Three Magi

Matthew 2: 11

Then they opened their treasures and presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

In western culture, the gifts of frankincense and myrrh hardly seem on par with the gift of gold. Is this, then, a dialogue on valuable gifts? Or, perhaps, invaluable gifts? It turns out that historically, frankincense and myrrh were at least as valuable as gold and many historians believe them to have been more valuable than gold.

I got this from Dr. Axe regarding these ancient oils. Visit his website at draxe.com.

Myrrh is a resin, or sap-like substance, that is one of the most widely used essential oils in the world. Historically, myrrh was used to treat hay fever, clean and heal wounds and stop bleeding. Studies conclude that myrrh strengthens the immune system with its antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties.

A 2012 study validated myrrh’s enhanced antimicrobial efficacy when used in combination with frankincense oil against a selection of pathogens. Researchers expressed that myrrh oil has anti-infective properties and can help to boost your immune system.

What’s more, new research indicates that these two essential oils are even more effective in combination. Two things of interest I noted as I researched frankincense in myrrh are that they are useful in treating blood disorders. In fact, I was surprised how often blood came up in the articles I read. Secondly, myrrh was used as an embalming fluid. Both of these facts seemed to foreshadow Jesus’ future. How poignant is it that the baby Jesus would be given a gift commonly used in embalming? The two were also ingredients of the incense Jews burned in the temple.
Frankincense and myrrh were very expensive and highly sought after. The trees which produce these resins could not be grown in Israel. Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt greatly sought the two, one article claiming that conquest of foreign lands was sometimes motivated by the desire for the plants which yield the sought after resins. Since the trees would not grow in all climates, the Egyptians would seize territories where they would grow so that they could have their own supply of frankincense and myrrh rather than having to pay exorbitant prices for it.

Today, many medicinal uses have been identified for these two oils. Some believe the potential benefits number in the hundreds. They can be applied directly to the skin but are often burned. Inhaling the essential oils is another healing methodology which has to be a point of interest when considering that the ancient Jews used these two resins in the temple incense. So, going to church really could be good for your health!

I hope as you read the Christmas story this year you will have a better appreciation of how valuable the gifts of frankincense and myrrh really were. It turns out that the offer of gold was likely the lesser of the three gifts. Frankincense and myrrh were very expensive, extremely hard to get and medicinally beneficial. wealth alone, did not secure the valuable oils. Three “Gentile” magi travelled from afar and gave Jesus invaluable gifts. Perhaps the fact that three non-Jewish people travelled a long distance to take the Messianic baby such valuable gifts was a prophetic message in itself.

Comfort and Joy

Jeremiah 31: 13

Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

I told you I spent Monday outside setting up Christmas decorations and singing Christmas music at the top of my voice (sorry neighbors). One song that made a big impression on me was God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. How many times have you heard that song and even sung it for yourself? I especially heard and appreciated the line which wishes us tidings of comfort and joy. This year, as a group, we need comfort and joy as perhaps we have not in recent years.

I told you in yesterday’s Word of the Day that as I sang it was if I was transported to that little town on Bethlehem all those many years ago. I thought about the situation into which the child savior was born. The people of that day were as desperate for God’s help as we are today. The lived in an occupied territory. Think of that in present day military terms. They were not under self-rule accept to the degree that the Romans did not wish to be bothered with what they considered mundane issues. The big questions of the day were decreed by the Roman rulers. The people cried out for the promised Messiah to come relieve them of the burden of Roman rule. They were oppressed. It is into this environment that the babe was born.

Mary should have been home preparing for the birth of her child. Instead, she was forced to journey to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken. Can you imagine having to travel with those primitive transportation means when you are near your due date. However, the Jews had no choice but to do everything the Romans demanded. Those were some people who needed comfort and joy.

God promised he would send a savior. He promised He would turn their sorrow to joy and their mourning to gladness. He pledged to give them comfort. And He did. He sent His own son so that generations of people could receive comfort and joy in the place of sorrow.

May you be comforted and may your heart receive joy. The Christmas miracle is reborn in you today!

It’s Time for Christmas

Isaiah 19: 20

And it will become a sign and a witness to the Lord of armies in the land of Egypt; for they will cry out to the Lord because of oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will save them.

We have entered the period of Advent. It begins the fourth Sunday preceding Christmas Day. This year that was November 29th. The Advent is the preparation period when Christians ponder the miracle birth of the Savior as well as anticipate Jesus’ triumphant return in the second coming.

I have felt that I should do more than one Christmas message this year. Perhaps something more in line with the concept of the Advent. This year has held tremendous challenge and we certainly need a little bit of Christmas right now, as the song goes. Truly, I think we need a whole bunch of Christmas beginning right now.

Monday I spent several hours outside putting up Christmas decorations. The weather was a balmy 41 degrees and overcast but I was rewarded with several moments of the sun breaking through the cloud cover. It seemed like a personal bestowment of God’s benevolence and I reveled in it.

Some southerners might not have enjoyed being outside for hours in coolish temperatures but to our northern friends it might sound kind of nice. The point is, the day was to be what I made of it and I chose to look at putting up decorations as play rather than as work. Second, I have warm clothes and all it took was a polar fleece shirt and a hat to feel toasty. However, the coup de grace was my music, which dealt the death blow to any humbug sentiments. I had my iPod playing one Christmas album after another. The bad news for my neighbors was that it was blue toothed to a headset so that as I sang along, I didn’t have to hear me and so, could sing as freely and loudly as I wished. I had a grand time.

My spirit got a much needed lift singing songs to my Father about the miracle gift of Jesus. As I listened to the lyrics of some of those ancient hymns, my faith was fed and renewed. I was transported to a little town in Israel where a baby was born who would be the life of my soul. I am glad I was born after that great event and thus, get to celebrate Jesus’ birth. I am grateful he came to rescue us.

I hope you are already in the Christmas Spirit but perhaps this message will give you a little boost this Christmas Season; that it will lift your heart and help you ponder both the savior’s birth and his promised return. I am sending you warm Christmas wishes. May music and joy infiltrate your abode and may your heart continually bask in the glow of Christ.

Father Christmas

Matthew 1: 18 – 21

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Santa Claus is an icon, the world over, for kindness and giving but who is this Santa Claus? He has many names and is idealized in many forms and costumes. He is ageless and has magic powers. For all his iterations, there is but one inspiration, your very own father.
I have thought about Santa Claus quite a bit this year. The word “Santa” means holy. Who is more holy than our Father? Some don’t like to focus on Santa Claus because that image may take away from the real message of Christmas. While it’s true that some people see nothing but reindeer and a jolly old man as the image of Christmas, I love what Santa means to me.

I am still a child at heart so I wouldn’t enjoy the fullness of Christmas without the bells and bows, Santa and snowmen. I love it all and I like how it all makes me feel but Santa is more than a jolly old soul to me. He is an image of my heavenly Father. When I hear the word “Santa” I hear “holy” and that makes me think of Yahweh. I love the Christmas cartoons with their jovial yet inspiring messages but all of that is a mere shadow, a reflection of the great joy our Father brings. Only God could provide the inspiration for a character as benevolent as Santa Claus. And I think, Virginia, the real Santa Claus is Yahweh, our beloved Father and God.

Christmas is the celebration of the first gift isn’t it, the gift of a son who is Immanuel, God with us, but also a savior, the perfect, spotless lamb destined to be the sacrifice for a people who were lost and dying. Our Father gave us His own son on what has come to be known as the first Christmas morn. Santa Yahweh gave the most precious gift ever conceived, which we continue to celebrate thousands of years later. He is the jolly gift bringer who still bestows gifts upon His children. His entire being is that of joy and benevolence. He is the perfect image of Santa Claus and more. He is the Christmas Spirit we hear about but fail to recognize.

Enjoy your Christmas, enjoy it as fully as ever you have. Be filled with all that Christmas means. Gaze upon the nativity scene on your table and ponder the miracle of that glorious day. Let Christmas carols warm your heart and when you see images of Santa, grin to yourself because you know the real Santa Claus. You know the original, rather than the imitations. Let the Father, and the season fill you with real Christmas cheer.

Merry Christmas everyone!
Until next year, Happy New Year and Blessings!

 

Tend the Sheep

Luke 2: 8 – 9          NLV

In the same country there were shepherds in the fields. They were watching their flocks of sheep at night. The angel of the Lord came to them.

Did you ever wonder why the angel appeared to shepherds? Why not clergy or statesmen? If an angel came with a message today, to whom would he appear? The answer, to those who tend the sheep. Selah.

There is speculation about these shepherds. Who were they? I offer you, rather than answers, food to ponder. We know they were shepherds near Bethlehem who were keeping the night watch. That alone is enough to fuel the imagination as it conjures thoughts of the boy David who was lowly and humble. While his brothers were celebrated as soldiers, little David was out in the fields keeping watch over, “those few sheep,” (1 Samuel 17: 28) as his brother taunted him. Mock as you will, big brother, for what city was the Savior, Messiah born but in the city of David. And, who had to save the day, and the nation, when the soldiers all trembled in their boots at the giant Goliath, but the little shepherd boy, David.

Shepherds were not a favored group of people, part of a lower caste. It is interesting that the angel would appear to a group of people who did not rank well on the social ladder. Because they were not people who were looked up to they would seem the least likely to be able to get the message out about the new king. Who would listen to a group of dirty shepherds?

Of course, any mention of shepherds is incomplete without a discussion of Jesus who is the shepherd. Was God, showing us that this newborn child would turn out to be the great shepherd by revealing his coming to a group of shepherds? Another connection to shepherds is that Jesus is often referred to as meek and lowly. He certainly was not a proud or arrogant man. His connection to shepherds doesn’t end there though.

Some scholars speculate that this group of shepherds was tending a specific group of sheep, which would explain why they would be near the town of Bethlehem and why they would be tending sheep in the open fields in winter. This may have been a flock of sheep selected for the sacrifice. How poignant would it be if the angel appeared to a group of shepherds who were tending the sacrificial lambs in order to announce the coming of the lamb whose blood would be offered for the salvation of all people? That is a pretty powerful thought. I told you Easter is embedded in the fabric of Christmas. From the day baby Jesus was born, his sacrifice was revealed.

Jesus’ first heralds were the angels, but they were followed by a group of dusty, lowly, peasant class shepherds. Those shepherds proceeded immediately to Bethlehem to see this miracle birth and having seen the babe, began to tell the good news received from the angel.

A child is born, a humble birth, proclaimed by shepherds rather than church or cultural leaders. To this day, Jesus is the friend of the lowly and savior of all.

What’s Love Got to Do With it?

Isaiah 9: 4

For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

There was a popular song by this title. I admit, it always rankled a bit because it is a song right from the heart of pain and brokenness and that is where we all were before love entered and repaired the injury of our past.

Yesterday we favored a popular verse from this chapter. Verse 6 is the good news – a child is born; a son is given. Yahoo! But, what does love have to do with it? Look at the verse which precedes the giving of the divine child for the answer. The premier Father of all saw the slavery, the heavy burden upon the shoulders of us all. He saw the oppressor’s rod beating us down. The weight of our lives was too much for our shoulders; the oppressor too strong. The burden of simply surviving weighed upon humanity, and indeed, each of us so oppressively that drawing air was all we could manage. Under the might of the oppressor’s rod we had no strength to mount a defense much less an offensive attack. Therefore, Love, sent a child.

Does that even make sense? Love sent a child to break the yoke of slavery and oppression from our backs. Thank you, beloved, for this first of all Christmas gifts. And, it is this gift which we celebrate at Christmas. As we thank God, our Father, for removing the yoke of bondage from our shoulders, we may also pause and remember that there are still many people who do not know the freeing gift of Christ. They still live in the pain and the turmoil of a bitter, hard life.

Jesus came to grant liberty to the captives, freedom to all who are enslaved by any type of burden. Truly, those who are without Christ suffer and are as bound as the Israelites in Egypt. Perhaps, they suffer even more because their spirit and soul suffer torment while they have the illusion of being free because they are not physically chained. Anyone who can call love a secondhand emotion has never experienced it.

What does love have to do with it? What does love have to do with anything? Absolutely everything. Love is the answer to the question and to every question. If we stop and ask what love has to do with each situation of life, the true answer will present itself because God will show us the way. Love sent a baby to earth to free you, and me, from pain and from all those things which attempted to enslave us.

Love sent the first Christmas present, a child. Now, I send you love as this year’s present. Merry Christmas!

A Child is Born

Isaiah 9: 6

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

I find this a heart-warming passage as it brings to mind images of the baby Jesus and Christmas. It is also fascinating to me. In this one passage is so much explanation of the once foretold, now realized Messiah. Remembering that this is an Old Testament passage creates an understanding of pre-Christ expectations. Yet, I suspect most people who lived before Christ and even those who experienced Jesus didn’t fully appreciate what this passage reveals. I wonder how much I fail to see in it.

The book of Isaiah is my favorite Old Testament book and you can see why. The revelation God gave Isaiah of the Messiah was very detailed and complete. It was also imbued with the passion of Christ which, amazingly, Isaiah was able to transmit to us through his writing. We feel the enthusiasm of the coming Messiah even as Isaiah revealed that this Savior would come as a baby. That had to have rocked a few people off their feet. I am sure they were expecting a powerful, glorious being to descend from heaven to right all the wrongs and restore the nation of Israel. Instead, they got a baby, but hey, they shouldn’t have been so surprised. Isaiah told them a baby would be born and that this baby would be the son who is given to us from God; a gift of love.

People did grab a hold of the part about the government resting upon the savior’s shoulders but they didn’t understand. They thought he would come as a usurper, a military leader and that he would take over the government which ruled the nation of Israel. Of course, at the time of Jesus’ life on earth, Rome ruled over Israel. The Jews expected, therefore, a conquering hero. I don’t believe that is the vision Isaiah saw. The government spoke of was the government of the whole earth. This government truly is about the laws which govern the earth. Those laws go far beyond political institutions to include gravity, hydraulics, and all the physical laws as well as all of the spiritual laws, most of which we don’t even have names for. These spiritual laws are a bit reflected in the close of this verse where Jesus’ titles are given.

How is the babe, who is revealed as the son of God, also known as the Eternal Father? Spiritual conundrum # 1. He is the Mighty God and the Prince of Peace. How do those harmonize? In God’s kingdom, there is not tension between those two roles. Jesus is God the Father and the son, who is a prince. He is the God of might and yet the prince of peace. These two roles sound like they are in conflict, but it takes a God of gentle yet formidable power to bring about peace. His power is not a threat but rather a comfort. His power actually brings peace when we soak ourselves in it. It is His ability to cause all things to work together which ultimately eliminates conflict. There is no need to strive or try to best one another because in Him, all needs are met.

I hope you find comfort and peace in this passage today. Some prayers will make better sense now as you embrace God as Father and Son. In one breath, we speak to the Father, who is the son. The son has come. He was given to us; a child and a king. He is our Lord and yet our best friend, and even our father.

Let me leave you with one thing more to ponder, if Jesus is Father and Son, what does that make the Holy Spirit?