us closer to God in the way He likes. One of those is thanksgiving. Elizabeth demonstrated her thanks to God for her pregnancy, for showing HIs favor to her, and for taking away her disgrace (Luke 1:25). Anna thanked God that she was able to see the Christ child (Luke 2:38).
Mary sang a song. Adoration often involves singing and praise. In Mary’s words, praise songs are a way that our “souls can glorify the Lord” and “our spirits can rejoice in God” (Luke 1:46-47). When Zechariah’s tongue was finally loosed, Luke tells us that “he began to speak, praising God” (Luke 1:64). The great company of angels also praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest…” (Luke 2:13-14). Simeon, after being led by the Holy Spirit into the Temple to look upon the consolation of Israel, took the eight-day-old Christ up into his arms and praised God” (Luke 2:28-32).
Praising and thanking God are incredible ways to adore God, but Anna demonstrates three more “normal” adoration vehicles: constant worship, fasting and praying (Luke 2:37). Maybe the question about her constant worship comes to your mind as it does to me. How can someone constantly worship God? My commentaries agree on two different thoughts. Some say that she may have even had a room at the Temple, being a prophetess. Others agree that this is not literal, that she did not live at the Temple, but that her presence there was more like she never missed a service. Whatever Luke meant at this time, her continual worship was often, persevering, and it was a witness to others; in short, she was a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). Much about fasting and prayer can be found in many other books of the Bible, but suffice it to say, Anna’s example shows us the power brought to bear on a life when all three of these disciplines are integrated into a person’s adoration.
I also want to lump being filled with the Spirit into the “normal” modes of adoration. As has been previously mentioned ad nauseum, the Spirit’s handprints were all over the Incarnation and as a result power, grace, and joy abounded. The New Testament church in Acts mentions the Holy Spirit 62 times in the NIV translation and as a result of this adoring lifestyle, the church exploded. Making sure that our lives adhere to the Spirit’s work will go a long way in creating a powerful chain of adoration events.
Witnessing is another “normal” way we can adore Christ. After John was born and Zechariah’s mouth was unstopped, the Bible says that the neighbors were filled with awe and people all throughout Judea were talking about these things (Luke 1:65). The shepherds, after seeing the Christ child, they “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). In essence they were the first missionaries. Even Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Talking about an act of God can be homage. Sharing what He has done in testimony is worship. Spreading the Good News is adoration.
Belief and Obedience
I know I do not need to beat this point very long. Everyone knows that God desires our unwavering faith to be placed fully in Him and that He desires our unstoppable obedience in following Him.
When Joseph was told to take Mary as his wife, he did not doubt, but obeyed (Matthew 1:24-25). When the Magi were warned in a dream to take another route home, they obeyed (Matthew 2:12). When an angel told Joseph to leave quickly for Egypt, he did, immediately in the middle of the night (Matthew 2:13-15). Again, when told he could go back to Israel, he did, and exactly to the place that fulfilled Scripture (Matthew 2:19-23). Even after fearful news, Mary believed God: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). Elizabeth obeyed the angel in naming her son John and Zechariah finally acted in obedience as well by writing the same statement on a tablet (Luke 2:60-63). Joseph obeyed the census and went to his hometown (Luke 2:4-5), enabling multiple prophecies to come true. Even Mary and Joseph obeyed the Law of Moses in circumcising their son on the eighth day (Luke 2:21-24). This obedient act fulfilled the Holy Spirit’s promise to an old man and honored an old prophetess.
Some of these characters displayed unusual faith, believing impossible things and acting on them. But others were only required to do simple things: believe God, name a child, obey a government census and fulfill laws of purification. But in the small acts as well as the big ones, faith was paramount. It even occurred to me that the main ingredient for seeing God is faith, even if it is a little bit for a small task. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
This Christmas, God may ask you to do a huge task for Him like give up all of your gifts to give the money away or to go on a mission trip. Or He may request you to do something seemingly insignificant like be faithful in watching your children with a good attitude or extend forgiveness to a supplicant. Whatever God desires, remember Christmas. You can acquiesce with the grace of a servant like Mary did or deny the Lord’s will in your life like Zechariah. Notice that one housed the Shekinah Glory of God and the other one was disciplined for ten months. Believing God will do what He says He will do is one of the greatest platforms of adoration that there can be.
Because people are priceless to God, we are also to treat others as the apple of God’s eye. There are quite a number of instances of this in the Christmas story: the worshippers praying as Zechariah was in the Holy of Holies (Luke 1:10); Mary visiting Elizabeth to encourage her (Luke 1:39); Elizabeth speaking such honoring words to Mary (Luke 1:42-43); the neighbors sharing Elizabeth’s joy (Luke 1:58); Mary and Joseph making room for a bunch of shepherds in their stable (Luke 2: 16); and Simeon speaking encouraging words over Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:33-35). The dignity of man, as shown by God, is a thread that runs like a silver-clad ribbon all throughout this story, enhancing dignity and honoring God’s priceless believers.
But there is one person who honored another in a way that I believe is priceless. That person is Joseph. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, a righteous man. Before they could consummate their marriage, she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, though Joseph did not know that. All he did know was that she was no longer a virgin and he could not marry her legitimately and remain righteous. He was very concerned about her reputation so he planned to divorce her quietly so that she would not be publically disgraced. Do you see the honor with which he treated his bride-to-be?
But his honor stepped to a whole other level after the Spirit revealed to him that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and her belly held the Messiah. Scripture says some amazing words next, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).
Imagine the looks he would have received. Picture Mary’s burgeoning belly and reflect on the judgmental looks that would have followed him every time he walked outside their home. Honoring his wife was not an easy task. It probably meant ridicule and disgrace, but he did it anyway. And the next verse almost blows my mind: “But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25a).
Here was Joseph, a virile man, with a wife under his roof and he chooses to dignify her, to honor her holy conception by being most holy himself. He puts aside his rights, his desires, his urges, his longings, and he chooses to adore Christ by abstaining from physical union, a union that was his right by marriage.
Wow! This really speaks to me. In this day of sex-saturation, with so many people addicted to their physical urges, this one beautiful, adoring choice of Joseph’s feels like the very essence of love. Whether he was told by God to leave her alone or not, he honored this priceless mother of the Savior.
Many times honoring others requires the sacrifice of self and no one embodies this act of adoration to me more than Joseph. Giving up our rights is truly an act worthy of the Greatest Sacrificer of all (Philippians 2:6-7).
I separated this from the “normal” acts of worship, because I think many people do not consider meditation as much more than a means to an end, a spiritual discipline that helps us think about Scripture. But this discipline, more than almost any other in my life, has been a great act of worship. Taking a Scripture and mulling it over in my mind turns my thoughts to things above (Colossians 3:1-2). Wrestling with a passage over and over in my head often leads to composing my own worship songs. Thinking on an aspect that God is revealing to me through the Scriptures leads to these devotionals. I cannot separate meditation from adoration.
This spiritual discipline is quite evident in the Christmas story. Joseph “had it in mind” to divorce Mary quietly (Matthew 1:19). And it was “after he considered this” that the angel of the Lord appeared to him (Matthew 1:20). Joseph was meditating on what was right, what was pure, what was noble and the Lord used that meditation to bring about the adoration of obedience.
The Magi meditated on the meaning of the star. I know this because they came to Jerusalem asking a question, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2)? Questions always indicate the meditation process. Positing questions to any text or situation leads to thinking about what the answers could be. Those answers are usually found in Christ. Questions move a person from doubt to certainty, an almost sure-fire way to adore Christ with belief.
Elizabeth, after becoming pregnant, remained in seclusion for almost five months (Luke 1:24). Why on earth would she not tell the good news to everyone? I think it was because she was waiting for her baby to show, for there to be absolutely no doubt that she was going to carry that child to labor. In those five months, I am pretty sure she did a lot of meditating. We see three phrases of adoration that come out of her mouth as a result of this meditative isolated time before the Lord: “The Lord has done this for me. He has shown me his favor and He has taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:25). Coming away from other people to spend time thinking about what God has done is not just called seclusion; it is called adoration.
After John was born, the neighbors are described as being filled with awe. Out of that awe came a lot of intentional conversation. “Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be” (Luke 2:66)? Do you see the questioning process again? God worked some miraculous events in the birth of John and the unloosing of Zechariah’s tongue. This caused people to ponder those events, to talk about them together, and to wonder about what else God could do. This sounds an awful lot like they were glorifying God, another word for adoration.
When the shepherds had left the stable, they were so excited that they told everyone what had happened. All who heard it were amazed, but Luke says that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). What was she doing? She was mulling these events over, pondering their significance, and in the meanwhile, building her faith. She would need that faith to survive her son being crucified. That acts of treasuring and pondering were adoration in seed, sown in the fertile soil of an innocent faith, and coming to great harvest in tears at the foot of the cross. Treasuring and pondering were the worship-filled acts that built her faith.
Giving a Blessing
For people with the gift of exhortation or encouragement, this example of worship will ring true. There were two blessings given in the Christmas story, one by Elizabeth and one by Simeon.
Elizabeth is described as being filled with the Spirit before uttering these words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:42-44)!
In this blessing we see some important elements: being filled with the Spirit, speaking out boldly about one’s identity, speaking in humility, speaking out of joy, and speaking out encouragement about other’s belief. Elizabeth adored her Lord by blessing His mother. She singled her out as one chosen by God and in the process, bolstered Mary’s faith.
After Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, took the baby Jesus in his arms, he began to praise God. However, the ESV and NKJV version say that Simeon “blessed” God. This word is eulogeo, which you might recognize as similar to our word eulogy. It means to “speak well of, to bless, to thank or invoke a benediction upon, to praise, to consecrate a thing with solemn prayers” (ESV Strong’s).
Simeon blessed God by speaking well of His salvation. He thanked God for the Light which would be to the Gentiles and he praised God for this baby, the future glory of Israel (Luke 2:28-32). Notice that Simeon mentions that Jesus will be shared with the Gentiles. This refers to a future event that only came about when Paul’s focus changed from the Jews to the Gentiles in Acts.
In verse 34 of Luke 2, Simeon is also seen blessing the parents. Turning to the mother, he offered words that we might not be especially glad to hear, but they were spoken on the heels of the word blessing: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).
This word does not seem like a blessing, but in this amazing prophecy we see a consecration of an event with solemn prayers. Simeon was given information no one could have possibly known and he directed that information at Mary. Why? I think because we have already seen that she worships by meditation, pondering and treasuring things in her heart. The Holy Spirit knew that she would need a long time to chew on the reason for her son’s life and He spoke those words of consternation by a Holy-Spirit-filled prayer warrior. I think Simeon was consecrating Mary and her baby’s future with very solemn prayers.
Seeing With Spiritual Eyes
In the story of the Magi, one word stands out to me like a beacon. See if you can figure it out in these four verses. “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2b). “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (Matthew 2:9). “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (Matthew 2:10). And the last one, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him…” (Matthew 2:11).
Did you notice the word “saw” used over and over in describing the actions of the Magi? Four times in just a few verses, the author makes sure that we know about the special sight of these Gentiles. That word saw is important. In the first three uses, this word means “to stare at…to discern clearly (physically or mentally); by extension, to attend to…to experience…to see with the eyes or with the mind, to become acquainted with by experience, to take heed, beware, to care for, pay heed to” (ESV Strong’s).
These Magi were not normal heaven-watchers; they had special sight. Notice that the word means to see with the eyes but also with the mind and by experience. The ESV adds an important word in verse 2, “For we saw his star.” Whose star? How did they know? Where did they gain their special information? These were Gentiles, not believers, but I am pretty sure the Holy Spirit was all over this special sight.
With these caring, heeding, bewaring eyes, the Magi saw four important truths. First, they saw that this star belonged to the king of the Jews, which meant that they had to have connected prophecy in Scripture with this unusual phenomenon. In other words, they saw that the Word of God was living and active in their sphere of influence.
The second truth they saw was the star that they had seen in the east moving ahead of them. Not only did they connect the star with the prophecies of old, but they continued to see, continued to persevere, continued to follow the faith trail of that star. They, in their mind’s eye, connected persevering faith to worship.
On the heels of this connection, they again saw the star stopping over the place where the child was and Matthew says that they were overjoyed. This truth is so important to you and me. In the seeing of that star, they connected the physical with the emotional; they saw something with their eyes and mind that connected with their heart. Joy is a huge element of adoration and it comes about by seeing more than you can see and knowing more than you can know.
The last usage of the word “saw” actually is a different meaning altogether. When they saw the child, the word heurisko is used instead of the previously-mentioned horao. This meaning of saw here is “to find, get, obtain, perceive, see, after searching, to find a thing sought, those who come or return to a place, to find by enquiry, thought, examination, scrutiny, observation, to find out by practice and experience” (ESV Strong’s).
This seeing brought the wise men to the house of the Messiah. Scripture says that they saw the child with his mother Mary; they found the King of the Jews. After perceiving with their spiritual eyes, after searching with their heart, after enquiring thought and thorough examination, they found Jesus by practice and experience.
You and I can worship in this same way. When the Holy Spirit opens up His Word to us and we see truths in this love letter that cannot be discerned by natural eyes, we are led on a journey of persevering faith, of heartfelt joy and of experiential finding. The seen Word, our seeing faith, and our seeing joy lead us to the manger, lead us to the Savior of the world, lead us to the very essence of satisfaction: the presence of God. This synergistic explosion of spiritual sight is not just a transformational experience; it is adoration.
The wise men were wiser than they thought for they saw things no one could really see. And all this spiritual insight, this incredible journey of walking by faith with the evidence of things unseen, led those incredible men to bow down and worship. “They opened their treasures and presented Jesus with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Luke 2:11). Like Jim and Della Dillingham, adoration moved outward toward the priceless recipient.
This Advent season, know this: Jesus is the most priceless gift you will ever receive. What do you have in your treasure bag of gifts? What can you give to the One who has everything? Like Della, do you have some hair that can be cut? A personal offering of talents or energy? Or is Jim’s pocket watch sacrifice of precious time something you can offer?
The wise men gave gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. In similar fashion, you can give Jesus a sweet-smelling gift of prayer, fasting, worship, song, praise, thanks and surrender to the working of the Spirit. Or you can offer up your actual gold or things most precious to you like obedience, belief, honor, meditation, blessing and spiritual sight. Or if you still have nothing to bring, adore Jesus in the way that beautiful children’s song instructs: you can give Him your heart.
You cannot outgive God. “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). And look, here is yet another way that you can adore the King: learn to wait for Him. Wait in hope (Psalm 33:20). Wait patiently (Psalm 37:7). Wait quietly (Lamentations 3:26). But above all, wait adoringly. Then like O’Henry said about Jim and Della Dillingham, let it be said of you that as you give these priceless gifts and receive from your priceless Redeemer, you also will be the wisest of all.
You will be the magi.