The catalogs have arrived. The shopping has started. The cards are going out. The lights are going up. The trees are getting decorated. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
The Gospel of Matthew hints that one of the earliest displays of Christmas decorations was a star noticed by some astrologers who came to Jerusalem hoping to worship him.
Now, your favorite retailer might have rejoiced and been glad to have visitors from afar, Herod and all of Jerusalem was not. Herod was disturbed, and if Herod was disturbed, that meant all of Jerusalem was disturbed. Scholars were brought in, and it must have been a great relief to all concerned when one of them remembered that the Bible said the king the Magi might be seeking would be born to Israel in Bethlehem.
Herod met with the Magi, who told when the star appeared.
“Go and make a careful search for the child.” Herod said to them. “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8)
Matthew goes on to say that after the finding the child, the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Herod wasn’t last person to miss the true meaning of Christmas, but he was one of the first to hear the news, which seems odd. Herod had a habit of killing heirs apparent to his throne, so you might think God would keep Herod out of the Christmas loop, except God doesn’t. He includes Herod in with some predictable and tragic results. (Matthew 2:16-18)
The Magi got the meaning of Christmas. They gave Jesus gifts, and God gave them gifts. God delivered the Magi from certain death, and God gave the Magi a new way to live.
The signs of God working in our life are both predictable and surprising. They may be familiar as a lit candle on Christmas Eve, or a loaf of broken bread. They may be as wondrous as angels in the night, or a Savior born to us dressed in flannel pajamas and laying in a manger. They may be as welcome as a timely word from a friend, as annoying as a word to the wise, or as subtle as the brush of tree in the hurry of a busy day.
The trick is in learning to read them, and we can do that by going to Bethlehem so we can see this great thing that God has brought to pass.