Christmastide

We continue our celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are known as Christmastide. This feast takes us to Epiphany (January 6)—the day Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi. The church remembers that event as the day that Jesus was revealed to the nations. (The New Testament word, ethnos, is sometimes translated “gentiles” and sometimes translated “the nations.”)

 

Monday, December 31

Read: Matthew 2:19-23

Consider: The gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—were very deliberate in their writing decisions. Which events they included, which words of Jesus they recorded, and which parables and miracles they described were intentional choices. These are not a series of random memories. There was purpose to their writing.

So, there was a reason that Matthew told us that Jesus “would be called a Nazarene” (2:23). Actually, there were two reasons. First, Matthew was reminding us that Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Messiah. He pointed this out by telling us that this name—the “Nazarene”—was foretold by the prophets (2:23).

But there is something else at work here. Nazareth was not a prominent place, certainly not a place where the wealthy and powerful lived. If you want to get an insight into how Nazareth was viewed in that day, you need to go no further than Nathanael’s response to hearing about Jesus. After Jesus invited Philip to be a disciple, Philip found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael’s response was telling — “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:43-46).

In other words, “Nazarene” was almost a term of contempt. Nazarenes were looked on as uneducated and backward people. Certainly not the kind of people that God would choose to change the world.

It was important to Matthew that we understand this man who was known as a lowly Nazarene. He not only became a man, he became a poor, humble, vulnerable man.

Before the early Jesus-followers were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26), they were called “Nazarenes.” That was not an acknowledgement of their origin, but a recognition of the life they had chosen. They chose to follow Jesus of Nazareth, and to follow him was to become like him.

In a world where people try to present themselves as larger, better and smarter than they really believe they are, the Nazarene walked the earth with no grandiosity and no pretension. The genuineness and authenticity of this man was something extraordinary. And, like those first believers, our call to follow him is the call to be like him.

We begin by starting where he taught us to start. Jesus’ first teaching in Matthew was…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Pray: “Lord, when I see the poverty of my spirit and realize that I will never be lauded by this world, help me to remember that I’m in good company. And help me to respond as you did. Help me to be more like you.”

 

Tuesday, January 1

Read: Matthew 2:1-6

Consider: I hope you’re enjoying Christmastide. Even though our culture is celebrating a new calendar year, we are rejoicing at the coming of Messiah on this Eighth Day of Christmas. (Of course, we can do both, so Happy New Year!).

This week we prepare for Epiphany (January 6). It’s a day that goes largely unnoticed by most people, but it has deep significance for all of us.

The story of Christ’s birth is told from a Jewish perspective. Jesus was a Jew born in the lineage of King David. He was first encountered by his own people—Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Even Herod had Jewish blood (though, of course, he betrayed his people).

But after Jesus was born, some strangers—who were very different from Jesus’ people—entered the picture.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?’” (2:1-2)

On the hills outside of Bethlehem we saw that Christ’s birth was first proclaimed to the poor—those shepherds who had no standing in this world. But soon after that, we see him revealed to the Gentiles—foreigners who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

These Magi were philosophers and astrologers. In those days there were no distinctions between disciplines such as science, philosophy and theology. So, we simply know them as “wise men.” They were seekers of truth. And they found the truth in the strangest of places—in a child born to a young peasant woman.

The scripture describes those of us who do not have Jewish lineage (Gentiles) as strangers—foreigners who did not inherit the story handed down in the Hebrew scriptures. Yet, like the Magi, Christ is revealed to us. And if we seek after this revelation—this epiphany—we receive the very same blessing as God’s chosen people, because now we are also chosen (Galatians 3:7-8)!

We may not be considered wise by the standards of this world, but we are wise. Our wisdom is evidenced by our seeking.

Pray: “Lord, like the Magi, no journey is too long if it brings me to you. Today I journey as a seeker, wanting to know you more intimately and to love you more passionately. Thank you for revealing yourself to me.”

 

Wednesday, January 2

Read: Galatians 3:26-29

Consider: The word “epiphany” speaks about a manifestation—a revealing—of something great. When a person has an epiphany, it is like the lights come on, and they begin to see things clearly.

This week the Christian Church celebrates Epiphany as the day the light came on for the Gentiles. It is celebrated as the day the Magi found the Christ child. Those men from the east searched for the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. And in their discovery, the promise to Abraham came true, for Abraham was told that…

“…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed…” (Genesis 22:18)

Jesus is for everyone. If you are a Gentile, Epiphany is a pretty special day for you. Celebrate the fact that, even though you were not part of God’s chosen people by blood, he has adopted you. Jesus’ blood made you a child of the covenant.

“Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’” (Galatians 3:7-8)

The thing I like about Epiphany is that it reminds us of what we just celebrated. In the busyness of re-engaging in the demands of life, we can forget to praise him for the thing that filled us with awe. We can forget the big picture that overwhelmed us with joy and hope just a few days ago.

Revisit the manger today and praise God that…

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Pray: Praise God that you were included. Ask him to show you today how you can include others through compassion, invitation, hospitality and love.

 

Thursday, January 3

Read: Matthew 1:1-6, 17

Consider: You thought I was pulling your leg, didn’t you? Or maybe it was a misprint. Perhaps I listed the wrong passage. No one reads the genealogies. That’s the part of the New Testament we always skip over because it doesn’t really have any significance for us. Right? (At least I didn’t make you read all seventeen verses.)

Well, it must have significance, because it was important to Matthew. He included it. In fact, he led with it. The first thing you read about Jesus in Matthew’s account is his lineage. But why?

We usually just assume that Matthew was giving the historical setting, that he was letting us know that Jesus really did exist with parents, grandparents, etc. But that’s not his point. Matthew was crafting a narrative that, quite frankly, was shocking to the first readers of his gospel.

If you were to read all seventeen verses of Jesus’ genealogy, you may notice that, besides Mary, out of the forty-two generations recorded, only four women are named—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Now it’s not strange that in that day the genealogy of a man would be traced through his fathers. What is strange is that out of all the women that Matthew could have mentioned, he chose these four.

Tamar is known for disguising herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law, so she could have a child.

Rahab was a prostitute.

Ruth was a foreigner—not one of God’s chosen people.

Bathsheba was the woman with whom King David committed adultery. (In fact, Matthew doesn’t even call her by name, but emphasizes that she “had been Uriah’s wife”—and not David’s.)

Why do you suppose Matthew would single out these women when he could have talked about so many others who were used by God to bring Messiah to us? Wouldn’t these four be the ones who were left out of the story?

When you read the rest of Matthew’s gospel, you understand why. Matthew tells us that the Son of God called himself the “son of man”—the “son of humans” or the “son of humanity.” He chose to become one of us in every way—to be like us, including our checkered pasts and the things we would like to forget.

Take some time to meditate on what that means for you personally. What did Matthew want you to learn from his unexpected introduction of Jesus?

Pray: “Lord, you accepted me long before I accepted you. Help me to comprehend the extent to which you became one of us—the way you descended to be like us. Help me to see others in the way that you see them. Help me to be one with all people, regardless of their backgrounds. Help me to be like you.”

 

Friday, January 4

Read: Galatians 3:6-9

Consider: We hold God’s people in high regard. The nation of Israel—the children of Abraham—came into existence at God’s prompting, not by the plans of men. (It took a miracle by God for Abraham to even have the first child of promise—Isaac.) The Jews were formed by God and chosen by God. The Old Testament is filled with promises and blessings for God’s people if they obey. God wanted to live in a covenantal relationship with his chosen ones.

God’s desire has not changed. What has changed is who is now being referred to by the term “chosen.” It has expanded to include us. Paul tells us that “those who believe are children of Abraham” (3:7). He goes on to say…

“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham” (3:8-9)

The Jewish boy named Jesus—the Christ—came to his people. But he also came to the Gentiles, to the nations, to you and to me. Because we believe in him, we are now considered—along with Abraham’s descendants—to be his chosen people.

This is what we celebrate as we look to the day called, “Epiphany.” At his birth, Jesus was revealed to Jews and Gentiles. Those considered to be on the outside, were welcomed. And we still are.

Pray: Thank God that, through Jesus, we are children of promise. Ask him to help you live today—in confidence and deep gratitude—as his child.

 

Saturday, January 5

Read: Ephesians 1:13-14

Consider: Tomorrow is Epiphany, the day we remember that Christ was revealed to the Gentiles. In the coming of the Magi—those strangers from the east—we see that Jesus was not only the savior of the Jews, but he was the “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

All the people! Even you and me.

I love the way Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941) explained it…

“The Christmas mystery has two parts: the nativity and the epiphany. A deep instinct made the Church separate these two feasts. In the first we commemorate God’s humble entrance into human life, the emergence and birth of the holy, and in the second its manifestation to the world, the revelation of the supernatural made in that life. And the two phases concern our inner lives very closely too. The first only happens in order that the second may happen, and the second cannot happen without the first. Christ is a Light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of his people Israel. Think of what the Gentile was when these words were written—an absolute outsider. All cozy exclusiveness falls before that thought.”

I like to speak of it as “radical inclusion.” If you’re ever tempted to exclude—to embrace “cozy exclusiveness”—remember that you “were included in Christ” (Ephesians 1:13).

Pray: “Lord, you included me. You call me your child. I didn’t have to earn your embrace. Make me an agent of your radical inclusion. May I never force someone to earn my embrace. Rather, let your embrace be given to others through me.”

 

Sunday, January 6 — Epiphany

Read: 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Consider: Today is Epiphany. Today we remember that at the very outset of Jesus’ earthly existence, he included those of us who were not children of Abraham by birth. We were included by a new birth (John 3:3). We were included by faith in the child born in a manger (Galatians 3:7-8).

Like the Magi, we stand before the child because we were invited—we were led to the child by a force we didn’t understand. The star guided them. The Holy Spirit guided us.

But, to me, there is more to Epiphany than just the fact that I’m a Gentile. Yes, I’m a Gentile included in the covenant, but I’m also a sinner saved by his grace. Not only did my race not disqualify me from grace, neither did my sin.

I’m certain that Paul never got over the fact that Jesus called him and drew him to himself. Paul was a Jew. But he was still amazed that he was included.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1:15)

Maybe today we should sing We Three Kings. But I think a more appropriate song would be Amazing Grace.

Pray: Even though your sins may not appear to have been of the magnitude of Paul’s, they still estranged you from God. Your rebellion clouded your understanding of his love and forgiveness. But now, in Christ, you have been redeemed and included. Like the Magi, kneel before the manger today. In your spirit, kneel and worship the gift that was given to you.