The season of Advent and Christmas is just getting underway, and already I’ve heard something baffling. I was talking to someone about the Christmas TV specials that have already appeared, and this person said, “Those aren’t really Christmas movies, they don’t even have Santa Claus in them. As if Santa was the most important personage of the season. In order to say what I want to say, I’ll move past the Christmas story of Luke and remind of the story of the Wise Men (Matthew 2), the visit that took place more than a year after the birth.
Why do we call those men WISE? I think it’s because they were looking for the right thing. They traveled and risked danger because they wanted to encounter the Savior of the World. They weren’t looking for the greatest decorations, the most moving pageant, the best cantata. They just wanted to see for themselves this baby that they knew would change the world.
They were INTENTIONAL that their quest was to be a worship experience – “We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” The quest for Jesus is a quest for peace and fulfillment, not a mad dash to the mall on Black Friday. One of the Christmas stories I love most is the story of the writing of one of our most beloved carols. Phillip Brooks was a pastor in Philadelphia, but his clerical status didn’t stop him from fighting in the Civil War, and the sights of that bloody conflict had stolen his peace. His doctor told him that if he didn’t take time off and travel to the most peaceful spot he could think of, he was bound for a nervous breakdown. So he made the trip that he had always wanted to take to the Holy Land. The story is that he was on a horse overlooking Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Savior, and that wondrous sight filled him with the greatest peace he had ever experienced. He put pen to paper, and gave us one of our greatest carols – “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee nigh”.
When you were younger you sought out the exciting at Christmas. The Pink Pig, the Christmas parade, the time when shopping was actually FUN. But as we grow older there is the peaceful Christmas that we need to complete our year and send us into a new one.
I’ve told the story of my time at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide) and taking a class that extended into the season of Advent. My father was, at that time, minister of music at Trinity Methodist, very close to the campus, and as the semester was coming to an end I had an evening class. This was the day when churches actually stayed open at night with doors unlocked, and I remembered the beautiful Chrismon tree in the sanctuary. On a whim, I told my classmates about this beautiful tree and asked if anyone would want to come and see it. Thus formed that caravan from the campus to a nearby Methodist church. We entered the building, I plugged in the lights, and in that darkened sanctuary some homesick college students were reminded of trees and families awaiting them when the semester was finally over.
In this story of the Wise Men, they get some good advice from an unexpected source. Evil King Herod says, “Go and look carefully to find the child.” Where will you go to carefully seek out Jesus? I had a professor back in seminary who was explaining the theological phrase “ordinary means of grace”. He told us that people look for Jesus in strange ways. They claim to be seeking Jesus in their hunting and on the golf course (especially if they’re doing these things on Sunday) but this professor said that the ordinary means of grace are the places where God PROMISES to be as we seek him. He WILL be in the worship service (if we are careful in our seeking). He WILL be in the special Advent devotional materials that you researched and purchased. So don’t just let your seeking only be for the best tree for the den and the gifts that are expected from you. SEEK JESUS. Go to worship, hear the cantata, find TV that features Jesus instead of Santa.
Those Wise Men went EXPECTING to find Jesus. “When the Wise Men saw the star, they were filled with joy.” We can’t be innkeepers with no room for Jesus. We are to tune our hearts toward the experience of meeting the Word made flesh. Do you remember the invitation you sang when you were a child? “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.”
The last part of the story of the Wise Men talks about our willingness to change. The story says that these men “went hone to their country by a different way.” Having experienced Jesus, they couldn’t travel the same path, they couldn’t live the same way. How has your life changed since you experienced the Savior? Different activities? Different friends? Different reading? Different music? Maybe not a Christmas song, but hopefully the result of a Christmas well spent – “Since Jesus came into my heart/ floods of joy O my soul, like the deep billows roll/ since Jesus came into my heart.
See You As We Search for Jesus,