Kings, Magi, and Shepherds
We celebrate Christmas every year on December 25th. And every year, there seems to be more and more to do just to pull off this holiday. There are decorations to set out. There are presents to purchase for loved ones and friends, and then to wrap and place under a tree. There are plans to make. Many people travel and need to coordinate trips to various family members’ homes. On top of that, we may have children or parents to care for, work assignments, projects, or duties to fulfill. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season.
However, this year, some of us have had more time than usual to prepare not only for Christmas but for everything that we do. We have found ourselves not necessarily with too much to do and too little time to do it but the exact opposite: too little to do and too much time to do it in. (Now, that is not the case for everyone, but it is perhaps more true for more people than it has been in previous years.)
And while not a perfect analogy, this does remind me in many ways of that very first Christmas night when Jesus was born. Consider several of the characters who were reported to have been present on the night or shortly after the birth of Jesus, or who were involved in the story in some way.
First, we have King Herod. King Herod is not a king in the way that we might think of kings. He is a vassal king, which means that he ultimately is set in his position by someone who has more influence, control, power, etc. than he does. Yet, do not be mistaken. Herod is still a very powerful person. So powerful, in fact, that when Herod learns of the coming birth of a king, he has all the boys who have been born in the past two years killed to protect his power and authority. He does not want any rivals, even if they are but infants. This kind of posture seems to be a frantic one, at least to me. I imagine Herod running back and forth between his advisors and his agents to find a solution to his problem. He is threatened by a child who has just been born and is grasping for anything to do to maintain his position. Herod is unable to slow down and to consider what this news might mean not just for himself but for all people because he is consumed by his lust for power and control. In some ways, we can become like Herod when we become consumed by the necessities and to-do lists, the planning and the chaos that comes along with the holidays.
Or perhaps we might consider the Magi. These visitors come from a country to the East because they have seen a sign in the stars of the coming birth of Jesus. They come bearing gifts and to celebrate the child who is to be born. They come with a spirit of blessing and joy to share with the family of the child. In some ways, we can become like the Magi when we focus on the gifts and the celebration of Christmas day.
In Luke’s account of the birth, there are also shepherds who hear of the announcement of Jesus’ birth and they come to celebrate and to see the birth of the Savior who is announced to them by the heavenly messengers. These shepherds likely had plenty of time on their hands while they cared for the sheep. There were moments of danger or moments where they needed to help lead the sheep to new pastures, but there was likely also a lot of waiting and too little to do with too much time to do it in. And yet, they also used their time to go to Bethlehem to see the birth of the Savior and to congratulate the family on their joy. We may become like the shepherds when we use what time we have to focus on the birth of Jesus, the joy of the coming of God among us.
Now, as I mentioned, this is not a perfect analogy. Certainly we all must prepare and make plans for the holiday season. And to make plans and try to follow through with them does not make you King Herod. And there can be great joy in sharing good gifts with others. To be a Magi is not only to participate in materialism or consumerism. And to be a shepherd does not automatically make you a thoughtful, worshipful person. Sometimes having too much time on our hands can be a very difficult situation, and it does not translate to a heart and life that is focused on God.
And yet, this Christmas, I encourage you to think about and consider how you approach the holiday. Do you primarily come to the holidays as the person who tries to make everything perfect, planning every little detail to perfection, and if anything goes wrong, frantically tries to correct it? Do you focus solely on the gift-giving? Do you use your time to find ways to celebrate and worship the God who comes to be among us? None of these options are inherently bad, although there are certainly ways of doing each of them that may be better than other ways. And perhaps it is our opportunity this year to do them all or some combination of them with a focus on the story of Jesus in all that we do.
As you approach this Christmas day, it is my prayer that the coming of God among us will bless you and yours. That all that you do can and will be done in the name of Jesus. That during this Christmas, through all the chaos of the season, the hustle and bustle, the sweet time spent with family, and much more, that we may worship Emmanuel: God with us.