Christmas is not over yet.
While our rushed, retail-driven culture wants to start the Christmas season in October and end it on Dec. 26, the traditional church calendar extends Christmas until Epiphany.
Epiphany is Jan. 6, marking the visit of the Wise Men and the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Historically, this date is a bit of a problem, since the Wise Men from the East most likely visited Jesus sometime after He was presented in the Temple, which probably took place 40 days after His birth. But since Jesus was almost certainly not born on Dec. 25 anyway, the date of Jan. 6 is not all that important.
We don’t know for sure when the Wise Men visited Jesus, but we do know that He was living with Mary and Joseph in a house, not in the stable where He was born. We also know that He was less than 2 years old, since Herod ordered the slaughter of all babies in Bethlehem 2 years old or younger, based on the time when the Wise Men said the star appeared.
Whenever the Wise Men visited Jesus (and I think it was likely sometime in the first six months after His birth), it is appropriate for us to ponder the significance of their visit right after the beginning of a new year. The dawn of a new year prompts us to think in terms of our priorities, reflecting on ways we fell short in the previous year and ways we want to improve in the year ahead. While I have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions, I think New Year’s reflections are always a good idea: Stop and think. Pray and ponder. Refocus and re-prioritize.
The visit of the Wise Men to Jesus helps us engage in New Year’s reflections very well, so I am glad that Epiphany is Jan. 6. The dust of the New Year’s Eve celebration and the food and football of New Year’s Day are behind us, and yet the year is still new and young, our minds still pondering priorities.
Consider these four aspects of the visit of the Wise Men:
Readiness: The Wise Men were studying and waiting, anticipating the coming of Christ, so they were ready when He came. They knew what to look for and how to respond.
Willingness: The Wise Men were willing to leave their homes, probably in the Parthian Empire (Medo-Persia) to the East of the Roman Empire. Their journey involved weeks or months of travel into a foreign and potentially hostile empire, yet they were willing to go.
Sacrifice: The Wise Men took time, endured risk, and invested greatly in their gifts. They sacrificed significantly because worshipping the Messiah was a high priority for them.
Satisfaction: The Wise Men’s readiness, willingness, and sacrifice were rewarded with deep satisfaction: They were blessed to see and worship the baby Jesus as the first gentiles brought into the kingdom of God with Jesus’ coming.
If we are serious about wanting to see, savor, worship and follow Jesus more completely in 2014, we might do well to imitate the Wise Men.
How did the Wise Men get ready? They studied the Scriptures and waited eagerly. They knew to look for a star-sign by studying the prophecy of Balaam in the Scriptures, which said, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:27) We will get to know Jesus better and to see Him more clearly by seeking Him in the pages of Scripture. After all, He is the word made flesh, who came to dwell among us, and all Scripture testifies about Him. (John 1:14 and Luke 24:27)
What are we willing to sacrifice? The Wise Men sacrificed their time, giving months to the preparation, the journey and the return. They were likely highly in demand, much sought-after counselors and scholars, who were successful enough to have wealth for such a journey and for such extravagant gifts. Are we guilty at times of letting our success and our demanding schedule keep us from being willing to truly seek Jesus, even if it takes time and inconvenience?
The Wise Men also risked real danger, sacrificing their safety by first entering a foreign, hostile empire and then by double-crossing King Herod in obedience to God’s warning. How many countries and cultures in the world today sit in spiritual darkness, devoid of a robust Gospel witness because we are unwilling to sacrifice our safety to see souls saved and Christ savored by more people in more cultures.
The Wise Men also sacrificed their riches to give suitable and significant gifts to King Jesus. They gave Him gold, fit for a king. They gave Him frankincense, fit for worship, a tribute to Him as God-in-the-flesh and as our Great High Priest who would offer Himself for us. They also gave Him myrrh, a burial spice, in anticipation of the sorrow at the end of His life. In order for Him to be our Great High Priest, he would need to offer Himself as our sacrifice.
Will we be satisfied with Jesus? What the Wise Men received was actually very insignificant in the eyes of the world. They prepared, responded to God’s sign, sacrificed time and treasure, safety and security, and for what? They got to spend a few moments with a baby and His impoverished parents. They did not get to enjoy a sumptuous feast in a royal palace. They were not praised by crowds or celebrated by dignitaries. Yet they were satisfied, for they had seen Jesus.
Will we be satisfied with Jesus? Do we see Jesus as a means to an end, a way to get what we really want – peace of mind, a clear conscience, eternal life? Or do we see Jesus as the real goal, the real treasure? If we seek Him for His own sake, we will be satisfied with Him, no matter what else may come.
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” – Psalm 17:15
May this be our prayer and our deepest heart-desire this New Year and always!