After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12 NIV)
Where did you go this year for Christmas?
Did your spiritual journey end with peace and goodwill settling deep in your soul?
Do “the glad tidings of great at joy for all people” still resound in your heart?
On this first Sunday of 2016 we must each ask ourselves “Where will I go in 2016?”
What kind of journey will I take in 2016?
What spiritual steps will I take over the next 362 days?
Will you be intentional or will your spiritual journey be an accident?
In December 2016, will “joy to the world” hum with quiet confidence in my heart?
Did you notice that the Christmas stories are full of journeys?
Luke’s first chapter tells us Zechariah was away from home, serving in the temple the when angel appears saying: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son-John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’s coming”. “Coming” is journey language. John will preach of spiritual road work: “make straight the path, smooth over the rough places, every hill graded low, and build a bridge across the creek bed.” John will call people to action- to take spiritual steps: “Share your coat, share your food, share our comfort, share our shelter, welcome the stranger, be ethical, be fair, be content, make straight the path, prepare the way for the Lord! Behold- the kingdom of God is coming within you.”
Mary will travel. When the angel speaks “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God-nothing is impossible with God! Mary answers, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Immediately she hurries to the hill country to take refuge with her Godly Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah.
And the Christmas Eve Lesson tells us: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” The whole world was traveling!
Joseph and very pregnant Mary travel about 80 miles by foot to Bethlehem. Where “she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1, 3, 7) Tough traveling indeed! A baby born in barn trumps most travel horror stories.
On Christmas Eve- “there were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. After the Angels left the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go to Bethlehem” And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8, 10-11, 15-16)
And today, on this first Sunday in January we celebrate the appearance or epiphany of our Lord. We remember the story of travelers-pilgrims- seekers- the Magi. The Magi traveled the farthest to worship Jesus!
Where are you going spiritually in 2016?
Are you planning to make any spiritual progress in 2016 or hoping for accidental spirituality?
Scholars tell us that the magi likely came from Persia traveling for about 1000 miles. That is a long drive and much more taxing on a camel or donkey. It likely took the Magi 3 months. Consider that the Magi spent 100 days one way in order to worship- offer their gifts- and then ride home another 100 days.
Did you notice that the magi did not stay very long? The Scripture says they saw Mary and Jesus, but did not missed Joseph. These kings did not stay long enough to meet Joseph. As a carpenter, Joseph likely found work at Herod’s big infrastructure project restoring the temple. So Joseph loaded the donkey, slid on his hardhat, paid his union dues, and swung a hammer to support his new family working on a big government contract. Imagine the weekend, when Joseph came home and Mary said “You will never guess who came to see us!”
Will you make a year-long journey to worship and connect with Christ?
Will your 2016 spiritual journey be intentional or accidental?
I imagine many folks back in Persia or China or wherever the Magi came from considered the Magi’s effort as a waste of energy resources and time. Many will count the 7-12-30 minutes you spend each day seeking to grow closer to Christ a waste. On Sundays you might travel, or play, or visit with family. You might use those 7-12-30 minutes of daily prayer and study for more enjoyable and profitable activities. Indeed, your pilgrim’s progress may be discouraging at times.
When the Magi from the east came to Jerusalem they had to ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” They arrive at the palace hoping to see a newborn king, but Herod has no Prince! Perhaps they considered going back home. Perhaps someone asked, “Did you really ride a thousand miles to see a baby? Did a star guide you here?”
Will you let others lack of spiritual concern hinder your spiritual journey?
Will you take a spiritual journey in 2016 even though most folks will not?
The Magi are pulled by the weak gravitational pull of a star. It was not a giant flashing sign in the heavens. Indeed, if runaway comet circled the earth tonight leaving an almost flashing LED message in English, Mandarin and Spanish in the stardust-“Go to Christian County Kentucky!” Hopkinsville churches would be full for years to come. Business folks would build resorts.
No the star the Magi see is a subtler pull. A star is not a supernova- it offer a sliver of light. A star whispers to the soul. So it is with the notions of the Spirit. God gives not so reasonable ideals. The Still Small Voice whispers of love, justice, rightness, defense, forgiveness, splendor, art, goodness, beauty, grandeur, stillness and worship. The faint tug of God moves our hearts to get on the pilgrimages path. How often do the practical, cost-effective, reasonable, prudent, and normal voices quench the embers of spiritual fire? God whispers life-changing truth to us with a deep inner peace and pull that is fairly easy to lay aside as impractical and a little weird. The magi could have found at least a thousand good reasons not to make a 2,000 mile journey by camel. Often we ignore our soul’s deepest longings and instead live for the daily, grinds, pulls, pushes and tugs that drive our lives. We miss the star, we refuse to spend a year traveling towards Jesus and we fail to join in the Wise One’s journey. We trade the deep spiritual work that makes us whole for lesser stuff that fills up our time.
So they come westward drawn by weak gravitational pull of a star… And they make a huge effort
We might muse: “oh to live in those simple times without IPhones, push notifications, TV and Sunday Sports, then we worship more fully, oh yes”. We might dream they had time back then to travel for 200 days just to spend a day with Jesus!
In my grandmother’s yard were four or five large flat rocks out by the hand dug well. I liked to jump from one to the next when I was little. As I grew older I realized these rocks where arranged there. I would learn they were the rocks my grandmother used to boil clothes. They boiled clothes before she had a washing machine. She hauled a giant caldron out. She filled it by hauling buckets of water up from the well. She built a fire from hand cut firewood. She stirred the filthy farm soiled blue jeans with a spoon near the size of a boat paddle. She then wrung them out by hand. Ancient life lacked our modern free time. The Magi hauled water for the camels and cooked their meals after gathering firewood.
Oh friends, maybe the spiritual path is harder to find today than ever before. We are the most targeted market in human history. The market forces never stop seeking to command our attention, take our time, and access our resources. We need a plan to escape their consuming stream and make the spiritual journey.
The magi set aside lesser duties to encounter the Divine!
They traveled for perhaps for a 100 days in order to spend a day with Jesus.
They arrived at exceedingly great joy!
Will you lay aside lesser pulls to encounter the divine?
Will we make a spiritual journey in 2016 or live an accidental spirituality?
How much spiritual effort will we expend?
Where will we arrive in 362 days?
Will glad tidings fill us with great joy as we arrive next year at the miracle of Christ’s birth?
Will we know the eternal power and deep pleasure of being right in the middle of God’s Will even as we travel along somewhat unsure of the next steps in our spiritual journey? Hear the Good News “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they came into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11 KJV) Will we know the deep rest that comes to our souls as we strive towards Christ? Will we seek something worthy of our efforts in 2016- something eternal like faith, hope or love?
Will we make a labor intensive journey with the Wise Ones?
Oh friends, exceedingly great joy will not occur without a journey, without some spiritual effort.
Will we be driven by our daily, pulls, tugs and grinds or make an intentional spiritual journey?
Let us travel somewhere spiritually in 2016!
I offer a few first and essential steps for our 2016 an intentional spiritual journey.
Take a step towards service. Find somewhere to serve God and neighbor. Christ-likeness requires that we serve others. Jesus defined his mission not as being served but as serving.
Worship- commit to daily devotion, daily prayer and weekly worship. Do not commit to an hour if you are starting from scratch. Compounded together, your seven, twelve minutes or twenty minutes of daily devotion can redirect your entire year. I am attaching a list of online devotions. Worship every week. If you miss a Sunday- then you go 13 days without worship. If you miss two Sundays, you go almost a month without intentionally focusing on the things of God with other Christians. You may not be able to make church here every Sunday. Most places have a church, but if they do not just pull the car over and sing /listen to worship music, pray together, read the scripture together or download a sermon and then discuss it. Make worship your weekly pattern.
Travel in groups- get in a small group like Sunday School or Wednesday nights. We will begin new groups in February. The Magi may not have made it without each other’s encouragement.
Open your treasures- give. It is impossible to become godly without becoming a giver. God gives!
Get going- do something. A consistent seven minutes is better than a huge never met goal! God will honor it!
Let us be intentional in our living in 2016. Let us make the journey towards God. May God bring us to a place of rejoicing with exceedingly great joy! Where will 2016 take you? Our lives are so easily guided by everyday pushes, pulls and tugs. Our new year begins with the story of the Magi who leave behind life’s lesser calls to answer the soul’s deepest need. Let us begin 2016 with a striving to worship, serve, give, and travel with others closer to God! Amen!
I’ve enjoyed reading the chapter of Luke or Matthew or the Proverbs that corresponds to the date of the month.
The Book of Common Prayer. Full of scripture and beautiful prayers. It is on Kindle for about $10 I think.
http://www.jesuscalling.com They have an adult and kid version. Can get the books or apps.