They [the scholars from the East] could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! (Matthew 2:10, MSG)
The first two chapters of Matthew give us a glimpse behind the Christmas story. The first Christmas. Or maybe the second--Jesus was probably about two years old.
And of course Jesus wasn't born on December 25th.
But, the Christmas story happened in real time and space. And people chose to believe or not, each in their own way, even back then.
We looked at Joseph a bit in chapter 1. The angel appeared to him a dream, and gave him very specific instructions. He obeyed. No questioning the dreams. No complaints. He speaks through his actions, not his words. Although he was asked to believe the impossible, at least the message was clear.
Then we have Herod. God sent the message to him via three foreigners. The message was confirmed in Micah's prophecy. An unlikely source--but he gave it enough credit to assassinate them when they returned to Jerusalem. Herod could have joined them in worship of the Messiah. So could the priests.Instead of rejoicing in the birth of Israel's Messiah--the hope the priests at least claimed--Herod feared it, and sought to kill the Messiah. Instead of obedience, he wanted the death of the threat.
Finally we have the wise men. The Message calls them "a band of scholars." The traditional number three is assumed because of three gifts, but the exact number is unknown.
They had no direct revelation, but they were students of God through nature, especially the stars. Somehow they also knew about Israel's king, and his importance.
With nothing more than an interpretation of the sky--no verbal instructions at all--they invested a lot of money and four years of their time (going and coming) into worshipping Israel's Messiah.
What do we choose to do with the Christ of Christmas today?
My son told me that he was going to ask friends, "Why do you give gifts at Christmas?"
In one of those proud-moments-to-be-a-mother, he went on. "I remember that you taught us that we give gifts because God gave us the greatest gift of all, His Son."
He went on to mention those who said they did it to show love for their families and friends, or because of the gift of the wise men. Or even just because of the tradition and the commercialism that urges us to buy, buy, buy.
Today we have the three ways of receiving God's message.
We have His message in the Bible, and we can choose to obey.
We have His unwritten message in the songs of Christmas, in the traditions in which I see the gospel about the Great Gift, the Light of the World, the eternal life represented by an evergreen.
If we are Christians, we hear His message in our hearts, since He lives within us.
Why do you give gifts at Christmas?