Week of December 26


"Beginning the New Year with Worship"

Read the Bible Through: Psalm 117; 119:81-176; 2 John; 3 John
“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
Luke 2:11, ESV


Did you see the galactic phenomenon that occurred in June of 2020? It was a violent explosion in a distant galaxy that broke the record for the “brightest source of high-energy light in the universe.” Astronomers reported that the light was emitted from a gamma ray burst—in a galaxy seven billion light-years away. This brief but powerful cosmic explosion was “clocked in at a trillion times more energetic than visible light.” Let me put this event into a bit of perspective. Such an explosion releases more energy in a few seconds than our sun will emit in its entire lifetime!

On another plane, a curiously bright star provided the background to an even more spectacular event two-thousand-plus years ago. It was the star that provided guidance for the Magi as they made their way to pay homage to the baby Jesus. That worship event sets the stage for us as we begin to chart a course for the new year. Let’s consider the implications of this event for our lives today.

Let's See What the Bible Says

Making His History a Part of Our Story
We do not know how long after the birth in Bethlehem that this visit took place. Bible scholars set a date of about 6 B.C. for the birth, so it may be possible that this moment occurred two years after that time (cf. 2:7, 16). We also know that King Herod died around 4 B.C. Our Christmas celebration, as we practice it now, occurs on December 25, which was not actually the case. This date became attached to the celebration of Christmas later because it coincided with the Roman holiday known as Saturnalia. This event was a time when Christians had time off from their work and were able to worship (NAC).

Mary and Joseph are now living in a house, so they obviously had left the inn in Bethlehem. I know! Many of the Christmas dramatic presentations that we enjoy will include three kings arriving at the manger. This account makes it clear that the visit came much later. We traditionally held that three kings arrived because they brought three gifts. We do not know how many participated in the visit. They also were likely a combination of wise men and priests. Even so, they were people of prominence in their land. So, what’s the point?

A new star in the sky was believed to announce the coming of a significant person in the land over whom the star shone (2:2; NAC). The Magi’s question to Herod would be a natural query that arose from such an event. Their attention had been drawn to this curious phenomenon, and it led them to take extraordinary steps to seek the one over whom it shone!

I believe that our Christmas celebrations are deeply meaningful and valuable. However, I also believe that the event recorded in Matthew 2 reminds us to live out our devotion to Christ in the everyday circumstances of life. These were real people who were not caught up in seasonal festivities; instead, they were living out their allegiance in a world that was already hostile to Christ. So, how are we to make this story our story?
Giving Proper Worship to Jesus
One of the indicators of Jesus’ extraordinary earthly impact is wrapped up in the great care that was shown to Him at His birth. The Magi paid homage to Him by bringing gifts that were associated with royalty (Matthew 2:11). Since Matthew had yet to introduce the theme of Jesus’ death, it is unlikely that myrrh, a spice used in embalming, was given to signify His future death.

Be that as it may, Matthew does want us to know that all three gifts were given to honor Jesus as King. Gold was prized then and now and was a fitting regal gift. Both frankincense and myrrh were fragrant spices and perfumes that were equally appropriate gifts to signify adoration and worship. Here is a child, born in obscurity, who was sought out by the unlikeliest of devotees to receive their tribute. We also do well when we worship Him with our best gifts.
Gifts Fit for a King or Fit Lives Lived before the King?
I must say that the account before us is not so much about Jesus’ birth as it was about the conflict between the Magi and King Herod. Even though they came from a pagan background and held positions of great authority in the Babylonian or Persian courts, they “recognize and worship the Christ child for who he is” (NAC). Herod, despite his role as Israel’s leader and his professed Jewish belief, seeks to find and kill the newborn child.

I claim that the greatest gift that was given to Jesus was their whole-bodied devotion. They worshiped Him at great risk. We do well to consider the nature of our worship. Those kingly visitors showed profound wisdom and a readiness to suffer for their belief. We do well to consider our level of commitment to the Christ too.

Let’s Deepen Our Walk

The Feast of Epiphany will take place on January 6, 2022. “Epiphany” literally means “manifestation” or “appearance,” and Christians in the West typically celebrate the event with a feast that commemorates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus.[1] Their visitation holds great significance because it was the revealing of Jesus to the Gentiles. Our passage of scripture today has provided us with the Biblical account of this life-altering event. If I may, let me suggest that Epiphany leads us to an epiphany of our own.

I recall the first time that I really considered the meaning that Epiphany held for my own life. Someone had prepared a “Kings’ Cake” and there was great delight when those who enjoyed the tasty treat found the tiny figurine of the baby Jesus inside one of the pieces. It was a wonderful celebration, but I left wondering to what it should lead. Here is my New Year challenge.

This tradition of the Kings’ Cake dates to the Middle Ages. On Epiphany, a large collection was received at the church. The parishioners in charge of the collection received a “Galette des Rois” to be divided in equal portions. Eventually, the tradition spread, and each household would share a cake with all of the family members and servants. The first slice was known as the “Good Lord’s slice,” and it was reserved for the first poor person who would knock at the door. I invite you to make this coming year a time when you reserve a portion of what God has given to you in Christ and offer a “slice” of this blessing to needy others with whom you come into contact.
We Three Kings
by VMSIX - Acapella

Let's Think and Discuss

1. Write down what blessings that you will seek to offer in your “Good Lord’s slice” this coming year.

2. For Families: This year, plan ahead to make your own Epiphany King’s Cake and let your children help! This celebration is held on the 6th of January, the 12th day after Christmas on 25 December. It is also the night that many Christians of the Orthodox tradition hold their own “Christmas Eve” festivities, for they celebrate Christmas on 7 January each year. You may find a recipe here and purchase your “baby Jesus” figure from Walmart, Target, or Dollar Tree in a package containing several pieces. Enjoy this tradition that reminds us that we were born to worship the Christ, God’s only begotten Son!

Here is a contemporary version of the traditional hymn that will be enjoyable to children: We Three Kings (by Kirk Franklin).
May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock