December 24th: Praise

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praiseAnd the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:20

The overwhelming response to the news of the birth of Christ throughout the Christmas story is one of praise. It is in Mary’s Magnificat (the Latin verb for ‘glorifies’) in which Mary gives a shout of exultation followed by a series of reasons why God is to be praised. It is in Zechariah’s prophecy which has become known as the Benedictus (the Latin word for ‘praise be’). It is in the Gloria that the angels sing to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest”. It is in the way that the powerful Magi fall down in front of the tiny infant and worship him. It is in the way that the shepherds return ‘glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen’.

And honestly, there is plenty to be praised! These worshippers tells us, each in their own unique and individual ways, that this baby means justice for the oppressed, a Saviour from sin, the reconciliation of God to his people, the possibility of serving God by living holy and righteous lives, light for those in darkness and death, peace on a troubled earth, good news for all people, a King whose reign is eternal and a Shepherd to protect and provide for his flock. And these are just a few things; if you read through the Magnificat or the Benedictus you will find more. Read through the Bible you will find even more!

It is a strong reminder that the only appropriate response to this overwhelming news of what God has done is our praise and worship. As we turn our praises to God, worship also has a way of transforming the worshipper; it takes us away from our current troubles and concerns and focusses our minds on the bigger picture. For the people in the Christmas story, this was not the end. Yet the challenges ahead, whether the safety of their new baby, the return to a dark and unwelcoming hillside or a long journey home, must have paled to insignificance as they praised God for what they had just seen and witnessed.

Father, we worship and adore you for this amazing story of how your Son entered our world, how He took on human flesh to be with us and to save us. May we sing with full and glad hearts of what you did all those years ago and for its continuing truth and relevance for us today. This Christmas, as we celebrate with family and friends, we acknowledge that our greatest celebration is in what you have done for us. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 18th: The Magi

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The MagiNow after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

It is commonly accepted that the visit of the ‘wise men from the east’ known as ‘Magi’ did not take place immediately after Jesus’ birth but sometime within two years of it, yet perhaps because of its positioning in Matthew’s gospel it has become to us a fundamental part of the Christmas story. Magi were astrologers who would have acted as advisers to kings in many eastern states and who derived their knowledge from a combination of calculated astronomical observations and an ‘interpretation’ like that we might expect from present-day horoscopes. We know that their status was significant enough to gain them an audience with King Herod.

What is interesting is that in Matthew’s gospel, where we see a particular concern with showing Christ’s fulfilment of Jewish prophecy, these foreign dignitaries were better equipped to spot the fulfilment of the prophecy concerning the star than many Jews as Jewish people did not commonly practice astrology. Indeed, it seems that King Herod and the people of Jerusalem were pretty oblivious to these cosmic movements prior to the Magi’s visit. In the journey of the wise men we see clearly God’s intention that the birth of Christ would be good news not only for Jews but also for those outside of Israel, who were known as Gentiles. The grafting in of all people into God’s kingdom was not a mere after thought but another important part of God’s plan that existed in the detail of ancient prophecy.

Not only that, but the desire of the Magi not to miss out on this important event but to participate in worshiping the child whose star they had seen was so strong that they had been willing to travel very far from home and at considerable cost of time and money. As we consider the sacrifice that they made we might ask ourselves what lengths we are willing to go to in order to seek and pursue God in our lives. The Magi on the basis of simply a single star in the sky had been willing to take the risk. How far will we go and what level of discomfort are we willing to endure when we now have the privilege of knowing the abundant riches to be had in Christ?

Lord, thank you that the birth of Jesus is good news for all people, no matter who they are or where they are from; there is no distinctions of race, gender or status for you, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Help us to be diligent as the wise men were in seeking you. Show us what sacrifices we need to make in our lives to create space to worship and adore you. Amen.