It’s Christmastime Charlie Brown originally aired in 1965. Charlie Brown and Rudolf are lifetime favorites, Home Alone and The Santa Clause are a little bit newer (but perhaps still old movies to some of you). And I watch them all again every year.
Here’s a couple of oldie but goodies here on the Master’s Table that come back around every Christmas. Prayerfully consider the scriptures and see what you think.
Rethinking the Angelic Choir:
What is the first thing the angel says to the shepherds? Most of the time when angels appear in the Bible (unless in disguise) the first words out of their mouths are “Do not be afraid.” There must be a reason for this. Either the stature, or brilliance, or something we are not told about angels evokes fear in regular people. Note the words “heavenly host.” Anytime the Old Testament says anything about a host it is in reference to an army. I want you to carefully consider all of this together. An angel appears to a group of shepherds whose natural tendency is to run in fear. The sky was then filled with the heavenly host, singing and praising God. This was not a choir, made up of beautiful women in choir robes; it was a vast military force, an army of angels, possibly with swords drawn ready to do battle. Is all of this baseless conjecture? I do not think so. READ MORE
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
And what about myrrh? See myrrh is different. It’s a resin similar to frankincense, but offers a bitter aroma rather than a sweet one. In Biblical times its most common use was as an embalming agent. Had the women found Jesus on Sunday morning after the crucifixion, they would have anointed him with myrrh among other herbs. Gold and frankincense are obviously valuable gifts, but why offer myrrh? READ MORE
Today is Easter Sunday. Lent bagan 40 days ago, Palm Sunday was last week, 2 days ago was Good Friday. Holy Week is about the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Not too long ago – it’s been about 4 months – we celebrated the beginning of his life on earth. Do you remember that story?
Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, to be counted in the Roman census and taxed. Baby Jesus was laid in a manger, shepherds came and worshiped, and the wise men traveled from afar. They followed the star and brought gifts fit for a king. Jesus was presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold makes sense; no one would mind getting that present. Frankincense is an incense, a sweet perfume. It’s actually a resin, made from the bark of a tree. Myrrh is very similar, but bitter. It’s most common use in the first century was anointing the dead. Gold is an awesome gift, perfume maybe, but… you wouldn’t give a newborn embalming fluid.
Once you know how the story ends, the beginning makes more sense. In literature, it’s called foreshadowing. Jesus was born to die. He came to be a sacrifice. The unusual gift brought by one very wise man reminds us what is really important about Christmas. The gifts that were given to Jesus pale in comparison to the gift of Jesus. Throughout his ministry Jesus understood his mission, even when his followers could not. The disciples were told plainly that the Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected by men, even that he must die. Jesus told them, more than once, that he would rise again. Eventually they were afraid to ask.
The real story of course begins before the incarnation and does not end with the crucifixion. Today is Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. That still isn’t the end of the story. Jesus wasn’t just resurrected; he is the resurrection. The story of God’s coming kingdom isn’t over yet.
I’ve written before on just who the Magi were and where they might have been from. The truth is, we don’t know how many wise men visited Jesus nor where they came from. The traditional names Casper, Melchior and Balthazar are from the Western Church tradition; Eastern Orthodoxy and Ethiopian Christianity offer different lists of names. Were they from Persia? China? Like I said, we don’t know. They were not at the manger either, but that’s another story. Continue reading